Sean Colfer continues his previews by taking a look at reigning national champions Black Eagles.
How did they get here?
Black Eagles have been the dominant Mixed team in the UK for the last four years. They finished 20th at Tour in 2012, before improving dramatically and finishing third in 2013 behind superstar pickup team Royal Goaltimate Society and Cambridge. They finished fourth at Nationals that season, behind Bear Cavalry, Cambridge and Dog Eat Disc, before finishing 37th at WUCC 2014 in Lecco. Since then, they’ve consistently been among the top two or three teams in the country. They won Tour in 2015, finished second at Nationals to Reading two years in a row in 2015 and 2016.
Last season was their real breakthrough, though, as they sent two teams to Tour and won every single event, with their teams finishing first and second in the Tour standings. They continued that dominance at Nationals, winning the final 15-10 over SMOG. There were very few losses last season to any teams that weren’t other Black Eagles teams. They eventually finished seventh at Euros, having lost to Terrible Monkeys (Czechia), familiar nemeses Reading and eventual European champions GRUT (Netherlands).
How has this season been?
This season has been another full of success for the team. They underperformed with a small squad at Mixed Tour 1 (and still finished fifth), but came back at Tour 2 with a vengeance. They went undefeated to the final where they fell to a Mighty Hucks team they had defeated earlier in the weekend. They finally got the elusive win at Tour 3, despite losing on day one to Glasgow (who they beat in the final with relative ease). They drew with Mighty Hucks at the top of the Tour standings, securing a share of their third title in four years.
They attended Talampaya this year, an elite Mixed tournament in Switzerland, rather than Windmill like many other top teams. The competition was strong – Hassliche Erdferkel (Germany), Mubidisk (Spain) and RusMixed (Russia, surprisingly) are all going to WUCC, and the French Mixed team split squads were very strong too. They finished third there, losing to RusMixed in the semi-final. There’s no reason that their results this season should make them anything less than confident heading into WUCC.
How do they play?
Black Eagles play very fast. They have a number of handlers that are capable of sending excellent hucks downfield and they’re constantly looking for that shot to make chunks of yardage at a time. They’re also willing to throw what would usually be termed pretty speculative throws, but their chemistry and the work they’ve done practising those throws means they’re often very good options. They are another team that moves the stack around but will favour three handlers more often than not, and will look to use those handlers to move the disc quickly and set someone up in a power position. Their only problem this year has been moving the disc around the back when under pressure with high stall counts, particularly from the sideline – and even then, getting them in that position is easier said than done.
Defensively, one thing that they have is that this team is huge. They have a number of tall men, and they also have some tall, athletic women. They mix things up with zone and match, but all things being equal will favour matching up with their opponents. When they do throw a zone they’re very aggressive in the middle of the field, looking to take away anything easy to force the offence to the sideline where they can turn the screw and trap hard. Their defensive line is always looking to run, and make hay from quick turnovers. They’re a nightmare to play against when they’re clicking.
Can you give me three players to watch?
This is another team full of players who are pretty well known, so here’s three players who will be playing very important roles:
Lulu is one of Black Eagles’ main handlers. She has also played for Ireland several times, and is one of the leaders of the team. She’s very difficult to force, as her throwing ability, confidence and experience mean she can pretty much get any throw she wants despite the best efforts of her mark. She plays a vital role in keeping the offence moving and making sure that they don’t get static in the middle of the field, because when that happens and the stall counts get higher is the only time that the Eagles look vulnerable.
A former GB under-23, playing with the Open team in London, Andrew will play a key role with the disc. He’s one of a few main throwers that the team has and is one of their best huckers. He can complete shots downfield from any angle, and his height and reach makes him a threat cutting too. Defensively he’s a strong player and has a fantastic pull, so it’s likely he’ll be moved around depending on the game situation. Look for Dick to Noblett to be an important connection when the pressure ratchets up.
Another familiar name for anyone who’s followed Mixed Ultimate for any length of time, Lucy played with GB Mixed in the last rotation and has been a key player as Black Eagles has risen to the top of the division. Despite living in London she’s remained with the team and will be a crucial part of the team as an offensive cutter. She has good speed, solid throws and is relatively tall, but her game understanding and intelligence is what really sets her out – she has been doing some coaching with Chevron this year, too. She’ll be vitally important in the big games to come in Cincinnati.
What do they say?
Black Eagles are typically incredibly difficult to get sense out of. However, after some tough questioning, Lulu Boyd said:
“We’ve lost tournaments from here.”
That was tremendously unhelpful so we managed to pin them down with some brutal and ethically questionable interrogation techniques. That led to James Glover responding:
“We are hoping that the weather breaks and it’s windy, rainy and 10°C. Otherwise our purposefully picked training location was badly planned.”
Better than nothing.
How are they going to do?
Black Eagles have been handed a pretty friendly group. They face Philadelphia AMP who will be outstanding, but they also face Banana Cutters (Canada) and Sugar-Mix (Germany) alongside a team from India and Chile. They will feel confident of finishing in the top three, allowing them to avoid the 4/5 play-in round. That round of 32 matchup would be against someone from Pool G – so if they finish second, they’d play the third-placed Pool G team, and vice versa. Pool G features Hassliche Erdferkel, Urosoul (Colombia) and IKU (Japan), as well as top seeds Friskee (Australia). Ideally they’d finish second and likely play the winner between Urosoul and IKU, which they could be pretty confident of winning. That would put them in the round of 16, a great result for the team.
From there, they’d very likely play a top-seeded team – either Seattle Mixtape or Boston Slow White (or Café de Luida from Japan, if they can spring an ‘upset’ in the pool they’re seeded first in). That would be tremendously difficult, so it’s tough to see them getting to a quarter-final.
I think Black Eagles can take advantage of the draw they’ve been given. They should feel confident in their path to the round of 32, and if they can win that game they should consider their tournament a success. I hope they can get to that point, because playing one of the American teams in such an important game would be a fantastic experience. I’m going to say that Black Eagles will finish 14th.