EMO player Sean Colfer previews an unexpectedly open Midlands region, with the Mixed division at Nationals strongly affecting the tournament in Birmingham. Midlands has 3 bids to Nationals and will be held this Sunday.
Last season the Midlands region featured three teams with A Tour experience in the preceding Tour season. Cambridge led the way in the regular season, finishing seventh overall, trailed by EMO in eleventh and Jest Ridisculous in 17th. However, only two spots at Nationals were available – EMO edged out Cambridge in the final, leaving JR out in the cold.
This season, there are three places available from a Midlands region that is lacking the strength in depth of last year.
EMO have elevated their performance levels in 2013 and earned third overall, behind the ‘big two’ of Clapham and Chevron, at Tour. They have defeated Fire, Brighton (twice, both in sudden death) and Ranelagh, as well as trading to half with Chevron at Tour 2. So far though, the Leicester-based team have been unable to make inroads against the top two over a whole game. They will win the region, and it’s unlikely to be close.
EMO will be without World Games captain Rich Gale who will still be in Cali come the event. However, club president and previous World Games competitor Daniel ‘Colonel’ Furnell should be able to play after a spell on the sidelines this season through injury, as should captain and coach Joe Wynder, fresh from the U23 World Championships Open team in Canada. Christian ‘Bobby’ Zamore and Tom ‘Foxy’ Fox provide the speed on offence, while vice-captains James ‘Whippy’ Bauld and Nathan Trickey will lead a strong, tall and athletic D line.
|EMO seen here after taking on CUSB at EUCF last year.|
The next tier of teams features three B Tour mainstays. Jest Ridisculous finished as the 20th, 17th and 12th best team across Tours 1, 2 and 3 this season respectively. Cambridge finished 11th and 14th in the first two Tour events but slumped to 26th in Cardiff while EMO 2 managed two finishes at 20th and one at 21st, showing excellent consistency at the top end of B tour.
These three teams should be reasonably well matched, depending on how EMO decide to stack their rosters. However, complicating the possible outcomes this season is the fact that Nationals will also act as a qualifier for Mixed at xEUCF in Bordeaux. Both JR and Cambridge are believed to have an eye on the Mixed division at Nationals with the aim to compete at a European level, meaning both teams will be without some top players.
JR usually rely heavily on a very effective huck game, led by captain George ‘Rondo’ Hudson, fellow handler Chris Peploe and star receiver Alex ‘Medic’ Charlton. However, they will be without several ‘first choice’ players this Sunday – including Medic – and seem likely to surround Hudson with more inexperienced players with a view to developing their squad for the future.
It’s impossible to say who Cambridge will bring considering their strong recent history and fluctuating results this season, to say nothing of the rumoured focus elsewhere. It’s safe to say that U23 Open handler Dom Dathan will feature and if they decide to bring back players like GB Mixed veteran Nick Wong they will stand a good chance. The likelihood of this, though, appears slim; a big hit to their qualification hopes.
EMO 2 captain Chris ‘Pudding’ Alderson will have to wait to see who is available for his team, but the experience of Ian ‘Scot’ Scotland and playmaking of Phil Brunson have been key to their consistent performances this season. They will justifiably feel very good about their chances of joining EMO 1 in Southampton for the first time having finished ahead of Cambridge at Tour 3 and gotten close to JR in games this season.
The underdog in this region is Birmingham Ultimate. This is their first season as a Tour team and they have taken to the competition admirably. They finished runners-up in C Tour at Tour 1 and they maintained respectable B Tour finishes in Nottingham and Cardiff, at 26th and 24th respectively. They will host the tournament and will look to push for the final qualifying spot, possibly making a Vision-like run at the teams ahead of them. Their only weakness could be their very short lines, with only nine players on the team at Tour 3. Birmingham have a well rounded team, with their key plays coming from captain Ben ‘Mesh’ Kings and lefty handler Marius Hutcheson.
Leamington Lemmings gave EMO a shock a few years ago but they have lost a number of key players and will do well to challenge any of the teams ahead of them. St. Albans are another team that may enter the slightly geographically-expanded regional tournament, but their consistent C Tour/low B Tour position indicates they shouldn’t be a threat either. Flyght Club fall into this bracket as well, after a consistent season at the top end of C Tour, as will similarly placed SharkBear, a Warwick University student team. These teams will likely battle between themselves for a shot at fifth place.
The one-day tournament should see some competitive Ultimate, especially at the level below EMO 1, but whether there is enough strength in the region for the third spot to be justified this season remains to be seen. There is the potential there for some strong teams but the focus on Mixed makes this a very difficult read. The main beneficiaries of the shifted focus should be EMO, who must be considered heavy favourites to have their whole squad in Southampton.
1. EMO 1
2. EMO 2
3. Birmingham Ultimate
6. St. Albans
8. Flyght Club
*And, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am a proud EMO squad member. I tried to stay impartial with this preview but it looks like it didn’t work out so well…
What do you think? Comments below! DP @ tSG.