Charlie Blair looks back at EUCR-W (UKU Nationals) and forward to this weeks xEUCF 2013 in the Women’s division.
This year’s Nationals finished just as expected, with all of the teams seeded in the top four comfortably claiming their spot at the xEUCF finals in Bordeaux. However, amongst the top four, there was a distinct lack of upsets. Particularly after Tour 3 had somewhat wetted the appetite for some tight results and big shake-ups to the status quo. Perhaps with no real challenge required to assure qualification for Euros, these teams were not forced to push themselves in a way that one would expect Nationals to demand.
In fact, both Bristol and SYC have admitted they are disappointed that they under-performed during the weekend, especially against Iceni. Indeed, neither team were able to take any more than seven points off of the eventual champions. But Cesca Tyler is adamant that SYC ‘definitely have much more to give’ against the teams they finished behind. Indeed, their performance against Leeds is testament to the way that their captain knows SYC have the potential to play. It was undoubtedly the highlight of the women’s division at Nationals. SYC played beautiful, fast paced offence. Their cutting was incredibly confident. With their flow so difficult to shut down they took a six point lead early on. Even in the face of a stoic Leeds resistance, they kept themselves in the game until universe point, where they eventually emerged victorious.
Word from the Leeds leadership is that very same game was the best of their whole season so far. Indeed having gone six down and then rallying to score eight consecutive points to take the half is one of the most impressive comebacks of the season. Yet despite failing to take any big scalps, Leeds should be particularly proud to have produced the tightest scorelines amongst those who qualified. Especially since their already predominantly youthful team, lost further experience, most notably in the form of Tash Nishiyama to the mixed division. Having come within three points of Bristol also, Leeds were the only team who looked likely to threaten the seedings. Even the match up between Bristol and SYC, 2nd and 3rd seeds, didn’t prove to be as close a contest as either of their games with the fourth seeds.
|SYC vs Nice Bristols at UKU Nationals 2013. Photo courtesy of Patrick Ward.
Iceni on the other hand ended up finishing the domestic season as they had started it, with a pretty clean sweep at Nationals. Back to an almost full strength squad after having split the team for Savage during Tour and lost others to international duties, they held a strong margin of difference throughout the final against Bristol, closing it out at 15-6. Despite both teams employing notably stricter line calling, both showcased the talents of their newer, developing players. In particular, of those returning from u23 World Championships in Toronto. The sibling connections between the Owens was a potent force for the Bristol O line. Equally, Renny Norman, shone on the Iceni D line displaying such confidence and pace you’d be forgiven for thinking her doppelganger teammate, returning World Games star Jackie Verralls, was playing every point!
Despite the scoreline, Bristol did not go down without a fight. If given the chance to play expansively, they often profited with some lovely scores that involved very few passes. The start of the game however was plagued by longer points generated by an awful lot of turnovers from both sides. Iceni were able to stem Bristol’s flow by heaping up the pressure on the sideline trap. Bristol’s preference to look for the IO resulted in point blocks for both Lauren Bryant and Alex Meixner on the Iceni D. Nevertheless, the Iceni offence also struggled, particularly from leading discs being thrown beyond their receiver and out of the pitch. It was eventually Iceni’s patience to favour the around that allowed them to start taking away the game with their first five points all a result of throws to solid under cuts in the endzone.
Looking forward to Europeans then, how are the British contingent likely to fair?
Heading up the summit of the four pools are Cosmic Girls (Russia), Iceni (UK), Ultimate de Cologne (GER) and Lotus (Switzerland). Iceni will be returning to defend their title, very conscious of sending a message to the rest of the teams attending the World Club Championships of what to expect from the UK number one. Significantly, they are definitely taking the biggest squad in the women’s division to Euros.
|Iceni after winning UKU Nationals 2013. Picture courtesy of Philipa Sturt.
Captain, Ange Wilkinson, is particularly wary of the Russians (Cosmic Girls), notably on the ascendency after their victory at ECBU earlier this year. Equally Lotus are expected to again bring great fight, after two ‘tough but rewarding games’ against the Swiss last year. As for the Germans, whilst this may be their first European Championships they do not lack in talent or experience. Even though this team has replaced Woodchicas as the premier German representation, Cologne has rehomed its most influential playmakers.
Both Bristol and SYC have their eyes set on the second qualification spot for Worlds, which would require them to finish as the highest seeded British club (excluding Iceni). Both are eager to match up against some European opposition and to escape the repetitiveness of the domestic season this year. Unfortunately, as one would expect, SYC’s seeding leaves them witha tougher route to the top eight.
Whilst Tyler anticipates a gritty match up from the likes of Hot Beaches, the Czech outfit were noticeably weaker than in previous years at Windmill, missing their twin sister playmaking pair. However, this still leaves them with Lotus and Lemon Grass to better. On the other hand, Bristol should expect to at least hold seed in their pool since first time qualifiers Lay D’s, although bulked by one the aformentioned Hot Beaches sisters, are reportedly unable to take their whole squad.
Despite a strong performance this season from their young side, the Leeds leadership still recognise that the aims for this tournament are very different from the ones of the side that made the finals of xEUCF 2009. In direct contrast to that squad, the majority of Leed’s current roster has not met European opposition outside of fun tournaments. However, here’s hoping after getting so close at Nationals, they do manage to take down some strong teams. Like, for example, pool opponents Prague Devils. They have won the Central European League twice already. However their team makeup is also significantly youthful and athletic, and are too, reported to suffer a dearth of experienced handlers.
I believe all the British teams have the strength to finish in the top eight. Rising to the challenge of Europe is something that all these teams need and desire. Thus, I am so thrilled that all four of them have the opportunity to do so. At this stage of the season, the British contingent should be making no excuses to not be reaching full stride in Europe. Since one can only speculate what to expect, there is everything to play for, in contrast to another somewhat predictable domestic season. The British should be ready to show Europe and beyond their full potential. If they do, we will see great results! The confidence that a strong performance that xEUCF can give our clubs is crucial to the future of women’s ultimate in the UK.
With only 4 days left until #xeucf2013 we are very excited! More re-previews to come …. DP @ tSG.