Chris Bamford introduces the 16 competitors heading to University Outdoor Open Nationals this weekend
The university season is approaching its climax and many teams will be glad that Open and Women’s Nationals is returning to Manchester, after last year being hosted at the perennially windy Grove Farm in Nottingham. With BUCS eligibility rules kicking in fully, last year’s comfortable winners from Ireland can’t compete so there will be a new champion this year. For those who don’t know, the qualifiers are:
Last year saw Scotland dominate proceedings open, with every team attending a nationals event (div 1, div 2, indoors and outdoors) finishing in the top 8. This performance helped them get the 4th division 1 spot in front of the Midlands; something that Glasgow will be very glad of having scrapped for the final qualification spot at regionals.
|Edinburgh vs Dundee at Scottish Regionals this year. Photo courtesy of LightBox St Andrews.
The usual combination of graduating players and development since last year always makes prediction extremely tough, but all of the regional champions will be hoping to make a run at the nationals trophy. Dundee once again won in Scotland and will be confident they can dominate their English competition. The athleticism that runs throughout their team is seriously impressive, with Benji Heywood describing some of their defensive work as ‘ridiculous’. Heriott-Watt were predicted as the dark horses to make Div 1 in Scotland by many and successfully lived up to those expectations. Div 1 outdoors is new territory for them but they will be confident that their rapidly developing team can make an impact. Close behind them Edinburgh will look to maintain their impressive reputation. Built up by an appearance in the final last year, the loss of some key players has left them looking unlikely to repeat a finals berth but they will still hope to make the top half. Taking the final Div 1 spot from Scotland are Glasgow. A strong showing indoors will have built confidence, but after under-performing at outdoor regionals they will be hoping as they did indoors to place higher at the national competition.
Northern Champions Durham comfortably saw off the usual Northern heavyweights Manchester in their regional final and I expect them to make the top 8 with ease. Having upset the usual state of affairs in the North, they’ll take a lot of confidence into Nationals and having with a handy ability to win the right games at the right time throughout this season so far, they are one of my tips to make the semi-finals. Manchester however will want to correct what they will see as an aberration in not winning regionals. Despite still possessing some top players, everyone is wondering if they have the squad depth to compete with the best in the country. York are another team whose progression to Div 1 status has been rapid after failing to qualify last year for Division 2. Since then they have worked hard and developed into a cohesive unit – no one was surprised when they secured 3rd place at Northern regionals.
In the Midlands traditional University powerhouse Warwick sprung a surprise victory and regained their position at the top after a couple of years in the (relative) wilderness. Captain Sam Hawkins masterminded victory in a tough region, leading a squad with no big stars to a well deserved regional title. Warwick will want to add their name to a trophy they have won multiple times before, however they could be held back by several absentees from their regional squad. Cambridge won Indoors and will fully believe they can repeat the trick outdoors. Their chances are harmed by having only half of ‘those two Americans’ (Justin Norden and Ben Funk) involved as Funk is reportedly injured. This gives even more importance to the depth of their team, and opposition will be hoping to pressure squad players into errors in order to beat them. Birmingham have an impressive recent track record with victories at UMIN, UMON, as well as 3rd place finishes at UOON 2014 and UOIN 2013 and 2014. Despite this they only managed 3rd place at regionals, and needed a second attempt to beat Nottingham to qualify. Having done so they will now be looking to add more medals to their impressive collection.
In the West, Bristol surprised some to take the regional title, overcoming a star-studded Bath team as well as any doubts about their ability to cope with poor conditions. Josh Kyme is the leader of the team, and along with Joe Brown runs the handler set and with a wealth of downfield options in the Bristol cutters, their job is only made easier. Bristol beat favourites Bath to the top spot at regionals who have on their roster both GB and Jen players including Alex Brooks (Jen captain, previously GBU23 Captain and GB Open), Piers Nicholas (GB u20), Michael Guise (GB u20) and Andy Watt (Jen). Last year they won regionals but failed to break the top 8 at nationals and will surely hope to improve this time round. Cardiff make up the qualifiers from the West and they will be delighted with a regionals performance which saw them outperform several strong sides to earn a Div 1 spot, winning the game to go against arch-rivals Exeter. With their own star player in Kei Matsumoto leading a team full of developing freshers it will be exciting to see how they manage the pressure of a top level national competition.
Lastly onto the South East, where Sussex put on a huge demonstration of strength with their 1st and 2nd team proving stronger than anything the rest of the region could muster. This pretty extraordinary statement indicates the depth of their program and suggests they’ll have strong hopes for nationals. The first team will make their usual push for the top four with eyes set firmly on the BUCS trophy. The second team will be hoping to improve on previous showings at Div 1 events (coming last at both Indoors this year and Outdoors last year). Imperial have established themselves as the best of the rest from the South East, and no wonder with big names such as Stephan Rossbauer (Clapham), James Threadgill (Cambridge mixed), David Pryce (Fire) and Phil Sandwell (Ka-Pow). They will have aspirations of a top 8 spot at least.
My predictions for Semi-finalists are:
Three of these four are regional champions and I’m backing them to carry the habit of winning into this tournament and make the most of their strong seedings. Birmingham under-performed at regionals but have a talented squad who are used to winning and could upset their seeding from the start of the weekend in a big way.
Good luck to all teams competing at this year’s BUCS Nationals – keep an eye out for results and tournament review on The Showgame!