|Matthew Hodgson and Matt Dathan preview Cambridge Ultimate in the Mixed division of WUCC 2014.
|Cambridge winning the Golden Keg final and last month. Photo courtesy of the Golden Keg crew.
If it was a pub quiz, Cambridge would be firm favourites. Not only do they boast a host of current and alumni Cambridge students, they have been joined by a number of players from their arch-rivals, Oxford, to form a team that would not look out of place being tested by Jeremy Paxman.
However it is not a pub quiz, it is the World Ultimate Club Championships, and the question on many people’s minds is, with more than seven doctorates among the team, will too many genii spoil the grand plan, masterminded by co-captains Nick Wong and Magali Matsumiya?
The team held limited try-outs for a small number of invited players to add external experience and talent to a team that has a very cohesive feel to it, due to a long tradition of weekly training sessions in Cambridge.
So whilst the likes of James Threadgill, Frances Dathan and Ben Bruin might water down the average IQ of the team, they will add vital graft and experience to the team.
The combination of a strong history of ultimate in Cambridge, the integration of its university team with the club, the rise of the women’s team Punt and the handful of additions to the squad has led to the rising force of the Cambridge mixed team.
Until last year, they were certainly not considered a powerhouse on the UK scene. Yes, they regularly made the quarter finals and the top 10 at mixed tours, but they were not a team that was feared.
Yet, after their most successful mixed tour season last year – securing second and third-placed finishes – they went into nationals brimming with confidence. They lost to Bear Cavalry in the final and finished in second place, enough to qualify for the European Club championships and their long-awaited prize of a spot at World’s.
At Europeans in Bordeaux their only defeats came against the Latvian team Salaspils FK and a narrow loss against UFO Utrecht in the quarter finals, before securing an impressive fifth-place finish.
With only a handful of new additions this season, they travel to Lecco as one of the most prepared teams. Their turnout at training is outstanding compared to other teams, they reached every almost final of the mixed tours this season and have performed very well at two international warm-up tournaments, finishing as runners-up at G-Spot in Ghent and winning the Golden Keg tournament in Dublin, beating RGS in the process.
Add to that their surprise 15-13 win over Bear Cavalry in a warm-up game earlier this month – the first UK team to beat Bears in over a year – Cambridge “look to be timing their peak perfectly for World’s,” as one rival team’s captain put it.
Playing and Coaching Style
At times, however, their preparation domestically has been frustrating, with the lack of competition in the UK a problem shared by Bear Cavalry.
“It’s been frustrating that a lot of our games haven’t been that close,” says Nick. “We’ve only had one or two games each tour to really develop and learn new things.”
Cambridge’s style of play is very much driven by a horizontal offence, with hints of split stack principles, aiming to make big isolations for their cutters, which will give opposition teams match-up nightmares across both genders.
“We’ve got some really good women on the team,” says Nick. “So we set up our offence to make sure we give them the space to do their thing.”
Some players have joked about the amount of time spent discussing the small minutiae of tactics, suggesting too many genii do indeed spoil the grand plan, but Nick does well to use and contain the billions of brain cells competing for talking time.
Nick dismisses the importance of the team’s superior IQ, however. “IQ smarts translates very poorly into frisbee smarts,” he explains. And co captain Mags says it sometimes has a detrimental effect at trainings.
“It leads to a vast amount of discussion of every possibility that could possibly ever happen, which is not ideal,” she says of certain players’ tendency to analyse their tactics to the nth degree.
As for their tactics off the pitch, the captains are taking a more Fabio Capello approach to team discipline than RGS have, with an alcohol ban in action throughout the tournament. Only time will tell which approach works better, but don’t expect Cambridge players to be hitting the bars of Lecco until at least Saturday evening.
Nick refused to set a goal for Cambridge at World’s – or at least he chose to keep his cards close to his chest – preferring to determine success as “playing really well as a team and playing to our potential,” taking each game as it comes.
He stressed Cambridge’s team ethos was more important than any key individuals, and the team’s strength across the board, rather than certain stand-out players, is something that their UK rivals lack.
“There’s no kind of individual stars as such. What we’ve done well so far is try to work out how to get key contributions from everyone, so not to rely too much on stars, but to have a good spread from everyone.”
It is a point put rather more bluntly by a Bear Cavalry player, who predicted a top-16 finish for Cambridge.
“A very flat squad without any standout players but plenty of depth,” is how they described Cambridge. “Tactically they’re very sound but I suspect they’re simply not talented enough to break down a really good team.
“They’ve also got a really hard draw so would be very hard pressed to get out of their power pool let alone make top eight. A finish in the 12-16 bracket in my opinion.”
Cambridge are not afraid of rewarding their star players on the day however, with American Steve Kolthammer winning male MVP at Golden Keg and the female award going to Magali Matsumiya, who has come a long way since playing in her first mixed tour in 2007, when, unaware of the term ‘gender across’, ended up marking a guy and leaving the free woman to score an easy point.
Cambridge will be going into WUCC seeded 18th – the second-ranked British team behind Bears – but have all the pieces in place and preparation to compete with anyone and make a run at the top spots.
Almost there only one team left …