The European Ultimate Championship Finals begin next week in Frankfurt. Once again the best 12 Mixed and Women’s teams and the best 24 Open teams in Europe will gather to crown a champion. The ShowGame will be running a series previewing the tournament from a UK perspective, with some additional pieces about how our Irish friends may fare and what to expect from European teams coming as well. To kick us off, Sean Colfer previews how the four-time reigning Open champions, Clapham Ultimate, might do.
UKU Nationals were held in Southampton this weekend just past. Here’s how it went…
Qualifying for EUCF 2014 held in Frankfurt are:
- Clapham (Elite Division)
- Chevron Action Flash (Elite Division)
- Fire of London
|Ollie gets high at WUCC 2010 in Prague. Photo courtesy of Tom Styles/BlockStackTV.|
Next week teams will compete for the right to call themselves the greatest Ultimate club in the world. Now only a number of days away, excited qualifiers from 40 different countries and 161 different teams will be adding the finer touches to their preparation for this momentous opportunity at time of publishing – getting their bodies and minds perfectly ready to take on the rest of the world. At the height of elite non-commercial ultimate the WUCC held this year in Lecco, Italy is only challenged in terms of prestige by international competitions that occur between the World Club years. Players and coaches will still talk with a hushed reverence of Maribor, Southampton, Sakai, Vancouver as they share stories of their brushes with international glory or defeat, and our whole community is undeniably galvanised by the prospect of GB being represented and competing at Ultimate on the highest international stage.
The EUC and WUGC not only carry an extra weight with the privilege and national pride bound up in their medals, but also arguably present a more tantalising prospect for underdog ultimate nationals given the single-team restriction placed on entrants. With only a single entrance from USA, Canada, Japan, or any other of the growing list of world class Ultimate nations (Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Colombia…), the elusive quarter and semi final brackets are notably more viable for the underdog. The most recent example of this comes from close to home with our very own GB open squad making a first ever appearance in a world final in the recent summer of 2012, in Sakai. Whilst the defeat to USA may have been a decisive one, the GB Open performance in Japan provides lasting inspiration for up and coming British players whose dreams of international success were shown to be more viable than perhaps we had all thought a few summers ago.
It is undeniable that London seems to gravitationally attract a huge portion of young people in the UK whether for career, financial or other reasons. This effect is only going to be further exacerbated for our young sportsmen and women by the high percentage of the Ultimate community who learn and/or mature as players at their universities, and subsequently seek out employment in the larger cities. The country is evidently lopsided population wise, and this as well as the bustling London scene is drawing more and more talent to bolster the already dominant London clubs. Yet, despite this weighting towards the capital, top players from clubs across the country consistently prove at tour and GB selection processes that they can bring their own individual dominance over others from further down the London rosters.
The last catch in Lecco will be followed by joy, desolation, celebrations and relaxation for many who move past the pinnacle of their seasons. For some however, it won’t be long after this that the focus turns to EUC’15, WUGC 2016, and the trialling, training and competitive journey of international ultimate that swiftly rises to the height of priority. Should we reassess our current system, and would doing so lead to short term, long term improvement, neither or both? Should we be focusing on top level or grass roots? Should such questions even be imposed on those who make up these teams, and should these people have the responsibility to do both? Let’s start the discussion…
UKU Women’s Tour Top 8
This review will itself be a review of the finals for the top 6. There have been some great match-ups this season, as more and more team find themselves in contention to win – 4 different teams featured in the 3 Tour finals, Iceni and Punt being the only teams to appear more than once.
Iceni’s absence at Tour 3 was to the advantage of other top level teams who came out hard vying for the Tour 3 trophy, and the UKU title. Here’s how it all went down…
Punt have been the movers and shakers of Tour this year and have had a remarkable season. A strong performance in 2013 raised expectations for the Cambridge/Oxford side, and they didn’t let us down. Consistent finishes in all three Tour events brought them a well deserved victory in the overall tour standings, beating out SYC by 41 points. They’ll also be ranked 2nd at Nationals, a remarkable feat for such a young team.
Coming into Tour 3, there was a still a certain amount of mystery surrounding the Bristol side this year. The result of them splitting their squad at Tour 1, and their notable absence at Tour 2 meant that they weren’t seen together until last weekend. In fact, Punt hadn’t had a chance to play Bristol all season, so this was a new encounter for all players involved. With the Bristol women representing in Lecco in a couple weeks time (and many of the Punt players playing for Cambridge mixed) both teams were well drilled and ready to play. This naturally lead to a high quality contest, and a hard fought victory.
Benefitting from low player turnover from last year in addition to a full season playing together, Bristol came out strong in the first half, and despite strong defensive pressure from Punt, the Worlds-bound side took half decisively at 9-4.
Moving into the second half, Punt stepped up their defence, resulting in a number of turnovers near Bristol’s endzone which they were able to capitalise on. In a comeback worthy of the final, Punt brought it back to 11-11. From here, both teams fought hard, but Punt made it evident that they came to win. With the combination of Punt’s defensive strength and the wind playing a role in generating turnovers for both sides, Bristol’s offence began to lose steam. Ultimately, Punt was able to overcome their opposition and beat favourites Bristol in sudden death taking the Tour 3 and overall Tour title.
Despite the upset, Bristol still finished the season in 10th place, with an average of 230 points per event. They go into Nationals ranked 3rd.
A new addition to the squad this year, Punt’s Hannah Boddy was awarded MVP, and took the lovely glass UKU trophy home with her. Congratulations!
SYC and ROBOT seem to have played each other a lot this season, with Tour 3 being no exception. After losing to Punt and Bristol respectively in the semis, both were looking to give a strong showing in the 3 vs. 4. Both teams played some excellent D in this game, forcing the offense to put up some shaky throws.
From the beginning SYC came out strong, piling the defensive pressure and generating turns from the seasoned ROBOT side. While ROBOT’s O was solid with all the right decisions being made with no unforced throwaways, SYC’s defense eventually overwhelmed them. Going into the second half, the London women already had a clear advantage. ROBOT however also brought their strong defensive game, using clever poaches to mark out the younger SYC squad. This strategy worked well for them, stopping the quick and athletic style of SYC, slowing the pace to a more manageable speed, and forcing them to use their break throws.
In spite of ROBOT’s best efforts however, SYC had a convincing victory coming second in final standings; ROBOT finishing right behind them in third.
After a sudden death cross-down and overall disappointing finish at Tour 1, Phoenix have been working hard to climb back up the rankings from 13th. As the season has progressed, this new London team has gelled more, and worked hard to get themselves seeded in the top 8 for the next two tours.
In this match-up, Rebel came out strong, going up 4-1. They used their poaches and zone D to throw off their London competitors, forcing turns even when Phoenix was able to break through the cup. They also proved very effective on offense, with great handler play and quick up the line movement which proved devastating to Phoenix’s D. After a well used timeout call, Phoenix were able to adjust their strategy, and come back stronger against the Irish side. They began to shut down the handler movement by putting a poach in the open lane, and reigning in their offense to be more clinical. But despite their best efforts, the damage was already done and Rebel had a comfortable victory in the end.
A well spirited game which saw both teams finish above seed; Rebel from 8th to 5th, and
Great job to all who participated – there were some fantastic games over the weekend. Thanks for coming, and see you at Nationals!
UKU Open Tour Top 8
With Clapham consolidating back into one team after a flurry of injuries and the repercussions of the US Open, the full squad were out to prove they still could dominate at home. Overall this was what we were shown, with no real trouble in their pool and a lacklustre performance from Fire of London 1 in the semi final setting Clapham against Chevron in the final. Chevron clearly wanted this game and started off the game with a lead and some were hopeful that they could hold onto this. However, Clapham changed gear and got back into it in the second half, taking the game and the Tour title once again. Not to take anything from Chevron, Rob Schumacher (Clapham #99) tweeted:
The final against @chevronultimate best game yet at tour! Good luck in lecco!— Rob Schumacher (@RobSchuie) July 14, 2014
A sign of mutual respect as the top two British teams turn on from familiar opponents to face and hopefully overcome bigger challenges; the rest of the world better watch out for Chevron as well as Clapham.
In a windy 3v4 game EMO took the win over Fire of London who end the season back in the top 4. The only team of this 4 not attending worlds, Fire now look straight to Nationals where they will want to take advantage of Clapham, Chevron and EMO having to double peak this season.
Zimmer finished the season with a very strong performance holding off Rebel and keeping their 5th seed. This all bodes well for their upcoming campaign in Lecco. Rounding off the top 8 at Tour 3 we see the now regulars Manchester and new guard NEO. This meteoric rise through the ranks has surprised some but they have made a statement at Tour that cannot be ignored by competition going into Regionals and Nationals.
Just outside of the top 8 we see Brighton who have experienced a slight fall, but I fully expect them to come out hard to recoup this at Nationals. The lower brackets of the a tour have seen many teams across the season, with old and new faces in CUlt, Reading, Birmingham and LLLeeds making those last few coveted A tour spots a true battleground.
|Chevron Action Flash huddle up for the UKU Tour 3 final. Photo courtesy of Serena de Nahlik.|
B Tour – Thomas Cliff
|Matthew Parslow makes the grab at Tour 3. Photo courtesy of Nick Moss.|
Justin Foord (C)
Richard Harris (C)
Cian Ó Móráin
The final instalment of this years domestic UK club season is tomorrow! With two events already completed it is still mathematically possible for anyone near the top to take the Tour title. Clapham will be combining both lines into the Clapham D team seeding and EMO will be hoping for the London team to lose their almost inevitable semi final. With only a handful of points between them a big enough gap between these two teams on Sunday evening could be the chance for EMO to take the top spot from Clapham D. However, I don’t think Clapham will be lying down too easily. After learning some tough lessons at the US Open they will only be hungry to return to the UK and stamp their authority on their home turf.
|Hayden Slaughter makes a huge grab over Clapham D at Tour 2. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss.|
In the pool stages Brighton get a chance to take that champion scalp early once again, with an opening pool play fixture against Clapham. Can they reverse the result after losing in universe point at Tour 2? EMO and Fire of London face off for the first time in this year’s regular season, can the London team take down the Worlds bound Midlands boys? Londoners Flump however have a tough introduction to this years A tour taking on the young and athletic Devon, flamboyant KaPow! and cohesive Rebel. In the D pool I would expect Manchester to come out on top, but new comers NEO took B tour with relative ease and DED have been strong throughout this season so far so it’s far from a foregone conclusion. Chevron will meet old friends and foes alike in the pool as they face Zimmer, Brighton and Clapham in their pool and will be looking to better a final game loss to EMO at Tour 2.
Can anyone take down a combined Clapham close to their season’s peak? Tour 3 sees both the tournament and overall tour title up for grabs so expect fierce competition as the best teams in Britain prepare for Lecco.
Iceni have chosen to pass on this weekends event to train together and get some rest after the US Open, leaving the Women’s tour title open for a number of teams to possibly take. Punt are only 60 points behind Iceni, SYC trail the current champions by 73 and even if Nice Bristols win this even they will not have enough to take first (or possibly second). This year presents a rare chance for a new team to claim the tour title after recent Iceni dominance, but it won’t come easily…
Punt made their first final last tour and showed that whilst they couldn’t take down Iceni they definitely deserved that second place. Now it leaves them to prove that they can take on Nice Bristols who return from the Boston Invite to continue their Worlds preparation.
|Iceni Captain Sonia Komenda makes a bid on Punt player Hannah Body. Photo courtesy of Graham Bailey.|
SYC and ROBOT will not let any of this happen lightly. Both teams have had a very strong season and have also had some great battles against each other. Do not be surprised to see some great performances from these women as they push to for their first domestic finals of the year.
Further down the pack, newcomers Phoenix London and second year team Relentless will be hoping they can firm up their positions in the top 8 with the likes of Leeds, Blink and Swift.
Saturday games to watch:
Nice Bristols vs SYC (Pitch 3 at 10:40)
Punt vs ROBOT (Pitch 1 at 17:20)
Having finished 2nd last time out, LeedsLeedsLeeds will be hoping to finish in the top 16 this Sunday. In their group are Reading 1 (who they beat comfortably in St Albans), Brighton Echo and Vision. They have yet to face Brighton Echo this season, but they will be expecting to win every game in this group – including regional rivals Vision, who they beat at Northern Winter League on a surprisingly sunny Sunday in Manchester back in February. The Yorkshire lads may very well fancy their chances to get back into A Tour, if looking at the group they would cross with, which isn’t the strongest.
The other group in the top half of B Tour sees JR1, Sneeekys, Fire 2 and Cardiff Storm fight it out for a chance to get back into A Tour – a tough group that’s even tougher to call. JR have been there or there about for a long time now, as far as the A/B Tour line goes. Sneeekys have had an extremely impressive season, having played an entire Tour lower last year, and I’m sure would love to cap a successful season with a spot in the top 16. Fire 2 spent last year in A Tour, though there are some out there that don’t feel Fire 2 have the desire or the pedigree to get back to that level just right now. Finally, there’s Storm, who finished 13th at Tour 2 will have the home advantage of sleeping in their own beds at Tour 3 – which along with only having to do a fraction of the travelling, cannot be underestimated.
The lower half of B Tour is an eclectic mix of teams, some of which have been hovering around those seeds all season, but the majority have played in C Tour at some point this year. Each team will either want to prove that they are definitely a B Tour team (The Brown) or be looking to stake a claim in the middle tier of Open Tour by proving themselves this year (Camden). Expect plenty of close, scrappy games in these pools as each team tries to clamber up the ranks, whilst avoiding the drop back into C Tour. Rest assured that any team that does find itself facing a crossover at the bottom of the Tour will fight extremely hard to ensure that they stay within the top 32.
|Tom Pierce with a layout score for Guildford at Tour 2. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss.|
A more open schedule means that the next instalment of C Tour should see some more movement in the rankings, as teams battle it out in this last chance to improve their seedings this season.
Further incentive to top the pool is provided by the chance of a crossover into B Tour on Sunday morning. Will any teams be able to make the final push to finish in the top 32? The story that unfolds over the weekend will be fascinating – that much is for sure.
Number 1 seeds, Guildford, may feel this is their time, after sudden-death losses to current B Tour teams in the knock-out stages of the previous two tours stalling their attempts at promotion. They will expect to dominate in their group and continue that form into the Sunday. Rhubarb (3rd seed) will similarly be aiming high after an impressive showing throughout the season so far. Perhaps Pingu Jam can find some extra motivation to convert their obvious talent on the pitch to a rise in the seedings akin to that which they enjoyed at Mixed Tour.
Below the teams topping the pools, there is much room for upset with another six or seven teams definitely capable of going toe-to-toe with the big guns. CUlt 2 will be hoping to go one better after a great performance in Nottingham. Likewise, teams such as Lemmings and Black Sheep have bolstered their ranks as they push to challenge those currently at the top.
It will be very much a case of which teams show up this weekend as to who will be able to provide those shock results – but don’t expect everything to go to seed! There is an incredible amount of potential for some huge changes in the C Tour landscape this weekend, with pride and a place in B Tour as the prize.