What’s Cooler Than Being Cool?

Iceni, Womens, WUCC 2018

At a relatively early point in the tournament, reigning European champions Iceni have a very important game on their hands. Besting Seagulls in their pool and losing to Fury were results without serious surprise. An early wobble in the former was corrected for a confident win, and whilst some were frustrated by the Fury game, the Londoners gained valuable experience from the matchup and had a lot of fun whilst they were at it – both being crucial in such a rare opportunity. Standing in the way nexte was Japan’s Swampybarg – a largely unknown team for Iceni.

 

However whilst this team may not have the reputation of UNO, Huck or MUD, Swampybarg had already made their mark in Cincinatti dispatching Malafarma 15-1 earlier in pool play. This routing was the biggest margin of victory so far at WUCC, and would likely remain so for the whole tournament. Malafarma caused Iceni considerably more trouble until 9-9, before a late game push saw Iceni take it 15-10. It is unfair to remove contexts when comparing teams’ results; Malafarma clearly found an inspiration against Iceni that they couldn’t when up against Swampybarg. However what was certain going into their matchup was that both teams are serious contenders.

 

Both teams took a turn each as they settled into the first point, but Iceni broke through early with Grainne McCarthy finding Sophie Wharton confidently for the 2-1 lead. Iceni were finding early form here, and after the disc floated over one of Swampybarg’s superstars, Saori Inoue, Iceni took advantage again and calmly scored another break. The half continued to be a display of intense, exceptionally clean ultimate with minimal calls and very quick points. Swampybarg bit back after winning a short field from an Iceni drop, and quickly looping a blade to the break side. Iceni wouldn’t let momentum grow for the Japanese however, with Sonia Komenda breaking the mark effortlessly washing away any recent memories of conceding a break with a confident assist to Maya Mileck.

 

Withi Iceni receiving 8-7 up after half, the rapid exchange of points halted for a moment as both teams raised their defense, jostling for the second-half momentum. This monster point included six turnovers alone between the teams, many on long range efforts as both sides attempted to capitalise. On what would eventually be a successful attack on the Swampybarg endzone, Jackie Veralls completed a huge possession saving layout before flipping an assist to Qiao Yan Soh. One of the youngest and newest recruits along with Claire Baker, Joyce Kwok and Leila Denniston (on loan from London’s Deep Space), Yan coolly stepped up in this match contributing a further goal and assist on top of this across the game. So – as Iceni asked each other – what’s cooler than being cool? Well – following this up with another break in quick succession. A rare drop from Inoue gave Iceni a short field, but they couldn’t convert initially as the huck faded away from Wharton. On second asking, Iceni made sure – Sonia Komenda’s powerhouse handling stepping up another notch with an un-defendable low backhand pivot securing another advantage for Iceni. Lend me some sugar, they shouted. I am your neighbour. Iceni were just about taking control, and they were very clearly enjoying it.

Photo by Jolie Lang for UltiPhotos

Swampybarg responded with intent however – clawing back another break and keeping the game very exciting for the neutral. Iceni’s O line looked as confident as it had all game, but after an errant pass the Japanese got the turn they were looking for, and wasted no time over sending a looping shot to the endzone to make it 10-9 Iceni. The masterclass continued from both teams, with faultless ultimate until 13-12. Gifted a short field after a slippery Iceni release, the Swampybarg leadership pounced again, scoring the crucial upwind goal and punishing one of the very few mistakes made in the game. 

With both sides even at 13-13 after 80 minutes of play, Iceni adopted the elite poise they’ve generally been associated with over the last decade, threading pass after pass around the Japanese. Defensive pressure was still intense, and game pressure the highest yet by far but after a long possession Iceni put in yet another rock solid goal: 14-13. Before this match, schedule hawks may well have doubted Iceni’s chances. Since they broke an almost perfect run of European and domestic dominance, the team has been squeezed by the double pressure of endlessly high legacy expectations, and somehow also the failure of meeting these same expectations. It will have felt good, then, as they followed up on their hold with a block on the reset from Komenda, which shortly after ended up with a goal to the talismanic and still unstoppable Veralls to take the win on their terms, from defense. Ice cold.

Speaking after the game, it was clear Iceni had as much of a game plan as they could. Kwan explained ‘It was very hard to get much scouting done . . . we knew they were many players from the U23 team a couple of years ago, and we knew we had to try and take away their IO breaks”. Asked about their route to quarter finals from here, Kwan had considerably less to say, but with a simple ‘I honestly have no idea’ showed that sights were being set no further ahead than they needed to. With new leadership in the form of Kwan and Karina Cooper’s, ‘Ice’ have gone through a bit of a re-branding. Fresh kit and Outkast inspired chants are the superficial changes most apparent, but the team and captains are also challenged with assimilating their legacy position as dominant in competition and elite-only at trainings, with a younger energy and more developmental function across the London and UK Ultimate community. It’s no easy task, but today Iceni succeeded at this, balancing youth with experience, and managing to appropriately focus both on themselves and the external challenge to powerful effect. They now have a formidable power pool carrying over their loss to Fury, and also meeting Riot (USA) and Iris (CAN). Whilst we know they won’t be getting ahead of themselves, there’s a huge amount to play for here, and the warriors from London may well be defying a few more predictions as they continue their WUCC campaign.

 

Viva la Revolution

Revolution, Womens, WUCC2018

Sean Colfer was keen to see how Revolution, reigning US Open champions and hot tip for the Women’s title here in Cincinnati, would perform against Atletico, the reigning European champions and themselves no slouches.

This was a hotly anticipated game, not least because it was the first look at Medellin’s Revolution against a European power. Atletico snatched the EUCF title away from Iceni last season with an excellent and precise long game, something that the Colombians will surely face as they get further into this tournament.

Nice Bristols find few holes in this Ozone

Nice Bristols, Womens, WUCC2018

Sean Colfer watched Nice Bristols in their tough first game against Atlanta Ozone.

Atlanta Ozone entered this game as the fourth overall seed, while Nice Bristols were 36th. The gulf in class between the teams, though, was nowhere near that large. Bristols had scouted Ozone through video of some of their games in the USA and had developed a game plan to deal with the strengths of their opponents. Plans are tougher to execute in practice than on paper, though, when your opponents are this talented.

WUCC 2018 Previews – SYC

SYC, Womens, WUCC Previews

Josh Coxon Kelly completes the Women’s WUCC previews with a look at SYC.

How did they get here?
Formed in 2010, SYC began challenging at a high level from their inception. They narrowly missed out on WUCC 2014 by losing a positioning game, and therefore the final remaining UK bid, to Nice Bristols at EUCF 2013.

Tour 3 Women’s preview – anyone’s to win

Previews, Uncategorized, Womens

Making her debut with the ShowGame, Alice Nicholas has previewed Women’s Tour 3 for us. Here’s her view.

With the top teams away representing the UK at the World Club Championships in Cincinnati, the rest of the Women’s Tour will be descending upon Birmingham this weekend where the Tour 3 crown is anyone’s for the taking. It has been an exciting season so far and this weekend will be no different.

WUCC 2018 previews – Iceni

Iceni, Womens, WUCC Previews

Our preview series moves on to Iceni, who might face a tough WUCC. Here’s what Sean Colfer thinks of their chances.

How did they get here?
Iceni have long been the strongest Women’s team in the UK. They’ve won 13 of the 14 Nationals titles since they were established, losing only in 2010 to an inspired LeedsLeedsLeeds team at the end of their run. They’ve also won seven European titles, though in the last couple of seasons they finished third (2016) and second (2017). Still pretty bloody good.

They were given a scare by SYC at Nationals last year as their London rivals ran off a string of points on D to take their pool match 12-15. The true mark of champions is dealing with adversity, though, and Iceni managed to regroup to win the final comfortably at 15-6. That qualified them for yet another WUCC, after they finished 11th in Lecco in 2014, 17th in Prague in 2010 and eighth in Perth in 2006.

Karina Cooper with the left against the Bristol zone at Tour 2. Photo by Sam Mouat.

How has this season been?
This has been a mixed season for the warriors. They won Tour 1 comfortably, with Reading providing the stiffest test during the final, which Iceni won 14-10. After that, they went to Tour 2 where Nice Bristols beat them comfortably twice, 12-5 in a windy pool match and 15-9 in the final. Coming off those losses, Iceni are seemingly in a position of weakness.

The team didn’t go to Windmill, but was at Tom’s Tourney earlier in the year. There they lost twice – to a stacked YAKA (France) team in the final, and also to a Netherlands under-20 team featuring many of the star players from Mixed European champions GRUT. Still, a second-place finish is an achievement against what was a strong field.

 

How do they play?
Iceni play a lot of horizontal stack on offence, trying to work the middle of the field with their strong cutters. They’ll switch up the offensive structure from time to time, but whatever the set they’ll space the field well. They leave the deep space open very well, but sometimes get a bit clogged on the open side at the expense of the break. One thing they have struggled with at times this year is maintaining precision and focus under pressure, with individual errors plaguing them at Tour 2 and in the Tom’s Tourney final. They have a lot of players who can win individual match ups and will look to run things through those familiar faces a lot in order to generate movement downfield.

Defensively, they play a lot of match D. They’re very good at maintaining aggressiveness on the around space and rarely allow their opponents an easy reset, but the inside channel has been an Achilles heel so far this season. There are some excellent athletes on the D line and they make the long game a challenge. When they do play zone they’re smart at cutting off space downfield, and they’ve also got a couple of players who can pull very well – it makes a big difference when setting a D further down the field than your opponents can.

 

Can you give me three players to watch?
Iceni have had a bit of changeover in the last couple of years so there’s some newer faces in the squad to look out for:

Sophie Wharton
If you’re looking for a player who’s going to get horizontal to make some plays, then Sophie is your athlete. She plays intense D and is willing to lay out to make catches, blocks or even just for fun. She’s a critical part of the D line and will take on some of the more difficult match ups when needed. She’s a solid offensive player with very good hands who can make slightly wayward throws look great with her athletic ability.

Sophie Wharton makes a catch against Bristol at Tour 2. Photo by Ed Hanton.

Qiao Yan Soh
Yan is a first-year Iceni player who played for GB under-24 Women in Perth earlier this year. She’s a really good all-around threat who has the throwing ability to open up options downfield. She’s had a good debut year for Iceni and will be looking to use her offensive versatility to make a difference for the team in Cincinnati.

Joyce Kwok
Joyce’s sister Karen has been one of Iceni’s key offensive downfield cutters for several years now, and Joyce has returned after playing in 2016. She’s one of their main handlers and will see a lot of the disc. She’s another who’s had a very good debut year and is one of the most reliable options that Iceni have. She keeps the disc moving and allows the rest of the offence to function around her, knitting everything together and making sure the team don’t get too static.

 

What do they say?

Captain Karina Cooper had a lot to say. First, she talked about the preparation that the team has done:

“Our theme all season has been thinking Ultimate. We scrapped teaching set patterns and instead have been drilling ‘smart’ Ultimate – looking at what your defender is giving you, identifying space on the pitch and the aggressive ways to utilise this space. It’s really exciting to see where we started back in January and compare it to the on pitch successes we had at Tours 1 & 2 and in some big games at Tom’s Tourney. People get caught up in the score lines when it comes to Iceni but we have had a really successful season thus far with the shift in how the team is engineering our offence and committing to playing team defence. We are in a good spot for WUCC.”

Next, she talked about the aims of the team in Cincinnati:

“At the beginning of the season we sat down with the team to talk about our goals for WUCC. One of the biggest aims our team committed themselves to was no regrets. We want to always be at our best and leave everything on the pitch. WUCC is going to be so conducive to this goal as we are one of many teams with a target on our back which means the pressure levels are more balanced than we tend to experience in a UK setting, where Iceni is the team everyone wants to beat. We can take the field without external expectation and set the tone afresh, which is really exciting to be able to do!”

Finally she wanted to give a shout out to some rivals:

“We are kicking off our first day at WUCC with a game against really inspiring and talented German team, Seagulls. Word around the campfire is they really committed themselves to high level development this season at a grassroots level. This mirrors how we approached Iceni this year. We wanted to develop local players and give them the experience of the world stage to help fuel their drive in the sport. So it’s very cool to be playing a team whose model you really believe in yourself. Then we finish the day against Fury. What a day! Iceni are mega-Fury fangirls – we have so much respect and admiration for the heart those ladies put into Ultimate. So what better way to celebrate that to go shoulder to shoulder with the sport’s top competitors.”

 

How are they going to do?
Iceni have had a difficult season, not least because they’ve lost a few players to unfortunate injuries and other circumstances. They go to WUCC with a couple of pick-ups to fill out the roster – albeit very good ones. They’ll be missing big players like Jenna Thomson and Alex Benedict, and off the back of a Tour 2 that provided more questions than answers. That said, this is a team with a wealth of experience and knowhow, as well as an outstanding level of athleticism across the squad.

They couldn’t really have a tougher top seed in their pool as they’ll be matching up with San Francisco Fury, a powerhouse of Women’s Ultimate for years. However, the rest of the pool is relatively friendly with Swampybarg (Japan), Seagulls (Germany) and Malafama (Mexico) all posing less of a challenge. If they do manage to finish second in their pool, they’d see Seattle Riot and either Iris (Canada) or FABulous (Switzerland) in the power pools. That’s a really tough group, and Iceni would almost certainly face a key game against a strong FAB side to see who finishes third and fourth. That would leave them with a cross against some quality teams, as the pools that would produce those players are groups of death.

Pool B features Boston Brute Squad, YAKA, Fusion (Canada) and Brilliance (Russia) who include not only Russia’s key player from their huge WCBU upset, Sasha Pustovaia, but former Iceni player and Eurostar Fran Scarampi. Pool H features 6ixers (Canada), UNO (Japan), Troubles (Poland) and Windmill winners Mainzelmadchen (Germany). Whoever finishes third and fourth in these groups will be going into a power pool, with the top two facing off against Iceni and FAB should their power pool go to seed. That’s brutal.

Given their struggles relative to their past results this season and their incredibly tough draw, I can’t see Iceni breaking into the top 16. I think they’ll make the top 20, though, and will do well in the consolation bracket. So, I’ll say that Iceni will finish 19th.

WUCC 2018 previews – Nice Bristols

Nice Bristols, Womens, WUCC Previews

Our WUCC 2018 previews begin with Sean Colfer analysing Nice Bristols, who take plenty of momentum with them across the pond.

How did they get here?
Bristols have been around since 2004, and have been one of the better teams in the country for pretty much that whole time. They went to Worlds in Lecco and performed pretty well, finishing 22nd overall and 10th best of the European teams. They have never really challenged for the top spot in the country like Leeds did before them, but have been incredibly consistent and brought through a host of younger players from which they are now reaping the benefits.