UKU Regionals Preview – the North

Dale Walker tells us how he thinks the Northern region will pan out this weekend. The North has 2 bids to Nationals and will be held this Saturday.

With the introduction of the Regionals/Nationals structure to UK Ultimate over the past few seasons, the UKU has taken a glance across the pond to find a structure that allows for a flagship event to be created whilst encouraging local teams to come out and see the best in their proximity battle for the privilege of representing their region at the National Championships.

Whilst thinking about how best to introduce the Northern region and to truly describe the dynamic we have, my mind glanced across the pond as well for inspiration. Whilst not the learned observer I have been in years gone by, I still keep an eye out on the blogosphere and ultimate outlets to see the latest trends – where the talent is heading, who are the top contenders in USAU etc. – and whilst thinking of a direct comparison my attention swung to 2011 NW Regionals.
David Sparks makes a bid for LeedsLeedsLeeds at T2. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moss.

This particular tournament featured 4 of the best teams in the country at the time, battling for 2 spots to Nationals in a hugely under seeded region based on regional trends over the previous years. Revolver were at the peak of their powers – Kittredge, Cahill, Watson, Sherwood et al – and dominated the Regional and National scene. Sockeye had come off a very strong regular season, and were being heavily tipped to take the second berth to Nationals. Furious have been notoriously slow in the regular season and didn’t look tooled up to keep Rhino down, nevermind knock Sockeye out. Rhino (with the addition of Seth Wiggins, Chasing Sarasota era) had come off their best ever year and threatened to break the monopoly the afore mentioned trio had enjoyed.

Revolver took the Region. Furious knocked Sockeye out. Furious had beaten the bookies, and despite not coming close all year had taken them down when it really mattered.

First off, I am not drawing a direct comparison in terms of ability between the North of England and the North West of North America. The comparison lies in a region with 2 berths and 4 teams fighting – whilst one spot might be sown up, the latter is completely up for grabs and is 2012 taught me anything it’s that no-one is safe from the dark horse.

Chevron have been a powerhouse over the past few years in Northern ultimate. Their population is more diverse these days, featuring players from Manchester, Liverpool, London, Leicester, Leeds, Bristol, Exeter but the ethos remains the same – gritty, athletic ultimate with an explosive game based on dominant cutters. With some of the old guard moving on, Chevron have revamped in recent years and boast no fewer than 9 GB U23s in the Open team returning from Toronto. Lead by the Chevron veteran Matt Beavan and ably captained by 2010 U23 captains James Jackson, Mark Penny and Josh Coxon Kelly they will look to use Regionals as a tune up event having featured for the past 7 years in the top 4. Expect them to take the region comfortably.

Manchester Ultimate (the rebranded ManUp) have similarly rebooted their programme this year with an active focus on becoming the competitive arm of a hub of UK ultimate. Training weekly since October focusing on skills and fundamentals, Manchester were able to secure an 11th place finish Tour 3 having been promoted from B Tour earlier in the season. Losing in sudden death to KaPow and Ranelagh showed that this team can compete at the top and they are laying claim to be the dominant force in the North. Expect to see Adam Irving rip a few hucks to Nick “Bambi” Smith and Santiago Zuluaga make plays on both sides of the disc. Lead by captain Ewen Buckling bringing a humble intensity to the D line, with Sion Regan and Ben Brierley making explosive plays to keep the D line in with a shout against any team.

Having been part of the exodus from LLLeeds to Manchester between 2012 and 2013, this writer feared they may struggle to recover from the blow of losing 5 starters to Manchester. Leeds have done a superb job of starting from scratch and working with local talent to create a very strong team who have shown all year that youth can be a virtue. Bringing in talent from the local universities, Leeds managed to come up with Manchester at Tour 1 and have stayed in the top 16 so far. Rich Hims has been making plays all his career for LLL, and sets the tone for a young squad who don’t lack in legs (although rumour has it he may be playing Mixed therefore ineligible for Regionals). Ben Bruin keeps the offence ticking over with solid throws and good speed, whilst Chris Rodd and Sam Rayner keep picking the legs up to threaten any D. Having lost to Manchester 3 times this year, they will be determined to make sure they stop the rot and give themselves a chance.

Vision have bled their best talent to their competitors in the past few seasons (Liam Kelly, Sion Regan and Paddy Hart to Chevron, Manchester and EMO respectively) but have always been focused on bringing through local junior talent and giving youth it’s chance. They have always been a passionate team with a lot of fire, but have always struggled to retain depth to the squad and having lost the voice and wisdom of Mark Cooper and Mark Ansdell respectively this season they have relied on some newer faces to get the job done. Paddy Hart looks to control the offence with big throws and has willing runners in Pete Garnett and Dave Baxandall. Alex Walsh and Ben Smith Richards came through the GB Junior ranks together and possess pretty throws capable of hurting defences. Having secured a headturning sudden death victory over LLL in 2012 to secure a Nationals berth, don’t put anything past them in 2013.

Filling out the field is Black Sheep 1 & 2 who have spent the season growing as a team and splitting relatively evenly in Tour events (featuring in the C Tour). They will be approaching the tournament with a view to learning and growing further, with a set of games against the region’s top talent sure to boost them as a club in the future.
With the schedule just released, it appears the crunch game comes down to Manchester vs Leeds in the group stages. At this stage, it is unclear if both teams will elect to carry the result from the Group stage or potentially replay in the 2v3 (assuming Vision don’t cause another upset) but with a place at Nationals on the line for the victor, expect a dogfight. With the results this season in Manchester’s favour (15-10, 15-10 and 15-13 respectively all in crunch games) the smart money would be on Manchester joining Chevron in Southampton. 

I’m sure the smart money would have been on LLLeeds joining them last year.

What do you think? Tell us below, on FB, Tweet, email, ask away! DP @ tSG.