WUCC 2014 Mixed Division Preview: Bear Cavalry

Matt Dathan and Matthew Hodgson finish off our previews with Bear Cavalry.
Bear Cavalry took Gold at Windmill Windup this season. Photo courtesy of Martine Bootsma/Windmill Windup.


Adam Maxwell
Alex Wylie
Darbi Donaldson
David Tyler (C)
Gemma Wakeford
Hanna John
Helen Swan-Thompson
James Freeman
Joe Swan-Thompson
Josh Wakeford
Lauren Tyler
Lucy Hawkes
Matt Alders
Matt Hodgson
Pedro Vargas
Ronja Wöstheinrich
Rosie Musgrave
Theo Tizard

About Bear Cavalry

The World Club Championships in Lecco is what Bear Cavalry has existed for since the club of mainly Warwick alumni players was formed more than four years ago.

With a 95 per cent retention rate since that first full season together, there has been little need for adding extra players to a tight-knit group, many of whom have played together at university, in the 2011 GB mixed team and at clubs such as Fire of London and Ka-Pow.

But for their final path to World’s they have added two missing jigsaws of the puzzle in the form of two Ka-Pow players – Pedro Vargas, the Portuguese handler, and the versatile Matt Hodgson.

Both were hand-picked by the Bears captain, Dave Tyler, as individuals who would easily adjust to Bears’ particular style of offense and hard man defense.

Playing and Coaching Style

That style of play is built around a pivot-based offence, characterised by cynical opponents as a hierarchical offence because it is designed around Joe Thompson and Dave Tyler, the two pivots around which the rest of the offence runs.

“Calling it a hierarchical offence is disingenuous, because outside of the top two the hierarchy isn’t well defined,” Dave explains.

It is an approach targeted for mixed ultimate and designed to bring out the best of the teams’ star players. 

“It often looks like quite a naive V stack, but it’s a bit more complex than that – the stack is just somewhere to keep people out of the way until a pivot player gets the disc. It’s not an offence that would work for most teams – and definitely not in open – it’s evolved over time as the way to get the best out of our best players.”

When observing their style of play, you may come to the conclusion that Bear’s strategy has remained unchanged from their university days, but while the principles remain the same – man defence and a vertical stack offence – the adjustments made by the captaincy have filtered in over the years.

On first glance the offence style may look basic, but the adjustments made have highlighted the strengths of the squad and have been drilled in so thoroughly that the team has confidence in the strategy and in the reliability of the team to execute it. 

Bears are hitting World’s after a hugely successful domestic season, dominating all three mixed tours and remaining unbeaten until earlier this month, when they suffered a surprise loss to Cambridge in a friendly.

The defeat was brushed aside by Bears players, who pointed to the fact they were missing four of their key players. “We needed to experience what defeat tasted like so we know never to taste it again,” said a particularly defiant Bear. And it was on Cambridge’s hallowed home turf, of course, so no confidence has been lost from within the very close unit of players.

Domination has not been a new experience for Bears however, having won mixed tour in 2011 and 2012, winning nationals in 2012 and 2013 and the European Club Championships in Bordeaux last year.

They continued to impress on the international stage this season, winning the Golden Elephant trophy at Windmill Windup in Amsterdam. Winning on the domestic and European scene is one thing; world domination is another level altogether, and captain Dave is realistic when it comes to setting a goal in Lecco.


He said it was difficult to predict how a club like Bears will fare against non-European teams, pointing to the example of Venezuela under-23s at last year’s World Championships to show how dangerous it is to guess the strength of teams from more unfamiliar countries.

As with the Open and Women’s divisions, the pinnacle of European mixed clubs come from the UK. But unlike Clapham and Iceni, who have both recently returned home from facing North America’s elite at the US Open, Bear Cavalry have never played a team that competes outside of Europe, so adjustments will have to be made based on filmed footage and adapting throughout the tournament. 

When pushed for a prediction – and Dave was the only one of the UK mixed teams’ captains who was brave enough to give a prediction, a reflection of his straightforward, honest approach to leadership – he told The ShowGame that a realistic goal for the team was a finishing position between seventh and 12th place.

“I’d say it’s a huge success in results if we come in the top eight,” he says. “I’d like us to come up against one of the top four teams and prove that our systems work. We won’t win, simply because we aren’t individually good enough, but I want to see whether what we’ve built as a club holds its own to the top of our abilities as individuals,” he adds.

Lecco is the last hurrah for Bear Cavalry. Like retiring footballers, it is always best to go out on top, leaving a positive legacy to remember the team by. Barring world domination, there is little left to achieve for the club, having risen from winning student nationals to European champions and what the team hopes will be a top eight finish at World’s.

The best crop of players in the team are likely to focus on GB for the next couple of years and while Bear Cavalry might make the odd reappearance at tournaments at home and abroad, it will no longer be a club with such a serious and focused set of objectives.

Whatever you make of their style of play and approach to the game, you cannot doubt the commitment of the players to a set program over such a length of time and the impressive journey they have made all the way from Freshers’ year at Warwick University.

And that is that. Keep you eyes open for the SkyD and tSG coverage of WUCC.