Coming up this weekend is the biggest event of the early university ultimate calendar: Men’s Indoor Nationals. Finally teams get a shot at those all important BUCS points, and a chance to prove UK-wide dominance at Ultimate played on a slightly smaller field and under a roof.
This year is certainly a lot more special than most. With the all-new regional set-up and an expansion of the capacity from 16 to 20, a lot of different teams have made it, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in the air as to who everyone is and who is going to come home with medals. Of course, having 20 teams also gives the potential for a team to be the lowest ever finisher at Div 1 Nationals. However, with five Scottish teams and seven (yes, seven) qualifying from the old Midlands region, there’s going to be a familiar flavour to proceedings, even in an interesting year like this.
It’s important to remember as well that this tournament is played in the infamous Alan Higgs centre in Coventry. Which means that teams will be playing on 3G, some of them for the first time (only two of the seven regions actually play on 3G to qualify). Considering this venue has played host to two GB U23 trials so far, and will play host to mixed trials the week after, these boys are going to have to step their game up to impress the staff at the venue. So who is going to be taking home the medals (along with the complimentary rubber crumb) this weekend?
Semi Final Contenders
There is one team I am genuinely scared to play this weekend. That team is Birmingham (UBU). Why am I scared? Well, they have been strong year on year, and haven’t lost any players (then picked up James “Wolfie” Wolverson, because who doesn’t want an extra player that went to worlds with EMO?). They won their region (with a fairly comfortable 9-6 victory over Warwick), and, with extra strong D players like the formidable Ben “Borat” Burak and the towering Rollo Sax Dixon, it’s no wonder captain Tom Hodgett is feeling confident. I also had the privilege of seeing their team (minus Wolfie) walk to victory at Midlands Warm-Up. On the other hand, if someone could please beat them so that their twitter description can’t read “The best…indoor university team in the country. #talkdirtytome” anymore, that would be appreciated.
So, who could match them? Well, if anyone can, it’s the fine boys of Dundee. They won Scottish Regionals, arguably the hardest region. Their entire team is WFDF rules accredited. They have won it every other year since 2012. And, they have their own personal videographer following them around (Henry Westhead – and good thing too, or we wouldn’t have one of the guys getting a layout callahan at Mixed last weekend). However, despite all that hype, they’re taking a risk this year in that they’re only taking six people to Coventry. But that’s still six incredibly strong people. In fact, that’s six of the seven NEO O-line that helped the club team dominate B tour and climb to 8th in A Tour. Featuring notorious star players Andrei ‘Dickers’ Dick and Alistair ‘Footjob’ Robb as players to look out for and get dominated by. Dundee really are a high class team, and one to watch for the weekend
Cambridge (Strange Who?) are out to defend their title this year, and best of luck to them. They have lost their big two American superstars, but with Dom Dathan (CUlt Mixed) still on the roster, count any force you try to impose on this team readily broken. Captains Roland Turnell-Ritson and Chris Barnes (both CUlt Open) look to practice zero-turn O with flawless D this weekend. “Australian sensation” George Anegg and Luke Frett (CUlt Open, Jen) serve as great additions to an already strong team. We’re predicting a high finish for this team, but, despite taking the East and London region by storm, not quite as high as last year for the boys in light blue.
Given that I have included three regional winner so far, you may think I am being slightly risqué in picking Glasgow (Far Flung) as my final top four pick. After all, they only finished second in their region. So, why am I picking them? Despite a narrow loss to Dundee, I still believe they’ll be a top team to watch this weekend. A narrow second-place in a strong region means as much as a first place finish in others. At least, captain Rory Curran certainly seems to think so. And given a combined height of over 31ft (9.45m) in their starting line, it’s not hard to nod along slightly as he makes his claims (with talks that star player Joe Crisp would still probably sky them, even if they were standing on each others shoulders). Bringing along a talented trio of youngsters in Fraser Kelly, Duncan Webster and Axle Ahmala (collectively dubbed ominously as Frunxle), this is a team that’s going to be huge in future years. If they can avoid throwing point-blocked blades just before the buzzer, they might be in with a shot at the big time this weekend too. Or possibly just repeating last year’s second place finish.
Who else might have a shot? (The 5-8 bracket)
It would take a braver man than I to try to do predictions without mentioning Sussex Mohawks near the top. Despite many graduations and their second team not qualifying for the first time in years, the core of the first team is still as strong as ever. They managed to hang on to John “Shimmy” Maule and captain Glen Newall. Having CUlt 1 player Christian Turvill join them doesn’t hurt their chances either; it certainly didn’t stop them from winning the South East region. With coach Felix Shardlow having guided the team to high finishes for multiple years now, it’s certainly likely that this team is one you’ll see near the top of the pack this weekend. However, this reporter feels that, while semi-finals might just be on the cards, it’ll take some lucky crossovers for them to come above 4th.
Manchester (Halcyon) have finally said goodbye to long-standing team features Jake Aspin (Chevron, GB U23 co-captain) and Matthew Codd (NC Hammer), and there’s no doubt Manchester should be feeling a little vulnerable this year. I say should, because captain “Dirty” Steve Dixon’s (Chevron and GB U23 mixed) team still came out and won the Northern region by a few points. Add a couple Manchester Ultimate players to the mix (Hamish Rankine and Andranik Barsegjan), and you’ll understand why a lot of teams put them as one to watch this weekend.
Bristol (Mythago) come out hard as victors of the South West. Having fallen victim to Mohawks at Nationals last year, they’re out to prove a point, and also out for some very specific vengeance. Captain Mark McCurdy took a very diplomatic approach to identifying star players (apparently you should be scared of anyone with a number on their back). However, their regional MVP James Bogie’s up the line cut was marked as one to admire. You have been warned, now let’s see if you can do anything about it.
Nottingham (Fling) are going to be a strong team this year. And there is one reason for that. The reason is captain Ben Poole, aka “That guy that jumps bare”. Ben is the only person in University Ultimate who would rank themselves as a 5 on the Justin Foord Scale of Excellence, so he’s got a lot to prove trying to live up to that title this weekend. After Fling only just nudged their way to the top of the Yorkshire and East Midlands region with sudden death victories over Leeds and Loughborough, they’re far from a sure bet to the top at Nationals; but far from safe to discount either.
And if I loved to take risky bets, who would be the outside odds? (The likely 9-12)
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Oxford (OW!) are one of the teams that underperform most at university level. With one of the most experienced teams in uni ultimate under captain Rob “Weaks” Sturrock’s command (including four of the DED roster, and not forgetting their vice captain Bryce RJ Leavitt), this is really a team that should be higher up than they have been in the past. So, being the intelligent bunch they are, they got together before term started. They had papers, powerpoints, even an overfunded conference in Europe or two. And they came to one radical conclusion. A conclusion no Oxford team had ever made before. They would actually train indoors this year. After two warm up tournaments, a nail biting sudden death loss to Sussex at regionals, and a spirit trophy from the same tournament, it is clear that this is a team that you are going to have to pull out some fantastic plays to beat.
Bath were unique in being the only team to qualify two teams to Div 1 this year. With both teams only losing to Bristol at Regionals, it really shows a club with great strength of roster throughout, and definitely one of the teams with greatest depth in the tournament. Bath 1, captained by Andy “BIF” Watt (Reading, Ka-Pow!), is indeed looking strong. With Danny Ryle (Reading), Piers Nicholas (Reading, ex-Chevron) and VC Michael Guise providing support to a tall team, expect a shiny, well-polished finish to their plays in all games. Their presence of their second team at nationals has been credited to club coach Tom Dormand and the incredible motivational passion of second team captain Lewis “Tank” Hayes. Two teams give the whole Bath squad a huge sideline this weekend and a second bite at the big teams too. Expect to hear them and fear them.
Heriot-Watt are a team out with a lot to prove. Finishing third in Scotland, this is a team who are hoping that their sheer athleticism is enough to edge out some others (according to captain Cameron Dick anyway). Citing particular strength when faced with cross-overs, star players John “Stainsburies” Stainsby and Luke Crighton are going to hopefully be giving this team the boost they need to stay in the upper half of Nationals this weekend.
The Leeds team are objectively a nice bunch of lads (having won spirit in the Yorkshire and East Midlands region). Which is a good job, because getting along when you have a captain (Dan “Dingle” Lovesey), an ex-captain (Nick “Andy” Moss), and a coach (James Mead, Chevron) all together is a feat that might fell lesser clubs. Not these fellas. Add in three new PhD students in Nicolas Peters (Cork, Rebel), Robert “Crackerlegs” White (Leicester, JR, Jen) and Raymund Kwan (Halcyon) and you start to get the feel of a strong, experienced team looking to sneak home some BUCS points for the first time in a good while.
Run me through everyone else quickly
Staffordshire have qualified for the first time in their history. This might partially be down to Tom “Kitty” Perry. Do you recognise that name? That’s possibly because he had the highest single fantasy score at UKU Club Nationals this year. Not a bad pick-up. With captain Andy Lewis (Reading, Fire, DED, BAF, Fire again) and a couple other strong players, they’re certainly out to cause a few upsets on their first Nationals visit.
One of the other sides playing Nationals for the first time in a while is UEA (Aye-Aye). Kept out by the strength of the midlands region in the past, captain Nick Poole is confident that, barring injury, their team can perform with the best. Despite the loss of Luke Frett to Cambridge and Howard Storey to the real world, having a 6’6” fresher (yes, you read that right) in Mike “The Refrigerator” Mashman means that if this team perform they might be unstoppable. Literally.
One team it is always dangerous to underestimate is Warwick (Bears). Despite having lost their star players every year for the past three, they keep performing well and coming out near the top of tournaments. Expect Captain Jack Skipper’s team to do badly the first day, then pull out a miracle in the crossovers to finish high. This reporter is also going to go out on a limb and predict weaving. You heard it here first.
Yet another team gracing Div 1 Nationals for the first time are Strathclyde (Dark Horses); Captain Cameron Agnew is out to prove that their inexperience doesn’t count them out though. He’s pledged infinite energy on offence while holding down the back with dominant force Jake Burgess (who has personally pledged to sky this humble writer). Hoping for minimal pass scoring from foreign signings Miroslav Stankovič and Daniel Proisl, it’s clear this is a team that means business. And certainly against anyone from south of Hadrian’s Wall.
While coming fifth in a region wouldn’t usually qualify you for the big time, St. Andrew’s (Flatball) are here to prove that, in Scotland’s case, it should. Co-captains Ben Murdoch and Martin Quinn will be leading the team down to Coventry, and with good players Jack “Worldstar” Lynch and Miles Knight providing some strength and height on pitch, this is a team looking to cause some upsets. With coach Benji Heywood writing them favourable schedules* to aid their way to victory, there’s no telling where this team will end up.
*schedules not released at time of writing, opinions of author are not necessarily those of the ShowGame
Despite my colleague David Spark’s prediction for regionals, Durham (DUF) find themselves very firmly in Div 1 this year, with their second team closely bringing up the rear in Div 2. Captain Ed Ward is feeling confident is his relatively fresh faced teams. With GB U20 freshers Alexis Long and Callum Wordsworth helping him out, it’s hard to think that the confidence is misplaced. Certainly a team to watch, if only to figure out now what to do when this up and coming team inevitably make Div 1 next year too.
Liverpool are probably an unfair team to include this low down. In fact they’re only here because I figured some people would just scroll straight to the bottom, so they have more chance of being seen this way. Taking second in the Northern region, captain Don Lindop (Vision) is noted for one to layout regardless of safety, even on hard wood floors. Now he’s treading out the relative comfort of the Alan Higgs rubber crumb you can expect to see some big plays. Add the fearsome figure of Sion Regan (Manchester Ultimate), the tireless Nick Brownbill and Andy Garner, and you have a team you don’t want to have to mess with this weekend – although – some mild injury worries might make it easier to escape from them than otherwise.
It’s highly likely that either Birmingham or Dundee will come away with gold this weekend. Beyond that, it’s a bit more of an open field. But that’s my prediction for the final, and a close one at that.
I’d say that Cambridge, Manchester, Sussex and Glasgow all have a chance at making semis. Actual schedules can always throw some spanners in the works, but however it falls I’d predict these teams on top over the others when push came to shove.
Finally, Nottingham, Oxford, Leeds, Bristol and Bath are the other people I’d say with a shot at top 8. Any of these teams would probably be rightly disheartened at losing out, but after all, it’s Nationals, and not every team can make it.
From the captains, here are the predicted top 8. Don’t agree? Post your own predictions below.
Dundee claim to be “100% legitimaybe” be getting videographer Henry Westhead to make a documentary called “Chasing Coventry”. We look forward to that one boys.
Staffordshire claimed their special power was “super good looks”. We’ll leave that one up to our readers. Strathclyde claimed to be fantastic at baking. I personally would like to call them out on this and demand to witness this amazing baking first hand. OW! #42, come and find me. Apparently Bath 2 aren’t allowed to earn BUCS points, even if they finish high enough. One of the St. Andrew’s player apparently looks really good in a dress. Bristol specialist throws included the “dad throw” and “cross-pitch-push-pass” Teams that said they were looking forward to beating Oxford: Bath, Cambridge, Bath 2. “I heard nationals was moving to Scotland next year to be more central to those teams that qualify for Nationals. Have these rumours filtered down south yet?”