Thomas Cliff looks back at Mixed Tour and ahead to UKU Mixed Nationals this weekend.
Having just experienced the most unstable Open and Women’s Tour seasons that I can remember, it could be easy to forget about the mixed season that preceded it.
However, Mixed Tour wasn’t without its share of uncertainty. 2014’s top squad and the combination of former European champions Bear Cavalry having disbanded, and Cambridge mixed, sixth place finisher at WUCC 2014 having had a severe drop off in top talent, really set the stage for the pack of wolves nipping at their heels to have a shot at the top. Further to this, GB Mixed seniors, GB U23, and Ireland Mixed took many fantastic players away from the rankings, leaving things absolutely wide open.
Mixed Nationals this year is likely going to be a tale of teams who stepped into the void left at the top from 2014, as there is a strong correlation between the Tour rankings and the Nationals line up: seven of the eight teams entered at Nationals finished in the top 12 over the course of the season, with the eighth competitors being 2014’s second-place finisher Pingu Jam. Notable absences are Glasgow, who have a real shot at making Euros in the Open division, and Bristol, who are likewise placed in the Women’s draw.
Black Eagles are a team which could be described as a perennial contender on the national scene, and looking to build on their Mixed Tour success at this could really be their chance to stamp their authority on the year. Of course as reigning Tour champions you can say that they have already done that, but I doubt that they will be settling for anything less than first, especially with only minimal losses to women’s and open commitments.
On the flip side of that particular coin lays Thundering Herd, who will certainly feel the loss of Fire of London, Ka-Pow!, Iceni, and Phoenix players in their quest to force their way back in to Euros. I’m sure the Thundering Herd captains aren’t worried though, as their second team finished a strong 11th in the Tour rankings, and they will still be boasting the likes of familiar faces Rowan Pearson and Chris Whittle. Strength in depth really is the aim of the game for the cow-print clad Herd, as well as a tight well-structured offence. Devon and Brighton similarly may be a little short staffed due to the draw of the Open bracket. Although as anyone playing in Britain is likely aware both regions are riddled with quality ultimate players, and I have no doubt that they will play anyone in the division close. However, recruitment will be key to heir success, as one player really can make the difference in a close game.
It’s fair to say that Reading were a surprise package coming in to Mixed Tour, certainly compared to top eight stalwarts like Herd and Black Eagles. Having taken Cardiff by storm with a first place finish over GB Mixed they followed up with two very respectable seventh and fourth place finishes. Reading ultimate will be looking to recreate their early season success in Southampton, with a lot of the top end of their open team choosing to focus on mixed for the first time, making them serious contenders. Strong throwers Sam Gunbie and Mark Bignal excelled in the wind in Cardiff, so they may quietly hope for blustery conditions.
JR and BAM are both teams which should be able to take a mostly full complement of players to Southampton. At this point JR really do need very little introduction; expect them to do what they have been doing for the last three or four years – turn up, wear pink and throw from anywhere on the pitch to anywhere else on the pitch. For anyone that isn’t familiar with BAM, they have a lot of knives and hammers in their arsenal, and aren’t scared to throw them. I can only imagine a matchup between these two to be an exciting spectacle, and I will be doing my best to watch when they meet on Saturday afternoon.
Pingu Jam are the missing piece of the puzzle, and as they simply haven’t played a lot this year they will stay that way until the first pull come Saturday. They will likely see the return of juniors and stars from U23 squads which will no doubt bolster their lines from the one tour event they did attend this year, which resulted in a disappointing 15thplace finish. As always, big plays, big personalities, and an air of confidence follow Pingu Jam around, and why not; they have as good a shot as any to return to the big show in Poland.
All in all, I can see a really impressive field emerging, but I can realistically see Black Eagles taking the title over Reading in a strongly contested final, with Thundering Herd and JR battling it out for third place. Of course if any team has a good Saturday then the whole field may be turned upside down, as the Nationals format is as unforgiving as ever to slow starters.