Josh Coxon Kelly previews the 2015 Open Division of UK Nationals
International duties are over for now, and the UK Ultimate Open division finds with Nationals the first tournament of the year in which domestic teams will be competing with anything close to full rosters. Rather than a re-hash of the years’ early Tour events then, Nationals holds an extra degree of excitement as souped-up squads look to smoothly incorporate big name returners, and compete to be named the best club in the nation.
The only newcomers this year are the Fantastic Mr. Fox who feature Oxford alumni players including GB Mixed captain Sam Vile. This team starts in 16th after qualifying third in the South-Eastern region, but will be hoping to surprise teams later into the tournament in placement games. Noticeably absent are Cambridge’s CUlt, who were pipped to the final Midlands spot by Blue Arse Flies.
The fallout of the GB U23 squad sees an immediate strengthening of EMO, who gain Ben Poole, Will Rowledge, and Rollo Sax-Dixon, all of whom were instrumental in the GB U23 open squad at points of the World Championships this year. Jack Higgins and Joe Wynder (who at time of writing is on 89 fantasy ultimate squads) competed as part of the mixed U23 squad, and established names Rich Gale and Tom Fox mean that this squad will certainly have the fire-power to do damage if on form. A lacklustre regular season suggests that depth could be an issue, and surprisingly low tour placings put them on course for a quarter-final matchup against Clapham, probably at least one stage earlier than they would have liked. Brighton Legends are EMO’s first game, who will look to draw upon the GB pedigree of Thomas Roach and Daniel ‘Dyno’ Friedburg along with a mischevious disrespect for more established (read: training) outfits to cause an early upset.
Anything other than a Ka-Pow! and Devon quarter-final will be a serious upset, and this game could be the most exciting of the second stage as two evenly matched squads hustle for a semi-final berth. Devon are boosted by Richard Coward this year and consistently show the benefits of long-developed squad cohesion to perform well at Nationals year on year. However Ka-Pow! are also at the summit of a strong year, and will have European qualification as a serious goal.
Fire have plenty of talent to draw upon, and will need to ensure that they perform as a unit; as well as returning players they have to convert a season of considerable first and second team changeover. They should overcome BAF in their first round, but face a potentially thorny quarter final against the winner of Manchester and Glasgow, who are likely to provide the most entertaining first-round game. Glasgow’s early season put them at surprising favourites to win the overall Tour, until their absence at Tour 3 made way for Manchester to become surprising winners across all three events. A single Scottish qualification for Nationals sees Glasgow underseeded; whichever team emerges on top in this game will need to use this momentum to get out of a stacked bracket.
The return of GB Open D line players Callum Ayers and Hayden Slaughter should boost Brighton City, although Birmingham will be looking to stand fast after a solid season and the return of Andrei Mandzuk from GB U23 Open. Chevron will be looking to face the winner of this game after overcoming Fire 2, and will be gearing up for another shot at a National title. Whilst they miss out on the talismanic Sam Bowen, the squad is littered with international returners with players from GB Under 23 Open, Senior Open, Senior Mixed and Masters coming together for the first time this season. Having dealt with a drought of players throughout tour, this squad will be brimming with energy as well as talent now that they can compete with reasonable numbers. Previous years have seen Chevron come short in the final (as well as a semi-finals exit in 2012), but if this team can finally get the most out of its roster it may produce the most exciting championship game for a long time.
As always, European qualification is at stake in Southampton and will be a more pressing concern for some teams. The top two seeds enter the Elite division of EUCF, however considering the unpredictable nature of teams this year, there is a higher chance than ever that we see a play-off for this second qualification spot for the loser of the final. With the 2-15 bracket of the draw heavy with teams who should be threatening for European contention, space may well open up for Devon and Ka-Pow! to make their way to Poland.
Clapham have won the last 14 Nationals, and Chevron and Fire have been the only silver medallists since Leeds were unsuccessful finalists in 2005. Recent trends look to continue in the top two, with Clapham looking likely to meet either Chevron or Fire in the final. However a lively and shifting domestic scene is making upsets possible for all other placements, and will leave plenty of interest for neutrals as teams jostle for position in the race to Europe.