Claire Taylor and Felicity Perry give us the UKU Women’s Nationals outlook
Surprisingly UK Nationals is the only tournament in the women’s calendar that hasn’t seen a marked increase in the number of teams each year. Perhaps the heated competition in the middle ranks of Tour will see interest and entries into UK Nationals growing in future years, but for now we have a tournament that seems to provide less of a draw. This year, eight teams are entered, less than anticipated and rumoured, but more teams than in some recent years.
It is something of a shame that there aren’t more and with the increasing depth of competition at Tour, it seems irregular that there is such a drop in interest to attend Nationals*. Is it possible that club teams prioritise Tour, and Nationals is not an event that piques their interest? Or is it the prospect of another long journey down south that some teams cannot manage – perhaps the division is further impacted by the concurrent mixed division at Nationals.
Despite the low turnout, the women’s division at UK Nationals looks set to be a high quality tournament with a number of contenders for the two qualifying spots for EUCF in Wroclaw later this year. Nearly all teams have bolstered squads for Nationals, as key players who have been focusing on GB Masters, GB Mixed or GB U23 team during Tour are returning to their clubs.
Dragon Knights and Swift are noticeably missing from the Nationals line-up, both beating LeedsLeedsLeeds at Tour 1 and giving many highly seeded teams a run for their money. We spoke to a representative from Swift, and they have the same reason for their absence at Nationals every year. For them, Southampton is just far too south. After a full season of travelling, Swift find that unfortunately they don’t have the time, money or inclination to take on another epic journey from Scotland.
The structure of Nationals doesn’t allow for a 2 v 3 play off, meaning that in recent years, if you were in the semi final against Iceni (and lost as has happened to all teams in the last 10 years) then you missed out on a place at EUCF. Therefore, initial seedings and every pool game counts in the fight to get to the final, and to qualify for a trip to Europe.
Reigning National and European champions from London, Iceni, look set to hold on to their Nationals crown this weekend. After dominant performances at Tour as well as a trip to the US, Iceni have a squad full of ladies who have been representing their country and competing at the highest level all season who can now put all of their focus into Nationals.
Not to be underestimated are LeedsLeedsLeeds, who beat both Punt and Bristol at Tour 3. A team of mostly young players whose experience and skills have improved throughout the season, they have a lot of grit and fresh talent as shown by their ascent from 13th to fourth seed throughout the Tour season. At Nationals the squad will be bolstered with the return of players from GB U23 and GB Masters, and given their strong finishing position at Tour 3 the northerners are looking to use a combination of players representing LLL from the past, present and future to improve on this.
The final team in Pool A are Relentless who have had a consistent and successful Tour season, finishing in the top eight at two events. At Nationals they see the return of skilful players Lucy Hyde and Tiffany Anderson, both capable of big things individually and formidable together. Relentless have a great long game and the physicality to take on big bids when necessary. They are also boosted by the return of players from the experience of U23 Worlds in London this summer. We expect them to be fighting hard to come in the top two of their pool, securing a semi-final spot as they do so.
2015 is the first Nationals for Phoenix London, after finishing mid-table at Tour this year and having a strong regular season in 2014. Phoenix have been consciously developing new players this year, and we expect to see them shine at Nationals.
SYC are back to full strength, and have been enjoying the benefits of having a non-playing coach this year. This athletic and well drilled team have been aiming their season towards Nationals, using Tour as a build-up to peak in Southampton. Undoubtedly the influence of newly recruited coach James Burbidge as well as their regular ‘SYC Saturdays’ will have been a massive benefit to the whole squad. This is a strong team with strong players, certainly aiming for a spot at EUCF.
Following their split-squad approach to Tour 1 and Tour 2, Bristol returned to a first and second team split at Tour 3. Nationals will see their full squad, reuniting the team with their GB Women, Masters, Mixed and U23 players that were all missing from the team at points during the season. Their dedicated training and development focus at Tour has created a hub of strength for women’s Ultimate around Bristol. We’re hoping to see their younger players in good form for Nationals and keeping an eye out for future stars. This team will equally have a place at EUCF in their sights.
After two very strong Tour standings Punt’s lower finishing position at Tour 3 wasn’t expected. However, second overall in the Tour rankings demonstrates that they are a team to be reckoned with, and one that will not go down without trouble. Punt lost a few players to GB Mixed this year (Isabelle Ascah-Coallier is one to watch) and if these strong players return for Nationals, they’ll look to be on good form to do some damage in their pool.
Manchester Women’s Ultimate are attending their second Nationals event this year. Consistently entering two teams into Tour, Manchester continue to be a great example of successful women’s geo-development. They are going from strength to strength and will be hoping to have some hard fought games against the best teams in the country.
Bristol, Punt and SYC will all be aiming for a semi-final spot, ideally one that doesn’t meet Iceni. For these teams topping this pool will be a priority, so expect games between them to be very hard fought.
If current form prevails Iceni will take the National title, and first seed at EUCF. Whilst the Londoners are odds-on favourites to win, there are contenders who have them in their sights and will look to give them a run for their money. The main contenders to face Iceni in the semi-final, SYC and Bristol, both have returned to full strength squads, and will be gunning to take down the favourites in an upset. Both of these teams could certainly challenge the might of Iceni, but they will have to be tactically and physically ready to step up their games to topple the reigning champions.
The fight for the second spot in final is wide open to a number of teams. Preparation, form on the day and the addition of returning players to squads should see SYC, Bristol, Punt, LLLeeds and Relentless all fighting for a place in the semi-finals and the chance to take the precious second EUCF qualification spot. Teams in pool A have a slightly easier route to a qualification spot, as they avoid Iceni in the semi-finals, however by no means can any team afford to be complacent for one moment this weekend.