UKU Mixed Season 2016: Tour 1 Preview

Sean Colfer begins our club season coverage with his preview of the first Mixed Tour of 2016

Mixed Tour 1 is often full of surprises, which is no surprise itself given that it marks the beginning of the season. It’s the first time teams from all over the country gather in one place, the first time any training put in over the winter months bears any fruit and the first time out for new-look squads or, as is often the case, new teams altogether.

There are a number of unknowns at MT1, though some are rather less mysterious than others. For example, Leeds have entered for the first time since 2009 but it seems likely that their numbers will feature many players from both the Open and Women’s teams. Other teams, like Sublumni (made up of former Portsmouth University players) and Jest We Forget (current and former Leicester University players), seem easy to predict as well. From others, like the three ‘S’ teams Smoaj, Smoozh and Schweffes, I frankly have no idea what to expect.

The main story at MT1 seems likely to be the international teams. Great Britain and Ireland contested the final of the European Championships last year, though Ireland have reconstructed their squad since then, and both will be keen to tune up against the best competition possible ahead of Worlds in London in June.

GB recently played a friendly against reigning national champions (and 3rd-placed team at European Clubs) Reading Ultimate, winning 13-10 against the strong club side. GB have added some strong players since earning their gold medal, not least Bear Cavalry stalwart James Freeman, and will doubtless be difficult to stop in Cardiff.

Reading have themselves strengthened following their breakthrough season last year. They won the corresponding event in 2015, finished third overall in the Tour standings, won Nationals and then gave a fantastic performance at Europeans before losing to Czech team Yellow Block in the semi-finals. The cohesion and momentum that carried them to new heights last season should still be evident this time around and they stand a good chance of being in the conversation at the top of the standings this year.

Black Eagles won Mixed Tour overall last season and should be strong again, as should last year’s overall runners-up Glasgow. Scottish Ultimate is in the midst of an upsurge at the moment; their university division is sending a large number of teams to Nationals, Glasgow were the surprise package of last year’s Open Tour season (before something of a let down at Nationals) and both Mixed teams demonstrated their ability to compete at the highest domestic level on a number of occasions.

Outside of the top three teams from last season and the international teams, there are a number of other teams capable of challenging for spots in the semi-finals. Bristol, Thundering Herd, Shiny Happy Meeple, BAM and Brighton are all staples of the Mixed division and had good seasons in 2015, while JR greatly improved and Mighty Hucks crashed the top 10 in their first season. If history is any indicator, these teams will feature talented players and will be either well-drilled (those who train together) or comfortable with one another’s games (for those who don’t). TBC, the 10th seed, are a mystery to me but have been bumped up in the latest seedings so must be a capable bunch.

The group stage will feature some interesting games, with the seedings based on 2015 Tour performances rather than results at Nationals. Group B features Glasgow, Herd and Meeple and could see  a struggle for the quarter final places. Following a seedings shuffle, BAM will need to overcome either the National champions (Reading) or the national team (GB) in group C to make the quarters – a daunting task. Group A features JR and TBC struggling for a quarter final place behind Black Eagles, while group D has gone from being a fairly straightforward affair to being a veritable group of death. Ireland, Bristol, Brighton and Mighty Hucks are all good teams and would all be competitive quarter finalists, so there should be some excellent games to decide the two who do progress.

No Mixed Tour preview would be complete without a note about the weather, but indications are that this year it should serve as little more than a footnote – the forecast is not that cold, fairly wet but – mercifully given last year’s descent into farce – not that windy. As always it is a little difficult to make predictions without much information, particularly about the new teams (Sublumni seem like a nice bet to improve their seeding considerably), but at the risk of making a fool of myself I’ve had a stab anyway. Enjoy Cardiff!

1. GB Mixed
2. Reading
3. Black Eagles
4. Glasgow
5. Ireland
6. JR
7. Bristol
8. Thundering Herd

Feature image by Dan Millard.

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