The European Ultimate Championship Finals begin next week in Frankfurt. Once again the best 12 Mixed and Women’s teams and the best 24 Open teams in Europe will gather to crown a champion. The ShowGame will be running a series previewing the tournament from a UK perspective, with some additional pieces about how our Irish friends may fare and what to expect from European teams coming as well. Continuing the series, we look at 2016 UKU Tour champions Chevron Action Flash.
Chevron are in a familiar spot. In the seven national championships since 2010, Chev have finished second all but once, when they were beaten into third by Fire in 2012. The closest they have been to Clapham in that time was this season.
The squad has gone through a number of changes in that time, with young talent added every year. The young players have generally stepped up and the veterans – Matt Beavan, Will Cornelius and Mark Penny among them – have kept the standards high.
Their offence is a swirl of movement, with handlers like Josh Kyme and Dom Dathan running give-and-go sets while their cadre of athletic cutters get free down the field. Ben Parsons’ ability to gain separation from any defender has become a staple of the Chevron O line while GB Mixed players Steve Kolthammer and Sam Turner offer height and versatility. The Chev defence is similarly athletic and well drilled, with leadership from Ben ‘Neb’ Weddell and Jake Aspin. They have a lot of height on this line as well, particularly from Steve Dixon and first-year Chev player Rollo Sax-Dixon.
Since Nationals there have been further changes to the squad. GB Mixed captain Sam Vile has returned, while GB Junior Brad Pugh has been added to the long list of players to graduate from the Junior ranks to wearing Chev colours. However, the losses look like painful ones. Sam Bowen, one of their top defenders and a GB Men’s cutter, is unable to make the trip over from Dubai. The D line will also be without handler Tom Hodgett and Rhys Evans, while the O line will be missing the considerable downfield abilities of Dec Cartwright, another Junior who has been outstanding since joining the team a couple of years ago. Cartwright was Chevron’s top goalscorer at Nationals, and missing his speed is a hammer blow to their long game.
Chevron underperformed in terms of position at Euros last year considering their talent level. However, a closer look shows that they came out on the wrong end of some incredibly tight games, and their fair share of bad luck. After beating Iznogood of France, Bad Skid (in sudden death) and FWD of Austria, they played Latvian team Salaspils in the quarter-finals. Salaspils completed the unlikeliest of doubles over British teams, beating Chevron by the same 15-14 scoreline they had defeated Clapham the day before. That sent Chevron into the 5-8 bracket, where they lost a rematch to Bad Skid and then lost to German team Frank N. That left them below Bad Skid (whom they had beaten), Iznogood (whom they had beaten) and in eighth place.
That result has left them in the challenger division this time around, so they’ll need to earn their way back into the top eight. Their pool, featuring Czech team FUJ, French team Tchac and Belgians Mooncatchers. Tchac have had some good seasons recently but seem slightly weaker this year following their sixth place finish at Regionals, while FUJ are a good team but should be a step below Chev. Mooncatchers are the intriguing opponents here, but the talent at the top of their roster – Merlin Wollast was one of the best players for WUGC surprise package Belgium – is tempered somewhat by the fact there are only 12 of them. It’s going to be tough to keep up with so few players.
Should things go to plan and they top the group, they’ll be facing the third placed team in Clapham’s pool. That is a tough draw, since it looks likely that third place will be either CUSB, last season’s runners up, or KFK, the Danish upstarts who defeated Bad Skid in pool play at Regionals. Those are very, very tough games. Their quarterfinal would then be against the second-best team in pool B – either Bad Skid, FAB (who beat CUSB in the Regionals final) or Ragnarok, most likely – in another very difficult game. Getting to the top four is within Chevron’s abilities, but whether they can realise that potential remains to be seen.
So; Chevron are in a familiar spot. They’re clearly very good, they have the kind of young, ambitious players that can help them get even better and the kind of leaders in the team that can develop those players. Despite that, they haven’t quite been able to reach the heights they were at when winning xEUCF in 2009 and reaching the EUCF final in 2012. Is this the limit of what they can achieve, or is there more they can squeeze out of this group? What is it that they’re missing that leaves them a notch below teams like Clapham and other European teams when the chips are down? These aren’t easy questions to answer, but they’re the ones that Chev will need to find solutions to if they’re to climb back to the top of the mountain. They’ve reached semis both times EUCF has been in Frankfurt previously, and will be aiming to keep that streak going. They’ll have to take a long, hard road to get there though.