Jonny Arthur has looked at the South East region, including the return of a Great Britain Men’s player that will shake up the whole division.
The 2015/16 season of South East University Ultimate saw a major shakeup, with the top four teams all trading wins and losses, and in a rollercoaster season we had champions not called Sussex for the first time in years. UCL produced one of their finest performances in years to take the title before pushing on to 11th at Nationals. Portsmouth also showed massive improvements from previous years, narrowly missing out on the Regional title after a first game loss to UCL before finding an incredible run of form at Nationals to claim a very impressive fourth place.
This year the South East is already shaping up to be one of the most exciting regions in the country, with some of the biggest players and potentially teams at the University level, some great storylines worth following and one of the toughest leagues to predict. Can UCL and Portsmouth repeat or even build upon last year’s performances? How will Sussex respond to not being the top dogs anymore? Will Surrey be able to push themselves into contention again this year? And what about the new boys to Division 1, Hertfordshire and St. Mary’s, how will they deal with the higher level of competition after strong promotion seasons last year?
I have cast my most critical eye over all the teams in the region to see if I can shed some light and predict the future of University Ultimate in the South East.
Starting with the reigning champs, UCLU Silverbacks look to be in store for a tough time if they want to retain this season. Having lost eight players from the core of their Nationals team from last year this team will be in need of a swift transition, with lots of players needing to step up if they are to be challengers. The strong core of remaining postgrads certainly works in their favour in this regard. Look for captains Tom Anthony (FIRE), Dan Janman (Camden) and Jon Low to provide a consistency and experience levels that can drag up any University team. How well these three can work with developing first and second year players looks to be the key for UCLU this year and if they can manage that I think they will be a stern test for any team in the division.
The other key for UCLU this year may well be the schedule, with their two games before Christmas being against newly promoted Hertfordshire and St. Mary’s, allowing for maximum development time before playing the traditional regional powerhouses later in the year. The return of Brighton Legends player Milan Tarascas in January also plays into this strong team development through the season, adding even more talent and experience to the core of the team. If this narrative follows the way that UCLU hope it does I think we can look at them being serious trouble for any team in the region by the end of the season.
Having surged to fourth place at Nationals last year, the boys from Portsmouth have made no secret of the fact they want to improve on that result and push for an Outdoor National title. With the team only losing one player and gaining GB Junior Joe Carr and SMOG player Bill Wright to give a bit of depth to what was a small squad, it would take a brave person to say that it isn’t a distinct possibility. For me, this player retention within a team is key to building a winning team at University level and, with GB Junior coach Joe Spreckley on board full-time, Sublime will likely be on top form from the first pull of the season. The key players to look out for on Sublime this year are Ross Nugent (FIRE) and captain Josh Awcock (Devon). Both are used to playing at the top level of UK Ultimate for two of the strongest and most consistent club teams at Tour and Nationals so will be bringing high quality and intensity all year.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Sublime section without mention of Will Rowledge. Having been Portsmouth’s talisman last year, the GB Under-23 player will again be huge for this team if they are to challenge for that National title but with him potentially missing games through injury towards the start of the season someone else may have to step up to try and fill that role. Speaking of stepping up it may also be worth mentioning that Sublime won both SICKO and SKUNKS beginners, so perhaps the difference maker will be an as-yet-unknown player. Either way, Portsmouth look to be at least every bit as dangerous as they were last year and that should worry all other teams in the region.
For the first time in about seven years Sussex were on a “development” year and ended up slipping to third in the region after narrow losses to UCL and Portsmouth before going on to finish 14th at Nationals. The good news for all Mohawks fans is that there is a certain feeling that this year the team could be back to its dominant best. The big news coming out of Sussex is the return of GB receiver Ashley Yeo. In the past few years Yeo has become one of the most dangerous players in Europe, being a key component of the GB Open and Clapham set-ups and looks to be this year’s nightmare matchup for pretty much any University team.
It would be a mistake to think of Sussex as a one man team however. Much like Portsmouth, this is essentially the same team as last year and, with nearly half the first team squad spending the summer playing together for Brighton City, this looks like an impressively well-connected team. Their victory in the Open division of SICKO over a strong field, including Sublime, shows just how far this team has come and already working well together. Look for Brighton City players Christian Turvill, Luis Semple and captain Will Seth in particular to be key players throughout the season. With Coach Felix Shardlow once again with the team, Sussex should be bringing their unique style of play back to the top level with the addition of Yeo potentially pushing them into the very top echelon of teams in the country.
Having gained a strength bid to Division 1 Nationals, Surrey didn’t manage to win a game and ended up 16th. They are looking to better that result this year. However much like UCL, Surrey appear to be a team in transition from last year so a lot will depend on how quickly this team can gel and start developing together. Losing handler Sam Geddes-Smith to graduation and coach Jon Pugh to Five Ultimate are both big losses but with multiple players coming back from placement years, such as captain Sam Bonsor and Tom Speed, Surrey could come out the other side of this changing of the guard stronger than last year. The key players for Surrey this year will be Sam ‘Jaeger’ Fowler (FIRE) and Mike Nally, who spent the summer playing Junior Worlds for GB, bringing some top level quality to an already solid looking team. Also look out for the appropriately named deep threat of Ash Long to be pulling in the scores. These players will all need to step up to bigger roles within the club if they are to claim the Nationals berth they are looking for.
The absence of Jon Pugh may be felt particularly hard here if no one is able to step to that leadership role, but having spoken to some of the Surrey players they seem quietly confident they can do pretty well this year.
The first of our newly promoted Division 1 teams this year is St. Mary’s and, following some impressive performances to gain that promotion, they are coming in supremely confident. Losing five key players such as last year’s captain Terry Styfl will certainly make the step up to the big leagues hard but the guys from St. Mary’s seem pretty happy in their ability to do step into these main roles and challenge in Division 1. Post-graduate Handler Dan Falvey will be providing the experience on the team and looking to clean up on defence. Elsewhere a lot of success for this team will ride on second year players Calum Ward and Jack Ennis and their ability to get free downfield and keep their offence moving.
The key element for St. Mary’s to achieve some success in Division 1 this year appears to be their defence, which utilises one of the most unique zone looks I have ever seen and was the reason they were able to dominate matches in the second division last year. The real test will come this year with the higher level of throwers in Division 1 particularly against some of the top teams, who will all be far more experienced at breaking down zonal defences. If it does work however look to St. Mary’s to potentially cause some big upset results, particularly if it’s a windy day, as they aim for a nationals spot.
Much like St. Mary’s, newly promoted Hertfordshire arrive at the top table of South East Ultimate supremely confident and, after retaining the vast majority of last year’s team, feel ready to challenge the regions more storied teams. Ernest Simons (FIRE) and Connor Wood, who has experience playing all over the world, will be vitally important in getting the team challenging like they want to this year, bringing the experience and throws needed in Division 1.
Outside of these two, Hertfordshire will need some of their second year players to make big strides to replace the few leavers from last year’s team. Charlie Chandler and Dan Forder appear to be two players poised for a break out year at University level after impressing in their rookie year last time round.
Even with there being no easy games in this South East division, having their first two games in Division 1 against last year’s winners UCLU and a rising Sussex Mohawks means that this Hertfordshire outfit will have to hit the ground running. The team seems pretty happy that they will be able to rise to the challenge so we will certainly find out pretty quickly how much momentum they have carried from last year and just how dangerous this team will be this year.
As is tradition I will leave you with my predictions for the year, despite it being way too early to get a handle on most teams (disclaimer for when I’m wildly wrong).
- St. Mary’s
For me, the top two teams are pretty much inseparable at this point, and come the end of the year we could see the two of them fighting it out to be one of the best in the country and not just the region. The addition of Ashley Yeo immediately makes Sussex a contender and the number of Brighton City players entering their final year closes the gap to Portsmouth. Sublime, however, are still just about favourites due to their more recent success last year. This region will come down to a huge game between them on November 30th. Below that I find it very difficult to find differences between teams. I have Surrey in third because of the number of experienced players returning to replace any losses from last year. In fourth I have UCL, mainly because of that core of three or four very experienced players who I reckon can whip a team into shape pretty quickly. St. Mary’s are my fourth team and may feel hard done by to be predicted so low. If they get lucky with some windy games I’m intrigued to see how well their zone works against the higher quality throwers in this division and if they can pull it off we may well see them finish up in the Nationals qualification positions. Finally, Hertfordshire come in confident but I feel a lack of overall depth of experience could be their undoing against the higher level of opposition this year.
Let me know what you think – I’m looking forward to a great season!