Under a lot of pressure from her fans Alice Thomas brings us her view on the Western region for the Women’s division.
The nights grow colder and the wind blows sharper, and indoors season is in full swing. Mixed and Men’s Regionals have come and gone, and the final University Indoor Regionals will be held this weekend, in which 23 teams of women from 13 universities will battle for four places in the Western Region.
Qualifiers last year were Birmingham, Cardiff, Bath, and Bristol. Birmingham went on to win Nationals, Bath came ninth, with Bristol and Cardiff coming 17th and 18th respectively. It should also be noted that Exeter came second in Outdoor Nationals later on in the season.
Birmingham’s (uBu) defence of their Regional champions title has been as hard as their man D. They have very tall and athletic teams and will always run hard. Three GB Under-23 players have graduated and three remain, although Captain Emma Klima is injured and Grace Owen is returning from injury. Their men recently lost their regional crown, so teams will definitely be looking for cracks in the Birmingham wall, as it were, but Emma is still confident, saying: “We definitely still fancy our chances at still taking the top spot at regionals with our second team also looking to cause some upsets.”
The Bristol (Mythago) Women’s team has been somewhat decimated this year, with only three players remaining from their indoor team last year; however, they also have two second years returning with a summer of development with the GB Under-20 squad under their belts. Hopefully the strong chemistry the three veteran girls have built up over the summer at Tour will be able to transfer to their newer team members. In any case, Bristol have been able to consistently field high quality Women’s teams, due in part to their proximity to Nice Bristols. Testament to this is that while the Bristol Men’s team failed to qualify last weekend, their Mixed team did, an indication of their women’s continued strength under Hannah Smith, who says they will be “aiming for a top 6 finish through a well-rounded and hard running team.”
Exeter (Urielle) have been a strong indoor team for a while now, having won both Open and Women’s Regionals in the 2013/14 season and placed second in Mixed. They narrowly missed out on a Nationals spot last year and will doubtless fight hard for a place this weekend. While keeping Jess Taylor (Devon Ultimate), they have lost Helen Thompson, of the Canadian Mixed Under-23 squad, and last year’s captain, Cat Pope, but still managed to place second at Sublime Warm-Up, to a non-university team. Regardless, managing to send three teams to Women’s is incredible, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Exeter 2 improved their seed as well.
Cardiff (No Frills) have managed to enter three Women’s teams this year for the first time in at least five years, possibly ever. Captained by Niamh Corr, they finished third at Mixed and have kept Jo Lewis, a top GB Under-23 Mixed player and former AirBadger, though they have lost Camille Kostov (Punt, GB Under-23). They finished second at Regionals last year and doubtless the extra year of experience will make the team an even bigger force to be reckoned with. As with Exeter, their second team may be able to improve their seed significantly.
Bath came third last year, making good use of their very tall players. They have lost two strong players, Natasha Collins and last year’s captain, Illia Afifuddin, but height can often win out over experience! Captain Georgia Murphy is optimistic about the weekend, saying: “We’re looking forward to the weekend to see how the new team match up against the rest of the region, and we hope to do as well as last year.”
Warwick (Bears) have had a choppy recent history with the Women’s side of the club. However, they have a strong team this year with Punt’s Leia Turner as captain, recently selected for the GB Under-24 training squad along with Ali Thomas. The graduation of Tina Zhou Hui, the team’s main handler, as well as the fact that Cathy Hensman (Punt) can’t play this weekend, are a blow to the team, but I’m confident Warwick will fight tooth and nail to qualify. As Leia puts it: “We have such amazing depth this year, it really is the year of the bear.”
Swansea (Ducklings) climbed five seeds last year (12th to 7th) and are looking to remain in the top ten this year. Last year they also managed to field a full outdoor Women’s team, and qualified for Nationals, as well as defeating Cardiff for the first time at Varsity; Swansea is certainly on the up and up! This year’s Captain Immie Wong replaces Madeleine Agnew, a key offensive player, but still have many experienced players such as Louise Sorensen-Bentham, whose knowledge, mixed with a new crop of athletic and eager freshers, will certainly make a formidable team.
Southampton (Skunks) finished mid-table last year and will certainly be looking to improve their seed this year. Katie Allen of Reading Ultimate, a former GB Under-20 and now part of the Under-24 training squad, has been joined by her Reading Ultimate teammate Sian Hancock from Winchester. However, they have lost one of their star players in Claire Baker (Reading Mixed, SYC) to Harvard. With a decent number of preseason tournaments under their belt, they will hope to have gelled and produce a team performance strong enough to overcome such obstacles.
Featured image by Andrew Moss.