University Ultimate 2016/17: Men’s Indoor Nationals Division 1 Preview

Jonny Arthur looks to this weekends Indoor season culmination

With the Christmas break having been and gone, we find ourselves coming up rapidly to the UK’s biggest indoor tournament, Men’s University Indoor Nationals. Division 1 will see the top 20 University teams in the country battle it out to try and claim the title as the best team the UK has to offer. This year there will be a number of teams who will fancy their chances of winning so it looks like an exciting weekend of matchups. Without further introduction let’s get into the preview, where I will be ranking all 20 teams and splitting them into tiers, since this year it’s as tight as ever between some teams. Seedings are in brackets.

Cream of the Crop

This tier contains your pre-tournament favourites who I imagine will be fighting it out for the title having put in the most impressive performances so far this year.

  1. Glasgow (3). Glasgow go in as the slight favourites. Winning the deep Scottish region and taking the Mixed Indoor title show that this is a very strong indoor team. The core of this team spent the summer playing together for Glasgow Ultimate on the club scene at the European Championships and have made big advances. Duncan Webster has come in fresh from the States and, along with a couple of other key players, solidified Glasgow as a powerhouse after finishing third at Outdoor Nationals last year. A really solid handler group and some big receivers make this a very difficult team to beat.
  2. Sussex (14). This year’s Sussex team have put together a string of impressive results this year, including winning the South East region in a pretty comfortable manner. In Ashley Yeo they have the biggest individual threat in University Ultimate and, as anyone who played them at Mixed can confirm, can be practically impossible to mark at times. Don’t think this is a one-man team, though. The core of the Sussex squad spent the summer playing in A Tour for Brighton City, led by handler “Creamy” Chris Wastell, and ensures Yeo will be ably supported by one of the most dynamic and variable offensive teams at the tournament.
  3. Manchester (2). The winners of the Northern region have a wealth of experience at the top of their roster. The ever-present Steve Dixon of Chevron and Irish import Enda Ó Céilleachair lead the line that also contains a number of A Tour players. Having dominated their region so far Manchester should be confident of being a tough matchup for all other teams in attendance.
  4. St. Andrews (5). The second Scottish team will be quietly confident going into this tournament. Whilst perhaps not having the star players of other teams in this tier, this Jack Lynch-led St. Andrews is a tough and gritty team with a great strength in depth throughout the squad. Their lead in the Scottish outdoor league and close regional indoor final show how good this team are. Look for St. Andrews to constantly grind out results against tough competition and don’t be surprised if they win a number of games by just one or two points.
Luke Beddow getting up high at indoor regionals for Bath. Photo by Andrew Moss.
Luke Beddow getting up high at indoor regionals for Bath. Photo by Andrew Moss.

The Challengers

The second tier of teams will all be aiming for a top eight finish and some of them have the potential to prove me wrong and upset those I have ranked above them.

  1. Loughborough (4). The rising power of University Men’s Ultimate have the chance to do some damage this year after an unconvincing finish last time around. Having won the Midlands region in convincing fashion, Loughborough then decided to go and win Club regionals to emphasise their quality. Whilst the team may be lacking experience at the national level Alex Walsh (former GB U23) and Ben Davies (New Zealand U23) will look to lead them to a strong finish.
  2. Strathclyde (6). With their roots in the Glasgow Ultimate scene, Strathclyde have a similar makeup to their Glasgow University counterparts. Big receivers and solid handlers should see them do very well. My sources north of the border tell me Strathclyde have a style of play that is pretty unique and will certainly catch out a few teams, so keep your eye out for some potential shocks.
  3. Bath 1 (12). Getting two teams into Division 1 is a truly impressive feat and shows the strength of this Bath squad. It also poses a number of interesting questions, particularly with Bath 2 being the team that actually won the South West Region. Will they keep the teams the same for nationals or stack all their strength into one team? Could we see Bath 2 being the team with all the top players and fighting at the top? Either way expect one Bath team to be up in the top eight.
  4. Portsmouth (19). The starting line of this Portsmouth team would fancy their chances against most opposition, but perhaps don’t have the squad depth to beat the top teams. The big factor for this team is the fitness of Will Rowledge. If fit and back to his best they have an X-factor that could push them up to the top of the tournament. If he’s not quite fully fit, I would still back this team for a strong finish.
  5. Warwick (1). The number one seed at the start of tournament will probably feel hard done by to be outside the top eight, especially having overturned reigning Indoor Champions Birmingham for the first time since 2010 at regionals. However, that wasn’t the same Birmingham team that dominated for the previous few years. Whilst this is certainly a good Warwick team, they perhaps lack the star quality to beat some of the other teams in Division 1.
  6. Dundee (11). Dundee will be the Wild Card of the division. This is certainly a talented squad but so far this year have failed to turn that into on pitch performance. Falling to fifth at Scottish regionals and currently in a dogfight in the middle of the regions outdoor league show that this team is far from complete. If they live up to their potential then Dundee could push top four, if they end up “chumping it” and not performing they could end up way down the division. So I’ll place them here in the middle.
  7. Liverpool (17). Coming second in the Northern Region is a good achievement for Liverpool. With Manchester taking top spot, managing to beat a strong Durham team and Newcastle shows that Liverpool can play well. As a team that always performs well at Nationals, I expect Liverpool to be solid but unspectacular, perhaps grinding out results against some bigger teams.

Best of the Rest

  1. Edinburgh (7). Edinburgh should be happy to have out-performed Dundee to take fourth at Scottish Regionals. They will have the solid indoor offensive play that has been a hallmark of the Scottish teams for many years that will see them be a tricky game for most teams. They’re lacking in star quality, however, so I don’t see them pushing the top eight.
  2. Birmingham (10). For the first time in years the two time reigning indoor national champions lost out on their regional title to Warwick. Whilst this is a very different team to the superstar-laden line-ups of previous years, Birmingham will bring the high level of fitness and athleticism that have been the strength of the programme recently. Most likely won’t challenge this year, but keep an eye on this team for the future.
  3. Bangor (16). Just behind their regional rivals I have Bangor.  Bangor have been performing well outdoors this year, including an impressive 9-1 victory over Liverpool, but it is yet to be seen if they can translate that to indoor performance. Again this is another team on the rise so it is tricky to predict how they will perform on a national level.
  4. Imperial (9). The fall of Cambridge to Division 2 has seen a near complete changing of the guard in the East & London Region. Imperial will be pleased to take the title but there’s a sense that the region is not as strong as in previous years. Imperial stand the chance to prove me wrong with a current 5-0 winning record in the South East 2A outdoor league, but I think they may struggle against the high level of competition on offer here.
  5. Sheffield Hallam (13). Hallam will have been ecstatic to overturn local rivals Sheffield University to take second place in the region. Having played exclusively zone defence at regionals it will be interesting to see how they fare against the higher level opposition and on the bigger pitches in Nottingham. My suspicion is that they will struggle to create turns against the best throwers in University Ultimate.
  6. St. Mary’s (15). For a team that has only been in existence for a few years, just making it to nationals for this team should be applauded. If anyone has read my pieces on the South East this year you will know I have massive respect for this team. Lacking in experienced Ultimate players, look for St. Mary’s to make plays on pure athleticism and pitch sense. Whilst their first Nationals will most likely be a learning experience, I would like to see them grab a couple of wins against more established programmes.
  7. Newcastle (18). Newcastle managed to beat Durham at regionals to claim the final Division 1 spot for the North to show they’re no pushover but I feel they might struggle at Nationals. Having won all five of their Northern Division 2A outdoor games so far, this is clearly not a weak team, but up against sustained quality opposition at Nationals I think they will struggle to find wins. This is just a feeling so it’s up to them to prove me wrong.
  8. Hertfordshire (20). Another team from London that are happy to be at their first indoor Nationals, Hertfordshire complete the East and London Regional shake-up. Whilst, like their regional counterparts, they might struggle for wins it will be a fantastic experience for them. I can also guarantee they will be a pleasure to play against so hopefully they gain a lot from the weekend.
  9. Bath 2 (8). I’m basing this off the last time Bath qualified two teams for Division 1 a couple of years ago (and other teams that have done the same). If following previous results, we’ll see strong performances but few wins from the second team. Like I said for the first team, it’s difficult to know how Bath 2 will perform, particularly after they straight up beat their first team at regionals. It’s possible both Bath teams end up getting some wins but if previous years are to go by, that will be tricky.

There you have it, my preview and predictions for Men’s University Indoor Nationals. Let us know what you think in the comments. Who have I overrated? Who’s much better than I think? I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out in Nottingham on the 4th and 5th of February.