After an eventful Cardiff tour Sean Colfer looks ahead to this weekend’s second instalment in Durham.
This weekend, the second Mixed Tour of the season will be held in Durham. The venue, which has hosted the Durham Hat for several years now, is much further north than most teams are accustomed to. While this will suit the Scottish teams, who must travel for hours to get to almost any tournament in the UK, and teams like SMOG who are based in the north east, it presents unusual logistical challenges for the majority of teams in the UK. That seems to have been reflected in the turnout; 20 teams have been lost from the MT1 total of 56, with only 36 teams making the trip. However, that cosier total means you all have to suffer through fewer words of my drivel, so every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining.
The top eight are the only teams who can win this Tour, which limits the choices. The first pool features the winners in Cardiff, Great Black White Sharks, who are not a GB team but one part of the Black Eagles squad. They were outstanding at MT1, featuring very quick women, men who are strong in the air and a few real game-changers in the squad. Their reward for victory is another tough pool – they’ll play Mighty Hucks, who were themselves impressive at MT1 before losing narrowly in the quarter finals to the aforementioned Sharks. They breezed through to fifth in the end, and will be able to call on a number of outstanding athletes as they try to go one step better and reach the semi-finals this time around. Reading are difficult to get a read on during the MT season, as it clearly isn’t their priority. They still fared reasonably well (by their standards) in Cardiff, finishing seventh, but they clearly have the potential to do much better than that as the reigning national and European champions. A number of players who are staple features on their best teams were on the second team in Cardiff – this could be typical Reading, leaving some of their tricks up their sleeves until we reach the business end of the season. The final member of this pool is JR who have benefitted from a number of drop outs, leaping from 12th to eighth seed. Mixed Tour 1 could be considered a blip for this team given how consistently good they were last season – they’ll have to prove that in what is a challenging pool.
The other top eight pool features surprise finalists SMOG on home turf. They have had talented athletes for their whole existence as a team, and have always had good team chemistry and cohesion. One thing they might have struggled with up until now was having much experience of games at the very top level. They showed in Cardiff that they’ve learned quickly, though, pushing GBWS to a sudden-death point for the title. They had very few women in the squad so it was a Herculean effort from the female players to push them into the final, and with a few more legs they stand an excellent chance of returning to the final in search of a different coloured medal. The second half of the Black Eagles squad, Black Blackbirds who finished fourth in Cardiff, will be trying to stop them. Another team with pace all over the field, the strength of this team highlights just how good Black Eagles will be when they come together for Nationals – they have two of the best four teams in the UK in one club, as things stand. Glasgow actually defeated GBWS in the pools in Cardiff, so they’ve shown already that they have the ability to win big games. They lost to SMOG in sudden death in the quarter final so they’ll be gunning for revenge here. The last team is Deep Space, who have also climbed back into the top eight, though only from ninth. They lost to Chevron Mixed and JR in Cardiff, but then defeated Reading to create a bit of a mess in the pool. They came out third, hence their spot in the 9-16 bracket, but were relatively comfortable in all of those games before finishing ninth. It was their first time out in Wales, so the extra time could well have given them valuable reps to generate the crucial cohesion that served teams like SMOG and GWBS so well.
The Middle Tier
The 9-24 bracket has some familiar names looking to get back into the top eight. The winners of all four pools will have an opportunity to do so ahead of the final Mixed Tour event of the season, so this is the last chance to get a shot at a Mixed Tour event title for all of those teams.
The first pool sees Thundering Herd take on SMOG 2, PAF City and the first of the GB U24 teams, White. Herd suffered a difficult time at Mixed Tour 1, losing all but one of their games (against pool opponents GB White, or at least a previous iteration of that team). The team has been changed around slightly, partly due to availability, and they’re looking to put their struggles behind them. SMOG 2, who finished 26th at MT1, and PAF City, who finished 29th, are the other two teams in this pool. There’s less pressure on them given the other two teams they find themselves with, and it’s a great chance for both teams to really show what they can do.
Birmingham will face off against GB U24 Blue, as well as Glasgow 2 (25th at MT1) and St. Albans (33rd), in their attempt to get into the top eight. Brum started MT1 seeded 21st so it’s been an excellent rise for them to 10th at this Tour. They’ll be feeling good about their chances to get into the top eight given their highly athletic squad punctuated with a couple of particularly strong players.
Guildford 1 meet GB U24 Red, Sheffield Steal (27th) and Irish team Jabba the Huck in the next pool. Guildford are like Birmingham – they started MT1 seeded in the 20s but have been able to make the jump because of the number of teams that are not in Durham. They lost to Brum in the 17th/18th game in Cardiff but are well-placed to take a shot at the top eight.
In all of these pools, GB are the wildcards. They’ll have changed their squads around, but all performed admirably in Cardiff. They could have three teams in the crossovers, or they could have none. My bet is that they have at least one, though.
The final pool sees Cosmic Manatees take on Thundering Herd 2, Cambridge and Black Sheep. All of these teams finished MT2 in the 20s, so a couple of them will make huge gains in Durham. All of these teams feature strong individual players so it’s difficult to call the pool. None of them played each other at MT1 either – all four will be feeling relatively confident with this draw.
The Final 12
The final 12 are split into four pools of three. Flyght Club will play Sneeeekys Light and Black Sheep 2. Sneeekys appear to have split their squad but if they’ve done so evenly then they should both be strong in this bracket. Flyght have some good players, though, so this could be a good pool to watch.
York will play Merseyside and Brixton. York finished a fair way higher than their opponents here at MT1 – they were 34th, while Merseyside were 43rd and Brixton 52nd. Playing so close to home, it’s likely they’ll have an advantage here.
Another Sneeeky’s team will face two home(ish) sides – The Brown join university team DUF in the most northern pool at the tournament. Again, Sneeeky’s could very well take this pool convincingly if they’ve balanced the squad but The Brown are sure to have extensive experience on their side. DUF know the venue well so could use those young legs to their advantage, too.
The final pool sees Reading 2 face The Brown 2 and OX4D, who I would comfortably predict are in some way related to Oxford. Reading 2 had some very talented players at MT1 so they could be a tough match up for the other teams here.
The striking difference here from Cardiff is the leap by a number of teams through the 20s into the top 16. Obviously a large number of the middle tier have decided not to make the journey up to Durham, but there’s still a lot of good teams to choose from here. I would say the teams to watch here are Deep Space, the Sneeeky’s teams and the GB teams – if just because I still have no idea how they’ll look. I think we also may well have a different winner at this event, as SMOG will be on familiar turf.
Hopefully the northern weather will be kind to everyone there. As always, best of luck to all and enjoy the tournament.
Featured photo by Sam Mouat: Chevron Mixed players James Mead and Matt Aspin bidding against Matthew Hodgson of Deep Space at MT1.