UKU University 2017: Women’s Outdoor Nationals Div 1 Preview

Ali Thomas gives us the Women’s Outdoor Nationals story.
University Outdoor Nationals is fast approaching. Students from all over the country are having to balance intense preparation for the biggest university Ultimate event of the year with dissertations and revision for exams. On the final weekend of April, 16 Women’s teams will battle it out at Grove Farm in Nottingham (affectionately known as the Wind Farm). Unlike the Men’s teams, who have had two terms of BUCS League matches; the women qualified through regional tournament under the North, West, East and Scotland structures that have been in place for the last three years.

Here are my predictions for the tournament and a brief overview of the teams. Unfortunately it is in the nature of player availability at Uni Women’s that one or two dropouts can hit a squad hard (Cardiff and Aberdeen both had to drop out of Division 1 due to a lack of available players, and Division 2 has also been badly affected). Essentially, this can make predictions tricky, and will be my excuse if mine are all wildly wrong.
Top Four
My final predictions are at the bottom, but honestly, the medal positions are anyone’s guess. The top team in each region absolutely breezed through all of their matches (on average conceding only two goals per game). Hopefully no more than two of them are in the same pool.Northern division winners Leeds suffered a heartbreaking sudden-death loss last year to Newcastle for bronze despite winning Regionals, so this year’s team is hungry for a medal. They have been continuing to train hard over Easter, especially as many of their players are also playing Tour. Thanks to the Christie Cup – a northern multi-sport competition during the week before Nationals – the team will have had a good warm-up and are not to be underestimated.
Western Regional winners and last year’s national champions Birmingham made headlines earlier this year by only coming third at Indoor Nationals, however, they are still an immensely athletic and skilled team with crazy amounts of depth. They capped every game at Regionals with their signature calm and cool offence together with uncompromising defence, they are probably looking forward to some tougher opponents at Nationals.
From the East is Oxford, who also have massive amounts of depth due to their army of postgrads (shame the same formula doesn’t work as well for their Open team…). Their formidable line-up includes Iceni, SYC, and GB U24 players, and this also shows in the number of games they capped (all of them). They look strong and will have grown more confident as a team and as individuals during and after Regionals.

Edinburgh have enough depth for two Women’s teams (and are the only university in the UK to enter two outdoor teams). Many of the women have been taking on extra training over Easter with high level mixed and Women’s teams. Like Oxford, they capped every single game at Regionals, and their captain assures me they are looking forward to playing ‘fiery defence and smooth offence’.

Heriot-Watt and Leeds face off in Women's Nationals last year. Photo by Andrew Moss.
Heriot-Watt and Leeds face off in Women’s Nationals last year. Photo by Andrew Moss.

The Challengers

Though the top four look virtually untouchable, there will still be plenty of hot competition for a spot in the top ten. Since Aberdeen dropped out, Glasgow is pipped to be the second highest placed Scottish team. They have apparently had some difficulty with sustaining their mental game in the past, but have been improving on this and their fundamentals over Easter. Though they were only third in Scotland, they did better against Edinburgh 1 than Aberdeen did, make of that what you will.

From the Northern Region, Durham had the closest loss in a Women’s final in the UK this year (11-5 against Leeds). It’s hard to tell whether this is an indication of Durham’s strength, or Leeds’, considering Durham had a couple of relatively close games against Nottingham and Loughborough (8-5 and 7-5 respectively). Durham’s aim this year has been to have well-attended Women‘s sessions, which seems to have paid off. The home team, Nottingham, also from the Northern Region, are traditionally an athletic university, so this will doubtless be a hard-running and gritty team. Though they had to fight hard to get third at Regionals (only beating Manchester and Newcastle by one point before losing to Durham), they will attend a three day training camp before Nationals which could be crucial in securing a top position.

Bristol dominated at Western Regionals, capping three out of four pool games and winning the 3v4 by nine points. They have a killer zone which will serve them well at the Wind Farm, as well as a wealth of experienced Nice Bristols players joining them for the Nationals campaign. Warwick have stepped up their training since Regionals, focussing on strength and athleticism. With their unconventional cutting tactics and strong deep game, Warwick will be a team to watch out for. Coming into the tournament seeded second (because of Exeter’s finishing position last year) means there is a lot of pressure on them to do well.

Finally, Sussex, from the Eastern region. They have a very fresh squad this year who hadn’t played much together before Regionals. Apparently their line-up will feature even more freshers for Nationals, but a second place finish at Regionals is testament to their ability to gel quickly and efficiently.

The Underdogs
Beginning again with Scotland, we have St Andrews and Strathclyde. St Andrews have upped their strength training since qualifying, adopting the catchy mantra #sixpackbynats. Their ladies relish competitive ultimate and will be looking to build on their performance from last year. I also want to take this opportunity to observe that St Andrew’s did not have a single close game at Regionals. This was not unusual in Scotland this year – the smallest gap in any score of a Women’s game (between first teams) was six points. It seems that, as a Scottish team, there are only two options: coming home with your shield or on it. Strathclyde qualified somewhat luckily as a result of both Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt dropping out, but they could be something of a wildcard (or a dark horse, perhaps) considering that a significant number of their team was unable to play Regionals. The small squad of ‘fun but focused’ girls are definitely looking to cause some upsets.

From the North, Loughborough have had a tricky year with injuries and players being away on placement. They also only came fourth out of six in their pool on the Saturday of Regionals, meaning that Sunday was a long grind to Division 1. This was very impressive for a team that had never properly played together, and shows them as one that should not be underestimated.The eastern region has a total of five teams in Division 1 due to Cardiff and Plymouth dropping out from the West. UCL have the killer combination of a strong set of handlers and lots of very fast, keen freshers. They also managed to come third at Regionals despite playing iron the entire weekend – an incredibly impressive feat. Their captain has told me they’re treating Nationals as a learning experience for the freshers, who will doubtless be formidable opponents in years to come. Cambridge infamously have difficulty getting teams together due to academic commitments, however, a team full of keen freshers seems to have nullified that problem this year. For many on the team, Regionals was their first outdoor tournament, and they are looking to build and improve on that experience. Imperial is another team that got through due to dropouts, but to be fair, they only lost their 4v5 on universe. Their style of ultimate is very calm and sensible, even though most of their players have less than two years of experience, and their main aim at Nationals is to build foundations on which to develop their team for next season. Also worth checking out some highlights from Women’s Outdoor Regionals from Loughborough below.

Final Predictions

  1. Edinburgh
  2. Birmingham
  3. Oxford
  4. Leeds
  5. Durham
  6. Bristol
  7. Warwick
  8. Glasgow
  9. St Andrews
  10. Sussex
  11. Nottingham
  12. UCL
  13. Loughborough
  14. Cambridge
  15. Strathclyde
  16. Imperial

Feature image by Andrew Moss.