UKU Women’s Tour 1 – A New Era

Hannah Pendlebury returns to offer insight on the new Women’s season, which should see some new faces and names making a mark up and down the Tour.

My theme for this women’s season is change. Whilst this applies to me at a personal level with Relentless sadly absent for the 2017 season, as a keen observer of Women’s roster announcements there have been some exciting stirrings amongst the top teams over the winter. But will these changes lead to meaningful differences on pitch this year, finally ending the reliable predictability of the top four? I’m inclined to say no… But I’m certainly ready to find out. So without further ado – let’s take a closer look at the teams coming to Nottingham!

The Usual Suspects

Following their usual open-to-all winter sessions and trials process, Iceni released a rather slimmed down roster in February of just 22 players (vs. a whopping 28 for their 2016 lineup). Presumably this means we can expect a single-team season as opposed to the two-pronged approach of last year. Whilst I am not knocking any of Iceni’s new faces this season who can and absolutely will dominate their match ups all weekend long (you know you’re in a good place when Ania Godbold counts as one of your ‘rookies’) the arrival of mixed-focused Deep Space has taken a large bite out of this team’s go-to players. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of Iceni stalwarts left to pick for your fantasy team but it will be interesting to see if and how their chemistry changes, particularly with the loss of some of their core handlers. They’ll still be hella good though.

Iceni defenders Sophie Wharton, Vanessa Lowe and Lasma Putrina all go up for a disc in the UKU Nationals 2016 final. against Bristol. Photo by Andy Moss.

Another London-based team that’s had a significant shuffle this year is SYC with almost half of their roster brand new to the team this season. They have lost some ‘get out of jail free’ players with Hannah Boddy, Isabelle Ascah-Coallier and Rosyln Cameron all absent, though they have retained plenty of their quality handling set and the new faces look very promising indeed. With the ‘salty’ half of their team coming out on top of a pre-season round of London friendlies and a second place seeding going into the weekend this team will likely come in fast and confident – and with a number of good reasons to do so.

Nice Bristols
Arguably the best-positioned team to take advantage of any Iceni miscues this season is Nice Bristols. They have stuck with a single team approach this year, coming off the back of a few building seasons. 2016 saw them ramp up from a mixed-ability squad at Tour 1 to take second place finishes at both Tour 3 and Nationals (though surprisingly they turned down their Euros spot). Whether they will be presenting a full-strength squad from the outset this year is yet to be seen considering their surprisingly low seeding, but they seem to know how to peak at the right time! Having finished last season with a 15-7 loss to Iceni, the word on the street is that the ladies in red are eyeing up a Euros spot with real vigour this year, having already attended and placed 6th at Tom’s Tourney. As one of my favourite teams to play against, their solid mix of experience and athleticism could well lead to some tighter final score lines against the warriors this year and maybe even an early upset in their pool on Saturday.

With no formal trials, open-to-all sessions and an overall ranking of seventh last season it might be surprising to see Leeds with a third place seeding going into the weekend. However, as a club with an established legacy of legendary ladies and a consistent record of solid nationals performances, one suspects the schedule monkeys heard that some of Leeds’ big name players might well be present this season. With a solid coaching base and plenty of excellent throwers who can go big in the wind, the conditions in Nottingham could play right into Leeds’ hands. However they will certainly have to fight hard on Saturday despite their high seed – pool S looks tough!

Another team who I would expect to fare well in the inevitable Nottingham wind has to be Brighton. They have big guns, they have big receivers and they live on the coast. Wind is not news to them. Expect their connections to be solid and their vibe to be pretty chilled – the Brighton roster tend to know each other well and have a lot of trust both on and off the pitch. However with their focus on mixed and beach commitments this season, it remains to be seen if they are well-drilled enough to retain their fourth seed against the likes of Bristol and Hydra.

Swift are the only women’s team to have retained their squad depth for 2017, taking two teams on their first journey south for what I hear is the third year running! How do they do it I hear you cry? (Sources say Roads to Rome, Pizza Parties and a network of highly trained ninja regional co-ordinators…) In terms of play style, I would expect to see more of that slick-looking horizontal stack isolation offence which they debuted to great effect last year, teamed with some feisty defensive efforts and plenty of grazed limbs. Either way, both the first and second teams will have a real crack at second seed in their respective pools.

SYC’s Anna Trebble pulls down a huck at Tom’s Tourney. Photo by Claire Baker.

Midlands-based Hydra have expanded to two teams this season, largely off the back of a more serious commitment to training together. Originally an indoor team of ex-GB juniors who wanted to ‘put the band back together’, Hydra will be looking to move onwards and upwards in the Tour rankings with aims for a top six and top 12 finish for their firsts and seconds respectively. Look out for the strong connections between their Birmingham University players – whilst I’m not sure they’ll be adding any club medals to their gold collection this year you should expect some high quality plays from this team that will be well worth watching.

Another team increasing their depth this season is Reading, hoping that their team split will offer development opportunities for their elite mixed and more modest level players alike. Although missing a few faces from their recent European championship roster, both teams should provide a good challenge within their pools. Expect to see plenty of speed and energy in the first team’s playing style and some hefty throwing power from the handler-heavy second team.

Crown Jewels
The 2017 season sees this well-established London team taken on by a group of fresh faces from King’s College London. Having set trial dates pretty late in the calendar and without the benefit of close ties to a mixed team, I’m not sure how Crown Jewels will fare against some of their more well-drilled competitors. Nonetheless, this team has a strong legacy and will almost certainly achieve their aim to provide their players with an opportunity to develop, improve and play some competitive Women’s Ultimate.

Despite ranking below Crown Jewels in the overall standings last year (off the back of only two event entries mind) Glasgow are deservedly seeded ninth coming into Tour 1. Last season saw the ladies in green show off some very tasty play indeed with talent on both sides of the disc. Glasgow had some tough losses which on occasion kept them in lower brackets last year, so it will be nice to see them challenge some teams higher up the rankings. If their success at mixed is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finishing in the upper end of the 5-12 bracket.

In contrast to Crown Jewels, Vurve benefit from having strong ties to North-London based Curve – though their women toughed it out at Mixed Tour 3 with just four iron-ladies for the whole weekend! Low numbers sadly also seems to be a feature of their women’s season, with a handful of pick ups being welcomed onto their roster in the past few weeks. Although last year Vurve seemed to struggle in finding their flow at Tour 1, with wiley and level-headed veteran Allie McClure at the helm hopefully they can reach their stride a little faster this time around.

Black Sheep
As a brand new team to women’s tour last season, Black Sheep steadily built momentum to finish a respectable 23rd overall. Whilst they remain a team which tries to balance competitive spirit with a friendly atmosphere and are open to all abilities, they will no doubt look to continue where they left off last year under the strong leadership of captain Heather Williams. This will certainly be a challenge within their tough looking two-game pool on Saturday. Note: the Manchester-based club will be selling stickers to raise money for the “We Love Manchester Emergency Fund” following last week’s attack. Remember to stash a pound coin in that handy frisbee short pocket! #UltimateLovesManchester

Discie Chicks
Led by arguably the most selfless player in the entirety of the UK Women’s Ultimate scene, Discie Chicks return again this year for their 5th season of fun, spirited Ultimate. With the sole aim of providing a platform for beginner women to play bigger roles, Discie Chicks will feature plenty of keen, fresh faces ready to give the bottom bracket a run for their money. You rock, DC!

New kids on the block

With their first team having enjoyed a thirrd place finish in the Mixed rankings this year, SMOG are keeping the ball rolling for their connections with a Women’s Tour debut. However whilst their team might be new for this year, their roster is likely to be stacked out with plenty of familiar faces. How will they fare without their male counterparts? If they have who I think they have, probably pretty well!

GB u24
Ahh, the under-24 development squads. After causing some serious upsets at Mixed Tour, I am really looking forward to seeing how their appearance in the Women’s and Open divisions pans out. Sadly only one team shall be gracing the Women’s circuit as opposed to the two initially entered, but a deeper squad could well mean a greater potential to take down a big seed. Watch out LLLeeds and Swift!

JR’s Rupal Ghelani could be a key figure for GB u24. Photo by Andrew Moss.

It would be all too easy to brush off Chaos as just another one of those ill-fated new London teams which start off with high hopes but then flounder shortly thereafter due to lack of interest. Admittedly Chaos suffered from starting their recruitment drive late in the year and will initially be missing some of their u24 picks, but they should not be underestimated. With the backing of not one but two A-Tour coaches they should be well-drilled enough to hold onto their seed fairly comfortably throughout Saturday and possibly take a few scalps in the 5-12 bracket.

Based out of St. Albans, Uprising looks to be something along the lines of a Dragon Knights rebrand, with a healthy supply of junior players and a focus on mastering the basics. Having achieved a sixth place finish at Indoor Nationals earlier this year it will be interesting to see if they have the squad depth for a strong outdoor performance to match. It will certainly be interesting to see how they come out of what looks to be a quite varied pool.

Established by Michelle Line (formerly of LLLeeds), Red describe themselves as being all about quality women’s trainings and working hard at tour. As a bit of an unknown entity they are seeded pretty low, though rumour has it this team might also include a certain pair of Leicester-based, former GB u24 twins who are accustomed to life much higher up the Women’s Tour… Will this team have enough as a whole unit to cause any pool upsets?

Brixton already have a fairly established presence indoors, but like many of the previously mentioned teams they now want to take things to the next level. As another mixed-ability team their success this season will largely depend on how well they can transition to a larger surface and gel together as a team. With a strong belief in the importance of fun in Ultimate, we will hope to see plenty of smiles as they embark on their first season in the great outdoors!

As I round up my preview of the teams attending Nottingham I have left the most mysterious until last – Liverpool Women’s Ultimate. With the pretty active Merseyside scene boasting numerous talented players and coaches, this team could easily feature some big names on their roster as well as some promising up and comers. As the only new team guaranteed to avoid the Sunday round robin (unfortunately by virtue of being in the 2 game pool on Saturday) they will no doubt look to use their fresher legs on Sunday to make a mark at their first tour event. Could be a very exciting team to watch!