UKU Nationals 2017 – A Review

Another season is in the books and, for most sides, the off-season is now underway. Sean Colfer takes a look at what happened in Birmingham this weekend, and what it might mean for the European Championships and moving forward for UK Ultimate.

Clapham win number 17

There still seems to be no-one in the UK who can push Clapham over the course of a whole match when the Bullfrogs bring their full squad power to bear. Clapham drafted in some new talent this summer but managed to pick up exactly where they left off, as usual. The question now turns to whether they can retain their EUCF crown but they’ve won five straight against continental competition so the odds seem to be in their favour. Longer term, the focus obviously shifts to Cincinnati. Their showing at Lecco in 2014 will affect them on two levels; their performance there, losing to eventual champions Revolver in sudden death will no doubt be stoking their fire for the tests to come. That same strength, though, puts a target on their back. They won’t surprise anybody because everyone expects them to be one of the four or five strongest sides there. Next season will be all about Worlds for the men from London. They’ve dominated UK Ultimate for nigh on two decades, and for the better part of this decade they’ve dominated Europe too. World domination is next on the cards, or so they’ll hope.

Iceni continue their own streak

Iceni won UKU Nationals again, defeating London rivals SYC in the final 15-6. The game was tight until around the 5-5 mark, after which Iceni took off and didn’t look back. They were spurred on by a shock loss to SYC in the pool stages, where SYC mounted a spectacular comeback from 8-11 to 15-12. Iceni flexed their muscles from there and conceded only 16 points in their final three matches, but it might be of some concern as they look to regain the European title lost last season, when they took home bronze. They were missing some key players, and any team can have an off day (Clapham lost to Reading earlier in the season and Black Eagles.. well they didn’t really have one this year) so hopefully the Warriors shook off any rust after that shock and can carry the momentum they generated in cruising to the Nationals title over to Italy with them. They, too, will be building for Worlds, and how they fare against teams like CUSB Shout and FABulous will be a useful barometer of where they stand ahead of WUCC.

Forget the Irish invasion, here come the Scots

We’ll get to the Irish teams shortly, but first it bears mentioning the performances of Scottish teams at Nationals. Black Eagles were imperious, finishing with a points difference of +25 in five games and sweeping away the competition in the knock-out stages. The athleticism and confidence across the roster was outstanding, but the chemistry ad throwing ability stood out even more. They’re very worthy national champions and, given the rise of Grut in the Netherlands, it’ll be fascinating to see how they do in Italy. Glasgow stumbled a little towards the end, losing their semi-final to SMOG in heartbreaking circumstances as SMOG broke from 9-11 down to win 12-11. Still, they showed that they were also a team to be feared, defeating Reading convincingly on day one 15-10. In the Open division, Alba didn’t even play Tour and still finished a very creditable 12th with a team made up of former Black Eagles and Glasgow players. Scottish Ultimate is experiencing a boom at the moment, and it looks set to continue for some time yet.

So, what about the Irish?

Irish teams entered UKU Nationals, or EUC Regionals – West, for the first time this year. We knew that PELT and Ranelagh, in particular, would shake things up in their division as they’ve both been showing for a few years how good they are across Europe. Rebel Women won the All-Ireland title last season but lost out a week before UKU Nationals to Gravity, whose women attended as part of a Mixed team. It was, all in all, a very talented contingent from the Emerald Isle, and they showed just how talented in taking a few scalps. PELT finished third and qualified for EUCF, defeating Fire in a crucial match up by coming from 8-5 down at half to win 15-11. Ranelagh lost out on EUCF against Devon but managed to snatch fifth away from Fire, putting them in a decent position should EUCF find any spots free themselves up. Rebel mixed things up in the Women’s division by toppling SYC after the ladies from London upset Iceni, and the Irishwomen followed that up by running through every other opponent until a tough 13-10 loss to Bristol in the 3/4. Gravity had a tougher tournament but still came through 15-14 in the final game against Mighty Hucks. For the Irish, this was a successful hop across the Irish Sea. UK teams have seen how good the competition is now, and will have to raise their game if they want to beat these Irish teams next season.

Upsets galore on first morning

A few have been mentioned already, but it bears repeating some of the results we saw in Birmingham. SYC beat Iceni, Brighton City beat EMO and Glasgow beat Reading all on the first day. Things calmed slightly thereafter, but it led to some unexpected results by the end of the tournament. Huge kudos to the boys from Devon, who finished fourth and qualified for Euros. They also put themselves in a great spot for Worlds – the number of bids have yet to be confirmed (there will be two, any more is currently still up in the air) but if there are three Open spots then Devon have earned one of them. Congratulations go as well to Chaos who upset the established order and finished ahead of Brighton and Leeds, and to Brighton City who finished eighth from an initial 14th seed.

Quality as high as ever

To end on another positive note, the quality across the divisions was notable this weekend. The Women’s and Mixed divisions, in particular, have seen some up years and down years in recent times. Both were deep, strong and exciting this year. All 16 teams in those two divisions had some cracking players and some really good, intense games. The Open division has tended to be a bit fragmented for the past couple of years with definite tiers of ability, but this year there was much more of a levelling off. It made for an intense and thrilling Monday morning, and led to some excellent games for all teams later on in the tournament, which hasn’t always been a given. It’s great to see the standard of play across the board looking so high; long may the trend upwards continue.

And on a final note, thanks to the whole Fanseat team, who’ve come through in the first year and delivered some great coverage of Tours and now of Nationals as well. Here’s hoping that the streaming goes from strength to strength next season – it’s great having UK Ultimate available so widely!

We’ll be back with you before EUCF to preview the chances of our teams there, and as soon as we have more news about the final WUCC bid numbers. Until then, thanks for reading this season, and see you when we do it all again next year.

Featured image courtesy of Clapham Ultimate’s Facebook page.