Josh Coxon Kelly previews the 2018 Club Mixed Season
If you think back to the previous World Club Championship cycle, things are looking quite different in the UK mixed Ultimate scene. The only team to repeat qualification from last Worlds is Black Eagles, whose placing in Italy at 37th out of 48 (9 places below the next lowest UK team, RGS at 28th) is flipped on its head with the Eagles’ rise to what has been a fairly consistent dominance over seasons since. Cambridge, Bear Cavalry and RGS were the other UK representatives in 2014, but none of these teams join Eagles this year.
What we’ve seen instead is a resurgence of clubs focusing on the longer term, and largely reaping the rewards. Reading have rightly become a byword for development in the UK, and with a European Club title under their belt from 2016 and the highest placing at Euros last year at third, they will certainly be looking to make a mark on the world stage. Smog are newer to the scene but are arguably more disruptive, quickly becoming one of the most competitive sides in the nation, and facing up against Black Eagles in the 2017 Nationals final. Glasgow, whilst not present in this weekend’s opening Mixed Tour are bringing two squads to MT2, and along with Eagles are a testament to the considerable depth that continues to be forged in the Scottish Ultimate scene.
There are no shortages of teams waiting in the wings to to take down the worlds qualifiers, and a fair few of these teams can be found in Pool A. Thanks partly to the randomised seeding after the top four, Pool A looks potentially overpowered and a lot of fun. Alongside Black Eagles’ only squad are Reading 1, who are presumably a roughly even split with Reading A and seeded suspiciously low. Whilst Reading are known to forego placings early in the season in favour of greater cohesion later on, I would expect to see both teams improve on their 10th and 11th seed. Brighton Breezy will put up a solid fight against Reading 1 for a quarters spot, but they’ll also have to fend off Flat Perth, a squad made out of GBU24 players and coaches that are also potentially under-seeded, maybe by a lot. They will be riding high off the back of their January campaign, and whilst not a practising club will have no shortage of on-field chemistry.
SMOKE, one of Smog’s split squads look to have an easier time of things in Pool B. Despite sharing it with teams that have been dominant in the past (particularly Birmingham and Cambridge), these teams are mixed squad representatives of larger clubs rather than specifically mixed-focus teams, and therefore may be slower starting as they get things moving again after a long off-season. The second Smog Worlds split, MIST, face both JR and Herd who will be gunning hard for an early season upset as these three teams jostle for the two quarters spots. If Smog’s overall attendance is hurt by the long journey down south, they may find themselves vulnerable in both pools. However, finishing strong in 2017 and the presence of an entirely separate Smog 2 suggest no lack of depth and some hard fought battles on the way on Saturday.
Pool D is set to be equally tight at the top. Mighty Hucks were consistently strong last year, and given the pickup nature of this squad we may well see them holding on to their fourth seed and heading beyond quarter-finals. Deep Space will be looking to get one back on them after a sudden-death loss against Hucks to end Mixed Tour 3 last year, and will also be looking to use the foundations laid in their inaugural season to break into the top four. With Reading A also in this group, there will be no room for slow starts and plenty of rivalries to rekindle early on in the season. Guildford may not initially look in the running, but they put in a strong showing at a pre-season London scrimmage. With coaching from ex-GB Open captains Dave Barnard and Pete “Rodders” Wright they’ll be well poised to take advantage of any team that loses focus on Saturday.
The familiar Llanrumney fields in Cardiff host what is prepped to be one of the most competitive seasons of mixed yet as representatives look to build towards what they hope will be a peak performance in Cincinatti. Surveying the rest of the field, it is certainly a team list that feels as though it is more and more reflecting the club and development focus within UK Ultimate. Outside of the top 20, Herd, Cambridge, South Wales Storm, Red Leicester and Curve are all bringing multiple squads, and the days of Mixed being dominated by pickup teams across the seedings seem largely gone. With this of course comes growing rivalries, increased pressure for these teams to live up to their own hype, and with it the added prestige to any team that can take them down.
Of course – we’re all hoping that this potential for intense competition comes to light, rather than the weather once again being the main story to emerge from Cardiff. However any victories gained this weekend should not be celebrated too soon. With Mixed Tour 2 returning to Durham, we’re set for higher attendance from arguably the strongest and most in-form teams. Things are only going to be heating up in what is already looking like a vintage season of mixed Ultimate.