UKU Tour 1 Preview – Women’s Division

Hannah Pendlebury returns to give us her view on the Women’s division at this weekend’s Windfarm.

The women’s tour is alive and well. I for one am stoked to see a whopping 28 teams descending upon the Wind Farm this weekend! This figure is up five teams from last year and features two new arrivals in the shape of Purple Cobras and Exe Ladies, plus three club expansions showing great developmental work. Top stuff!

There is of course always a little reshuffling involved each season, with notable absentees this time around in Black Sheep, Crown Jewels and Glasgow. I suspect a fair few of the Glasgow ladies have been swept under the wing of Swift West, but it remains a mystery as to where players from the other two clubs have flocked to. Black Sheep were certainly at Mixed Tour (you could hear their iconic and somewhat explicit chant several fields over) but it is truly a shame to see Crown Jewels fold ahead of what would have been their 10th season. Crown Jewels players, we salute you. But in brighter news-  let’s look at the pools for the weekend, shall we?

Pool S – Iceni (1), Hydra 1 (5), Swift West (10)

If I’m completely honest, this pool looks pretty sewn up and I fully expect it to go to seed. However, that being said it is Nottingham. Anything can happen if it gets windy enough!

Iceni are the obvious favourites to keep a firm hold of their number one spot all weekend long as they prep for WUCC, although they may be licking some wounds after sustaining a few recent losses at Tom’s Tourney in Bruges. This year has seen another fairly substantial roster change for the ladies from London, with a rumoured “hunger games” style training regimen implemented from the very start of trials by the no-holds-barred captaincy of Kwan and Cooper. This may or may not have resulted in the loss of two prized Canadians Benedict and Maftei to injury, but as per usual the list of rookies reads like a dream. Watch out for the likes of Randi Burns (an apt surname as she’s wicked fast) and our very own Claire Baker (she worked with us before she was cool! Oh wait, no. She’s always been cool…).

Moving our attention to Hydra 1, I would like to clarify that my anticipation of their failure to surmount Iceni means no disrespect. Hydra had superb a third place finish in the Tour rankings last season and have further bolstered their squad with a number of quality additions, including the likes of Jo Lewis (of Airbadger and GB u17/20/23 fame) and Lauren Mounteney (GB u24). However, without the motivation of Worlds on the horizon, I’m not sure they will come out hungry enough to snag the top spot in this pool. Definitely expect to see them in that top eight bracket come Sunday though!

To finish up pool S, we have Swift West. With much of their upper roster attending WUCC with their respective mixed teams, this tour sees Swift split regionally rather than on a first/second team basis as an aid to development of the Scottish region. You can therefore expect to see the Glasgow contingent in this squad, with a few fresh faces from Stirling and Aberdeen thrown in for good measure – including a bit of a wild card in Melina Koschnitzki who is attending WUCC with German women’s team Mainzelmädchen. No doubt both Swift teams will boast strong finishing positions this tour, but whether the top of their rosters can do enough to make up for their potential lack of depth is yet to be seen.

SMOG rising over Reading at UKU Tour 2 last year. Photo by Claire Baker.

Pool T – Nice Bristols (2), SMOGlobetrotters (6), Swift East (9)

This pool should serve up some tasty ultimate to watch, make no mistake. Although my instinct is again to say things will go to seed (it’s almost as if the people in charge of that know what they’re doing) I’m excited to see what the ladies of SMOG can achieve without their male counterparts and feel sure all three teams will jostle for position in this pool.

Unlike previous seasons, Bristol are focusing solely on WUCC and dropping their development squad for the year. This is by all accounts both a smart and necessary move, with just a few weeks left to polish up ahead of the world stage. Coming off the back of a commendable Tom’s Tourney performance they will certainly be looking to defend their high seed and should be more than capable of doing so. In terms of roster you can expect to see much of the Nice Bristols old guard behind the disc this season, with a few new faces upfield to join the ranks of their nippy young cutting crew. In terms of their defence you’ll see big plays from their usual stalwarts, but keep your eyes open for some ballsy athletic plays from Kelly Wiese – she’s an animal.

SMOGlobetrotters are exactly who you think they are – the majority of the SMOG women that will be attending WUCC with a few friends to make up numbers. Although they are missing Turton, Williams and Wilson to the Open division, an injury and the NHS respectively, I’m sure they will find equally valid throwing targets in the form of Harriet Brown and rising talent Hollie Cardwell. Although SMOG finished fourth last season as one squad and it is exciting to see their expansion to two teams, it will be interesting to see if they have enough depth as a club to maintain that performance in Nottingham. My prediction is a top eight finish – but only just.

As Swift West look to the left hand side north of the border, Swift East will look to harness the talent of Edinburgh and Dundee in search of Women’s Tour domination. The strength of this squad over their western sisters will be their slightly more well-honed connections, with the majority playing together on Edinburgh University’s RoShamBo side. However, whilst they have the potential to generate huge plays through the arm of Hannah Rogers and the incredibly nippy legs of both Amanda Chan and Beth Hall, it seems unlikely that Swift will topple either side in this pool, and may have to be content with fighting for 5th.

Pool U – SYC 1 (3), Reading 1 (7), Chaos (12)

To my mind, Pool U offers us our first real look at the potential for a shake up in seeding. With SYC taking a split squad approach to tour 1 ahead of WUCC to further develop their chemistry, it could well be the case that they have made themselves vulnerable to attack – and this pool looks to be the harder task to fend off, if only by a hair’s breadth. Although SYC aren’t focused on rankings and are using tour as a preparation ground for next month, their success in bracket play really will depend on which SYC turns up this weekend, whether that is the slick, well-oiled unit we saw in Birmingham last season or the less familiar, slower-starting version who can’t quite reliably stick their swing connections under pressure. My hope is certainly for the former!

Another team raring to come out all guns blazing will be Reading 1, who similarly to SMOGlobetrotters will feature the women from their WUCC mixed roster plus a few extra legs for good measure. Yet the difference for Reading is that their additions are home-grown and more familiar, which may just give them the edge needed to break into those higher brackets or even upturn SYC to snag the third place seeding. They will also gain an extra special edge from the presence of Ania Godbold and Amelia Kenneth, who after a brief hiatus with Iceni return home to Reading, ready to terrify their match ups in red shorts rather than black ones.

To round off pool U we have Chaos, who after a frustrating scheduling experience last season are keen to flex their muscles against teams higher up the seedings from the word go. With a mix of fast young University players teamed with some slightly more mature talent, Chaos will be hoping that their pre-season friendlies against Reading and Brighton were enough to help gel their blend of players together for a real crack at the top eight this year. I doubt if they will have enough to do this in pool play, so it’s going to be all about that crossover game – one to watch for sure.

Pool V – SYC A (4), Brighton Women (8), LLLeeds (11)

The last of the three-team pools will likely be dominated by the story of SYC trying to hold off Brighton Women in their favourite conditions: wind! And although SYC will play tactically to take advantage of the conditions as best as they can, if the gusts pick up it may well sweep the disc directly into the hands of the rainbow-adorned, highly-spirited ladies from the south coast.

Controversially, Brighton have brought a whole four subs to this tour, though this appears to be sensible planning in the event that key handler Nicole Cozens manages to injure herself in a soft play area ahead of the weekend (not as uncommon as you might think). Though even without Cozens Brighton will still maintain the unstoppable left arm of Megan Hurst, plus a number of Brighton regulars such as Anastasia Riordan-Eva and Kim Isaac. Rumour also has it that they will feature a new emerging talent in the form of University of Brighton fresher Mollie White, picked as one to look out for on the livestream Saturday afternoon!

Turning the focus to LLLeeds to round of the top 12 set, this season will be all about development for this northern side. Having picked up a handful of university students and graduates from Leeds and Sheffield, LLLeeds will hope that their unusual appearance at Mixed Tour will help them hit the ground running in Nottingham – literally. Expect to see their more established players putting up big throws to their hopeful young receivers, including Zarah Dixon, Becca Mighell, Alice Hanton and Alice Payne. However, I wouldn’t expect LLLeeds to tear their way up the seedings unless they can find some defensive magic which I am informed they are still in search of this year. Happy hunting in Nottingham, ladies!

Pool W – Purple Cobras (13), GBu20s (20), Red 2 (22), Brixton (25)

In our first look at the lower pool set, we see our first new entrant to the women’s tour circuit for 2018: Purple Cobras. Although a familiar name to the mixed and open scenes, this is the first time the Globogym-inspired team will be fielding a side of women in the great outdoors. Their goal is to win plate, though this may be a challenge as they are slightly low on numbers for the weekend. However, if they can be clinical enough in pool play to save their energy for Sunday morning that goal could very much be within reach.

Looking to give Cobras a run for their money will be the GB under-20 squad, Red 2 and Brixton. It is particularly exciting to see the return of a GB u20 side entering Women’s Tour – the likes of which we have not seen since 2014. With an unknown quantity in the junior squad and a brand new second team as their main competition, this could present an opportunity for Brixton to gain some seeds in their second women’s outdoor season provided they can find their feet early, which would be great to see. Either way this should be a feisty set of matches and I’m keen to see how it all plays out.

Pool X – SMOGeo (14), HYDRA 2 (19), Vurve (21), Discie Chicks Purple (26)

With all of their WUCC players higher up the seedings, SMOGeo will be an interesting team to watch this year. As a club, SMOG’s approach to mixed tour was an effective one, with some strong performances across the teams entered and one can only wonder if they can replicate this form in the women’s division too. SMOGeo will feature mostly fresh-faced University players from Durham and Newcastle, with “mega athlete and serial student” Jo Murnane at the helm and additional experience coming from Abi Mace and Rebecca Devine.

However, SMOGeo will certainly have some hot competition within this pool. Hydra 2 proved themselves to be pretty handy last season and could easily build more momentum this year to rise up the rankings, though the biggest threat to SMOGeo’s 14th seed has to be Vurve. Anchored by a trio of handlers all attending WMUCC in Winnipeg this year, the breezy conditions in Nottingham should give Vurve a fantastic platform for a winning weekend.

Discie chicks are another team which have expanded this year, which is fantastic to see! Continuing in their role to bring as many women to tour as possible (especially for the first time) their purple contingent will no doubt give the rest of the teams in this pool a match that is full of spirit and heart – as will their teammates in Pool Y. Whilst I don’t see either squad snagging the higher pool spots, they will certainly have a fun weekend!

Pool Y – Exe Ladies (15), Red 1 (18), Reading Red (24), Discie Chicks White (27)

The second brand new entrant to the Women’s Tour this year is Exe Ladies, a mixture of current students and alumni from the University of Exeter’s Urielle team. Headed up by Ellie Broad, if this team is anything like those we’ve come to expect from the women’s scene at Exeter, they will arrive in Nottingham ready to rumble.

Facing up against Exe are a surprisingly lowly-seeded Red 1 and the first of the evenly-split Reading squads. Last season’s plate final featured Red and Reading 2, so the result of their pool game could be an indicator of how much depth the behemoth that has become Reading Women’s truly has. My money is on Red to edge it and hold on to that 18th seed.

Pool Z – Uprising (16), Merseyside (17), Reading Black (23), The Brown (28)

Last but by no means least, we have Pool Z which looks like it could be very spicy indeed! Sitting pretty at the top are Uprising, who have a strong core of St. Albans and Hertfordshire University players, plus a second place Indoor Nationals finish to build upon. As a non-geo team they may not be the best drilled set of players at the Wind Farm this weekend, but they are young and athletic with a play style which suited the blustery conditions well last season. Definitely a team to watch this year.

However, looking to knock Uprising from the top and win a chance to play for plate will be Merseyside, Reading Black and The Brown. All three teams will be looking to use their geo-connections to capitalise on any missteps by the top seed, although Reading will have fewer of these having cast their net a little further afield to bring their three full sides to Nottingham. Merseyside will likely be the best drilled and certainly are expected to be the stiffest competition for Uprising – watching their women play at Mixed Tour they have great potential and huge athletic bids. As for the Brown, they aren’t sure how things will pan out this season… but it’s certainly all to play for.

Feature photo by Graham Shellswell