Our WUCC previews start with Sean Colfer taking a look at Reading Ultimate.
How did they get here?
Reading Ultimate was established in 2010, and over the last eight years the central figures in the club have developed something truly special. At Open and Women’s Tour 1 this year, Reading brought over 100 players across seven teams in both divisions. They not only attract good players from the local area but develop young players too, and have managed to construct a true geo-club atmosphere when the current trend in the UK is for single teams.
They have been a force in Mixed for some time, too, having become firmly established at the top of the division after the last WUCC. They finished third overall at Mixed Tour in 2015 and won Nationals that year, before finishing sixth at Tour in 2016 and repeating as Nationals champions. Last season they finished fifth overall at Tour (although Black Eagles had the top two teams so slightly skewed) and third at Nationals, losing their semi-final to eventual winners Black Eagles 15-9 but defeating Glasgow 13-9 for third. That gave them the final automatic spot for WUCC and punched their ticket for Cincinnati.
They also took bronze at Euros last year, their third year in a row in the top three after winning in 2016 and finishing third in 2015 – they also won spirit in ‘15 and ‘16, and finished second last year.
How has this season been?
This season has been more of the same. They split squads to bring in some non-Worlds players and to forge some stronger connections ahead of Cincinnati, but both teams still performed well. They won Mixed Tour 1 and finished third when consolidated at Mixed Tour 3, so have had some good results. Their Open and Women’s teams, featuring most every player from this Mixed team, have also performed this season – the Women made the Tour 1 final – so they’ve done very well domestically.
They were without without some of their top players at Windmill but still managed to defeat the eventual winners (and reigning European champions, and WUCC pool opponents) GRUT (Netherlands) during the Swiss format, 15-12. However, they fell to familiar foes Hässliche Erdferkel (Germany) 13-9 in the quarters before winning out to finish fifth. They look in good shape to do well in America.
How do they play?
Reading play good, sound Ultimate. They rarely make mistakes and are a very smart team overall, which shows up particularly on defence. The systems and structures that they have had in place for some time are run well by every player and that lack of weak links makes them very tough to play. Offensively they usually favour a 3-4 setup, using the handlers to generate break-side movement before looking for a shot down the field. They use their women very well in this regard, and have some deep receivers that are very tough to stop – Avril Hunter is a problem going deep despite her stature. They can sometimes get a little clogged in the middle of the field and the handler reset space can get crowded at times, but generally this is a team that won’t beat itself.
Defensively they switch between match and zone quite a bit. Their zones mutate slightly depending on the conditions but they generally favour a cup which traps the sidelines when the offence gets the disc over there. Their men are quite tall, particularly 20-year-old ‘Tall’ Jamie Rabbetts who is approximately 9 feet tall. Once they get blocks they’re a threat going deep immediately, and take advantage of any scrambling mismatches by moving the disc quickly. They have the athletes to match up against teams one-on-one and will present a problem for anyone trying to score on them.
Can you give me three players to watch?
Reading have a few players that have played for Great Britain at senior level – Ania Godbold, Avril Hunter, Bex Palmer and Mark Bignal are just a few examples – so I’ll stick to my trend and identify some younger players:
This might be cheating slightly as Amelia has also played for Great Britain (at WCBU in 2017) but they’re only my rules anyway so I can do what I want. Amelia is one of the best young players in the country and is already one of the best female defensive cutters around. She played for Iceni last season and was voted their best newcomer but returned to Reading to play in the Mixed division this season after winning Euros with them in 2016. She’s only been playing for four years but has already played in several European championships and has played for GB Women at senior and under-24 level. She’s absolutely rapid, very clever and very brave when going for blocks. She’s going to be one to watch in this tournament but also for the next few years ahead of a new Great Britain cycle.
Helen is another defensive player for this team. She plays at the front of their zone and takes on tougher matchups in match D too. Coming from the all-conquering University of Birmingham team featuring several players that went on to play at the highest level (with Rollo Sax-Dixon, Lloyd Cheesman, Steve Gillman, Tom Hodgett, Ben Burak, Kim and Grace Owen among others), she also played for Great Britain under-23 Mixed in London. She’s solid with the disc and makes good decisions, but it’s defensively where she really makes a mark. She’s an excellent athlete and can go up and get anything that’s hanging in the air. She’s had an excellent season so far and will be looking to continue that at WUCC.
Ali is another GB under-24 player, for the Mixed team, that went to Perth earlier this year. He plays primarily on offence for Reading but his mix of height, speed and awareness means he can mix it up on either line. He has played for Clapham, too, but will be making waves in Mixed in Cincinnati. He’s a receiver that can also cause damage with the disc, and will be one of the key upfield cutters for Reading. The fact that he can go both deep and under confidently and create mismatches will be a huge part of the offence.
What do they say?
I contacted the Reading WUCC leadership group, and the shadowy clique had this to say, never missing an opportunity to point out the strength in depth of the club despite sending a large squad to Cincinnati:
“Reading are absolutely buzzing for our first WUCC! We’re ready and fully prepared to take on the best the world has! We’re also looking forward to OWT3 in Birmingham and sending five squads to represent RU!”
As you can tell, they’re excited.
How are they going to do?
This is a very complete team. They have a lot of young, athletic players and they have a lot of wiser, experienced heads as well. Very few of the team have played at a WUCC before but they’ve played plenty of huge, important games and won’t be fazed by any of the opponents of occasions they’re going to be facing in Cincinnati. For my money, they’re the most balanced UK team in the division.
Their pool is tough. Mixed is a slightly different structure to Open and Women’s which sees the top three in a pool go through immediately to a knockout round of 32, while fourth place in every pool will face off for a chance to go through to that round. They’ll certainly reach knockouts, it’s just a question of who they’ll be facing when they get there.
Their pool features GRUT and Wild Card from Boston, as well as a RusMixed team that could be a dark horse. Wild Card were given a… errr… a bid into WUCC after some drop outs since they finished fifth at US Nationals last season, but aren’t to be taken lightly – they lost out to eventual champions and WUCC top seed Seattle Mixtape on universe point in the quarters and dominated their two games to finish fifth. If Reading can defeat GRUT, something they have done before (it’s 2-2 between them), and the Russians (who beat Black Eagles at Talampaya so are no slouches) then they’ll get likely get a matchup against the loser of Marvellous DC (New Zealand) or Shinshu Loose (Japan), depending on how that pool goes. If they lose out against GRUT, they’ll get the winner of that same game. If they can come through that and get to the round of 16 they’ll be looking at either BFG (USA) or Crash (Canada), so they have their work cut out for them in making the quarters, where it looks likely that Philadelphia AMP will be lying in wait.
I think Reading are going to do well, but their draw is difficult and the Mixed division is stacked at the top. I think they’ll reach the round of 16 but I don’t know that they’ll get further than that. So, I’ll say that Reading will finish 13th but I’ll be rooting for them to better that.