Sean Colfer turns his attention to SMOG, and how they might fare in Cincinnati.
How did they get here?
SMOG are still a relatively new club, being founded in late 2012 by players from Durham, Newcastle and York universities. They have developed into a true regional powerhouse in that time, though, taking players from all over the north and transforming into one of the best clubs in the UK – probably second only to Reading in terms of being a three-division, multi-team organisation. They’ve progressed through the divisions, playing Open and Mixed in 2016 – finishing ninth in Open and fifth in Mixed – before progressing to Women’s in 2017 (they finished fourth).
Last season was an excellent one for the club. The Open team finished 11th, but the Women did very well and the Mixed team, the focus of the club last year, finished third at Tour behind the two Black Eagles teams. They went to Nationals under some pressure to repeat that performance, and after being paired with (and losing 12-15 to) Black Eagles in the pool they scored three in a row to beat Glasgow 12-11 in the semi-final. There, they gave Black Eagles another good contest for much of the game, but the Black Eagles’ depth and accurate long shots were too much for them, losing 10-15. They performed well at Euros as well, losing to Terrible Monkeys (Czechia) and Hassliche Erdferkel (Germany) and losing out in the 5/6 bracket to Black Eagles and VIF Ultimate (Sweden). They did beat Colorado (Germany) in the pools, who eventually finished second, so they showed they deserved to be in that bracket.
How has this season been?
This season has seen a refocus for the club as a whole as they have entered Open regionals rather than Mixed (and would have done the same in the Women’s division if the qualifier were slightly closer). However, the Mixed team has still been going about preparing for Worlds, playing Mixed Tour and also attending Windmill. They split their squads for the start of the Tour season, both finishing in the top eight at the first two tournaments. They consolidated at Tour 3 and finished fourth behind the other WUCC teams.
At Windmill, they played against some of the top teams in Europe and against some fellow WUCC teams. They handled Sugar Mix (Germany) comfortably at 15-9 and beat Mubidisk (Spain) 13-10, but fell 6-15 to Colorado as well as to three American teams. They finished 12th overall, just behind Glasgow but in a respectable spot.
How do they play?
SMOG play a wide open offensive style, looking to isolate their best players in as much space as possible. They move their stack around depending on what the game situation is but do favour leaving the middle of the field open with a side or split stack, with one of their top cutters attacking the underneath and looking for continuation further downfield. Those cutters are usually Alex Mazzon, Tom Bennett or Tessa Hunt, but they’ll mix it up with a strong collection of quick cutters. If there’s nothing upfield their handlers are good at grinding out space but they can at times get bogged down if there’s no one open downfield to throw to, leading to some miscues and poor options higher in stall counts.
Defensively they switch things up a lot. They’re generally tall, and they have a lot of very good male and female athletes. The thing that marks out the SMOG defence is their ability to grind out points, putting on immense pressure throughout the game and never letting up. Their zone can be particularly dangerous when they go tall at the front, with some long arms making it tough to find gaps and generate forward momentum. Harry Glasspool is a constant source of consternation for opposing teams and they’ll need to know where he is on any given play because he has a habit of making seemingly wide open throws seem not that open at all.
Can you give me three players to watch?
I’ve already mentioned a few, so let’s go for one of them and two different players:
TB is one of the lesser known elite players in the UK. He used to play for Manchester in the Open division, but moved to SMOG last year to join his former Durham University teammates. In that time, he’s made himself one of the most feared players in the Mixed division, mixing outstanding athletic attributes with the kind of throwing ability that can take teams out of games in four or five points. He can often be seen beating his mark underneath and jacking it to either Mazzon or Tess, and that’s a formula that is difficult to stop. He’s also a strong defender and will get blocks if the O line turns it over. Another to watch at this tournament and also in the upcoming GB cycles.
Nicknamed Yellow, Lees has been an underrated handler for several years. Another who played for Manchester, joining SMOG this season, his lefty throws are a crucial part of the SMOG offence. He can make every throw in the book, and the plus of being left-handed means they come from angles that marks aren’t always expecting. He’ll touch the disc a lot, and his chemistry with the rest of the O line – the cutters and, crucially, fellow handlers like Lucy Hyde – will be a key thing to watch when the pressure is on.
It’s difficult to describe Alice’s playing style in my usual measured, clinical way. She’s an excellent defender, she’s clever with her positioning and is fearless in going for the disc. But mainly, she’s just fun to watch. She’s a fantastic athlete and will get bids on discs that look beyond or well above her. She’ll be a really important part of the defensive group and her blocks could be vital for a SMOG D line that plays the kind of exciting style that fits her perfectly.
What do they say?
SMOG captain Lucy Hyde said: “We’ve been making good progress through our process. Assimilating so many new faces into the team has been challenging but we think it will all come together in Cincinnati. We’re looking forward to playing a lot of good teams and will let the results worry about themselves. There are so many elimination rounds that it’s hard to confidently predict anything!”
How are they going to do?
SMOG are probably a step behind the other UK Mixed teams, looking at their results this season. They are very deep though, and their star players are a match for pretty much any team in the world. They’ve got a pretty tough draw in the group, too, with Boston Slow White the biggest name to deal with. They also have Café de Luida (Japan), Mubidisk and Black Sheep (New Zealand), all of whom will be difficult opponents. They’ll be hoping to finish in the top three of the pool in order to leave themselves with a shot at the top 16, which makes the games with Mubidisk and Black Sheep crucial.
No matter where they finish in the pool, they should feel relatively confident about getting into the top 32 games. If they finish third they’ll be straight into the bracket against the second-placed team in Pool A, so probably either Battleship (Canada) or more familiar foes Colorado. If they finish fourth, they’ll have to play a play-in against the fifth-placed team in Pool B, one that they should be able to win – Sugar-Mix are seeded fourth in that pool. They’d progress to play Seattle Mixtape, though, so they shot at the top 16 would become inordinately more difficult. If they finish fifth, they’ll play fourth in Pool B but would also feel relatively confident about that. They’d go from there to the play the winner of Group G, which is probably either Friskee (Australia) or Hassliche Erdferkel.
However it shakes out, the shot at the top 16 is going to be intensely difficult. I think they’ll finish third or fourth in the pool and I think they’ll qualify for the round of 32, but their opponents from there are some of the best in the world. I think they’ll do relatively well in the 17-32 bracket, so I’ll say that SMOG will finish 25th.