Sean Colfer has done a bumper preview on all three divisions. They’ll all be coming this evening as he gets (most of) his picks on record for everyone to criticise once they’re proved wrong. Here’s his view on the Mixed division.
Nationals is the culmination of the domestic season, the final act on a long slog that started in Cardiff what seems like a hundred years ago. After hosting the first iteration of the new format last season, Birmingham will again welcome the best 32 Open, Women’s and Mixed teams in the country to find out who’s best (even though we probably know) and who’s going to Poland to play Europe’s best.
Let’s get to the division-specific predictions.
As is always the case, there’s been a long break between the end of the Mixed season and Nationals. That break means there’s a real onus on the teams being able to pick up where they left off, and keep training in the months between competitions. The northern teams have had even longer – Regionals was cancelled due to only three teams signing up. It makes it slightly difficult to predict what will happen this weekend, but I’ll give it a shot. As a disclaimer, I’ll be playing with Herd so there may be some slight bias, but I’ll try to keep it objective.
Pool A is the most lopsided pool in this tournament, a result of a scheduling quirk that has caused a huge imbalance in the draw. Black Eagles deservedly enter as the top seed as they look to defend their title. They’re in good shape to do so having brought most of the team that performed so admirably in Cincinnati and their usual collection of cohesion, aggression and height. Deep Space enter as second seed in the pool thanks to their win at southern Regionals, while Thundering Herd are third after losing that same Regionals final. Rebel fill out the pool but are not a team to be taken lightly – they’re very strong and have been one of the top Mixed teams in Ireland for many years. All told, it’s going to be a brutal Saturday for all four of these teams. While Eagles look to be the class of the group, they’ll all be fighting tooth and nail for a shot at the top four. Whoever loses out will instantly be a heavy favourite to secure fifth place, but everyone will be desperate to avoid that.
The other pool features a strong Glasgow team, alongside three teams who will be delighted with their draw. Black Sheep, Curve and Leamington Lemmings would all have been unlikely Nationals qualifiers if one was to make predictions based on Tour results – they finished 26th, 34th and 44th respectively. Still, they managed to earn a place here and now have a wonderful opportunity to qualify for the business end of the tournament. They’ll all lose to Glasgow but the two teams that can earn wins on Saturday will qualify for the next round and a chance at the semi-finals.
The next round, then, is tough to predict. I think that Lemmings will finish second in their group, as they’ve added some players from the regular season. The question for Pool B is who’ll win between Black Sheep and Curve. I think they’ll be at a very similar level, but my inkling is that Curve have just enough to take it. They’ll play against second in the pool, who I suspect will be Deep Space, while Lemmings will play against Herd to complete two rematches from the pools at Regionals.
From there, I think it’ll be pretty comfortable wins for Deep Space and Herd. It would mean that There’d be another pool rematch in one semi, with Herd facing Black Eagles, while Glasgow face Deep Space. I think we’re heading for an all-Scottish final, as both teams have looked excellent all year. Without SMOG and Reading here they look comfortably better than the rest of the field, but based on the games they’ve had this year the final will be spectacular. They know each other so well, and they match up so effectively against each other, that it’s bound to be a very tight game. Black Eagles have won the meaningful games this year whereas Glasgow won a pool match, so I’d say Eagles will retain their crown, but it’ll be one to watch for sure. That’ll leave Deep Space playing Herd and, given my loyalties, I’ll leave out the predictions here for once.
Rebel would comfortably finish fifth in this scenario, with Lemmings in sixth. The thing about this tournament is that pretty much everything will be decided on Saturday – the big thing left to play for in my opinion will be third, since our region is first in the waiting list for an extra EUCF spot in Wroclaw. Pool A will provide three of the semi-finalists and I can’t see anyone challenging the Scots, so Sunday could be something of a procession to the two exciting final games. Hopefully, there’ll be some way to avoid imbalance like this in the future.
Feature photo by Alice Hanton