Nic Edwards gives us the lowdown on Division 1 at UXIN (University Mixed Indoor Nationals).
University Mixed Indoor Nationals is down in Essex this year and is set to be an exciting event. A massive three quarters of the teams played Division 1 last year, with University College London, Kings College London, Surrey, Bangor and St Andrews breaking through to join the elite teams returning to the top level. With Glasgow taking the title on 3G last year, will this year’s hardcourt venue be the detriment of them and their 3G-loving Scottish cohort? Who will be the breakthrough stories, the wildcards, and the rags-to-riches stories at this year’s UXIN? Let’s take a quick look at what is different this year, and who you should watch out for.
Two regions have suffered the loss of a Division 1 space – Yorkshire & East Midlands, and West Midlands & Wales – which has only paved the way further for the Scots. Scotland dominated both Divisions 1 and 2 Nationals last year and so now, even though they only have eight universities in their region, they have the most Division 1 qualifying spots (5). Three of the four Scottish teams finished in the top four at Division 1 this time last year and St Andrew’s annihilated Division 2, so it was only fair. The question is, is it simply inherent Scottish dominance? The top teams qualifying for Nationals through the Scottish region all had relatively close games against each other, so in theory Nationals could go either way or… do they just play a higher standard of Ultimate? And therefore, will Nationals finish this year as it did last year – with Scottish dominance?
How did regionals go?
Above the border, Aberdeen gave an impressive performance, and having Eleanor Taylor (Black Eagles) and Dan McEldrey only boosted their confidence to seize the Scottish Regional title. Every game was fierce, their closest by far being the final, which they won on universe against last year’s National champions, Glasgow. Glasgow had some spicy performances – their nail-biting final against Aberdeen aside – and made a good case for their strength this year too with a two-point semi-final win over local rivals Strathclyde.
In the North, Manchester fell to Durham (who didn’t end up qualifying for Division 1 Nationals) in pool play, but when Sunday came around and with the addition of Chevron’s Steve Dixon, Manchester won every game convincingly. In the West, Bangor’s toughest game was against Birmingham in the final, which they won on universe and rumour has it, even with Natalie Knight and Dom Knight, Bangor wasn’t at full capacity at Regionals.
Yorks and East Mids saw Loughborough defeat Huddersfield in their Regional final by a substantial margin, but also lose to Sheffield in pool play. Huddersfield, on the other hand, won every game with ease up until the final and maybe only having three women, as strong as they may be, is what caused such a big loss. South-Western Bath seemed to win their region without any upsets, and South-Eastern Reading took a very scenic route to their Regional title, losing to a Brighton team in pool play that failed to get the results to join them in Essex this weekend. UCL look to have a strong team this year since it appeared to be UCL and then everyone else in the East and London region; they won every game by a significant margin.
What does that mean?
Looking at Regional results and not believing in this myth that the Scottish are just better players, I reckon the national title is definitely up for grabs for any team. That being said, the Scots will still have a strong showing at UXIN and should never be underestimated, whether they are seeded first or eighteenth. Other things to take note of is where other Regional winners are seeded, for example Reading and UCL are seeded out of the top eight but I suspect they are going to cause some nasty upsets in pool play.
You don’t have to wait until the knockouts on Sunday to find things worth watching, though. Bangor v Glasgow will be a pool game worth a look; they play very differently but how that game plays out could shine a light on the way Nationals will finish. Other pool games that should be competitive match-ups and good fun to watch are Loughborough v Birmingham, Reading v Bath and UCL v Manchester. Birmingham have a big pick up this year in the name of GeeGee Morrison (Reading WUCC and GBU24 Mixed). If they have developed connections with her then some serious damage can be done against Regionals champs Loughborough. Reading have a lot of experienced players such as Charlotte Marriott and Sam Benians (both Reading) who bring reliable and proven skillsets to the table against a good bath team. UCL v Manchester should in theory be a tight game; Manchester are a fierce team, especially their women (Bella Tait, Black Eagles) and will be looking to capitalise on their third place finish last year but UCL have started the year playing very well and look set to feature pick-ups Axel Ahmala (GBU24 Open and Glasgow WUCC) and former AUDL player CJ Colicchio.
Bath, Loughborough, Oxford, St Andrews, Reading, Edinburgh
Group of Death:
Group C (Manchester, Huddersfield, UCL, St. Andrew’s, Oxford)
And that’s a wrap! Before you go to Nationals this weekend please take an extra moment to think about Ultimate and how we define ourselves:
“Spirit of the Game… highly competitive play is encouraged but never at the expense of mutual respect among competitors… or the basic joy of play.”
Spirit of the Game day has passed recently and it is imperative that all players representing their university at Nationals this weekend put an emphasis on spirit. It is what makes Ultimate so different to any other sport. Share constructive criticism, play hard and represent the sport well with mutual respect for all.
Thanks, and good luck!
Feature photo by Alberto Rossi