The mixed season is over once more, so we head into the dubiously-named WORE (Women’s and Open Ranking Event) season. It kicks off this weekend, as you all know, with Nottingham WindFarm. I’ll save you any more preamble and dive right into the preview of the Open division!
The top twelve
The Open division is split into a few sections sections – the top 12, KNOCKOUT POOLS for the next 6 teams, and then more normal pools and another set of KNOCKOUT POOLS. The KNOCKOUT POOLS are quite new and exciting (maybe?) so we’ll leave them for now and do this thing in stages.
The top 12 features few surprises, other than Reading dropping out between the draft and final schedule. One would assume that they told UKU they’ll be missing many of their top players, with something of an exodus happening in this post-WUCC world. They’re replaced at 12th seed by Manchester, so let’s start there.
GB men are in the same pool as EMO and Manchester. Realistically it’s the game at midday on Saturday between EMO and Manchester that’s the one to watch here, because GB will win the pool. The two club teams have been reasonably close to each other over previous years, but EMO will be without some of their stalwarts following defections elsewhere – Ben Poole will be making waves elsewhere in Nottingham, for example. I’d back the local team here.
Clapham will obviously be hit hard by the presence of GB in the draw, and will have a smaller squad than usual. Some of their younger players and new additions will be around, though, and they’ll still make a formidable team. I don’t see them having too many problems with Brighton, despite Brighton being able to give them some very good games in the past, and PELT have historically struggled against the Londoners (as has everyone, to be fair). PELT vs Brighton could be a very entertaining matchup, though. I think I’d back PELT but Brighton have in the past showed that they’re capable of playing up to their opponents and making things more uncomfortable than we’d expect.
The third pool is where things get interesting. Ka-Pow! entered three events last season and played well, winning the overall Tour title. Chevron entered only two, so they get 90% of their average as per the new rankings rules, which were applied retroactively to create this year’s initial rankings. That means Ka-Pow! are your third seeds. They’re rewarded with Devon and SMOG in their pool, which is a bloody awful reward in my opinion. Devon are probably going to be very Devon – loud, athletic and confident in themselves and their teammates – and SMOG are a team with great cohesion and some very talented individuals. I think I’d take Ka-Pow! as favourites here but it’s going to be tight all round I think. I’ll back SMOG over Devon with as little confidence as I have in any pick here, mainly because Devon may be missing a few to GB duty.
Finally, Chevron will face the GB Masters team and Ranelagh. The masters could be a dark horse for a semi-final spot, even with a team like Chevron in their pool. Many of the players come from GB experience or continue to play at a very high club level – this squad list is no joke. They’ll not be lacking from an athleticism standpoint, and they could make significant waves if they can top Chevron in the second game of the day. Ranelagh are relegated to also-ran status in this preview as the least interesting team in the pool, but they’re bringing pretty much a full squad and will be as good as they commonly are. I see them keeping things close against both teams, but don’t think they’ll be able to change their seed.
The top eight go to quarters straight away. That would pit GB men against SMOG, Clapham against the loser of the masters and Chevron (potentially a very spicy game with only one top four spot on offer for two very good teams), Ka-Pow! against EMO and the winner of Chevron/GBM against PELT. I think the only intrigue here comes from that pool game – the 2 v 7 matchup will be fascinating whoever comes out on top. Still, I’m inclined to be boring and pick the top four seeds to make the semis. From there, GB men are my overwhelming favourites to take the title.
Lower down, we will see some crossing over. And that is where KNOCKOUT POOLS comes into it for the next 16 teams.
A new way to do pools
Pools of four usually means three games for everyone. However, this new structure means that for 13-28 seed and half of 41-54 seeds, one of the matchups is not played. The top seed faces the bottom and the two middle teams face off, with the winners playing for top seed and both losing teams battling to avoid bottom spot. The one-game structure could lead to some surprising results, as three-way ties resolving pool intrigue is not unheard of. There are too many of these to go into every one, but some to look out for: Ranelagh 2, who feature some of Ireland’s mixed and open captains and are likely under-seeded at 26; Fire, who are going to come out erm… firing… after their struggles last season; BLU, who have some experience and talent on their side after forming this season; and Alba, the new-ish Scottish team which seems to be the focus for the men north of the border this season. They’re almost definitely under-seeded, looking at their performances at Tom’s Tourney. The GB and Irish under-24s are also in this bracket and are always interesting, while Rebel have about as tight a squad as you could ask for (their two teams feature seven and nine people…) so good luck to the lads from Cork.
Will any of these teams be able to cross into the top 12? If I was a betting men I’d say that Alba, Fire and the winners of the BLU/Brum game have the best shots. I wouldn’t be surprised if either under-24 team gets into those slots, and Ranelagh 2 will be a danger team as well.
The next section
There are more pools, regular and knockout, outside of the top 28. It’s always difficult to know who outside the top teams is taking these events seriously and who has added new players (or seen extremely positive development from existing players) before we see them. In a Tour structure, these are the lower B Tour teams and C Tour, so generally it differs hugely from year to year. However, some teams seem to be on an upward curve while others remain similar to years past. Two teams to watch out for in this bracket are Purple Cobras, who continue to build impressively if their results at mixed are anything to go by, and Leamington Lemmings. Lemmings had a great result in winning a mixed ranking event this season and seem to have a young generation coming through at the same time. They also have Ben Poole, a former Lemming who has apparently returned to the fold (or the slice, to give lemmings their correct collective noun) this season. It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the season will go for these teams.
So, here’s my top 12:
- GB men
- GB masters
See you all in Nottingham.
Feature photo by Alice Hanton