The showpiece of the domestic season is taking place this weekend in Birmingham. UKU Nationals is what these teams have been building towards all season with nine places at the European Ultimate Championships Finals on offer – four in the open division, three in the mixed division and two in women’s. As always, the ShowGame is making sure you know everything you need to know. Sean Colfer finishes off our series with mixed.
The mixed division looks set for a nailed-on final, much like the open division. However, much like the open division the next places are well up for grabs. There are at least five contenders for the third EUCF spot, and it’s going to be a wild ride seeing how it all shakes out. Let’s get to the pools.
A quirk of the seeding system for Nationals is that it’s based on results from last season. That has meant that the pools are split entirely on geographic lines; Pool A is all four northern teams while B has the three southern teams and the Irish champions.
Pool A sees SMOGs teams up against Birmingham and Cambridge. SMOG 1 will be full of players who have extensive experience in the UK and internationally. From Alex Mazzon and Lucy Hyde to Tessa Hunt and Fraser MacDonald, these are some of the best players in the mixed division at the moment. They have great depth, they have athleticism and height, and they’ve been together for a while so have good understanding and cohesion. They’re absolutely the team to beat in this pool, and I can’t see anyone doing it. SMOG 2 are no slouches either with some really strong players – Harry Glasspool has been a pillar for SMOG for years, while Tiffany Anderson, Katie Ackerley and pickup Hannah Randles have all represented their country this season. They’ll be up against a Birmingham team that everyone knows well by now; great cohesion, great long shots and a team of tough, gritty players. Marius Hutcheson will be throwing bombs, Ophelia Byrne, Ben Kings and Emma Hayward will help knit things together and their cadre of fast receivers will make life difficult for anyone. They’ve also added the, ahem, ‘experienced’ Sion Scone this season. They disappointed slightly at Regionals but this is a team with good mental strength that will be able to bounce back at home. Cambridge could be the wild card here with the squad they’ve picked. Not only do they have power couple Tom White (formerly of Clapham) and Tess Bertozzi (SYC), but they’ve added players like Nick Wong, Si Weeks and Rachel Naden. Their top seven is a match for pretty much anyone, so the question will be their depth – can younger players like Christian Turvill, Willem Garnier and Jake Betson add to their experienced core? If so, this is a dark horse.
Pool B sees a very young PELT side face off against the best of the south. PELT brought home the Irish title but have lost some of their key men from that event to the open division. It may be a step too far for them to cause any upsets here, but they have athletic ability across the squad so will be able to catch people napping if they aren’t treated with respect. Guildford have had a great postseason so far in securing their first Nationals berth for a while and aren’t here just to make up numbers. They have some real talent on the squad, with captain Ash Long able to run with anyone in the division. Cutters Camilla Spearing, Chris Lyde and Nicola Harrison will add downfield ability, while Elliot Jealouss and Nick Roberts will control the offence. GB under-24 open player Tom Davies is a superb athlete and is a very useful addition to the Regionals team. They’ll face Reading again, who look set for another tilt at the title. They have some of their best players from the WUCC campaign back – Mark Bignal, Bex Palmer, Serena De Nahlik and Maks Tobiasiewicz are all here, and are augmented by the additions of young players like Erin McGready, Emma Klima and ‘tall’ Jamie Rabbetts (he’s tall). They cruised through Regionals and will have their sights firmly set on the title. Deep Space are the final team here and will be focused on a spot at EUCF. They have the talent and, after sixth- and fourth-placed finishes in the last two years have the experience at Nationals. Sam Vile was injured at EUC and may not be fit for this event which would be a massive loss, but they’ll still have plenty of talent. Mara Alperin and Joyce Kwok will help control the disc, Leila Denniston and Gus Morse will be crucial downfield and Josh Coxon-Kelly, of this parish, will probably be alright too I guess.
So, to predictions. I think SMOG win their pool, and with the additions they’ve made Cambridge probably can’t be overlooked. SMOG 2 have a legitimate shot at the third spot in the pool, but it’s very tight with them and Brum. In the other pool, I think the top two is pretty clear and I favour Guildford for the third spot.
That means we have semis of SMOG vs Deep Space and Reading against Cambridge. I think Reading have the depth to see off Cambridge but that’s going to be a far closer game than I would have expected even a few days ago – given Cambridge’s smaller window to get a squad together (Tribe dropped out giving them a spot reasonably last-minute) they’ve done a great job gathering a group to make a challenge. I don’t think Deep Space have the across-the-board athleticism to challenge SMOG for a full game, but the first half will likely be very close. If Deep Space can nab a lead early on they might be able to get SMOG frustrated and use their experience to manage the game out. I’d bet on SMOG, though.
SMOG vs Reading is a very familiar sight for those mixed observers among us, and this will be an interesting addition to a rivalry that has traditionally tilted towards the southerners. In this case, I think SMOG might have a slight advantage in athleticism and numbers. They haven’t won a national title yet, whereas Reading have won two. I think that extra hunger will make a difference. I’ll say SMOG wins.
In the back door bracket, PELT will face SMOG 2. I don’t think that’ll be that close. Guildford against Brum is a much more interesting prospect, but I think Birmingham probably has the deep game to really challenge Guildford’s defence and has a slight edge in depth. That sets up Cambridge vs Birmingham in a rematch of the game to go to Nationals in York. Brum took that by one, and with Cambridge making a couple of additions I’ll say they have enough to swing that balance. The other game will be SMOG 2 against Deep Space which will be fascinating. SMOG 2 absolutely can win this, they have the athleticism to really challenge Deep Space and the throwers to take advantage of whatever they see on defence. I’ll say, though, that Deep Space’s experience narrowly wins the day.
That leaves Deep Space playing Cambridge in the game to go. Deep Space have been threatening to make Euros for years, and they have the talent to do it. This is going to come down to the role players on each team and how well the Deep Space handlers can keep the disc moving if Sam Vile is indeed out. They have people who can pick up the slack but he taken an element of explosiveness away that would be extremely useful against a team like Cambridge. These teams know each other extremely well – Wong played for Deep Space in their first season, and many have played with and against each other for a while. It’s a very rogue pick, but if White, Bertozzi, Weeks and Naden play well it’s tough to see past them. White and Bertozzi will probably be the best athletes in this game but the matchups with Morse and Denniston are going to be fantastic to watch (if they happen) and Naden is, in my view, one of the best women playing in the UK at the moment. This is possibly the toughest call at the event, but I’ll give the edge to Cambridge.
Alright, that’s all our predictions done! Don’t get burned, everyone. And remember, if you aren’t there you can follow all of the action on Fanseat! I’ll be there reporting so if you see me feel free to let me know what you think of my assessment of your teams. See you on the other side.
- Deep Space
- SMOG 2