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. David Pryce talked to every women’s captain about this weekend about how their teams are shaping up. Thanks to UltiMates for the great stats resource!
Regionals came and passed pretty much as expected with only one game between the qualifiers not going to seed (Iceni beating Bristol for top spot, 10-8). The teams we will be seeing at Moor Lane for the predicted hottest Bank Holiday weekend on record are Iceni, Bristol, Gravity, SYC, Throwback, SCRAM, Rebel, and Red Women. I spoke to all the captains ahead of this second round in the European Club Series.
Red Women (England)
One of the two teams who didn’t have to play Regionals, Red have, in the words of Captain Michelle Line:
… had a great season, our first team has held their position in the top 8 and proved we deserve to be there time and time again … as ever, we aim to be the best we can be.
This being the only team from the Midlands at Regionals, they were very clear on how they had been working on developing young players in the area:
our seconds have gone from strength to strength showing our dedication to successful whole club development in an increasingly competitive women’s field. We’ve broadened our reach and base entering 2 teams to every tour and recruiting lots of amazing new players!
But focussing on the upcoming weekend we wanted to know more about the team in attendance and their aims:
We will have lots of core players there so we will be focusing on chemistry and connections. Our most important goal is for every player to really enjoy themselves and feel supported by their team throughout.
We are so excited to be at nationals and keen to test ourselves against the best the UK has to offer!
Looking at their results this season we can definitely agree that they deserve to be there with consistent wins against Brixton x Chaos and Uprising, who were unable to grab a spot this time round. However, they have not been able to get near the likes of Bristol or SCRAM and so I think that they will find Nationals a true test. Overall it’s great to see a young and developing team in attendance and hence getting new players exposure to elite Ultimate in the UK!
One of the two Irish teams in balmy Birmingham. Captain Emma Healey said of 2019:
It has been somewhat a development season. Unfortunately we have lost a number of key players over the past few years and thus we have really used this season to try and bring up some of our younger and more inexperienced players.
This loss of players and development season may also be a factor in their small roster, of 11 players:
The goal is really just to avoid any major injuries ahead of All Ireland’s in early September. We are really looking forward to playing some new teams and ideally, a realistic finish for us this year would be 5th place!The goal is really just to avoid any major injuries ahead of All Ireland’s in early September.
I think Emma may be selling them a little short. We all know of the successes of Irish Women this summer and also that small rosters can still be very successful (see Athletico at EUCF in 2017), plus there’s international pedigree here:
Four people on the team recently won gold at the European championships and two of our players competed in EYUC in Poland.
This team appears to be a relative unknown but should still be a force to reckon with, with players to watch like Bríonagh Healy, Michelle Leahy and Sinead Dunne who will all be riding that gold medal wave and could do a lot of damage in this division. Being in the potential pool of death with Gravity, Throwback and Iceni they are going to want to get wins in early to avoid the closest seeding 4 v 5 crossover game for the best chance to make semis.
The only team from north of the wall, SCRAM have had quite the debut season, with a 10W-7L record and able to push many of the established teams. Captain Lulu Boyd said:
We had a tough loss to SMOG at the Tour 2 final but it was a fantastic game by two very well matched teams, was great to see such strength in northern women’s ultimate.
This team are a very hardworking and athletic bunch:
We have eight players who represented (and are soon to be representing) their home nations this season. Players to watch out for:
Gemma Henry – University of Strathclyde super star Gemma has speed, throws and the swagger to match. Her efforts this season have made her stand out as a solid D line cutter who has great aerial play.
Eleanor “Marcel” Smith – plays the most solid ultimate on the field. Her decision making and patience on the disc are what makes her a huge asset for us.
Suzanne Slob – our big signing from the Netherlands! Suze competed at U24s with the Dutch mixed team in Heidelberg and crushed it. Suze is the voice of our team, she can be heard from anywhere on or off the field. She loves to punt it deep and brings great energy to our team.
Gill Brown – two words; watch out.
When asked about what they were looking forward to most at Nationals they said:
Nice Bristols again as we had a cracking Sunday morning game against them at Toms Tourney, and Gravity, considering we probably have majority of the same plays. Estelle Murchan and Jane Linehan of Gravity will be gunning for us on defence.
Given they have been unable to put more than eight points against the likes of Iceni or SYC so far I can definitely see the Scots taking third in their pool to then crossover with one of Iceni or Gravity. I know which one SCRAM would like to play and could be an interesting clash of international experience regardless.
Having seen this team at Regionals the names on their roster really say enough for this team. It’s full of experience, and captain Chesca Tyler Weddell said:
We have a slightly different roster for Nationals; a similar size squad but with 7 or 8 new players, which is very exciting!
We know every game at Nationals will be fun and challenging, and we’re looking forward to a competitive tournament.
I think Throwback will end up Saturday in a similar situation at SCRAM having lost to more practised teams but setting themselves up for a crossover early Sunday. But will their experience at this level, and much higher, push them into semis? They’ve added players like Karen Kwok so will be a real threat. I think they are most likely to have to go through …
After a very solid Saturday at Regionals, Sunday was a slow start with a first half against Iceni that the Londoners will want to forget. However, they showed true grit coming back to take the second half 7-5. They will be starting off their Nationals weekend with a regional rematch against Bristol. In their last encounter neither team quite got into top gear, but both will want to take this early game to ensure they can be top seed in the pool and avoid an early Sunday start.
SYC will finally be at full strength after starting off in Europe and entering the UK season for the EUCS and have been working very hard to iron out the creases since Edenbridge. They have also been using this post-WUCC season as a development one, however the team is littered with GB, Canada, Finland and Norway internationals from all age groups and general experience as well as versatility.
They may not have gone to EUCF for a couple of years and are telling us that they will just be taking each game as it comes, but they have the potential to get into semis for sure.
From there it depends which version of SYC we see.
Gravity’s summer season has been a bit dictated by national teams this year. Many of their players were representing Ireland at various levels which disrupted the club season. However, captain and Irish international Jess Chambers said:
This was great for attendance at training at the start of the season, as many players were particularly motivated this year and wanted to get regular competitive weekly sessions, however it hindered our opportunities to play more tournaments as a club this summer.
With all these interruptions over the summer they have been trying a new system to ensure their players get the training they need:
We have been having club training in two different locations on two different nights in Dublin to do our best to provide at least one women’s training opportunity to all Dublin women who were interested in playing with us no matter where in the city they live or work.
And only in the last few weeks have they been able to refocus on EUCS and UK Nationals. But what a team they have:
Everyone on this team has been involved with a national team this summer. We have nine from Seniors, four from U24s, one who represented in both divisions, one who coached the U24s and our coach for Gravity was also the head coach of both Seniors and U24s.
Even though they will be missing Jen Kwan and EuroStar Sarah Melvin they are aiming high:
Our goal this year is to get to the final and win it.
They have played most of these teams plenty of times:
We have a 1-3 record against SYC and we’re looking forward to challenging them again to make our odds better. A few of us have beaten Bristol a few times this year under different team names so it’ll be fun to play them with both teams at their strongest. But we’re most looking forward to playing our Irish representatives on both SCRAM and Iceni and of course Rebel Ultimate.
I am very excited to see what Gravity can do. Their goal is not unfathomable with so much depth in their squad and results in many high level events. They do have a tough pool where their match up against Iceni will be one to watch and could really decide the outcome of this championship!
After a very close encounter with Iceni at Regionals, Co-captain Carla Link said:
This will be the first time we will have our full squad together.
We are expecting really tough games against Rebel and Gravity – we know they have a strong deep game to match up against.
Bristol haven’t played SYC since Nationals 2017 in what we thought was the game to go to WUCC at the time. We have had great matches against them and look forward to playing them in our initial pool games.
As the reigning champs they are still the team to beat and having a full roster of exciting players is key to that. Whilst some might say they have the easier pool, that first game vs SYC is not going to be easy. And definitely one of my games to watch of the pools. I would be very surprised to not see them in one of the top two pool spots and stamping their ticket to semis in some way. Expect athletic plays with big shots to their great receivers and clever defence to really put pressure on their opponents.
Co-captain Fiona Kwan gave us this insight into the top-seeded warriors:
The season has been great so far. It’s been hard this year for all the club teams to balance national team obligations with club aspirations, but I think we’ve done a good job managing both sides. We’ve had lots of great trainings together, and now have a couple of tournaments as an entire squad under our belt.
The team looks good, and is feeling pumped after Regionals and looking forward to a really competitive Nationals. Our goal is to win.
Every team we come up against will present its own challenges. We are really excited to be able to play both Irish teams in our pool games. Lack of familiarity takes away the ability to predict plays and set match ups, so we’ll have to be sharp from point one.
Clearly Iceni are here to play ball. With that 10 – 8 win against Bristol and a challenging second half against SYC they look to be on the war path. They have been here before many times but with the likes of Jenna Thomson and EuroStar Amelia Kenneth absent, will their fractured season see their cohesion and systems working out? I think so, but Bristol, Gravity and company will be asking them a lot questions and as Kwan mentions that is the challenge they relish.
I have said this before and will say it again, the Womxn’s division is so exciting and interesting. There is a chance for any of the top teams to take the title and no one is set to sweep the division which will only help attract more teams and players to Ultimate but also the division. If you aren’t in Birmingham this weekend get your eyes on Fanseat. And to break from a habit my predictions for this weekend:
Yeah I couldn’t do it. Good luck to all and make sure to pack your suncream!
[SC note: 1. Iceni, 2. Bristol, 3. Gravity, 4. SYC, 5. Throwback, 6. SCRAM, 7. Rebel, 8. Red]
Feature photo by Kyle O’Donovan