The season has finished; let the postseason commence. The EUCR process starts this weekend with two UKU Regionals events, one in the north and one in the south. We’ll be previewing all three divisions at these events ahead of Nationals in Birmingham in late August. Last but by no means least, Sean Colfer previews the mixed division!
The mixed division is always a tough one to call when it comes down to the business end of the season. For many of these teams, the last time they played competitively together was in May. The long break between mixed ranking events and Regionals has long been something that has hamstrung teams, with clubs trying plenty of different approaches to keep their cohesion and sharpness. Deep Space have used weekend getaways to maintain their chemistry, Thundering Herd entered open and women’s teams into ranking events this year and some teams went to St. Albans to play the first-ever fourth ranking event of the year a couple of weeks ago.
The set-up in mixed is slightly different to that in the other two divisions. There aren’t many teams competing at these events – both have eight teams – but they’re competing for only six spots, given that Rebel’s second-place finish at last year’s Nationals snagged a second spot for Ireland. Ireland will be sending PELT and Tribe to Nationals this year, which is notable since PELT are usually an open team (and, as such, will also be sending an open team to Birmingham) while Tribe finished only eighth at the All-Ireland championships.
Can anyone challenge SMOG
Starting in the north, the line-up there tells us immediately that there will be no title defence this season. Black Eagles, the reigning national champions, and their long-time frenemies Glasgow are both absent from the team list, with the players who once made up those juggernaut teams focusing instead on open and women’s. SMOG, who didn’t enter as a mixed team themselves last year, are the top seeds instead following a strong season. They’ve brought many of their top players from their WUCC run back and will be formidable come Nationals. Their second team is also in this event and will be worth monitoring – it probably won’t have the overall athleticism or experience of the first team, but there aren’t really any bad players in the whole squad so the second team has a legitimate shot at qualification here.
The top seed in the other pool is Birmingham, who have had another consistently good season. They’re always in the mix for the top spots in the regular season and when they’ve focused on mixed at Nationals have had some fantastic results – they qualified for Euros a few years ago and could realistically be aiming for that again this year. The focus appears to be on mixed rather than open, with their top players all present on this team. The game against SMOG 2 will be an early indicator of how strong they look, but I’d be somewhat surprised if Brum aren’t the other team in the final vying for the northern title (despite being from God’s own country, the midlands).
Birmingham’s pool looks as though it could be more challenging that SMOG’s. They’ll play Leeds, who have an experienced squad with men who have played at a high level for a long time and women who are coming off a final against SYC at Moor Lane in Birmingham. They also have Cambridge, who have been something of an enigma for a while but could feature stars Tess Bertozzi and Tom White alongside plenty of other solid players, and SMOG 2. All three of those teams are dangerous and the fight for places will be fierce.
SMOG, on the other hand, will play against MUC from Merseyside, Black Sheep from Manchester and Leamington Lemmings. Lemmings have a very young and talented team and rose up the rankings rapidly this year – they’re the 13th ranked mixed team in the UK. They’ll be a contender for the final spot, but I don’t see them challenging for top spot in the pool. MUC and Black Sheep will have a tough time breaking into the top two, and may well see each other again on Sunday.
Looking at the schedule, the teams go straight to semis from the pools, with top two from each and bottom two from each playing each other. I expect pool D to win both lower match ups, and for Birmingham and SMOG to head to the final. That leaves four teams in the mix for the final spot.
My guess is that Cambridge sneak past the other two teams in their pool for the semi spot, but they don’t have enough to beat SMOG. That would leave them playing another team from their pool, either SMOG 2 or Leeds. It’s tough to beat a similarly-talented team twice , but I can’t look past Cambridge for a spot in the game to go. Third place in pool D will have to play the bottom place team in pool C and then probably against Lemmings for a spot in the game to go. Whoever Lemmings play in that game, they’ll have an experience deficit. I think they’ll lose here and not make the game to go, but the club appears set up well for a few years if they can hold on to their young players.
That would leave Cambridge in another pool rematch. Their opponent is a tough projection but I’ll say SMOG 2 by a hair. I’ll back Cambridge for the final spot because they’ll almost certainly have the best players on the field. This is all on a knife edge though, and there should be some really, really tight games.
I’d be surprised if SMOG doesn’t win the region, but Birmingham will give them a good fight for the trophy.
Prediction: SMOG, Birmingham, Cambridge
Can Reading reclaim their crown
The south is somewhat similar to the north in that there are five teams who could reasonably think they’re in with a shot at the three qualifying places.
Deep Space top one side of the draw and will be a force to be reckoned with. They’re the highest-ranked team in the postseason draw since both Scottish teams and superstar pickup team Mighty Hucks aren’t around. They’ll have players back from national team duty and have developed chemistry between their key players over the three years they’ve been in existence. Given the quality of the individual players on the team, they haven’t hit their ceiling in the last couple of seasons but now that they’ve had that extra time to gel this could be their season. They’ll face Reading in the pool, since Reading’s commitment to open and women’s last Nationals and this season has meant a slip down the rankings in mixed. They’ve brought the band back together, though, and will have many of the players who went to WUCC in Cincinnati last year. They should be the top two teams in the pool as Purple Cobras, while likely to be pretty good, shouldn’t be able to match the depth of quality of their rivals. Meridian are unlikely to pose a threat either.
The other pool is topped by Thundering Herd, who sit sixth in the rankings. They have had an up-and-down season so far, making the final at their own London Moooxed tournament and reaching the top five at Y Ddraig Goch but then finishing 11th at Grey Towers in Durham. The pool match up they’ll be most focused on is Guildford, who finished ahead of them in Durham but couldn’t repeat the feat at Highfield Mixer in July. Guildford is a mash-up of some young, athletic players and some older, more experienced heads. They’ll bring back some GB under-24s for this event and will have their eyes on a qualification spot. Curve and Zoo have both had some positives from this season and could make things difficult for the other two teams, but may find that depth is the issue in the later stages of games.
The tournament has the same set up as the northern regionals. After pools, my guess (and in the interests of full disclosure I’m playing with Herd) is that Herd and Deep Space top their pools. That would put Reading against Herd for one final spot, and Deep Space against Guildford for the other.
My guess is that Purple Cobras would then play Guildford, which would be a tight game but I’d back Guildford. That would, in all likelihood, lead to a pool rematch between Guildford and Herd. The teams played a warm up game before Cardiff, played in Durham and in St Albans (Herd have won all three so far in close games) and will have already played once in Edenbridge in this situation. The fifth match of the season would be the most important one all season, with a spot at Nationals at stake.
That leaves Reading and Deep Space vying for the top spot in the south, which I’ll say goes to the team that have played together more often this season, but only by the smallest of margins. This would be a very entertaining final.
Prediction: Deep Space, Reading, Thundering Herd
That’s it for the predictions! All that’s left is the games, and seeing who’s going to be in Birmingham to battle it out for the national titles. Good luck to everyone in Edenbridge and York this weekend, and fingers crossed we don’t see any of those thunderstorms.
Feature image by Andrew Moss