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. We’re starting off with a look at the open division by Sean Colfer!
The open division has four Irish teams at Nationals this year after all three Irish representatives finished in the top nine last year – and two made the top five after XVI shocked everyone. That means that at Regionals the teams will be battling for five qualifying spots for the north, and seven for the south.
Kings in the North (and Midlands)
Starting with the smaller event, the north has a few teams that are obvious qualifiers. Chevron will face EMO, Manchester, The Brown and YOpen in their pool while Alba face Birmingham, BAF, EMO 2 and Red. Both top seeds will qualify and will almost certainly face off in the final.
Alba have had a remarkable season; they’ve lost twice to Ranelagh in sudden death, lost to Clapham and Chevron reasonably heavily at Moor Lane and lost to SMOG in the Junction 7 final in Sale. That’s just five losses all season in the UK. They’re currently ranked sixth in the country and are a real threat to qualify for Euros this season. Will they have enough to challenge Chevron for the title of kings in the north? It looks unlikely given the experience Chev have in their ranks but the Scots are a team on the rise.
That leaves three spots for everyone else. EMO should have enough to pull through and seem likely to hold on to their seed – they’re the next-best team in the rankings and have played well enough when they’re able to pull their best team together. Manchester, similarly, seem like a good bet to take another of the spots given their results this season. Once they get to Nationals it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to avoid the bottom-four group but they should have enough to get there. If EMO don’t have their full team together then Manchester might be able to cause a mild upset.
The final spot is likely to come down to a straight shootout between Birmingham and BAF. Birmingham are ranked higher but their focus seems to be on the mixed division with many of their best-known players featuring in that division rather than in open. That leaves the door open for BAF, a team that will no doubt feature the usual mix of youth and experience and who, on their day, can play anyone close if everything clicks – they beat Fire at WindFarm and could play spoiler in qualifying for another Nationals here.
Prediction: Chevron, Alba, EMO, Manchester, BAF
The south has seven spots for 12 teams. Some of the qualifiers can already be written in pen – Clapham, Devon and Ka-Pow! will qualify, whereas Southampton City Ultimate and Horsham will not. The spots between those teams, though, become quite grey.
Fire have had a good resurgence this season and currently sit 12th in the UKU rankings. When you take away the two Great Britain teams (Men’s and under-24s) and SMOG, who aren’t going to Nationals as an open team, they’re in the top 10, with a legitimate shot at the top eight. Given the turbulence after their last generation of players departed, that’s a good bounce back. They’re very likely to come through here. That last generation of Fire will probably also be at this tournament in their new guise, BLU. The team is made up of ex-Fire and ex-Brighton players and should have the talent to take another of the spots – they’re just below Fire in the rankings and have had an impressive debut season. These teams are on a collision course in the quarter, which would be a fun game with something like a semi-final against Clapham to play for.
That makes five teams in, two to go. Brighton have been a bit more up and down than usual this year but usually find a way to pick it up for the postseason. They’re the most likely of this next bunch to get into the top six and therefore avoid the dreaded game to go.
To find the final qualifier, let’s go through the draw. The first games of interest come in the crossovers. Flump will likely play Reading, assuming that Reading can’t overcome Brighton. Many of the players who pushed Reading to fourth in open last season are back playing for the mixed team at this event, but there’s still talent in the squad and some young players looking to make a mark. Bristol, meanwhile, look likely to face Camden in a game that may well prove tricky for the team from the south west.
With the way the draw is set up, it’s very likely that the winners of those two crossovers will end up playing each other for the final spot. I’m guessing that it’ll be Flump facing Bristol, which would be a very even battle. The teams are 18th and 19th respectively in the UKU rankings, separated by only 1.3 points. They’ve played once this year, with Bristol winning in sudden death in Nottingham. I think I’ll back Flump, mainly because they ended the season strongly by making the top eight in Birmingham and have some confidence and momentum. Bristol have been there before, though, and came through in the game to go last season so can’t be ruled out.
Prediction: Clapham, Devon, Ka-Pow!, Fire, BLU., Brighton, Flump.
Check back later for mixed and women’s previews, and after Regionals for some thoughts on what we learned ahead of Nationals!
Feature image by Andrew Moss