World Games 2022: Predictions

The World Games starts in a matter of minutes, and you can watch the games here. The games will feature the eight best ultimate-playing nations in the world according to the WFDF rankings, split into two pools of four. There’s plenty of coverage around where you can see the rosters and hear what the teams have to say, and we’ll be starting our World Games journeys series shortly so you can hear from some of the players on the GB team and the wider squad. This article, though, is in keeping with the greatest tradition we have at the ShowGame: I make predictions that will invariably be wrong and then everyone can tell me how stupid they were when I see them at a tournament.

Pool A

Let’s start with the pool that we care about the most. GB are in a very tough group, with the USA, Canada and Germany their opponents on the first three days of competition in order. Having the USA feels like the best outcome to me; all three other teams in the pool are unlikely to beat the four-time reigning champions such is the weight of talent on their roster. You could take the three best players of each gender, cut them and then find six new players to replace them and that team would very likely still win gold. So the first game is a free hit for GB, a game that they’re not expected to win that can help them get up to speed for the next two.

Canada and Germany are undoubtedly both excellent teams. But Germany are without talismanic cutter Holger Beuttenmuller after he suffered a knee injury, and Canada feel like they lack some of the star power of previous editions where they have won consecutive bronzes. Both games will still be extremely tough, neither team will be a pushover and both feature some world-class players, but if GB want to reach the semi-finals for the first time they’ll have to beat both. The GB team has the potential to do just that, but it’s a tall order. The female matching players on the German roster look particularly troublesome, with Levke Walczak continuing to grow into one of the most dominant female players in the world.

Pool B

This pool feels very open at the top. Colombia and Australia won the last two silvers between them and both could be excellent again, while the Japanese team can never be discounted such is their skill in their singular style of play. France are the fourth team here and, in their first appearance at the World Games, will likely struggle to pick up a win despite having a talented squad including star YAKA handler Aline ‘Rasta’ Mondiot.

The Colombians return six of the seven women who won silver in Poland in 2017, missing Laura Ospina only due to injury. That includes the Cardenas sisters, Yina Cartagena and potentially the best female player in the world at the moment, Elizabeth Mosquera, and her massive, booming pulls. The Australians have players like the Phillips sisters, Tom Tullett and Alex Ladomatos who have played prominent roles in teams that have been in the biggest games in the sport and won at the highest level. Japan welcomes back Buzz Bullets stars Taiyo Arakawa and the ageless Masahiro Matsuno as well as a depth of players who have represented Japan and mastered the short space, quick-hitting style that has served them so well. All three could be contenders, but one will miss out on the semis.

Predictions

Starting with pool B since I think it’ll be a bit simpler, I see Colombia and Australia advancing. Japan will be great and the games should be tight, but the athleticism of the two southern hemisphere nations will likely be too much to overcome, particularly among the women. You could argue that the strength of both teams lies on that side of the roster, but I’d back the Australian men against their Colombian counterparts. The game between them will be a cracker and will happen later today, first pull at 10pm. I’ll shade towards the Colombians because of the strength of their women but neither outcome would be a huge shock.

Pool A is tougher, maybe because of the emotional connection of having a GB team in there. The Americans will top the pool, but I think you could make an argument for any of the other three nations that could convince me. The GB/Canada game tomorrow will be massive, especially if Canada loses first off to the Germans shortly. GB have the talent to run with and beat both, but Canada have some battle-hardened veterans that have won games at this level, whereas GB have always struggled to put a whole game together. As much as I’d like to say GB will win, I’m going to put my (hypothetical) money on Canada.

Once we get to semis, I think we’ll see the winners of both pools advance relatively comfortably. So, I am predicting a rerun of the 2017 final with Colombia facing the USA, new money vs old in ultimate terms. While the Colombian women are absolutely good enough to win their match ups against the Americans, I don’t think Colombia are well-rounded enough to beat the whole American roster. I would be relatively surprised if anyone came within four points of the USA throughout the tournament, even with the variance that comes in a short tournament with such small squads. Talent wins, and the USA has an embarrassment of riches in that area.

I think GB will be facing Japan for fifth. A win there would be the first win against a significant, non-European ultimate-playing nation at the World Games (they beat Taiwan twice in 2009 and in this scenario will have beaten Germany). This team is good enough to clear that hurdle, so I’ll say they’ll do it. I hope very much that I’ve underestimated them and will be delighted for that to be the case.

Final predictions:

  1. USA
  2. Colombia
  3. Australia
  4. Canada
  5. GB
  6. Japan
  7. Germany
  8. France

World Games journeys: Marius Hutcheson

At the outset of the World Games trial process, Marius Hutcheson had no expectations. He’s had a career unlike all of the other players on the World Games training squad, so why would there be any expectations?

Marius has been around UK ultimate for a long time, playing well on good teams but never featuring on a team considered one of the top teams in the division (despite winning a mixed national title with Birmingham in 2014) until recently. That lack of visibility and access to the top of the sport has meant that he’s one of two players not to have played for a senior GB team in this squad, with the other (Molly Wedge) only moving to the UK recently. So how did such an experienced, and simultaneously relatively inexperienced, player reach the level of training with the top team in the country?

Starting out at Birmingham university

Marius first heard of ultimate when at high school but the version that he and his classmates played was a long way from how the sport actually works. He sought out the ultimate club at university as soon as he arrived in Birmingham to play a more social sport than swimming, which had been his main focus until then. At Birmingham the team developed during his time there, with the mainstays of the team that would go on to become arguably the best university team in UK history all starting during his time there (including World Games squad-mate Ben Burak).

He played for EMO for one season but largely played with Leamington Lemmings until Birmingham Ultimate started in 2012.

“I had labs on Wednesday afternoons, and EMO trainings in Leicester were on that day. After one season with EMO 2 I didn’t really have time to travel so that’s probably why I started playing with Lemmings, until there was a Birmingham shift.”

The Birmingham shift

The shift that Marius mentions is the founding of Birmingham Ultimate, a club team in the second city. It meant that the best players from the city and the surrounding areas had another option instead of travelling longer distances to other teams. The team became competitive quickly. However, it was a tough grind to get to where they thought they should be:

“We felt pretty hard done by coming up the ranks. We saw teams that were formed only for a year or two jump into A Tour and just be given a higher ranking. We felt that we were always pushed down because we didn’t have bigger names on the squad. It was quite a graft but we got to the point where we, after a Saturday, were the top seeds of A Tour. We went to Euros in 2014 after winning mixed nationals, albeit in a down year because some of the big teams didn’t play. That was our peak year.”

After moving to London, Marius stayed with Birmingham because his friends were still on the team. The next season he played open with Ka-Pow! but continued to play mixed with Birmingham. In 2020, though, he moved to Deep Space.

“I had a lot of untapped potential in terms of how far I can go in the sport despite being relatively old compared to some other people coming onto the scene. I wanted to play very competitive Frisbee for a team that was close and I could train regularly and be active within the club.

“But the other thing was that I was holding some development back at Birmingham. If I continued to pick up for them at tournaments, I was taking the roster spot of someone who had been developing and coming up through the ranks. At that one tournament, we might do better with me than someone else, but having someone who’s ingrained in the club, the training and the culture will be better in the long run. I felt like I was holding them back.”

Marius playing for Deep Space at Nationals 2021. Photo by Sam Mouat

Elite mixed teams in the south

The move to Deep Space meant that Marius was now on one of the best teams in London, a team with more visibility in the city with the most ultimate players in the country and where a lot of top players live. After one season with Deep Space, and a nationals final appearance, Marius moved west and is playing with Reading this season. So what was the change in moving to these teams and getting more recognition, was it a renewed dedication to training or extra fitness work?

“I think part of it is that visibility. When I first applied for under-23s (in Toronto, 2013) I wasn’t even given a trial because I didn’t play for a club in the top five. I’ve never had a Clapham trial, although that’s probably a different story, and the first trial I was ever given for a GB team was in 2018 for the 2019 cycle. That was after I moved to London, so I think just being in the London community and going to goalty with people who are in management set-ups, being known a bit more by people who have seen my face around, was the biggest advantage.

“In Birmingham and in some other regions you’re at a disadvantage because you don’t have some of the exposure that you do in the London community.”

World Games process

As mentioned above, Marius had no expectations going into the first trial.

“I wasn’t too bothered with seeing what happened because I was going in to learn. I obviously wasn’t going to make the team or even the training squad so I wasn’t even planning on filling out the form, I filled it in with two days to go because someone said what’s the point of not filling it in and missing out on a good training session if that’s all it is.

“Because I had no expectation on my shoulders I played really comfortably and did myself justice. I came out of the session thinking I had shown I could play and I had learned some things, bad positioning or a throwaway that gets punished much more at that level, but I came away thinking I could hold my head high. When I got an email inviting me to the closed trial I was pretty confused, to be fair!”

Only around 40 people were invited to the closed trial, about 20 male and 20 female-matching players. At that point, the odds of someone making the team are much, much better.

“That was eye-opening, and I thought I may as well give it a go. I did a lot of work over the next three months. Tom Abrams was really useful, we went and did a lot of throwing sessions and just talking to him was valuable. I find at club trainings you talk a lot about minutiae that don’t matter and he’s very keyed into what matters, so that was useful.”

The closed trial in Edinburgh took place while there was a storm going on, so it was all held indoors. Marius believes that was an advantage for him. His mentality also helped at that session:

“I think some of the Clapham boys, especially, are better in tough conditions. They have an advantage, because of the amount they train and the graft they put in, when it gets windy and rainy. And then I still had no expectations, now I could just go and ball out. If I learned stuff, great. If I proved to myself that I might have a shot at the 2023 Euros season with GB then great, and it was visibility again. After the session I thought I played pretty well. I had a couple of regrets but the rest of it I was pretty pleased with. I threw five deep shots for goals and four were to Rachel Naden, so I think she got me on the training squad!”

On the training squad

Once the squad was decided, the emails went out. Marius’s email was not the one that everyone was dreaming about, he wasn’t going to be heading to Alabama to represent GB, but he was asked to be part of the training squad. So how did it feel receiving that email?

“I felt proud. I have some screenshots on my phone of when that email came through and when I was added to the World Games squad WhatsApp group and I was like this is unreal. I felt very proud of myself, it was some validation that I hadn’t necessarily been looking for. I don’t need other people to validate the fact that I think I can throw Frisbees well, but it was a really good feeling knowing that people think you can hang at the top level of the sport. There was some element of thinking I didn’t respect the fact that I had a shot at the team, I was closer to the top level of competition than I thought I was.

“On defence I struggled, I was run ragged at times. Against the USA and Canada I would have struggled, but on offence I actually held by own quite well. I’ve learned some things about myself physically that I will be working on over the summer, going to sprint training and stuff to try and rectify at least a small part of that. But I look at some people and think if I had worked like they have over the last five years, to the extent that some of the Clapham guys like Brooksy [Alex Lakes] have, I would have had a good shot at making the squad.”

The process has been such a quick one, with the team having a very short time to work on tactics, cohesion and execution. Marius decided to take on a specific role to help the team be as good as it could be:

“I wasn’t there thinking if someone gets injured I might go, I wasn’t there hoping to go to Alabama. I was there in my position to whatever I could to help this team succeed. My best way to do that is to be competition and push at trainings as much as possible. Sometimes I failed at that, but I think over the course of the process I got better and I learned a lot. One of the most important things about the cycle was how quickly the team had to adapt to certain situations. We would discuss a new zone at the beginning of a session, walk through it with cones, do five pull and then that’s it, moving on to something else. Being in that environment where learning is quicker and a lot is assumed meant it was picking up experience really quickly.”

So now the process has come to an end, and the team is in the other Birmingham. How will Marius feel when his teammates step onto the field?

“I am a little bit nervous but I am confident that they will represent really well. There are people on that squad that I didn’t know when this process started and now I’m friends with most, if not all of them. Everyone has their personalities and understanding that, feeling what they feel and empathising with them makes the viewing experience better. I think I have a unique opportunity to feel what they feel through the screen. I’m going to be proud of them watching and I’m really hoping they do well.”

 Now with the rest of the season on the horizon, Marius reflects on the experience as a whole:

“It comes with pros and cons, my body is a bit more damaged now than it would be if I hadn’t done some of the GB stuff. But the cons of not letting my body heal between Reading and GB sessions are massively outweighed by the pros of what I’ve learned and been able to garner throughout the cycle. It’s been a really positive experience and will help for WUCC and Nationals this season and then next season, when I think I’ll be having a push at the next GB cycle.”

World Games journeys: Will Rowledge

Will Rowledge has been one of the best players in the UK for several seasons, a standout defender who has added to his offensive skillset in recent years to become a well-rounded threat. At the start of the World Games process, when people were incredibly keen to talk to me about who might make it onto the team, Will was one of the names that was most prominent. His making the team wasn’t much of a surprise for anyone. However, just a few weeks before the tournament he suffered a freak recurrence of a shoulder injury and will now be travelling to Alabama to support his teammates, but not to play.

Always under a spotlight

Will first played frisbee as a scout before university, when he was taught only the very basics on an indoor-sized pitch before going on to a final against a much more experienced team on a full-sized outdoor pitch. As though that wasn’t a difficult enough situation in which to have a first competitive game, there was also a crowd of around 1,000 people. Needless to say, it went poorly and his team lost heavily.

Will’s combination of height and athleticism marked him out very early on, though, as someone to watch once he started playing the real version of the sport.

“At my first warm up tournament at university, one of the senior players walked me over to Matt Parslow and said ‘this kid’s the next you,’” says Will. Parslow, of course, was a former World Games player himself.

The World Under-23 Championships in London in 2015 was the first indication that the comparisons might be onto something. As a relative unknown, just a year removed from under-20s, he was a standout player on a very strong team that just missed out on a medal.

“That was an incredibly cool experience. I didn’t really know what was going on, I was just doing what Jools [Murray, the coach] told me to do and trying my best. I think when you don’t know what’s going on and you know less, you remember less of it but I remember it being an incredibly fun experience and Jools really helped me, gave me loads of confidence.”

In the first game of the tournament, Great Britain played the heavily favoured Americans. Will had a great game and was one of the players that looked like they could run with the USA.

“I think I went into it with a different attitude. I think everyone gives them a bit too much respect if I’m honest, they are just like you and me. They get more experience in the top-level games but we are just as skilled as any of them, just as athletic, so their only advantage is the experience. If you go in with loads of confidence I think you can surprise them and I think that’s what I did in that first game.”

Returning to university

Will properly got into Frisbee at Portsmouth university. The team, Sublime, had previously been one of the best in the country, completing an unbeaten open outdoor season and winning nationals with Matt Parslow as captain before Will arrived. Many of the players from that dominant team played for Fire of London, and invited Will and his university teammate Ross Nugent to play with them on a ‘Rising Star’ scheme that helped fund travel.

“They were just trying to get us involved as much as possible. We’d travel up once a week for training in 2016, my first season with Fire. Being not based in London it was quite difficult and Fire tried to make it as convenient as possible.”

Will was continuing to play with his university team, often playing whole tournaments without taking any points off and going to fun tournaments whenever possible, as well as training and playing with Fire.

“I think playing in games where there’s a lot of depth at the top level really makes you better at reading the game, so playing with Fire really helped that. At university there’s a couple of big players and it’s easier to read but it’s much harder when you have to take more into account.”

Move to Clapham

After two seasons with Fire, he moved to Clapham to play at WUCC in Cincinnati.

“WUCC was great but only having been involved in the team for about six months beforehand meant I was less emotionally invested in the team compared to some guys who had been there for years and years. I still gave it my all but it was definitely different. Clapham has changed a lot since then, but I’m really excited to be competing at WUCC again with them again.

“There’s a huge sense of responsibility with my role on the team now. Back when I started one of the captains told me I wasn’t allowed to throw any hucks but now I have permission to do what I want and cause chaos on defence. The main difference really is flexibility on offence.”

The flexibility highlights the main change in Will’s game since he joined Clapham; his throwing. Defensive ability has always been his calling card – he was voted European defensive player of the year in 2018 – but now that he’s able to make the kind of throws that playing at the top level requires he’s able to exert more influence after the turn.

“I love throwing, and I’ve really developed my ability to throw aggressively upfield with more reps at a high level. You build up that confidence over the years and Clapham has really made a difference with that. I’m one of three hybrid players that are called onto the O line if we get broken along with Connor McHale and Josh Awcock. At training, with a smaller O line there’s times where we go a whole training weekend just playing offence.”

Playing mixed at World Games

While Will has focused on open for most of his competitive career to this point, he has played a lot of mixed. Not only was he part of the GB mixed team that won European bronze at beach euros in 2019, he’s been part of Mighty Hucks for a while now.

“I’ve loved playing mixed. It’s a slightly slower game than I’ve been used to with Clapham and I think the options you have are much greater. That’s definitely the case offensively but defensively there are lots of opportunities to create more turnovers as well.”

The World Games was an opportunity to play a game that Will enjoys, but the real draw was that he’s seen it as the peak of the sport for most of his career, since the introduction to Parslow at a beginner’s tournament.

“Seven players of each gender get picked so the high level, the challenge of competing against all these other great players was definitely a reason. I’ve loved mixed every time I’ve played it as well, and then there were the tales about Matt Parslow who’s been an inspiration for me. Since that moment making the World Games team was a goal of mine. When I made it, I felt like I had achieved that.”

The trial process saw him travel to Edinburgh for both sessions, and he’s full of praise for the way the whole thing was run both for players who made it all the way through and those who took part in only some bits of it. Once it was finished and he received his email, how did it feel knowing he was in the team?

“It was such a heartwarming email to read. It was really a special moment and knowing all the effort I had put in had come to this big moment and I got in, it was huge for me.”

Disappointment post Windmill

After working so hard to get into the team, Will was ruled out after injury at Windmill.

“It was the semi-final against Iznogood. We were up at the time and I was marking some of their big players, I did a small layout onto my left side but used my right arm to catch myself. I had thrown myself about in much worse scenarios throughout the tournament but it must have been the perfect combination of the angle and fatigue, and the right shoulder came out.

“I couldn’t even look at my teammates. I felt like I had disappointed [the World Games team], the Clapham lot. Whenever I saw a World Games player at Windmill I was in tears. I felt like I had let down loads of people, even though I had put in loads of effort to get better, make myself as prepared as possible. It was obviously a very tough one.”

Will’s Clapham teammate Ollie Gordon had already been named as the travelling reserve so, after realising what the injury meant for his participation, Will spoke to Ollie.

“I gave him a huge congratulations. I think if I had wanted anyone in UK ultimate to take my spot it would probably be Ollie. He’s been a huge inspiration to me, we have had similar roles throughout our careers and he was playing seniors a long time before I was and has always been an inspiration to my style. I’m really glad he’s going now. He was very apologetic, but I suppose it would have been pretty nasty if he had rubbed it in at that point!”

Part of Will’s disappointment was his perception of the role he had played on a squad that featured a number of people who had never played together before, and in some cases knew each other only in passing.

“I’ve tried to be a very social member on this team, helping bring people out of their shells and bringing the team together, making it fun. I’ve also been able to calm us down in some bigger moments, so I think I’ve had a real impact on the team which is why I was so disappointed. I’ve been so excited to play with some people on this team, messaging people after training about how much you’re looking forward to playing with them. I’m not even sure how to describe the feeling really, but letting people down is probably the closest I can think of.”

Despite that blow, Will is travelling to Alabama. Part of his decision-making process was speaking to Ollie about why he had wanted to go as a travelling reserve, knowing he might not play and having already gone to Cali in 2013.

“I’ve built up some relationships on this team and I am emotionally invested in it. I spoke to Lucy, I spoke to Ollie about his reasoning for going out and they just said the whole experience of the World Games is an amazing one. GB hasn’t qualified for every version of this tournament so this might be my only chance to go, and those off-the-field traits mean I can still help out the team.

“It’s been really hard turning my mind to the off-the-field stuff, but I think it’ll be easier once we’re there and I know what the team needs from me. The hardest thing was at the last training when we were all saying our goodbyes, I had to walk away and be by myself and cry for a while. That was tough.”

This has clearly been a rollercoaster for Will, but he’ll look back on the process fondly.

“This has been so enjoyable. The new friendships I’ve made have been incredible and I think people have viewed me in a different light as well. It’s been really great.”

And there’s always next time, right?

“I think I’ll be a hot contender for the next World Games team. I’m pretty sure about that.”

The World Games 2022: what’s coming from tSG

If you ask most players what they see as the pinnacle of ultimate is, they’ll say the World Games. It’s a multi-sport event, it’s quadrennial, there’s a very limited number of teams invited and even then, the rosters are hugely down on what you’d usually expect from an international team; it’s got the Olympic sheen on rarity of both occurrence and opportunity.

Great Britain has played in the World Games twice before, in 2009 and 2013. The last edition in 2017 did not feature a British team as GB was ranked below the top five teams – the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Colombia – and the host nation always gets the last spot, which in that case was Poland. Getting a spot in this tournament isn’t a given, although the expansion to eight teams has boosted the chances a bit, so even sending a team is incredibly special.

So, this is about as big as it gets. Being in the running for the World Games squad is a badge of honour and something that people involved in all three squads can be immensely proud of, including those who were part of the training squad and those who travelled as reserves. With that in mind, and ahead of the World Games starting on Tuesday next week, I spoke to some of the players involved in this year’s squad.

Some of the players I talked to will be playing in Alabama and trying to secure GB’s best-ever finish (fifth in ’09 and sixth in ’13, both before the field was expanded to eight). Some will be travelling but not playing. Some will be watching with everyone else at home but with an added investment in the outcome, and added anxiety watching their teammates compete in such high-pressure games.

The interviews will be published over the next few days, and on Tuesday I’ll be taking a closer look at what I think might happen in the tournament as a whole. When the games start I’ll be posting on our social media channels and we’ll have reactions coming as well. Follow the ShowGame on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to join in the discussion and follow along on the hype!

In the meantime, you can listen to the podcast I did with GB coach Sam Vile below.

Tournament roundup: and the winners are…

The games have now finished at WMUCC and the winners have all been decided. As we’ve seen a number of times, the winners all came from the USA along with several of the runners-up.

The finals that happened yesterday saw Surly win a double in the great grandmaster and grandmaster open divisions but fall short of a treble as the grandmaster mixed team lost 15-13 to compatriots Molasses Disaster. The mixed final was an extremely clean game with only one break, Molasses snatching the momentum going into half up 8-6.

In the grandmaster open division Surly won 15-3, a dominant win over Canadians FIGJAM to seal an incredibly impressive title. Surly finished with 10 games played, 149 points score and only 52 conceded, with no-one scoring in double digits against them. The great grandmasters won 15-12 against top seeds Relics in a game that saw several big lead swings; Relics scored three in a row to go up 9-10 but then conceded three Surly points in a row as the Minnesotans went up 13-10 and maintained the lead to win.

Today, the three finals were in the masters mixed, open and women’s divisions. The mixed final was more of a procession than spectators would have wished. Descent, the team from Washington DC, has seemed like the strongest team in the division all week and proved to be so with a dominant 15-6 win over Canadians Epoq, more of a surprise finalist. The Americans took half 8-1 after going up 6-0, effectively ending the contest early. Descent’s stars, like Kelly Hyland, Caleb Denecour and Brian Shoenrock, were just too much for Epoq and everyone else this week – they scored 135 points in nine games (hitting cap in every game) and conceded only 38, with no-one scoring more than eight against them.

The open final was somewhat more competitive as Boneyard defeated Volton 2020 15-10. The team from North Carolina broke on its first defensive possession but gave it right back on the next offensive possession. Boneyard went back up 6-4 and from there seemed to be able to bother Voltron’s a lot more than the team from Seattle could trouble theirs. Voltron brought it back to 6-6 but were broken going into half and then back out of it as well, going down 9-6 and never came back within sight.

The closest game of the day was in the women’s final between Reboot Squad, from Boston, and Canadians StellO. The Canadians took a shock lead early on, going up 2-5 after breaking on the first point of the game. Reboot gathered themselves from there, though, and climbed back into the lead with a four-point run to go back on serve at 6-5. Reboot was able to get another break after a StellO overthrow to go into half 8-6. StellO showed admirable mental strength though and were able to have another roll just after half, scoring two breaks and taking a 10-11 lead after a long, turn-filled point. The game was very tight at this point, with every throw contested and some great plays coming from both sides. A simple StellO drop was followed by a brilliant around backhand to put Reboot up 12-11 after they held on the previous point, and the Americans never relinquished the advantage after getting their noses in front. StellO held to take the scores to 13-13 after another long point with opportunities for both teams squandered, but Reboot held their nerve, held their serve and then broke to win the title.

Looking at UK, Irish and European results, Iznogood had the most impressive result in the three masters divisions in finishing fourth. They lost out on a medal after a 15-7 loss to Johnny Encore but making semis is an excellent achievement. Magic Toast finished seventh in the open division, making two European teams in that bracket. LMU and Masterclass both made quarters in the women’s division and met for seventh place, where Masterclass came out on top 15-12. The only European team in the top eight in mixed was Italians Beefire who finished eighth. Reading were the highest-placed UK team in 13th.

In the other divisions there were fewer teams overall but Big Fish, Little Fish finished ninth and as the highest-placed European team (Woodies from Germany finished 11th and otherwise the division was all North American teams) in grandmasters mixed. Zimmer overcame Americans Shadows in the fifth-place game in the grandmasters open division, winning 15-14 after coming from 10-3 down and winning the game on a four-point roll. Flash finished eighth in the ten-team great grandmasters division with JETS from France defeating them to take the best-in-Europe crown.

Masterclass is ended by Soar! *sore

Masterclass, the ‘home’ team here at WMUCC, had a great run to the quarterfinals of the competition. Three consecutive losses at the start of the tournament proved to be the only times they would lose in the pool as they reeled off five wins in a row to take their place in bracket play when it started today as the seventh seed.

Their opponents, the Texans Soar! *sore won pool A despite losing a game. Molly Grey defeated the Texans but lost to Canadians lowercase, who Soar then beat to complete a three-way tie. Soar came out top there and so went into quarters as the second seed.

The game started well for Masterclass with Claire Pugh catching the score for a quick break. The teams both worked their offence well for the next few points until 4-4. At that point Soar started to chip away at Masterclass’s offence and make disc movement more and more difficult. By this point the wind had started to pick up from an already breezy day to something much more challenging, and the Americans seemed more accustomed to dealing with it and were executing slightly better in the gusts.

Two assists from Brooke Woolridge gave Soar two breaks in a row, flipping the advantage from the Irish team to the Americans. Masterclass stopped the rot with a hold for 5-6, but the weather continued to deteriorate. Two long points ended in holds and the teams went into half with the score at 6-8 after another Soar hold.

Half-time saw the wind reach its apex for this game. Pulls from the left side of the pitch were lucky to reach the brick, and movement for both teams against the other zone was tough and attritional. Soar took advantage and punched in another break to extend their lead and snatch away any advantage that starting the second half on O might have provided the Irish. The teams exchanged more holds, with throws taking advantage of the wind proving successful; two loopy flicks that sailed on the breeze floated perfectly into receiving hands in the endzone. The score was now 8-10, the Americans up narrowly but seemingly playing with comfort and calmness despite the chaotic weather.

A fantastic layout catch by Krystina Morris preserved possession against the Masterclass zone and from there Soar seemed to be able to work it around well and scored for a three-point lead. The points were flying by with both teams executing impressively on most throws, but errors seemed to be made in the worst spots giving the other side a short field they could work through quickly. Soar were doing a better job of taking big chunks of yards and leaving themselves less open to those quick scores against.

Krystina Morris with a diving catch to save possession. Photo by Sam Mouat

Just as it had in the later stages of the first half, the Soar D came to the fore. A big attempted Soar block hung in the wind and was caught by Irish hands, but the turn came a few passes later and was slotted home by the Americans giving them the wind advantage. An upwind Masterclass point was stopped with a block by the cup after an attempt was made to thread a throw through and Soar worked the disc nicely to take a commanding 8-13 lead.

At this stage the work seemed done. Masterclass stuck with their zone and caused the Texans some problems but the smooth offence and all-around throwing ability of the Americans proved too much. Masterclass got a block with the score at 10-14 but turned on the first throw, and Soar didn’t look back. Final score Soar! *soar 15-10 Masterclass, and the Americans progress to play StellO who surprised Molly Grey in their quarter.

Masterclass captain Jennifer Kwan was delighted with how the week has gone despite the loss in the quarter:

“We knew it was going to be a really tough game. We were delighted to be in the top eight, just getting here is as well as an Irish team has ever done, but it was a tough game. We started out strong with a break on the first point but then they were just so clinical both upwind and downwind and it was hard for us to claw it back once they got hold of the disc but it was a great game, we loved it.

“The wind was building when we were warming up but it just picked up, it was weird because the downwind discs were floating rather than zooming so a tricky wind and I think they dealt with it a bit better than us. They had some fantastic pulls that went out on the sideline and trapped us really quickly, made it difficult to even get started.

“As a group I think we’ve had the best week we’ve ever had as a women’s team other than 2019. We’re having a great time, we came with no expectations and wanted everyone to play, play against teams we’ve never played against before and play competitively. I think we’ve done that and we’ve turned up to every game, given really good fights and won battles against teams we knew we could beat and given good battles to the top teams. This is our home ground so to speak but when we go abroad we have to deal with everyone else’s still weather and this time maybe we have some of the advantage.

“We’ve said the whole way through we’re going to have a nice time and we win and lose as a team. As long as everyone is enjoying it that’s enough for us.”

Soar! *sore player Brooke Wooldridge was equally happy, and looking forward to the next stage of the competition:

“The game was absolutely terrific. We had such a great game against the home team, we are so grateful to be here in the first place and in terms of a quarterfinal game they fought until the end and we were very happy with our performance. Obviously we still have more games ahead of us and we are looking forward to tomorrow.

“We come from Texas and the conditions there can be very windy. In preparation for the tournament we have been practising together, we played for the first time as a team last year in June for USAU masters nationals. When we learned we had gotten the bid in winter of 2021 we decided to take it very seriously and we’ve been practising together in winter and spring. We’re pleased and think it’s paying off.

“This is not an extension of an existing club team, our captains Hien [Le], V[eronica Coombs] and Maricar [Lafita Navarro] decided to put this masters team together last year. For me, a player who’s trying to get to the highest level they can, I can’t speak highly enough volumes about the work they did in getting it together in order to get us here.”

Windfarm: The Return

It has been nearly three years since there has been a proper, full Tour event. Windfarm, once derided for the difficult conditions it inevitably provides (hence the nickname we gave it that eventually became the official tournament name) will be something of a triumphant return for the super-event we were all so used to before the pandemic, with more teams and pitches than any of us will have seen for years.

The 63 teams are split between open and women’s, with 41 and 22 respectively. It’s been a busy week at ShowGame towers and there’s a lot of teams that I have only a passing knowledge of so I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with a preview of the top teams for now, and we can take a look at the teams throughout the draw once the dust has settled and we’re able to have a better idea of where everyone stands.

The schedule is a little odd, with the open semis and final at 90 mins compared to 70 mins on the women’s side. It does seem as though there are fewer games for the top open teams so that’s likely the logic here, but there’s definitely some annoyance over it. Given that the women’s final slot is last it seems like there could have been a pretty easy compromise here, and some advance discussion probably would have avoided the issue entirely. Still, scheduling is hard (I assume, it looks hard) and everyone is out of practice with all elements of tournaments at the moment. Still, this is probably something that’s best thought through a bit more comprehensively in future.

WOMEN’S

Let’s start on the women’s side. The top seeds are the national champs, Bristol, and they are largely at full strength after fielding some varied teams at their events so far this season. Talismanic playmakers Carla Link and Molly Wedge have been occupied with World Games trainings up to this point but should be back, and the squad retains enough talent and depth to win this tournament. They face Masterclass and Thundering Her in the pool. Masterclass are the Irish entrant into WMUCC in Limerick and should pose quite a few problems to Bristol, not least with the return to these shores of Eurostar superstar Sarah Melvin. It’ll be very fun to see a Wedge/Melvin matchup, so hopefully we get to see that play out. Thundering Her is (predictably) the female side of Thundering Herd, entering Tour again as they did in 2019 to get some extra reps with the mixed season in mind. Both Masterclass and THer have reasonably short rosters but both will be looking forward to taking on a big name early on.

The next pool features the reigning National League champions, SMOG. They defeated both Bristol and Iceni in the midlands last year and return to the (kind of near) scene of the triumph to try and repeat the feat. As we have seen in both women’s and mixed competition, the women of SMOG are extremely strong and we can be pretty confident that they’ll be challenging their opponents with some nigh-on-impossible-to-stop deep shots. They face Scots SCRAM who have had a nice start to the season and will be looking to push themselves and keep developing ahead of their trip to WUCC in Cincinnati in a few weeks’ time, as well as Cambridge Women. SMOG should win this group but SCRAM against Cambridge could be a fun game, with some strong Cambridge-based players having played largely in mixed in the last few years.

The next pool seems like a pool of death. Iceni and SYC will renew their rivalry, the two London teams having played recently in a pretty close one. Iceni came out on top there and the expectation would be that they do again since they are reasonably close to full strength with only a couple of absentees. SYC will be confident having played their rivals close so recently, and have a reasonably full team although there will be one or two absences. Also in this pool are reigning European bronze medallists Dublin Gravity. When last the Gravigals were in the UK they left with the national championship title, so there’s clearly quite a legacy of success behind them. The team that was in Bruges was extremely adaptable and cohesive, with excellent frisbee IQ pairing with ability to make them one of the best teams on the continent. They’ve been at a few warm up tournaments and will be heading to WUCC as well, but this team may well be a bit more mixed with non-WUCC players and guests. Either way, this pool is one to watch.

The final pool in division 1 sees LMU face Spice and Reading. LMU defeated Spice last season in the inaugural National Cup final after coming from behind. LMU will be strong, as usual, but will have a pretty small squad, as usual. It’s always difficult to predict exactly who will be around but I understand that Jenna Thomson is around, which means they have more than a shot of being competitive. Pairing a team this smart and experienced with a team like Spice, full of players nearer the beginning of their elite frisbee careers, is a nice clash of styles. Spice will also be heading to Cincinnati and look to have added well this spring and will pose a tough test to the masters. Reading round out the pool and will, like SMOG, be extremely good despite minimal experience together in women’s. Players like Bex Palmer, Helen Roberts and Ania Godbold have all played at the highest level and you can always expect that Reading teams will be well-drilled and prepared.

This is a tough tournament to call with the strength at the top, but if Gravity are anywhere close to the team we have seen before, 10th seed looks low. They could cause some chaos in the later brackets. An Iceni/Bristol rematch could be on the cards but last time LMU faced Iceni, at Tom’s, the masters won, and SMOG loom with their League title in hand. I daresay it’ll all be a bit clearer come Saturday evening but for now it looks like a tough call! I’ll go for a SMOG win with LMU, Bristol and Iceni finishing the top four and prepare to eat those words.

OPEN

First thing to note here is the split schedule, and second is that Clapham are absent. That means the field is a bit more open at the top, and may mean we get a barnstorming finale. The top section of the open division is four pools of three, with the next section starting as a bracket to give teams the chance to progress upwards.

The first pool sees top seeds Chevron up against acronymic teams PELT and EDI. Chevron were largely untroubled last season in reaching the national final and finishing second in the National League. They have long mixed experience with youth, and had a sizeable contingent of less experienced players last time around. Those players will all have gained a great deal from last season and could position the team well to grow this year. They did as well as expected at Tom’s, beating both French teams (Iznogood, the eventual winners, and Tcach who finished fourth) and losing only twice, to GRUT men and one of the CUSB teams. This pool puts them up against Limerick team PELT and Scots EDI. PELT usually travel with pretty small squads but are always tough to beat and come with a huge amount of cohesion and confidence. Chevron will back themselves but it’s unlikely the Irishmen will roll over without a fight. EDI have been building for a couple of years and have done a good job developing into a competitive outfit with Alba growing as a regional power. It’ll be a good test for them to play against two teams that have been to EUCF in the recent past.

Speaking of Alba, they are second seed and lead the next pool. They are the only team other than Clapham that seriously pushed Chevron last season – in fact, the last three times these teams have met on these shores have ended with sudden death Chevron wins despite Alba having the disc (Chevron ran out comfortable winners at Tom’s, though). The Scots will be aiming to turn those tables late on Sunday. They match up against the Smash’d boys and Fire. The latter two teams met in the first round of the cup last season, a brutal draw considering the relative strength of both, and will be very up for a rematch. Smash’d have had some roster turnover from last year but are still young, aggressive and athletic and will be a stern test for a rebuilding Fire outfit. Alba should have enough to stay above the fray but this will certainly be the most physical pool so there could be some variance based on how each team deals with that.

The third pool is the most intriguing at the top of the open division. Devon are a longstanding national power nowadays, having qualified for WUCC 2018 and consistently finished in the top four since then. Last year they overcame a very tight call with Smash’d to solidify that spot and make the Nationals semis. The team has a way of playing that has worked for them for years, has great chemistry and a very solid internal culture that keeps them at the top of the division. In Nottingham they face the men of SMOG and Leamington Lemmings, the story of 2021. SMOG will, of course, be good. Just like the women’s team, this is a team of serial winners that have back-to-back national titles in their back pockets and have been preparing to take on the best in the world at WUCC as a whole squad, given that they have two teams going to Cincinnati. They can match Devon’s athleticism, but the boys in green have a bit more experience in open and might have the edge in physicality too. Lemmings qualified for Nationals in both open and mixed last season and have a range of good players to call on. Whether they can mix it with the big teams in open remains to be seen but if they consolidate the best players from both those teams they have a good chance to make two elite teams very uncomfortable here.

The final pool sees Reading’s men face Ka-Pow! and Bristol. Reading’s squad is obviously strong but is missing a few of the men that will make up the male side of the WUCC team so might have less top-end depth than some of the other top seeded sides in the division. They should still have enough to top the pool here, although both Ka-Pow! and Bristol can certainly cause them problems. The Londoners are still going through a rebuilding process and had a relatively young but talented squad last year, while Bristol have been developing slowly but surely for a number of years. Ka-Pow! won this matchup when they faced at Nationals last year but Bristol have had competitive outings already this year at Tom’s so might be slightly sharper.

It’s difficult to pick anything but a rematch of Alba vs Chevron in the final, such is the strength that these two teams continue to possess. Hopefully we get another exciting instalment in the series if that does come to pass. Look out for SMOG and Reading to challenge the top teams, I would expect one of them to make it into the semis unless Smash’d can step up and take that fourth spot.

Further down the open draw there are some fun teams to watch out for in the middle bracket. Zimmer, now a grandmasters team but still full of quality GB players from the mid-2000s that can absolutely still play if the final of EMUCC is anything to go by, are around and will be fascinating. Birmingham are always a tough team, Cambridge have some very good players that have been in the mixed division with their women in recent years so could cause some issues if they are able to cross up and both Manchester Ultimate and Rebel have been top 12 teams at UK tours in the recent past. YCU made Nationals not long ago, so as far down as the late 20s could see teams that eventually break into the top bracket.

Good luck to everyone in managing the wind this weekend. I’ll be playing for Thundering He so feel free to come and tell me how rubbish these pared-down predictions are.