This season feels like the culmination of a change in the women’s division over the last three or four seasons. I has resulted in six or seven teams who have a legitimate argument as being realistic national champions (or, in some cases, EUCR winners). The teams at the top of the division have had quite strange seasons and so are coming in with different pressures and perspectives, with some teams having a lot more at stake than others. It should be the most interesting division in Nottingham and it doesn’t appear to be particularly close.
A ten team draw means two pools of five with 50-minute games on Saturday, with the top teams in each pool sitting out a round while the second and third placed teams cross over on Sunday. Those Sunday games are all 80 minutes long so will be a bit more like what the teams are used to. It means potentially seven games totalling 440 minutes for teams who need to play those crosses though, pretty heavy minutes with limited breaks.
The defending champions have had a slightly up and down season largely driven by the lack of availability of their top players early in the year. At Windfarm they won the title after losing a game in the pool, beating SYC in the final, and then at London Invite they finished fifth (the highest-placed UK team) after two wins over Spice and a loss to Gravity. WUCC was a mixed bag but Molly Wedge was absolutely phenomenal, topping the per-game stats leaderboard in women’s. However, they will be without Wedge who is playing in the USA this weekend for Toronto 6ixers. Without her they still feature a great deal of quality; they still have Carla Link as well as players like Alice Beeching, Ruth Tayler, Lisa Hocking and Nat Oldfield, and the kind of collective confidence that comes with being reigning champs. They’ll be tough to beat, as always, but have lost part of their ceiling with Wedge unavailable.
They beat Iceni last year in the final, 12-10. The teams have only met once this season in a tournament and Bristol again came away with the win, 14-11 in Cincinnati. The Londoners have had a bumpy season with an excellent first day at Windfarm then balanced out by a loss to SYC in the semi-final. Tom’s was a difficult return to European competition, two wins over SYC came along with a loss to Spice at London Invite while WUCC featured some good wins (including a tight one over Gravity) and performances alongside some dispiriting losses. They have the players to win games; Ellie Taylor, Karen Kwok, Fiona Kwan, Becky Thompson and Katie Flight were all on the World Games training squad, and they’ll add Hannahs Brew and Boddy and Grainne McCarthy to their Nationals squad after all three missed WUCC. The key question for them is whether they can consistently make the total add up to the sum of the parts. If so, they stand a real chance of winning their first title since 2017.
Third place last season went to London Masters Ultimate, who focused on a different worlds to everyone else this season by going to Limerick for WMUCC instead. After making the top eight in Limerick they will be well-rested and prepared to take on the best in the UK again. It will be taking 18 players to Nationals, pretty much the largest team that they’ve brought to any event. That squad includes players like Jenna Thompson, Fran Scarampi and Claire Sharman so they have the ability to compete with anyone, especially with plenty of legs available. They have the kind of experience that you can’t buy and it could come in very handy in a field with such parity.
SYC have made some good additions but by and large this team features a lot of familiar SYC faces both on the field and on the sideline; James Burbidge has returned to be coach after a couple of seasons away. This season has, so far, continued the positivity of a strong finish to last. Not only have they defeated Iceni, knocking them off 10-8 in the semi-finals of Windfarm to progress to the final there (a close 11-9 loss to Bristol), but they finished WUCC as the top-ranked UK team (joint 27th with Spice) and had some good results in tight games there, beating Gravity, SCRAM and Box. They faltered slightly at London Invite, finishing last, but on balance this season has definitely seemed more good than bad. They will come to Nationals with a lot of confidence and knowledge from WUCC that they can compete with and beat every team in the field. Rupal Ghelani will be the leader of the team both as captain and the biggest threat to opposing defences, but players like Tessa Jalink and Beth Jeffrey have continued to develop and make their mark on the team as the season has worn on and stalwarts like Caitlin Wilson. Kirsten Wells, Dianne Lopez and Eyan Sham will keep standards high. They haven’t made the final in a few years at this point, since they lost to Iceni in 2017, but this may be their best shot in some time and they are seeded first.
Spice have built on last year’s success extremely well so far this year. They had a decent Windfarm, losing close games to LMU, Masterclass and SMOG before turning the result around against LMU in the last game. Those are all good teams so close losses is certainly no shame in their first proper tournament together, and it was followed up by a decent showing at Windmill where they beat Gravity and came close to making the bracket before losing twice to Flame in the consolation games. At London Invite they beat Iceni for the first time, carrying positive energy into their WUCC campaign. It was there where their season took off. They beat Bristol later in the tournament on their way to joint 27th (and second in spirit). All three of those wins were on universe point, showing the steely mentality needed to succeed in pressure situations. They won’t be a surprise to anyone this season, and their best players are now names that other teams will be planning to stop. Kate and Heather Gibson have been excellent this year, as well as Hannah Yorweth, Amy van Zyl and former SMOG and GB women’s player Alice Hanton. They can compete with anyone else in this division and will have their eyes firmly set on the top four.
Another team that had a pretty successful 2021 and have carried it into 2022. A sixth-place finish at Nationals originally seemed as though it would leave them disappointed but another place was eventually forthcoming so their season was centred, like many others, around Cincinnati. They finished a creditable 10th at Tom’s Tourney but Windfarm saw them lose to Reading in the pre-quarter and to Flamingoes, a team made for the tournament, in the next round on their way to a disappointing 11th overall. The season next saw an upturn with a great Windmill. They beat Gravity convincingly in their first game and then drew with Seagulls, one of the best teams in Europe, in eventually finishing seventh. They carried that momentum into WUCC where they beat Tabby Rosa and Malafama before losing two sudden death games to finish alongside Bristol, joint 31st, breaking seed and finishing ahead of Iceni and Gravity. They may be missing some players after their WUCC campaign but they have some young players who have really developed since the club was started alongside stalwart handlers like Lulu Boyd and will be a tough matchup this weekend.
Gravity are the reigning European bronze medallists and last time they came to UK Nationals, in 2019, they went home with the trophy. It’s been a difficult follow-up to their best season ever this year with some good results but some others that might indicate they’re struggling to all get on the same page as they were last season. They made the semis at London Invite, but finished outside the bracket in ninth at Windmill after losses to SCRAM, Flame and Spice in the first three rounds. At WUCC they had a difficult tournament, pushing Salty, SYC and Iceni hard but losing all three games and heading to the bottom bracket. There they finished in joint 37th, a disappointment given the heights of the 2021 season. The team remains dangerous, though. Key handler Aine Gilheany is one of the best throwers in Europe and other players like her sister Clare, Jessica Chambers, Emily O’Brien and Helen Barron were crucial parts of the xEUCF bronze last season. Adding Masterclass players like Jen Kwan back to the roster will bolster them as well, and it would be foolish to count them out given their collective pedigree even if they haven’t had the kind of results they might have wanted so far this season. If anything, it makes them even more dangerous opponents.
Flame are very much the other end of the spectrum in terms of history in the UK and Europe. The team is still very new and has played only one tournament outside Ireland at this point. They went to Windmill and defeated fellow Irishwomen Gravity and Spice (twice) there, eventually finishing one spot below Gravity in tenth. Without Worlds to aim for they have been preparing for UK Nationals for several weeks and are excited to see what they can do against the field. They come with a lot of young, athletic and enthusiastic players alongside three former Rebel players in Brionagh and Emma Healy and coach Sinead Dunne. While they’re the least experienced of the contenders, they definitely have the skills to cause problems if Windmill is anything to go by.
Horizon are a team from Yorkshire that has filled a gap left by the shrinking of numbers around Leeds. Many Leeds-only training weren’t getting numbers at training so groups from York and Sheffield were invited to join in. The team has been training together regularly since, rotating between the three cities, and entered three teams into Windfarm. While they won’t be aiming to win the tournament, they’re building something and with players like Katie Allen and Zarah Wright they have the talent to make sure every game is a tough one for their opponents.
Ladybugs are a team made up of women in London. The players come from a variety of teams; Zoo, Herd, WILD and others, and the main aim for them is to continue gathering experience at the top level. It’s likely that it’ll be a pretty tough weekend for the Bugs but winning isn’t the point here really. Accessing the top level of the sport is very difficult for players in any division who don’t make those top teams either because they didn’t make the team this time around or there isn’t one within a reasonable distance to where they live. These women will all get a chance to play at the top level and hopefully they have a good time and learn loads. They have some good players as well, with some GB under-20s and Reading, SYC and MESH player Mariana Larroque.
So, we’ve gone through the teams. Who’s going to win?
It’s a running joke that I am very bad at predictions. That being said, this is without a doubt the most difficult tournament I have ever tried to predict. There’s good arguments for pretty much everyone involved and I can talk myself in and out of knots with every single team. So I am going on gut feeling and just throwing out the top 10 I am expecting and let’s see what happens:
I feel terrible about this top 10. I can already tell it’s wrong but I also can’t find a less wrong outcome. This weekend will be fantastic and tense and exciting and I cannot wait.