UK University Ultimate 2017/18: BUCS Men’s Second Leagues Preview

Midlands, North, Open, Previews, South East, University

Our new second leagues writer Tom Claxton gives a quick recap of last season, and a preview of who will be the big names fighting for promotion this year.

Welcome to the second leagues: full of grit and determination, where a team’s Nationals prospects can be made or undone in just a single game. And with the weekly league structure it is not just your prospects for this season, but for the following as well. Promotion into the top leagues guarantees a Division 1 or 2 Nationals place the following year. But this requires a team to be near undefeated for the entire year, which is made further challenging by having to play on average eight games a season with a lot of travelling and persuading players to make up numbers.

The Grapevine – 01/11

Halcyon, North, Scotland, SkyD, South West, UKU Regionals, University, WUCC2014

This week’s Grapevine features pieces looking forward to next year, as well as the re-emergence of indoor ultimate…

From abroad – Skyd brings us an insight into the ever entertaining Seattle Sockeye’s success this season…

An ‘Ultimate Mom’ gives a fresh perspective of our sport…

Ben Wiggins considers the importance of next year’s WUCC

From home soil – The University season is well under way, check out the indoor regional final footage from Scotland, South West, and North regions…

And finally – as if Ultimate players needed their egos inflated

This week we reached 100 posts on the ShowGame! Thanks go out to all of our contributors!

Halcyon’s Jake Aspin makes the grab. Thanks to LOVE ultimate for the action shot!

Keep tuned for more University coverage in the coming weeks on tSG… As always, if you’ve seen something interesting that we’ve missed, let us know! JCK @ tSG

Northern Uni Open Indoor Regionals

Chester, Durham, Hallam, Hull, Lancaster, Leeds, Leeds Met, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, North, Sheffield, UK Ultimate, UKU Regionals, University, York
Andrei Mandzuk from Bangor Ultimate takes us through the Northern Region.
The weekend marks the start of the Northern University indoors season, with teams from across the region converging on Leeds to battle it out for prestigious spots at Nationals. The north consistently proves itself to be a strong but very open region, with an array of teams feeling that they’re in with a shot of qualifying. After going through what many felt was a developmental period for the region last year, it is expected to return to full strength with many key players reaching their final years of study.
I shall begin by providing short previews of top teams in the region in order of their predicted seeds. All content below is based on predictions from team captains and information gathered from the UK Ultimate rumour mill.

One of the biggest regions and what a region! Image courtesy of UK Ultimate.

Manchester will undoubtedly be going into Regionals as top seed after consistently winning the region in recent years, and claiming a silver medal at Division 1 Indoor Nationals last season (ED: Second in 2012, 2011, 2009 and Bronze in 2010). Despite a high turnover from last year’s squad they have retained Chevron player Jake Aspin for another year running. Alongside this, their strength will be sustained by the maturation of GB u20 Simo Low and picking up GB u23 Mixed MVP Steve Dixon as an undergraduate. A 3rd place finish at Sheffield Experienced has shown them to be the region’s top team once again.

Sheffield are a team who’s strength lies in the A Tour experience at the top of their roster with Manchester Ultimate’s Dan Sumner and LeedsLeedsLeeds’s David Sparks. Along with this, their core is completed by the pickup of Will Jackson from Halcyon. They’re expected to run the same strict iso which proved so effective on the large pitches at Ponds Forge last year, and will keep the disc in the hands of their key players whilst challenging teams with athletic man-to-man defence. Although they gathered mixed results, Phat’eds are a team who managed to enter three warmup tournaments and this pitch time together may prove invaluable at the weekend.
Leeds almost caused the upset of the tournament last year, reaching the final and taking Halcyon to double game point. They will look to run a traditional offense, controlled by veteran Nick Moss, and captain Joseph Fisher, both of LeedsLeedsLeeds. They have tended to throw a mix of solid man defence, alongside a poachy zone which looks to prevent breakside throws. With disappointing results at warmup tournaments and losing varsity to local rivals Leeds Met, Regionals is their chance to prove themselves as a force in the North for another year running.
Newcastle are another team who qualified for Division 1 at last year’s Indoor Regionals but have been struck with a high player turnover from last season. This has given role players the chance to step up and it’s expected that Alex Mazzon will top the score sheet, with Ben Withers getting a lot of touches on the disc upfield. Despite getting incomplete rosters to warmup tournaments, and chalking up results at both ends of the spectrum, they’re a team who will be looking to show that their strength runs deeper than in previous years.
Durham are not a team who are known for strong indoors performances, instead using it as a chance to build their team for the outdoors season. Although they’ve suffered with large numbers of players graduating from the team that qualified for Division 1 at outdoors last season, they too will be looking to show a strength in depth that’s built on their impressive collegiate participation. A solid 6th place finish at Sheffield Experienced shows that they’re going to be hungry to push for indoors qualification this year.
Liverpool will be looking to avenge a poor showing at Indoor Regionals last season and show more similarities to their solid performance at Div 2 Outdoor Nationals. With last year’s handler core graduating, Sion Regan will be looking to experienced players Stuart Johnston and Andy Garner to control the disc upfield whilst he produces a downfield matchup to be feared. Despite being a team with their eyes on the bigger picture of outdoors, they’ve shown to be well organised and produced an impressive 4th place finish at Liverpool Experienced. It would be foolish to write them off again this season.
Leeds Met have fostered an impressively growing program in recent years, shown by qualifying for last year’s Division 2 Indoor Nationals after winning the game to go. Chevron player James Mead will look to make plays both on and off the disc, and Cambridge Mixed’s Dave Littler will control the disc upfield. Coming off the back of mixed results at warmup tournaments but a convincing victory over local rivals Leeds at their varsity, this is a team who are hungry to sustain last year’s success.
Bangor are a team who have graduated only one player from last year’s outdoors squad. Despite this, a run of poor luck on the injury front alongside personal issues has left them shorthanded for this year’s Regionals. Expect big plays on both sides of the disc from Daniel McLean and GB u23 Mixed’s Cameron Burgess as the team tries to gel after being forced to take a skeleton squad to Liverpool Experienced.
Lancaster are a team who are going through a rebuilding phase currently and are still reeling from losing all of their Nationals qualifying first team. Despite this, they reached the game to go last year against Leeds Met and will look to go into the tournament to cause upsets this year around. Captain Reece Stanton will aim to find Michael Sharkey downfield for large gains.
Sheffield Hallam are another team who, similar to Leeds Met, pick up a sport-minded group of beginners each year. This is shown by their success yet again in beginners tournaments and is always promising for future years. Hallam, led by GB u23 Mixed’s Alex Walsh will look to take advantage of this, as he tries to find athletic cutters downfield. Teams should expect a hard running defence and tough match-ups all across the pitch.
York are set to be the big story of this year’s Regionals. A team which has been built from the ground up is set to peak this season in spectacular fashion. They have had strong results at warmup tournaments, and been tipped by many captains to be the team to watch. This year’s York team looks to establish themselves as a force in the North. Cohesion gained from the core of the team playing on the successful ‘fun’ team SMOG, and 2 years of university pitch time together will serve them well as they look set for their most successful year in recent history. Joshua Briggs will be throwing the bulk of their assists to tall cutter Max Moseley, although any of their athletic core can be a force downfield.
Hull are an inexperienced team who will be looking to use Regionals to develop. Led by captain Nick Brownbill and tipped to be a team who keeps working until the buzzer, it’s not hard to see them scaring some of the less well organised ‘big’ teams.
Chester are another growing program in the North. Captained by GB u23 Mixed’s Ben Main they produced impressive results at Liverpool Experienced, making their way into the top 8. They are fielding an inexperienced, but enthusiastic team. Main will try to control the disc on offense and their offensive flow comes out of a traditional vertical stack. Going into Regionals with no expectations and everything to gain they can look forward to a productive weekend!
On the back of this all, I’ve based predictions on the surveys we had returned and pre-season results.

6.Leeds Met
As with previous years, Manchester are expected to top the region, albeit not without serious pressure from other contenders, and will hope to go on to replicate their impressive performance at Nationals last year. With impressive pre-season results, and mentions from many captains as being much stronger than previous years, it wouldn’t be surprising to see York secure themselves a second place finish this weekend. Rounding off the qualifiers for Division 1 are Sheffield. Selected by all captains to be up there, and with solid pre-season results, they should be able to secure the final spot.
Division 2 is far more open, with as many as six teams having a genuine shot at making it. Both Liverpool and Newcastle performed well at Liverpool Experienced (despite Newcastle’s depleted squad) and could take the 4 and 5 spots respectively. Rounding off the qualifications places, it’s hard to avoid the romance of a home town varsity rematch in the game to go, with Leeds Met facing off against Leeds Uni. It’s a tough one to call, but I’m tipping Met to win this one and repeat their varsity success.
Outside of the top 6, other contenders for qualification are Durham and Bangor. I suspect Durham’s pedigree for not quite clicking indoors will continue, whilst Bangor’s lack of pitch time together will be their unravelling.
With the Northern Region seeing one of the most open battles to date, I look forward to seeing all the drama and upsets that University ultimate can produce.
Good luck to all competing in Leeds this weekend, and I’ll see you Saturday!

That’s all for the uni indoor regional previews, sadly we were unable to hear from the Western region but good luck to everyone competing across the country! DP @ tSG.

It’s Grim Up North

Chevron, LLL, Manchester, North, Open Tour

Dale Walker gives us his opinions on the state of Ultimate with respect to the UK’s geography; particularly the North vs the South. 

Over the past few months, I’ve seen a number of Ultimate-centric blogs come out onto market. Something struck me about all of them – none of them really provided a true opinion piece about a particular topic, concept or something wider spread than personal fitness notes or musings about a particular team’s performance. I can’t say I’ve read them all, but having been an avid reader of some of the commentaries by SkyD writers (Lou Burruss & Ben Van Heuvelen spring to mind) over the past few years there’s definitely been a lack of true content for the British reader.

With this in mind, and having attempted my own commentaries a few years back, I wanted to write a piece about not only one of the issues in British Ultimate but something that reflects upon the wider workings of the 21st Century United Kingdom – the North/South divide.

I have been playing Ultimate since 2004 and never really felt the need to venture further South than the M60 to fill my competitive and social fix for Ultimate. The career path I wanted could be undertaken anywhere in the UK, and I am not so dedicated a player that I felt the need to relocate to get my fix (appreciating the vibrant London scene). However, naturally Ultimate careers have always been tied into people’s career paths and I would be hard pressed to name players who haven’t taken a step forwards in their professional career out of loyalty to their Ultimate team. My favourite examples of this are some of the leading US players of the past 15 years – Seth Wiggins and Ron Kubalanza – who seemingly have played for more teams than I can make reference to (including but not limited to Sockeye, JAM, Furious, DoG, Rhino, Revolver) through what I can only assume is closely tied to their chosen careers.

When I first attended Tour events circa 2006, I distinctly remember a Tour final in Bristol being fought out between LLLeeds and Clapham back in the days when LLL could boast Christian “Wigsy” Nistri, Steve Vaughan, Jamie Cross, Rik Shipley and Rich Hims amongst others. In it’s heyday, that was some team – Fire if I recall had just come onto the scene and Chevron were still in a phase of playing with exclusively their mates (which perhaps came to an end at roughly the same time) so LLL were the main competition to Clapham. If you take a look at that year’s Tour results overall, you’ll see that the A Tour featured LLL, Chevron & Sheffield Steal in what was a period of relatively rude health for Ultimate in the North.
Prof. Dorling, University of Sheffield’s UK divide.
Courtesy of BBC News.

How times change. Whilst Chevron have gone from strength to strength continuing the club’s principle of taking the best talent from the Junior ranks and developing them into stars (having at one point in 2006 featured as “low” as eighth), LLL were relegated to B Tour at Tour 2 in 2012 and didn’t come back up, eventually ending the season at Regionals having been knocked out by Vision in sudden death in the game-to-go. Sheffield Steal ended the season ranked tied 56th with Jest Ridisculous 2. Below you’ll see the rankings of teams from the 2012 Tour season based in Northern England, and how their rankings have changed since 2006 (if applicable):

Chevron (Manchester/Bristol) – 2nd (+3)
ManUP (Manchester) – 21st (N/A)
Vision (Liverpool) – 29th (-3)
LLL (Leeds) – 14th (-10)
Gravity (Bangor) – 22nd (N/A)
The Brown (Newcastle – 19th (+19)
Sheffield Steal (Sheffield) – 56th (-41)
York Open (York) – 32nd (+4)

So what conclusions can you draw from this? Chevron have always been perennial contenders for the top table, and beyond that the rest have been heavily dependent on what talent stays in the area post graduation. I wouldn’t want to comment on the entirety of the decline of Leeds, but to go from a European power to struggling to get back into the Top 16 is a real shift in stature. Sheffield Steal, whilst not the same powerhouse, were an established club able to field two squads – to have dropped 41 spaces is remarkable. The Brown at the time were starting to establish themselves, and you can guarantee that every year the same faces turn out for them demonstrating a consistency of personnel.

On the other hand, you have team’s from the South East who make up the majority of the Top 16. Clapham, Fire, Kapow, Tooting, DED, Brighton – even Cambridge and Wessex (whilst not strictly South East) all featured at Nationals and high up in the Tour rankings:

Clapham – 1st (=)
Fire – 3rd (-1)
Kapow – 9th (N/A)
Tooting – 8th (N/A)
Cambridge (N/A)
DED – 4th (+4)
Brighton – 6th (=)
Wessex – 13th (N/A)

That’s 4 teams that didn’t exist 6 years ago all placing in the Top 16, and the 4 that did boasting an accumulative ranking difference of +4 places. Compare that to the North with 2 new teams and a difference of -28 places. Further to these 8 teams against each other, if you consider that Fire 2 ranked in the top 16 at Tour and Burro Electrico made Nationals, there’s an argument that even the depths of the SE would come out favourably against the best the North could offer.

Whilst compiling this information, I was intrigued to see how the numbers worked out after I had looked through the rankings and I was taken aback by the drop the North has suffered. Of course, there’s an exception to every rule (ManUP finished 11th at Nationals in 2012, beating Wessex & Burro Electrico along the way and pushing teams like Kapow and Devon hard) but you can quite clearly see that the regions are on different trajectories in terms of performance.

When people are making their first steps into their careers, there is no doubt that the most buoyant job market to be found at present is in London and the South East. I read recently that London as a geographic area has been out of recession since 2007, and the poor economic forecast for the UK comes from outside the M25. This naturally has a massive knock on effect to Ultimate’s amateur players. Of course, there are other programmes that do a great job being competitive at the top table whilst being outside Greater London (EMO & Fusion, for example) but it would be interesting to see how these teams would be affected if their stalwarts who have built their lives in their respective areas retired or moved on. Recent “graduates” of these teams are now some of the top players in the UK – examples include Tom Abrams (formerly of EMO, now of Clapham/GB World Games).

This makes for a stark contrast with the USAU Championships, where in the past 10 years we have seen winners from Seattle, Vancouver, two teams from San Francisco, Atlanta, Austin & Boston – compare this to the UK, where Clapham have won Nationals for over a decade.

Is this lack of diversity a hindrance? Is the spread of talent too heavy to one area? Coming off arguably GB’s best ever international performance with GB Open winning silver at WUGC 2012, the argument can be made that we’re in the best shape possible which is hard to disagree with. That said, the Open squad featured 14 players based in London/the South East (with all bar one playing for the afore mentioned teams). The final 2013 World Games Squad features 10 London based players, and upon initial invite to trials applicants were told to expect to train “like a club team in London” – even if I were at the level to be a serious applicant, would I commit 75% of my weekends to being in London?

Silver medallists at WUGC2012 with over half based in the South East

As long as Ultimate remains an amateur sport in the UK, this is unavoidable. No-one is tied to a contract (I’m infact interested to see what lengths the UKU would go to should someone mid-season decide to jump ship with the support of the beneficiaries), and if talent feels that they have the chance to win somewhere else unfortunately no-one can stop them.

 What the rest of the UK needs to do is open to debate, but to this writer the only course of action that could allow teams to remain competitive is to continue developing their programmes, work closely with the local universities/schools, and make sure that when players are making that next step in their lives that they know the region they’re moving to has a team that can support what they want out of Ultimate. 

How much of a deciding factor Ultimate is in people’s choices is questionable, but for those “floating voters” who are just too far for one team but maybe close enough for another (or infact feel their local team cannot provide their fix) the lure of London and the affluent SE Ultimate region might just sway their decision.

N.B. this article was written before Fog Lane Cup and University Nationals which saw some promising results from Northern teams – MCR Ultimate finishing 4th at Fog Lane & Manchester/Sheffield universities making Top 8 at BUCS Nationals respectively.

What do you think? Please comment, tweet, like and share. Or rather write about your opinion? Send your musings to