Our preview series moves on to Iceni, who might face a tough WUCC. Here’s what Sean Colfer thinks of their chances.
How did they get here?
Iceni have long been the strongest Women’s team in the UK. They’ve won 13 of the 14 Nationals titles since they were established, losing only in 2010 to an inspired LeedsLeedsLeeds team at the end of their run. They’ve also won seven European titles, though in the last couple of seasons they finished third (2016) and second (2017). Still pretty bloody good.
They were given a scare by SYC at Nationals last year as their London rivals ran off a string of points on D to take their pool match 12-15. The true mark of champions is dealing with adversity, though, and Iceni managed to regroup to win the final comfortably at 15-6. That qualified them for yet another WUCC, after they finished 11th in Lecco in 2014, 17th in Prague in 2010 and eighth in Perth in 2006.
Karina Cooper with the left against the Bristol zone at Tour 2. Photo by Sam Mouat.
How has this season been?
This has been a mixed season for the warriors. They won Tour 1 comfortably, with Reading providing the stiffest test during the final, which Iceni won 14-10. After that, they went to Tour 2 where Nice Bristols beat them comfortably twice, 12-5 in a windy pool match and 15-9 in the final. Coming off those losses, Iceni are seemingly in a position of weakness.
The team didn’t go to Windmill, but was at Tom’s Tourney earlier in the year. There they lost twice – to a stacked YAKA (France) team in the final, and also to a Netherlands under-20 team featuring many of the star players from Mixed European champions GRUT. Still, a second-place finish is an achievement against what was a strong field.
How do they play?
Iceni play a lot of horizontal stack on offence, trying to work the middle of the field with their strong cutters. They’ll switch up the offensive structure from time to time, but whatever the set they’ll space the field well. They leave the deep space open very well, but sometimes get a bit clogged on the open side at the expense of the break. One thing they have struggled with at times this year is maintaining precision and focus under pressure, with individual errors plaguing them at Tour 2 and in the Tom’s Tourney final. They have a lot of players who can win individual match ups and will look to run things through those familiar faces a lot in order to generate movement downfield.
Defensively, they play a lot of match D. They’re very good at maintaining aggressiveness on the around space and rarely allow their opponents an easy reset, but the inside channel has been an Achilles heel so far this season. There are some excellent athletes on the D line and they make the long game a challenge. When they do play zone they’re smart at cutting off space downfield, and they’ve also got a couple of players who can pull very well – it makes a big difference when setting a D further down the field than your opponents can.
Can you give me three players to watch?
Iceni have had a bit of changeover in the last couple of years so there’s some newer faces in the squad to look out for:
If you’re looking for a player who’s going to get horizontal to make some plays, then Sophie is your athlete. She plays intense D and is willing to lay out to make catches, blocks or even just for fun. She’s a critical part of the D line and will take on some of the more difficult match ups when needed. She’s a solid offensive player with very good hands who can make slightly wayward throws look great with her athletic ability.
Sophie Wharton makes a catch against Bristol at Tour 2. Photo by Ed Hanton.
Qiao Yan Soh
Yan is a first-year Iceni player who played for GB under-24 Women in Perth earlier this year. She’s a really good all-around threat who has the throwing ability to open up options downfield. She’s had a good debut year for Iceni and will be looking to use her offensive versatility to make a difference for the team in Cincinnati.
Joyce’s sister Karen has been one of Iceni’s key offensive downfield cutters for several years now, and Joyce has returned after playing in 2016. She’s one of their main handlers and will see a lot of the disc. She’s another who’s had a very good debut year and is one of the most reliable options that Iceni have. She keeps the disc moving and allows the rest of the offence to function around her, knitting everything together and making sure the team don’t get too static.
What do they say?
Captain Karina Cooper had a lot to say. First, she talked about the preparation that the team has done:
“Our theme all season has been thinking Ultimate. We scrapped teaching set patterns and instead have been drilling ‘smart’ Ultimate – looking at what your defender is giving you, identifying space on the pitch and the aggressive ways to utilise this space. It’s really exciting to see where we started back in January and compare it to the on pitch successes we had at Tours 1 & 2 and in some big games at Tom’s Tourney. People get caught up in the score lines when it comes to Iceni but we have had a really successful season thus far with the shift in how the team is engineering our offence and committing to playing team defence. We are in a good spot for WUCC.”
Next, she talked about the aims of the team in Cincinnati:
“At the beginning of the season we sat down with the team to talk about our goals for WUCC. One of the biggest aims our team committed themselves to was no regrets. We want to always be at our best and leave everything on the pitch. WUCC is going to be so conducive to this goal as we are one of many teams with a target on our back which means the pressure levels are more balanced than we tend to experience in a UK setting, where Iceni is the team everyone wants to beat. We can take the field without external expectation and set the tone afresh, which is really exciting to be able to do!”
Finally she wanted to give a shout out to some rivals:
“We are kicking off our first day at WUCC with a game against really inspiring and talented German team, Seagulls. Word around the campfire is they really committed themselves to high level development this season at a grassroots level. This mirrors how we approached Iceni this year. We wanted to develop local players and give them the experience of the world stage to help fuel their drive in the sport. So it’s very cool to be playing a team whose model you really believe in yourself. Then we finish the day against Fury. What a day! Iceni are mega-Fury fangirls – we have so much respect and admiration for the heart those ladies put into Ultimate. So what better way to celebrate that to go shoulder to shoulder with the sport’s top competitors.”
How are they going to do?
Iceni have had a difficult season, not least because they’ve lost a few players to unfortunate injuries and other circumstances. They go to WUCC with a couple of pick-ups to fill out the roster – albeit very good ones. They’ll be missing big players like Jenna Thomson and Alex Benedict, and off the back of a Tour 2 that provided more questions than answers. That said, this is a team with a wealth of experience and knowhow, as well as an outstanding level of athleticism across the squad.
They couldn’t really have a tougher top seed in their pool as they’ll be matching up with San Francisco Fury, a powerhouse of Women’s Ultimate for years. However, the rest of the pool is relatively friendly with Swampybarg (Japan), Seagulls (Germany) and Malafama (Mexico) all posing less of a challenge. If they do manage to finish second in their pool, they’d see Seattle Riot and either Iris (Canada) or FABulous (Switzerland) in the power pools. That’s a really tough group, and Iceni would almost certainly face a key game against a strong FAB side to see who finishes third and fourth. That would leave them with a cross against some quality teams, as the pools that would produce those players are groups of death.
Pool B features Boston Brute Squad, YAKA, Fusion (Canada) and Brilliance (Russia) who include not only Russia’s key player from their huge WCBU upset, Sasha Pustovaia, but former Iceni player and Eurostar Fran Scarampi. Pool H features 6ixers (Canada), UNO (Japan), Troubles (Poland) and Windmill winners Mainzelmadchen (Germany). Whoever finishes third and fourth in these groups will be going into a power pool, with the top two facing off against Iceni and FAB should their power pool go to seed. That’s brutal.
Given their struggles relative to their past results this season and their incredibly tough draw, I can’t see Iceni breaking into the top 16. I think they’ll make the top 20, though, and will do well in the consolation bracket. So, I’ll say that Iceni will finish 19th.