WUCC 2018 previews – Reading Ultimate

Our WUCC previews start with Sean Colfer taking a look at Reading Ultimate.

How did they get here?

Reading Ultimate was established in 2010, and over the last eight years the central figures in the club have developed something truly special. At Open and Women’s Tour 1 this year, Reading brought over 100 players across seven teams in both divisions. They not only attract good players from the local area but develop young players too, and have managed to construct a true geo-club atmosphere when the current trend in the UK is for single teams.

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WUCC 2018 previews – Iceni

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:

Sophie Wharton
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 Kwok
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.

WUCC 2018 previews – Black Eagles

Sean Colfer continues his previews by taking a look at reigning national champions Black Eagles.

How did they get here?

Black Eagles have been the dominant Mixed team in the UK for the last four years. They finished 20th at Tour in 2012, before improving dramatically and finishing third in 2013 behind superstar pickup team Royal Goaltimate Society and Cambridge. They finished fourth at Nationals that season, behind Bear Cavalry, Cambridge and Dog Eat Disc, before finishing 37th at WUCC 2014 in Lecco. Since then, they’ve consistently been among the top two or three teams in the country. They won Tour in 2015, finished second at Nationals to Reading two years in a row in 2015 and 2016.

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WUCC 2018 previews – Chevron Action Flash

Another preview ahead of WUCC, this time it’s Chevron. Sean Colfer has his say on how they look going into the tournament.

How did they get here?
Chevron Action Flash have been the second-best team in the UK for eight of the last ten years, finishing third in 2012 and fourth in 2009 – although they did win the European title in 2009. That kind of consistency is incredibly impressive for a team that has based (and prided) itself on bringing in players from the Junior ranks and giving them important roles in an elite team. Established in 1995, they’ve become a fixture of UK and European Ultimate despite the core of the team leaving and moving around – they were once based in Manchester but now primarily train in the midlands.

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WUCC 2018 previews – Nice Bristols

Our WUCC 2018 previews begin with Sean Colfer analysing Nice Bristols, who take plenty of momentum with them across the pond.

How did they get here?
Bristols have been around since 2004, and have been one of the better teams in the country for pretty much that whole time. They went to Worlds in Lecco and performed pretty well, finishing 22nd overall and 10th best of the European teams. They have never really challenged for the top spot in the country like Leeds did before them, but have been incredibly consistent and brought through a host of younger players from which they are now reaping the benefits.
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WUCC 2014 Mixed Division Preview: Bear Cavalry

Matt Dathan and Matthew Hodgson finish off our previews with Bear Cavalry.
Bear Cavalry took Gold at Windmill Windup this season. Photo courtesy of Martine Bootsma/Windmill Windup.

Squad

Adam Maxwell
Alex Wylie
Darbi Donaldson
David Tyler (C)
Gemma Wakeford
Hanna John
Helen Swan-Thompson
James Freeman
Joe Swan-Thompson
Josh Wakeford
Lauren Tyler
Lucy Hawkes
Matt Alders
Matt Hodgson
Pedro Vargas
Ronja Wöstheinrich
Rosie Musgrave
Theo Tizard

About Bear Cavalry

The World Club Championships in Lecco is what Bear Cavalry has existed for since the club of mainly Warwick alumni players was formed more than four years ago.


With a 95 per cent retention rate since that first full season together, there has been little need for adding extra players to a tight-knit group, many of whom have played together at university, in the 2011 GB mixed team and at clubs such as Fire of London and Ka-Pow.

But for their final path to World’s they have added two missing jigsaws of the puzzle in the form of two Ka-Pow players – Pedro Vargas, the Portuguese handler, and the versatile Matt Hodgson.

Both were hand-picked by the Bears captain, Dave Tyler, as individuals who would easily adjust to Bears’ particular style of offense and hard man defense.

Playing and Coaching Style

That style of play is built around a pivot-based offence, characterised by cynical opponents as a hierarchical offence because it is designed around Joe Thompson and Dave Tyler, the two pivots around which the rest of the offence runs.

“Calling it a hierarchical offence is disingenuous, because outside of the top two the hierarchy isn’t well defined,” Dave explains.

It is an approach targeted for mixed ultimate and designed to bring out the best of the teams’ star players. 

“It often looks like quite a naive V stack, but it’s a bit more complex than that – the stack is just somewhere to keep people out of the way until a pivot player gets the disc. It’s not an offence that would work for most teams – and definitely not in open – it’s evolved over time as the way to get the best out of our best players.”

When observing their style of play, you may come to the conclusion that Bear’s strategy has remained unchanged from their university days, but while the principles remain the same – man defence and a vertical stack offence – the adjustments made by the captaincy have filtered in over the years.

On first glance the offence style may look basic, but the adjustments made have highlighted the strengths of the squad and have been drilled in so thoroughly that the team has confidence in the strategy and in the reliability of the team to execute it. 

Bears are hitting World’s after a hugely successful domestic season, dominating all three mixed tours and remaining unbeaten until earlier this month, when they suffered a surprise loss to Cambridge in a friendly.

The defeat was brushed aside by Bears players, who pointed to the fact they were missing four of their key players. “We needed to experience what defeat tasted like so we know never to taste it again,” said a particularly defiant Bear. And it was on Cambridge’s hallowed home turf, of course, so no confidence has been lost from within the very close unit of players.

Domination has not been a new experience for Bears however, having won mixed tour in 2011 and 2012, winning nationals in 2012 and 2013 and the European Club Championships in Bordeaux last year.

They continued to impress on the international stage this season, winning the Golden Elephant trophy at Windmill Windup in Amsterdam. Winning on the domestic and European scene is one thing; world domination is another level altogether, and captain Dave is realistic when it comes to setting a goal in Lecco.

Predictions

He said it was difficult to predict how a club like Bears will fare against non-European teams, pointing to the example of Venezuela under-23s at last year’s World Championships to show how dangerous it is to guess the strength of teams from more unfamiliar countries.

As with the Open and Women’s divisions, the pinnacle of European mixed clubs come from the UK. But unlike Clapham and Iceni, who have both recently returned home from facing North America’s elite at the US Open, Bear Cavalry have never played a team that competes outside of Europe, so adjustments will have to be made based on filmed footage and adapting throughout the tournament. 

When pushed for a prediction – and Dave was the only one of the UK mixed teams’ captains who was brave enough to give a prediction, a reflection of his straightforward, honest approach to leadership – he told The ShowGame that a realistic goal for the team was a finishing position between seventh and 12th place.

“I’d say it’s a huge success in results if we come in the top eight,” he says. “I’d like us to come up against one of the top four teams and prove that our systems work. We won’t win, simply because we aren’t individually good enough, but I want to see whether what we’ve built as a club holds its own to the top of our abilities as individuals,” he adds.

Lecco is the last hurrah for Bear Cavalry. Like retiring footballers, it is always best to go out on top, leaving a positive legacy to remember the team by. Barring world domination, there is little left to achieve for the club, having risen from winning student nationals to European champions and what the team hopes will be a top eight finish at World’s.

The best crop of players in the team are likely to focus on GB for the next couple of years and while Bear Cavalry might make the odd reappearance at tournaments at home and abroad, it will no longer be a club with such a serious and focused set of objectives.

Whatever you make of their style of play and approach to the game, you cannot doubt the commitment of the players to a set program over such a length of time and the impressive journey they have made all the way from Freshers’ year at Warwick University.


And that is that. Keep you eyes open for the SkyD and tSG coverage of WUCC.


WUCC 2014 Mixed Division Preview: Cambridge Ultimate

Matthew Hodgson and Matt Dathan preview Cambridge Ultimate in the Mixed division of WUCC 2014.

Cambridge winning the Golden Keg final and last month. Photo courtesy of the Golden Keg crew.

Squad

Adrienne Tecza
Ania Koscia
Ben Bruin
Dom Dathan
Duncan Pocklington
Fran Dathan
Hannah Boddy
Hannah Williams
Howard Storey
James Threadgill
Joe Durst
Kelly Hogan
Lucy Barnes
Magali Matsumiya
Matt Metcalfe
Michele Ghansah
Nancy Rawlings
Niamh Delaney
Nick Wong
Rich Hims
Sam Turner
Sam Vile
Steve Kolthammer
Susanna Bidgood

About Cambridge

If it was a pub quiz, Cambridge would be firm favourites. Not only do they boast a host of current and alumni Cambridge students, they have been joined by a number of players from their arch-rivals, Oxford, to form a team that would not look out of place being tested by Jeremy Paxman. 


However it is not a pub quiz, it is the World Ultimate Club Championships, and the question on many people’s minds is, with more than seven doctorates among the team, will too many genii spoil the grand plan, masterminded by co-captains Nick Wong and Magali Matsumiya?

The team held limited try-outs for a small number of invited players to add external experience and talent to a team that has a very cohesive feel to it, due to a long tradition of weekly training sessions in Cambridge.

So whilst the likes of James Threadgill, Frances Dathan and Ben Bruin might water down the average IQ of the team, they will add vital graft and experience to the team.

The combination of a strong history of ultimate in Cambridge, the integration of its university team with the club, the rise of the women’s team Punt and the handful of additions to the squad has led to the rising force of the Cambridge mixed team.

Until last year, they were certainly not considered a powerhouse on the UK scene. Yes, they regularly made the quarter finals and the top 10 at mixed tours, but they were not a team that was feared.

Yet, after their most successful mixed tour season last year – securing second and third-placed finishes – they went into nationals brimming with confidence. They lost to Bear Cavalry in the final and finished in second place, enough to qualify for the European Club championships and their long-awaited prize of a spot at World’s.

At Europeans in Bordeaux their only defeats came against the Latvian team Salaspils FK and a narrow loss against UFO Utrecht in the quarter finals, before securing an impressive fifth-place finish.

With only a handful of new additions this season, they travel to Lecco as one of the most prepared teams. Their turnout at training is outstanding compared to other teams, they reached every almost final of the mixed tours this season and have performed very well at two international warm-up tournaments, finishing as runners-up at G-Spot in Ghent and winning the Golden Keg tournament in Dublin, beating RGS in the process.

Add to that their surprise 15-13 win over Bear Cavalry in a warm-up game earlier this month – the first UK team to beat Bears in over a year – Cambridge “look to be timing their peak perfectly for World’s,” as one rival team’s captain put it.

Playing and Coaching Style

At times, however, their preparation domestically has been frustrating, with the lack of competition in the UK a problem shared by Bear Cavalry.

“It’s been frustrating that a lot of our games haven’t been that close,” says Nick. “We’ve only had one or two games each tour to really develop and learn new things.”

Cambridge’s style of play is very much driven by a horizontal offence, with hints of split stack principles, aiming to make big isolations for their cutters, which will give opposition teams match-up nightmares across both genders.

“We’ve got some really good women on the team,” says Nick. “So we set up our offence to make sure we give them the space to do their thing.”

Some players have joked about the amount of time spent discussing the small minutiae of tactics, suggesting too many genii do indeed spoil the grand plan, but Nick does well to use and contain the billions of brain cells competing for talking time.

Nick dismisses the importance of the team’s superior IQ, however. “IQ smarts translates very poorly into frisbee smarts,” he explains. And co captain Mags says it sometimes has a detrimental effect at trainings.

“It leads to a vast amount of discussion of every possibility that could possibly ever happen, which is not ideal,” she says of certain players’ tendency to analyse their tactics to the nth degree.

As for their tactics off the pitch, the captains are taking a more Fabio Capello approach to team discipline than RGS have, with an alcohol ban in action throughout the tournament. Only time will tell which approach works better, but don’t expect Cambridge players to be hitting the bars of Lecco until at least Saturday evening.

Prediction

Nick refused to set a goal for Cambridge at World’s – or at least he chose to keep his cards close to his chest – preferring to determine success as “playing really well as a team and playing to our potential,” taking each game as it comes.

He stressed Cambridge’s team ethos was more important than any key individuals, and the team’s strength across the board, rather than certain stand-out players, is something that their UK rivals lack.

“There’s no kind of individual stars as such. What we’ve done well so far is try to work out how to get key contributions from everyone, so not to rely too much on stars, but to have a good spread from everyone.”

It is a point put rather more bluntly by a Bear Cavalry player, who predicted a top-16 finish for Cambridge.

“A very flat squad without any standout players but plenty of depth,” is how they described Cambridge. “Tactically they’re very sound but I suspect they’re simply not talented enough to break down a really good team.

“They’ve also got a really hard draw so would be very hard pressed to get out of their power pool let alone make top eight.  A finish in the 12-16 bracket in my opinion.”

Cambridge are not afraid of rewarding their star players on the day however, with American Steve Kolthammer winning male MVP at Golden Keg and the female award going to Magali Matsumiya, who has come a long way since playing in her first mixed tour in 2007, when, unaware of the term ‘gender across’, ended up marking a guy and leaving the free woman to score an easy point. 

Cambridge will be going into WUCC seeded 18th – the second-ranked British team behind Bears – but have all the pieces in place and preparation to compete with anyone and make a run at the top spots.

Almost there only one team left …