The mixed division was exciting at the top last season with a slightly unexpected semi final result and some very good streamed games at the end of the weekend. This season there are four extra teams and it looks like the depth is also a bit better with enough teams to make the races for the title and the fourth spot at Euros intriguing.
The schedule will see the bottom four go to a pool while the top two in each will go directly to quarters and play out from there.
SMOG are the reigning champions and definitely one of the favourites for the title. They’ve won two in a row, they have great athletes at every spot and they have generally played together for years so have really strong chemistry. However, they have had a mixed season by their lofty standards. They finished a very strong fourth at Windmill but had a tough draw in the pre-quarters at WUCC and after losing that seemingly struggled to pick themselves back up. They eventually ended up in 27th which is far below where they would have hoped to be. This is a great chance for them to show that they remain the best team around and set themselves up for a shot at European glory, where they’ve generally struggled in the past.
The other favourite will be Reading. They finished eighth at Windmill and then went and repeated that feat in Cincinnati, coming a few points away from being the first European semi-finalists in mixed. After such a fantastic high it might be difficult to come back down to earth and play in the UK again. Regionals was a slight hiccup as they lost on universe point to Deep Space in a shorter game, but without several key players that doesn’t feel a true representation of who this team is. With everyone back and everyone firing they’ll be ready to aim for the top of the division for the first time since 2016.
Last year’s losing finalists finished 21st at WUCC (and finished third in spirit) so had a really positive tournament overall. They also won regionals and finished 13th at Windmill so this has been a good season so far. They’re second seeds here and will very likely play Reading in the semi on Sunday morning, a repeat of last year’s game but with a very different looking squad for the Londoners. The team overall is a bit younger this year with key roles for newcomers like Akito Oyama, Tom Davies and Alvaro Iturmendi. Leila Denniston still provides her all around excellence as well, and Allie Thacker might be the fastest woman in the division so watch out for her as she continues improving. This is a squad that can compete this year but also one that has some room to grow and develop, and could well be even better in a couple of years than they are now.
Fourth place is the final Euros spot and that will be tightly contested. SMOG Rising are the incumbents, going to WUCC this season and finishing in 29th. Making the top 32 was a really good achievement for what is a young team, and the performances of players like Alex Plant-Hately, Ollie Tanner-Smith and Amy Constantine was a real positive for Rising and SMOG more widely. Playing teams like Mixtape and Hybrid will have been an incredible learning experience for all these players as well. However, they did finish fourth at Windfarm, below Lemmings who made the final. SMOG has had two teams in the top four for two nationals in a row but this time around there’s real competition and Rising will need to perform well to keep that streak going and book their spot in Caorle.
Lemmings would have been the next team on my list before regionals, but Glasgow made the final against SMOG with a brilliant comeback to pre-Covid levels for them. A team with a history of being very solid and making nationals, last season was tough for them but they have come out of it with a team capable of mixing it with the top teams and competing for a European spot. They don’t have a huge amount of games to look back on this season as a result of some travel issues but given their performance at regionals they are clearly a team to be taken seriously. A quarter against Lemmings looks on the cards and that is potentially going to be a classic given how the teams play; both are unafraid of the huck.
Lemmings are also going to be in the mix for Euros spots. They were missing a few people at regionals but will be back at something near full strength this time around and will be really aiming to solidify their progress over the last couple of years with a Euros spot. Nate Sanders has been the leader of the team for some time but there are other very strong players on this roster with Tyler East and Persephone Pantling back from starring roles at JJUC and Megan Daly and Amelia Edwards still on the roster this season. They are optimistic and have high hopes, and the fourth spot is absolutely not out of reach. These three teams are very closely matched and there’ll be some tight games.
Oxford have been very solid in the mixed division for a few years now. Consistently making life difficult for the teams above them and churning out wins against the teams around them, they finished sixth last season and will be aiming to be in the mix for quarterfinals again this year. They play very good D, mixing tight match that makes it difficult to reset with a good zone that lets teams make plenty of passes in the middle before locking down on the sidelines. Key players like Anthony Howgego, Serena de Nahlik and Maks Tobiasiewicz will make a difference but their strength is their lack of weak links. Everyone contributes and everyone runs hard.
Herd have started preparations in earnest relatively late as many players had been focusing on WMUCC (me included). The teams split into Her and He at Windfarm to work on connections there and finished in the top eight at YDG. Regionals was a decent performance, holding seed and reaching nationals after a universe-point game against Oxford and some competitive games against teams that finished just outside the qualification spots. The team should be good enough for quarters but will face a tough game against Birmingham in the pool to earn that spot.
Birmingham have been in a similar boat to Herd. Some of their main players were in Limerick so their preparation has been held back but over the last few months they’ve been able to get more at trainings and so were able to churn out some good results at regionals. They’re bringing a very similar team to the one that competed at regionals so they’ve built some level of consistency with each other now, and will undoubtedly be physical and competitive as Birmingham teams always are. They’re the first of the teams seeded bottom in their pool but they’ll definitely be looking at their first game, against Herd, as a winnable one to try and nab a spot in quarters and stay out of the bottom four.
Cobras missed out on nationals initially but made the field after no Irish teams entered. They are a team of players from a number of different places that have been a good outdoor team for a few seasons now after starting out playing more indoors. They were tough opponents at regionals and pushed the teams above them in stretches, showing the ability to make good plays and to challenge teams defensively. They have a tough pool against the two SMOG teams but I’m sure they’re looking forward to playing on this stage.
This team is something of a blind spot for me, I will admit. They are a team of young players from Durham university who have done extremely well to qualify for nationals. Their pool is a very interesting one with Glasgow and Oxford providing tough opposition but missing SMOG, Reading and Deep Space means it feels a little like anything could happen. I doubt Nemesis can win the pool given the results at regionals and the experience gulf they’re going to have to bridge but we shall see!
Black Sheep are making their second appearance at nationals, having made it in 2018. They are another team that has had a disrupted build-up but have done well in recruitment after Covid. They have a number of young players from schools and universities in the area and players who will be playing their first nationals with plenty of room to grow – players like Ben and Kieran Tempest, Pete Smart and Naomi Jesse. Making the field was a pleasant surprise, and the focus for Sheep will I’m sure be on enjoying the experience, playing as hard and spirited as usual and in developing some of the exciting young players on their roster.
I think the pools will hold to seed (Herd bias acknowledged). SMOG, Deep Space and Reading should come through their quarters pretty unscathed but the Glasgow vs Lemmings game will be fascinating. I am going with Lemmings based on what I’ve seen of them but Glasgow will be feeling just as confident heading into the game. That means semis of SMOG vs Lemmings and Deep Space vs Reading. I’ll take a Reading vs SMOG final, with Reading winning. I’d say Glasgow and Rising will come through their semis and a game between the two would be fascinating again. I will back Glasgow here given how they did at regionals, and I would back Deep Space to beat Lemmings this time around. That would set us up for another Glasgow vs Lemmings game in the game to go to Euros. I’ll back Lemmings again, but beating a good team twice at one tournament is very tough.
- Deep Space
- Purple Cobras
- Black Sheep