It has been nearly three years since there has been a proper, full Tour event. Windfarm, once derided for the difficult conditions it inevitably provides (hence the nickname we gave it that eventually became the official tournament name) will be something of a triumphant return for the super-event we were all so used to before the pandemic, with more teams and pitches than any of us will have seen for years.
The 63 teams are split between open and women’s, with 41 and 22 respectively. It’s been a busy week at ShowGame towers and there’s a lot of teams that I have only a passing knowledge of so I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with a preview of the top teams for now, and we can take a look at the teams throughout the draw once the dust has settled and we’re able to have a better idea of where everyone stands.
The schedule is a little odd, with the open semis and final at 90 mins compared to 70 mins on the women’s side. It does seem as though there are fewer games for the top open teams so that’s likely the logic here, but there’s definitely some annoyance over it. Given that the women’s final slot is last it seems like there could have been a pretty easy compromise here, and some advance discussion probably would have avoided the issue entirely. Still, scheduling is hard (I assume, it looks hard) and everyone is out of practice with all elements of tournaments at the moment. Still, this is probably something that’s best thought through a bit more comprehensively in future.
Let’s start on the women’s side. The top seeds are the national champs, Bristol, and they are largely at full strength after fielding some varied teams at their events so far this season. Talismanic playmakers Carla Link and Molly Wedge have been occupied with World Games trainings up to this point but should be back, and the squad retains enough talent and depth to win this tournament. They face Masterclass and Thundering Her in the pool. Masterclass are the Irish entrant into WMUCC in Limerick and should pose quite a few problems to Bristol, not least with the return to these shores of Eurostar superstar Sarah Melvin. It’ll be very fun to see a Wedge/Melvin matchup, so hopefully we get to see that play out. Thundering Her is (predictably) the female side of Thundering Herd, entering Tour again as they did in 2019 to get some extra reps with the mixed season in mind. Both Masterclass and THer have reasonably short rosters but both will be looking forward to taking on a big name early on.
The next pool features the reigning National League champions, SMOG. They defeated both Bristol and Iceni in the midlands last year and return to the (kind of near) scene of the triumph to try and repeat the feat. As we have seen in both women’s and mixed competition, the women of SMOG are extremely strong and we can be pretty confident that they’ll be challenging their opponents with some nigh-on-impossible-to-stop deep shots. They face Scots SCRAM who have had a nice start to the season and will be looking to push themselves and keep developing ahead of their trip to WUCC in Cincinnati in a few weeks’ time, as well as Cambridge Women. SMOG should win this group but SCRAM against Cambridge could be a fun game, with some strong Cambridge-based players having played largely in mixed in the last few years.
The next pool seems like a pool of death. Iceni and SYC will renew their rivalry, the two London teams having played recently in a pretty close one. Iceni came out on top there and the expectation would be that they do again since they are reasonably close to full strength with only a couple of absentees. SYC will be confident having played their rivals close so recently, and have a reasonably full team although there will be one or two absences. Also in this pool are reigning European bronze medallists Dublin Gravity. When last the Gravigals were in the UK they left with the national championship title, so there’s clearly quite a legacy of success behind them. The team that was in Bruges was extremely adaptable and cohesive, with excellent frisbee IQ pairing with ability to make them one of the best teams on the continent. They’ve been at a few warm up tournaments and will be heading to WUCC as well, but this team may well be a bit more mixed with non-WUCC players and guests. Either way, this pool is one to watch.
The final pool in division 1 sees LMU face Spice and Reading. LMU defeated Spice last season in the inaugural National Cup final after coming from behind. LMU will be strong, as usual, but will have a pretty small squad, as usual. It’s always difficult to predict exactly who will be around but I understand that Jenna Thomson is around, which means they have more than a shot of being competitive. Pairing a team this smart and experienced with a team like Spice, full of players nearer the beginning of their elite frisbee careers, is a nice clash of styles. Spice will also be heading to Cincinnati and look to have added well this spring and will pose a tough test to the masters. Reading round out the pool and will, like SMOG, be extremely good despite minimal experience together in women’s. Players like Bex Palmer, Helen Roberts and Ania Godbold have all played at the highest level and you can always expect that Reading teams will be well-drilled and prepared.
This is a tough tournament to call with the strength at the top, but if Gravity are anywhere close to the team we have seen before, 10th seed looks low. They could cause some chaos in the later brackets. An Iceni/Bristol rematch could be on the cards but last time LMU faced Iceni, at Tom’s, the masters won, and SMOG loom with their League title in hand. I daresay it’ll all be a bit clearer come Saturday evening but for now it looks like a tough call! I’ll go for a SMOG win with LMU, Bristol and Iceni finishing the top four and prepare to eat those words.
First thing to note here is the split schedule, and second is that Clapham are absent. That means the field is a bit more open at the top, and may mean we get a barnstorming finale. The top section of the open division is four pools of three, with the next section starting as a bracket to give teams the chance to progress upwards.
The first pool sees top seeds Chevron up against acronymic teams PELT and EDI. Chevron were largely untroubled last season in reaching the national final and finishing second in the National League. They have long mixed experience with youth, and had a sizeable contingent of less experienced players last time around. Those players will all have gained a great deal from last season and could position the team well to grow this year. They did as well as expected at Tom’s, beating both French teams (Iznogood, the eventual winners, and Tcach who finished fourth) and losing only twice, to GRUT men and one of the CUSB teams. This pool puts them up against Limerick team PELT and Scots EDI. PELT usually travel with pretty small squads but are always tough to beat and come with a huge amount of cohesion and confidence. Chevron will back themselves but it’s unlikely the Irishmen will roll over without a fight. EDI have been building for a couple of years and have done a good job developing into a competitive outfit with Alba growing as a regional power. It’ll be a good test for them to play against two teams that have been to EUCF in the recent past.
Speaking of Alba, they are second seed and lead the next pool. They are the only team other than Clapham that seriously pushed Chevron last season – in fact, the last three times these teams have met on these shores have ended with sudden death Chevron wins despite Alba having the disc (Chevron ran out comfortable winners at Tom’s, though). The Scots will be aiming to turn those tables late on Sunday. They match up against the Smash’d boys and Fire. The latter two teams met in the first round of the cup last season, a brutal draw considering the relative strength of both, and will be very up for a rematch. Smash’d have had some roster turnover from last year but are still young, aggressive and athletic and will be a stern test for a rebuilding Fire outfit. Alba should have enough to stay above the fray but this will certainly be the most physical pool so there could be some variance based on how each team deals with that.
The third pool is the most intriguing at the top of the open division. Devon are a longstanding national power nowadays, having qualified for WUCC 2018 and consistently finished in the top four since then. Last year they overcame a very tight call with Smash’d to solidify that spot and make the Nationals semis. The team has a way of playing that has worked for them for years, has great chemistry and a very solid internal culture that keeps them at the top of the division. In Nottingham they face the men of SMOG and Leamington Lemmings, the story of 2021. SMOG will, of course, be good. Just like the women’s team, this is a team of serial winners that have back-to-back national titles in their back pockets and have been preparing to take on the best in the world at WUCC as a whole squad, given that they have two teams going to Cincinnati. They can match Devon’s athleticism, but the boys in green have a bit more experience in open and might have the edge in physicality too. Lemmings qualified for Nationals in both open and mixed last season and have a range of good players to call on. Whether they can mix it with the big teams in open remains to be seen but if they consolidate the best players from both those teams they have a good chance to make two elite teams very uncomfortable here.
The final pool sees Reading’s men face Ka-Pow! and Bristol. Reading’s squad is obviously strong but is missing a few of the men that will make up the male side of the WUCC team so might have less top-end depth than some of the other top seeded sides in the division. They should still have enough to top the pool here, although both Ka-Pow! and Bristol can certainly cause them problems. The Londoners are still going through a rebuilding process and had a relatively young but talented squad last year, while Bristol have been developing slowly but surely for a number of years. Ka-Pow! won this matchup when they faced at Nationals last year but Bristol have had competitive outings already this year at Tom’s so might be slightly sharper.
It’s difficult to pick anything but a rematch of Alba vs Chevron in the final, such is the strength that these two teams continue to possess. Hopefully we get another exciting instalment in the series if that does come to pass. Look out for SMOG and Reading to challenge the top teams, I would expect one of them to make it into the semis unless Smash’d can step up and take that fourth spot.
Further down the open draw there are some fun teams to watch out for in the middle bracket. Zimmer, now a grandmasters team but still full of quality GB players from the mid-2000s that can absolutely still play if the final of EMUCC is anything to go by, are around and will be fascinating. Birmingham are always a tough team, Cambridge have some very good players that have been in the mixed division with their women in recent years so could cause some issues if they are able to cross up and both Manchester Ultimate and Rebel have been top 12 teams at UK tours in the recent past. YCU made Nationals not long ago, so as far down as the late 20s could see teams that eventually break into the top bracket.
Good luck to everyone in managing the wind this weekend. I’ll be playing for Thundering He so feel free to come and tell me how rubbish these pared-down predictions are.