What's happened ahead of Euros this weekend?
September 28, 2023 by Sean Colfer in Preview with 0 comments
This season has been full of twists and turns, and there have been some significant upsets in the last month or so. With the European Ultimate Championships1 in the middle of the season this point in the cycle is always a bit chaotic but the break seems to have given some teams new life while others are still searching for their best form. Here’s what’s happened in the buildup to Europe’s showpiece event.
Clapham’s streak is gone
London’s Clapham, the third-best open team in the world based on last year’s WUCC results, had won every UK Nationals title this millennium. 21 titles up for grabs, 21 titles secured. They mostly hadn’t been particularly close, with a 12-10 win over Chevron (Nuneaton) in 2016 the last time the result was in question late in the second half. This season, though, has been a bit more of a struggle for the Bullfrogs than they’re used to.
Following on from the disappointing end to a brilliant season when they lost to Ranelagh (Dublin) in last year’s EUCF final, they have suffered a heavy defeat to Mooncatchers (Brussels) in the Elite Invite final, fell to a France team they had earlier beaten in the semis at Windmill and had generally seemed a little off their best. They still had good results, though, beating La Fotta (Bologna) convincingly at Elite Invite and Mooncatchers at Windmill.
Chevron, on the other hand, had never won a national title and there was little beforehand to suggest that this team would fare much differently. Once the final started it was evident that whatever nerves, uncertainty or inferiority complexes that might previously have been a factor were not part of the equation. A slightly messy game from both teams offensively, the difference was Chevron’s defensive pressure and ability to execute clean breaks. They took an 8-6 lead into half but Clapham pulled back in, going ahead 10-11 after a comeback that seemed extremely familiar. Some spectators left at that point, assuming that Clapham would do what Clapham have always done and pull away late in the contest.
Not this time. Chevron broke back, took a lead and never gave it away again. A universe-point win, fuelled by the young stars like Ethan Morrell and Andy Sweetnam that have been nurtured for the last few years, was their reward, and the Chevron squad celebrated wildly when it was achieved. Clapham have some questions to work out, and go into EUCF showing vulnerability we haven’t seen in two decades. This squad is still as deep as any outside the USA and features players who have won almost everything in the game. They’ll still be a factor, but will they be able to find the answers they need? Can Chevron use this as a springboard and win Euros for the first time since 2009?
Ranelagh fall too
Not to be outdone, last year’s David to Clapham’s Goliath also experienced their own giant-killing. Ranelagh went into Irish Nationals as heavy favorites in the open division, with the expectation that both titles would stay in Dublin as Dublin Gravity took down the women’s trophy. The GraviGals held their end of that bargain, but the route back to Dublin took in an unexpected stop for the open prize: XVI, a team made up of friends who have played together for years, defeated the Laghds in an exciting final.
XVI were bolstered by the re-addition of founding member Jack MacNamara, an Irish mixed player who was a key part of Ranelagh’s EUCF win last season. Alongside McNamara was a strong roster of players with excellent chemistry, with Ciaran Costello and Conor Selkirk both crucial in their big wins.
The weather in Limerick was actually excellent2 which seemed to play into XVI’s hands, with their deep game working beautifully for much of the contest. A slight wobble out of half gave Ranelagh an opportunity to get back into things but the reigning champions couldn’t execute on a break that would have reduced the three-point halftime deficit to 11-10. XVI kept a two-point buffer until late in the game, when Stephen Jones made an acrobatic block in his own endzone and then threw deep for Sam Murphy, who got the assist to make it 13-12 in a game to 14.
Despite Ranelagh’s best efforts from a strong D-line, they couldn’t get the disc back. Costello made an excellent diving save but otherwise XVI ground out yards with a well-drilled dump set and scored with a handler cut to the front cone. The team celebrated as wildly as Chevron had done days beforehand as they too celebrated their first national championship.
East Block reign in the east
While not as much of a surprise as the two previous wins, it’s notable that East Block won the Czech title for the first time this season as well. The young team from eastern Bohemia has been playing seemingly at every tournament this season and features some exciting players that have already become central to Cezch ultimate. Kristýna Tlustá is the headliner but Lucie Vávrová, Tereza Havelcová and Barbora Hrušáková are also stars in the making.
3SB (České Budějovice) have become a fixture at the top of European ultimate in the last few seasons and stood in the way. While they have lost some players in recent years, including the Tosnerova sisters Rachel and Sarah, they still boasted some very strong players like EUC bronze medallists with the Czech women Tereza Mrázová, Hermína Ottová and Ivana Sartoriusová.
The teams traded for the first part of the game, reaching 7-6 to East Block with no breaks of serve. From there, the contenders took the initiative with a break to take half and went on to win 14-11. East Block is one of the teams everyone in Europe is paying attention to, with some tipping them to make a deep run in Wroclaw. Winning their first national title is a good way to warm up for the tournament.
Strange year for French clubs
French ultimate is, overall, in a very healthy place. Silver medals in both European under-17 open and women’s last season along with silvers at under-20 worlds in the same division, alongside European under-20 women’s gold and open silver this year show that the pipeline of talent is very strong. A dominant mixed gold at EUC shows that their best is also capable of competing with anyone, but relatively disappointing outings in open (fifth) and women’s (sixth), EUC was something of a mixed bag.
The club teams have been on the next level down from true contenders in open for some time. Tchac (Pornichet) and Iznogood (Noisy-le-Sec) have each reached EUCF annually and compete for quarters places, but not much beyond that. Mixed has been very up and down for France, with YAKA (Noisy-le-Sec) carrying the weight for the club game (and doing so admirably). This season, though, Sesquidistus (Strasbourg) returned with a strong roster and did well at Elite Invite.
The EUCR qualified for EUCF saw several upsets, none more so than both Sesqui and Izno failing to make it to Wroclaw. Izno lost two universe-point games in the pool, to Red Bulls (Bologna) and Panthers (Bern), putting them in a pool with La Fotta and Solebang (Zug). Finishing second there put them in a placement game with young Italians Cotarica Grandes (Rimini) for fourth place and a spot in Wroclaw. A surprising 11-7 loss to the Italians left Izno out of the party in Poland.
Sesqui had an even more heartbreaking loss to miss out. They beat fellow French team Manchots (Mans) 14-13 in the semi and went on to face Monkey (Grenoble), who had beaten FucZH (Zurich) 15-10 in an easier contest. Monkey went on to win the region 13-12, sending Sesqui into a game to go against… Manchots, who had beaten the Swiss 14-9. Another gruelling, drag-out game for Sesqui ended 12-11 to Manchots, sending them to Euros and leaving Sesqui out in the cold. Having to play three tight games in one day in what was brutal heat in Strasbourg may well stick in the throats of the local team.
Semifinalists to also-rans
Heidees (Eppelheim) made a surprise run to the semis at EUCF last season, defeating Wall City (Berlin) 14-11 in the quarters before falling to eventual champs Ranelagh and then La Fotta in the bronze medal game. The squad went through some changes this season, losing some players, and lost tough games to Wall City (15-10) and Gentle (Ghent, 15-14) in the pool at qualifiers. That put them in a lower power pool, which they topped, and on to a difficult game to go against KFK (Copenhagen). KFK feature seven players from Carleton CUT including USA under-24 Declan Miller and beat the Germans 14-12 to secure a spot at Euros.
The women’s side of Heidees had more joy, also taking out a German EUCF semifinalist from last season. Seagulls beat jinX in the quarters last year to make their own surprise appearance in the final four. They also finished fourth after losses to YAKA and Bristol. The roster this year had several German national players but they came up against tough competition in the pool, losing to JetSet LUV (Leuven) before losing to Mooncup (Brussels) in the semis and then JetSet LUV again in the third-place game to push them into the game to go, where they lost 15-9 to Heidees. Several Seagulls players have shifted to Heidees for EUCF so we’ll still see players like Magdalena and Lisa Schütz in Wroclaw.
Last year’s mixed finalists walk different paths
GRUT (Amsterdam) defeated Reading in the EUCF final on universe point last year, an instant classic game packed with huge, highlight-reel plays. The teams appeared, early this season, to be on a collision course for a repeat of that game. While GRUT faltered slightly at Elite Invite because of numbers, Reading won the tournament and with their full squad looked imperious.
GRUT had to qualify for EUCF via the regional qualifiers after not making the final of Elite Invite and look to be close to their best despite missing star Ben Oort as he continues to play in Washington DC with Truck Stop. In his absence handlers like Tom Blasman and Anne Minnaard have taken on bigger roles and the team has dealt with every challenge excellently. They are the favorites for the title.
Reading, on the other hand, have had a tougher go of things. They came into UK Nationals as favorites but lost in the semis to Deep Space (London), conceding a 6-2 run either side of half to lose 12-8 in a game they seemed to have the upper hand in. The offense struggled to generate consistent movement under intense pressure from their opponents, and they went into the third-place game where they lost to three-time UK champions SMOG (Durham). A fourth-place finish was unexpected and leaves Reading slightly difficult to read for EUCF. They will be without some key O-line players due to injury, including GB players Molly Wedge and Helen Roberts and Irish handler Conor Hogan. The rest of the roster has enough talent to make it back to the final, especially with talisman Mark Bignal joining the mixed arm of the club for the first time this season, but their last few weeks have put more of a question mark on whether they will do so.
This is the national team European championships that took place in July. EUCF is for clubs. ↩
No, it really was this time! ↩