Well, what a year!
Now that our last tournament of the year is done, it’s time to relax and enjoy Christmas before we go again for next year. So I’m going to take this opportunity to remember where we were last year and everything that has happened since in the world of Birmingham Ultimate…
At Christmas last year, starting just our second competitive season, we had – a couple of weeks earlier – qualified for ‘Division 2’ of Open Indoor Nationals and were planning our first foray into Mixed Tour in the 2014 outdoor season.
We started the year with a few warm up tournaments, juggling indoor and outdoor events in an attempt to prepare for both indoor nationals and the outdoor season. Managing to win both an indoor and outdoor event in Nottingham, it seemed like preparations were going well. But Open Indoor Nationals was a step up!
We started seeded 13th after coming 3rd at Regionals and although it took us a few games to get used to the gigantic pitches at the impressive London venue, once we got going we played some really nice stuff and used the pitch size to our advantage. We squeezed out a few really close games (I think the last 3 were all sudden death?!) to finish 9th and win what should have been Plate… #PlateNoPlate
Next up for us was Mixed Indoor Nationals in Sheffield. After a bit of confusion as to whether we’d got a spot or not, we pulled a team together and went with no real expectations of how we could do. Turns out, not too badly at all! We went in seeded 20th as we were new to mixed, but battled our way up to finish 7th – taking the eventual winners to sudden death along the way in a point that seemed to last forever.
After these indoor successes we moved into our first Mixed Tour season looking good, and wanting to take our good form outdoors. At Mixed Tour 1 in Cardiff we started towards the bottom of the seedings in 33rd, playing most of the weekend to defend our place and only getting one shot to move up the rankings. We only lost one game all weekend; unfortunately it happened to be the one that would have moved us up into the top 32. So we played out to finish where we’d started at 33rd.
Mixed Tour 2 in Nottingham gave us a bit more of a chance to move up and we took it, again only losing one game (this time in our Pool) to finish 21st and unknowingly win ourselves the Plate! #ActualPlate
The Mixed Tour finale in Cheltenham came round quickly and we again went on a roll, losing (you guessed it) one game. The game we lost did prevent us making it into the top 16, but we finished strong and made our way to the 17v18 game. This last game went all the way to sudden death – where Ben made the call for us to play our first point of zone D. Two passes later we got the turnover and worked it in to score, finish 17th and cap a great Mixed Tour debut – finishing 23rd overall.
The focus for the club then switched to Open Tour, where we were looking to build on a strong first year with the primary aim being to cement our place in B Tour that we had earned in 2013.
Things got off to a great start when we very unexpectedly got an invite to Fog Lane Cup – an invite only tournament organised by Chevron to act as a warm up for the top Open teams around. This gave us a chance to play against some of the best teams in the country and see how we measured up. In our first game, against Chevvy, it was clear that we’d never played at this level, and it looked like we knew it. If anything, we gave them too much respect. We made things difficult for ourselves and made their jobs easier.
But once we got over the initial awe of playing this sort of level we improved quickly, putting in good performances and pushing some really good teams really hard. We showed that we have the potential to play at a high level and we finished in an incredible 5th!
So, going into Open Tour 1 we were looking to try and push ourselves up towards the top of B Tour, but we started seeded 15th (31st overall, excluding international teams). We made a decent start, finishing 2nd in our pool after a close loss to Pelt (13-15) after being 7-11 down and bringing it back to 13-14. On day 2 we won the 1v8 game to get up into the top 4, before losing our semi-final to Leeds, setting up a rematch with Pelt for 3rd and promotion to A Tour. Instead of giving them a big head start this time we played well from the outset and took the game away to get ourselves promoted at the first attempt!
Open Tour 2 provided our first taste of A Tour, and showed us how any weaknesses or mistakes will be exploited more than at the levels below. In our first game we started really slow and went down 0-6. After fighting hard to bring it back to 6-6, we let off again and went on to lose – with a similar pattern to the next game as well. We did manage to win our first A Tour game in the final group game, but the lack of crossovers at Tour 2 meant that we were fighting to stay in A Tour on the Sunday. Winning a Tour 1 rematch with Leeds got us to the ‘game-not-to-get-relegated’, but we couldn’t manage the consistency needed to beat a good DED team, finishing 14th.
Luckily for us, there were some dropouts around us for Open Tour 3 so we kept our A Tour position to begin with – but with in-tournament promotion/relegation in effect at Tour 3 we would have to fight to hold onto it come the end of the weekend. We started with three losses in our pool giving us a crossover with Fire 2 who were looking to take our spot in A. But we fought them off to win the game and stay up, before going on to win again to set up a rematch win DED. However, again they won and again we finished 14th.
Unlike last season we also managed to field a second team at every Open Tour event, which is pretty good going for a club that have only been going 2 years. With a relatively consistent core of players we managed strong finishes in C Tour, coming in 18th, 14th and 15th over the three events! It is definitely a target for us next year to continue this progression of both teams; we’ve got the foundations to do so here.
The overall results from all 3 tours placed us in 15th and 45th so with any luck we should be starting in A Tour at the beginning of this coming season!
Once the tour season was done, focus moved to Outdoor Regionals that we hosted again in Birmingham. After making Outdoor Nationals last year and making it into A Tour this season we were looking to build on that by making Nationals again, needing a top 3 finish to do so. Coming in as 3rd seeds from the Tour rankings we were in a relatively tough group along with the fourth seeds, JR. In an intense and hard fought game we lost out in sudden death which meant we got a harder crossover to make it into the top 4. In said crossover, we never got going, dropping the first half 7-1. The shorter games at regionals didn’t allow our comeback to fully materialise and before we could pull it back, the game was over and we were out of contention for a nationals spot. We won the consolation game to at least finish 5th, but it was a little disappointing after such a good Tour season to go out like we did.
However, failure to qualify for Open Nationals opened another opportunity… After our good debut at Mixed Tour earlier in the year, we regrouped and sent our strongest mixed team of the year to Mixed Nationals in Southampton. The field was slightly weaker than previous years after Worlds earlier in 2014, but there were still teams present who had been near the top of the Mixed Tour rankings all season. Another hotly contested game against JR (that we managed to win this time), a thrashing by Brighton and a win against ABH later, we were in the semi-final, one win away from EUCF qualification! In our best game of the weekend we started really strong and kept it going throughout to win and make it to the final, but more importantly – in our first season in the mixed division – we had qualified to play at Euros; an unbelievable achievement for the club!
In a scrappy final, things weren’t looking too good for us, down 13-11. But we managed to take advantage of a few turnovers and all of a sudden we had won 15-13 and were Mixed National Champions 2014! In-credible!
So, EUCF in Frankfurt and yet more uncharted territory for most of us. We got a bit of a lesson in the early games, any mistakes were swiftly converted and we repeatedly found ourselves chasing games. We fell to five straight losses and bottom of our group, setting up a rematch from UKU Nationals. Again we played well and took a good win forward to our last game, a rematch from our pool the day before. Determined to beat a European team and show that we could play at this level we came out ready and played the kind of game we’d been after earlier in the tournament. Taking a decisive win and with it 9th place.
Since the dizzying heights of Euros we’ve played a few indoor tournaments and Indoor Regionals is almost upon us again. Before we know it Tour will be here, we’ve already started our preparations with some outdoor trainings, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to remember what a great year we’ve had, and here’s to more of the same next year!