The female Panthers are looking to climb the league table, while the male Pumas’ new blood get a taste of the action.
All three of UCL’s teams were in action this weekend, and looked to build on their league debuts last week, each with a trio of tough games. The male first team, the Pumas I, suffered 1-13 and 4-10 defeats against the Birmingham Lions Is and IIs, strong squads that sit second and sixth respectively in the ten-team University Premier League.
Captain Ed Barrett commented on the team’s lack of an elite thrower – the team boasts wingers such as Ed Brown that can throw a 58mph, but none that can crack 60 – which made it hard for the Pumas to close out tight games, and keep in touch in more one-sided matches. While the team recorded a stunning 23 catches over the weekend’s three games, including a heroic five-catch frame from the captain against Warwick II, a close match that ended 6-8 against the Pumas, their prowess in catching alone was not enough to secure any victories this weekend.
The team continued to field relatively inexperienced players, with three of the six starters playing their first year of dodgeball, and first-year student Toby Bennett playing at centre following a promotion from the Pumas II. These players are undoubtedly individually talented – winger James Baker impressed with counters, as did Zainne Bilgrami with his catches, clearly buoyed by his recent promotion to the glamorous role of vice-captain – yet lacked the experience and cohesiveness of their opponents to consistently secure hits and control games. The first team sit ninth after a third of the season gone, a comfortable ten points ahead of bottom side Winchester Bullets II.
The Pumas II scored their first points of the campaign, vastly improving from their three 0-14 whitewashes a fortnight ago to secure a draw against UEA II and scoring defeats against two strong Southampton sides. Captain Jimmy Grayburn returned to the wing, and brought stability and experience to a side boasting four first-year dodgeballers. He worked well with centre Nabil Ahsan, and Mohammad Afifi and Calin Pantea, a pair of first-year players on the wing and centre respectively, continued their impressive campaigns.
However, the squad suffered from similar problems as the first team, namely the lack of an elite thrower. With several skilled centres, and wingers able to catch, such as Afifi who demonstrated his skills in securing a wonder catch against UEA II, the Pumas II are comfortable playing from behind, yet must ensure they do not only play from behind. Both Southampton scores, 3-11, were the result of the team letting matches get away from them, and settling for draws when they were unable to consistently eliminate opposing players.
The team’s enthusiasm was not dented, however; enough players were fielded to have a strong bench for the second week in a row, and Toby Bennett, perhaps feeling nostalgic for the rose-tinted glory days of his time in the second team, a full fortnight ago, arrived in full kit to support his club-mates. The Pumas II sit bottom of the University League One South, only three points adrift of the Southampton Pirates IIs.
For the second consecutive week, the club’s female team, the Panthers, scored the most points on the weekend. The side were brave in a 3-11 defeat to London Storm, who sit atop the National League One South undefeated, but rallied to draw 7-7 with the Portsmouth Queen Cobras, and defeat the UEA Falcons 10-4 in an explosive fixture in which both teams were backed by their male counterparts, and secured bragging rights for the Panthers for the next few weeks.
As ever, the team’s catching was superlative, with Miriam Forner and Mary Höfer ensuring the team didn’t fall behind numerically. The team is also starting to reap the rewards of consistently playing together; while both Pumas teams have been affected by players’ absences and inexperience across the board, the Panthers have been able to field a similar starting, and experienced, six. Captain Vicky Miller and Holly Theaker, for instance, were able to unleash a series of successful pre-throw and catch combinations, keeping their opponents off-balance, and ensuring that the Panthers were able to exert some control over the flow of matches, despite their strengths being in catching as opposed to throwing.
Meg Russell-Redman also made her competitive debut for the team, and drew praise for her throwing from the centre, demonstrating the flexibility of the Panthers’ setup that allows newer players to slot into the starting six without disrupting the rhythm of the team. The Panthers are fifth in their eight-team league, but are looking upwards, being a clear nine points ahead of UEA in sixth, but only four behind Winchester Is in third.
Additional reporting by Holly Theaker
Image credit: Ed Barrett and Holly Theaker