JP Casey, player turned reporter, recounts on the unprecedented proceedings of the weekend.
It’d be easy to sweep the achievements of UCL’s four teams at Sunday’s championship under the rug. For most, dodgeball barely counts as a serious sport outside of the film starring Ben Stiller, and for those who do take the game sincerely, the fact that the Winchester Bullets won literally every prize at the tournament would suggest a rather one-sided day of dodgeball. But with the UCL Pumas reaching a quarter-final, the Panthers losing in the women’s final to Winchester, and both UCL Freshers’ teams playing well, this year’s tournament was an unparalleled success for the club.
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the performance of the women’s team, coming through a tough group featuring two Winchester (if you hadn’t guessed by now, Winchester are kind of amazing) sides to reach a semi-final against the Bedfordshire Bulls. In spite of first-time player Anna being called out for stepping over the ball-return line about seventeen thousand times, catches from Clara and kills from Captain Caoimhe drove the Panthers past the Bulls.
When it came to the final, the Winchester Bullettes’ First team were just too strong. But we shouldn’t feel hard done by, after all the Panthers went head-to-head with a side half-filled with international players (yes, you can play dodgeball at an international level) and none of the games were whitewashes.
The men’s first team fared much worse against Winchester. Despite beating the Bullets third team in their group 9-1, they were whitewashed 10-0 by their Second team. This squeezed the Panthers into the quarter-finals in the lowest-seeded position, and had to face eventual winners and unstoppable dodgeball machine Winchester First’s.
The Panthers had steadily improved throughout their group games, bouncing back from 10-0 and 8-2 drubbings, the latter to the Portsmouth Purple Cobras (named rather narcissistically after the team in the film). Dramatically cutting down on technical infractions and improving team cohesion and discipline, credit must go to former Leicester starter Greg, for holding his own through blocks and catches when it looked like all hope was lost. Even I improved, after eliminating myself twice against Portsmouth for holding onto balls for too long and stepping over lines, I made sure they were my last technical errors of the tournament.
The quarter-final itself was over far too quickly, with the team losing all three games to the Bullets and gracefully bowing out of the tournament to cheer on the women; but for a team including a player playing his first game for the university, one back from a year abroad in Canada, and the epitome of athletic inability that is me, it was a good day.
It was a similar story for the Freshers’ teams, who performed well individually and improved throughout the day, but were unable to turn this into results and progress in the competition. First-time player Will impressed with his throws and discipline in coordinating team-mates to throw multiple balls at the same target, and James made what could arguably be described as the catch of the century, securing a ball thrown with the force of a thunderclap before crashing to the ground like a firefighter leaping from a burning building cradling a wounded puppy. One to tell the grandkids!
The rest of the squads need to work on their cohesiveness and defensive play – particularly blocking and catching when out-numbered. Nevertheless, coached throughout the day by men’s captain John, they were presented with far more positives in their game than negatives, and that optimism showed in their drive and determination.
While the men can slump back to Somers Town sports centre to reflect on their performances and work on their games, the women have a grand final on the 29th of November to look forward to. Their showing on Sunday won them the first dodgeball medals ever earned by a UCL women’s team, and as they play together throughout the year, their future will only become brighter.
Images courtesy of Luke Barrett