JP Casey gives us the low-down on the Dodgeball Club’s performance at the University Championships quarter-finals.
The UCLU Dodgeball Club impressed in their first tournament of the season, the annual University Championships held in Birmingham. Both male and female teams reached the quarter-finals of their respective sections, and with a total of thirteen first-time dodgeball players representing the university, the club is in a strong position for the remainder of the year.
Three male teams, the UCL Pumas, entered the fray on Sunday. The firsts emerged from their group in second place, chalking up an impressive 10-0 whitewash over a Lincoln side. Veteran catcher Zak Jolly made several key grabs, and ended the tournament with six catches. Captain Ed Barrett, determined not to be outdone, secured six catches of his own, including a spectacular mid-air catch of the legendary Steve, an Imperial player with a throw feared by many in the world of dodgeball. His heroism made amends for his yellow card in the first game for arguing with an official, forcing the team to play a few games shorthanded. Ultimately, the firsts lost 1-3 to that Imperial side in the round of sixteen, but the aggressiveness of thrower Zainne, catching of President Luke, who also caught one of Steve’s throws, and play of first-time player Ewan has left the firsts with a number of positives to take into league play after Christmas.
The seconds and thirds, meanwhile, failed to qualify from their four-team groups, finishing third and fourth respectively. However, they were then entered into the plate competition, for sides who didn’t escape their groups, and played well in this second competition. The seconds chalked up a 6-4 win in the group over Imperial, the throwing of Vice-Captain Cameron and Ed Brown a particular highlight. The two UCL teams then met in the round of sixteen in the plate, a game which the seconds won 3-0. A notable weakness in the side was their lack of confidence in catching, finishing the day with just two catches as a team; centres Nabil and Matt were skilled dodgers and so could remain in games for their duration, yet were unable to secure the catches necessary to thin the opposing ranks. As a result, many games ended with Cameron or skipper Jimmy facing four or five opponents, and being unable to turn the tide. The seconds fell to a Lincoln side in the plate quarter-finals by a score of 1-3, as Lincoln took advantage of the side’s fatigue to progress to the semis.
The thirds, a team exclusively comprising first-time dodgeballers, played admirably, losing their first two group games 0-10 before rallying to earn a tough 5-5 draw with Lincoln in their final group game. Toby deserves particular credit for his continuously fiery play, orchestrating the rest of his team and boldly jumping into a second team game when I went down with a back injury and missed two sets. Mohamed threw admirably throughout the games, and Quazi dodged and dived all over the court, often being the last player standing. Thrower James played out of his skin throughout the day, executing a subline pre-throw drop-cathc combination against Lincoln that brought a tear to the eye of Luke on the sidelines, and dragged the thirds back into the match. He also fired a savage headshot to an overly aggressive Lincoln player, who put off the Pumas throwers through fakes and pre-throws, to the rapturous applause of the UCL sideline. The throwing of Captain Jack and sweeping of catcher Calin encapsulated the side’s passion and bode well for the future of the club.
The university’s female teams, the Panthers, also reached the knock-out stages of their competitions on Saturday. Following the graduation of several first-team players last year, the firsts fielded first-year student Mary who, despite her limited experience, impressed through accurate throwing and resilience, as she also played for the second team to ensure each side had a full complement of six players. Fifth-year thrower Holly secured an impressive hit on a Leicester thrower dubbed ‘cheeky’ by Captain Vicky, and Jasmine started what would become a weekend of UCL headshots with an accurate shot to a Sheffield player in the group stage. Both of these experienced players led by example on the court, and set the tone for the side’s march to the quarter-finals, that included a 10-0 whitewash of Nottingham. Returning players Georgia and Deepa made strings of catches that pushed the Panthers into the knock-out stages, and delighted Ed on the sidelines, who had braved the journey up north to support the women, making him, to my knowledge, the club’s first simultaneous captain and cheerleader. The firsts ultimately lost to the Leicester firsts in the quarter-finals, providing further evidence to my theory that Leicester is a university that only plays dodgeball, rather than doing any actual teaching.
The seconds played in an eerily similar manner: catching effectively, throwing uncatchable balls, and ultimately losing to a team beginning with L, losing to Lincoln in the plate quarter-finals, and helping to spark what looks like a great UCL-Lincoln dodgeball rivalry in the making. First-time players Meg, Ellie and Yoko impressed with their catching, Meg recording a game-changing grab against Winchester, and Yoko hauling in throws despite playing with broken fingers; Ellie also deserves credit for her dodging against a strong Birmingham firsts side in the group. More experienced players Miriam and Zainab led the way, playing smart by keeping throws low and dodging effectively. While the team excelled in individual phases of the game, they are yet to fully combine these elements: the wings have demonstrated great skill in throwing, but not yet catching, and the centres have done the opposite. But with the Panthers playing league dodgeball for the first time in their history, and non-league tournaments scattered throughout the calendar, there will be plenty of opportunities for these players to develop, and bring more success to UCLU dodgeball.
This was a weekend of lessons learned and hope reinforced for the club. Following the delay and last-minute restructuring of the tournament to remove the freshers-only category, and a gruelling three-hour journey up to Birmingham, all five teams bounced back brightly. While the teams were hampered by discoordination and inexperience, these are issues that will be ironed out over time, and the enthusiasm and game awareness of all five teams offers a lot of hope for the remainder of the season, and the future of the club.
Featured image: JP Casey