U24 Worlds: Everything Aussies Need To Know

The wait is finally over! The World U24 Ultimate Championships is kicking off tomorrow. You’ve seen the player hype posts, the lead-in articles and the team pics from various sunny European locations. But what about the nitty gritty of the tournament play. What is the path through pool play for our hometown heroes and how do these teams measure up to their 2018 iterations?

All that and more to come. But first, let’s lay down a little tournament context to set the mood.

Put simply, our most promising young athletes are in for a real treat. Germany in the summer is one of the most pleasant places on earth. The grass is lush and green, and the rivers flow as cold and freely as it's delicious range of local beers, enjoyed best amidst the dappled sunlight of a suburban biergarten (beer garden). The cold winter snap has thawed and the country comes alive, with locals set on making the most of the good weather. There is a real buzz in the air and I sincerely hope our Australian contingent has the perspective to appreciate it.

Here’s the weather forecast for the next week. Just delightful.

Heidelberg itself is an amazing town. Set on a river, as all good German towns are, Heidelberg has not lost its rustic charm. The cobblestone streets and red roofs hint at a depth of culture only dreamt of in the back alleys of Melbourne’s trendiest neighbourhoods.

Now we’ve set the scene, onto the tournament itself. The tournament will take place over 7 days, with the first being dedicated to the opening ceremony, rest for gameplay. The last day is reserved for grand finals and most teams will be done (and probably hungover) by this point.

Games will be streamed through a confusing array of paid and free sources, across a range of mediums. Ultiworld will be streamed free through Youtube. Fanseat will require a subsciption payment of $10/month, but you can cancel as soon as the tournament is over, so it's a pretty good deal to support streaming of our sport. The finals will be streamed for free via the Olympic channel on Youtube, which is pretty cool for recognition.. You can find the full streaming schedule here. If you're looking for just the Australian games, AFDA has published a handy guide here.

So now armed with that context, here's the outlook for our lads and lassies in green and gold.

Women’s Division – The Stingrays

The path through pool play

The women’s division has the least number of teams involved, with two initial pools of 6 or 12 teams total. Seeded third overall, The Stingrays find themselves second in Pool B behind Canada. Unfortunately, it feels like Pool B is the stronger of the two pools, with more depth in the lower seeds. After the first pools things start to get a bit more cut throat. The Stingrays need to finish top 3 in their pool to progress to the top 6 power pool. Here’s Pool B in full:

  1. Canada

  2. Australia

  3. Japan

  4. Great Britain

  5. Italy

  6. Ireland

Sitting pretty at the top, Canada are likely to hold their seed in Pool B. They usually have a strong flow of talent through their junior ranks, and it’s rare to see them fall lower than a semi finals appearance in most ages and divisions. Japan are usually a nightmare for Australian’s to play against. Ruthlessly efficient with very difficult throws to tight spaces, Japan always seems to find a way to hit a player in a dangerous position. The wind in Perth 2018 stymied the Japan women’s side, but with the weather cooperating, this side could be a real challenge for the Stingrays.

Outside of the top 3 GB and Italy will both provide their own challenges. I’ve been pretty unimpressed with the GB junior development of late (as evidenced by their poor results), but Italy on the other hand has had a booming youth scene and if it’s any indication of strength, their women’s team made the semis of Euros. Ireland come in relatively unknown, but again if there’s much roster crossover with their open age team (which just took gold at Euros), then perhaps this team could come away with some upsets.

Assuming The Stingrays finish top 3 in Pool B, they will progress to a power Pool C with the top 6 teams. If everything goes to seed, this will include USA, Colombia and Germany from Pool A. From here, the top 4 teams will go onto semis and finals, the rest will be scrapping for placement games.

How do they measure up?

As with the men’s side, the 2019 Stingrays are able to hang punch for punch with the 2018 team in terms of athleticism. It’s the big game experience that is going to be the Achilles heel of this team. With very few (if any?) athletes returning from last year’s roster, there’s potential for big moments to get the better of this team. That's not to say their fate is sealed, a cool head and a steady hand at the right times could see them go deep. They will be doing really well to make that top 6 power pool.

Mixed Division – The Bluebottles

The path through pool play

The mixed division is the biggest of the three, with 3 pools of 5 teams and 1 of 6 teams, or 21 teams total. I love the fledgling Ultimate programs from far flung nations that appear in the mixed division. Teams like South Africa (first u24 appearance?) and Mexico are always a pleasure to play against, and bring up the vibe by just being there and loving every second of it.

Keeping the 4th overall seed, The Bluebottles reigning supreme atop of Pool D. They do luck out as Pool D is the only one with a sixth team, meaning an additional game through the legs before moving onto power pools. The upside being that Pool D feels like one of the weaker pools, with Australia being comfortably the strongest team. Here is a full look at Pool D in the mixed division:

  1. Australia

  2. Singapore

  3. Spain

  4. Ireland

  5. Poland

  6. South Africa

With an emerging youth scene that draws inspiration from the Japanese love of the inside break and quick movement, Singapore could challenge the Bluebottles but I expect us to come out top of this pool. I don’t see Spain, Ireland, Poland or South Africa putting up more than 10 points against Australia.

It's power pools where things will get interesting for the Bluebottles. Assuming they hold their top position in Pool D, they will progress into a power pool with Japan, Colombia and Hong Kong (as well as Singapore and Spain but these results carry through). Realistically, the Bluebottles could top this power pool which would give them an amazing run through bracket play.

How do they measure up?

The Bluebottles are the only Aussie team that has maintain, even built, on it's strengths from 2018. Most returning athletes from the 2018 team are back for round two, a testament to my co-editor and head coach, Max Halden's amazing job building the team culture. The 2019 Bluebottles add talent, depth, experience and throwing ability to what was already a very strong unit in 2018. One thing that sets 2019 team apart is an incredibly strong throwing presence from the ladies, who are not afraid to put up some really pretty hucks and more inventive passes to find space. I think this team has the best chance of any to push really deep into bracket play.

Men’s Division – The Goannas

The path through pool play

There are two pools of nine in the men’s division, with the top four in each going onto quarters in the championship bracket. This is both a forgiving and potentially devastating draw for the Goannas. They can suffer losses to the other top 4 teams and still make it through, but a loss to a lower seeded team could spell disaster for our reptilian representatives. Seeded second in Pool B, the Goannas sit below Italy but above Canada and Switzerland in the top 4. Here’s a look at the full pool:

  1. Italy

  2. Australia

  3. Canada

  4. Switzerland

  5. Ireland

  6. New Zealand

  7. China

  8. Russia

  9. Belgium

Inside the top 4, Italy is meant to be a real threat to win and given the low turnover from their 2018 roster (which took the US to universe in impressive fashion) you can imagine this to be true. Canada are always strong and will surely hold a grudge against Goannas for their 15-3 drubbing in 2018. After this I really don’t have much insight to offer. Switzerland will be strong but usually lack depth outside their starting 7-10. Ireland could push Australia and has been really building its youth program over the last few years. But further down the pool, I don’t see any real threats for us.

If everything goes to seed, the Goannas will find themselves in a quarter final against Japan and a semi final against USA. Alternatively, if they drop to third in their pool, they would play Germany in quarters and Italy in semis. This second option seems slightly more favourable for the Goannas, but either way they’ll be doing well to make it past quarters.

How do they measure up?

Last year’s Goannas were a very athletic, experienced batch and while the 2019 team could definitely hang toe to toe for athleticism they perhaps lack the same level field smarts exhibited by the 2018 team. That being said, if the 2019 team can turn down the infamous (destructive?) YOLO tendencies of their 2018 counter parts, they could well see themselves exceeding the results of yester-year. A top 4 finish would be an amazing achievement for this team.