Tuesday Tips: Opening Up Your Vert Stack With The Handler Wrap, Presented By Spin Ultimate

How to get your vertical stack running smoothly with clear backfield movement.

RALEIGH, NC: Tristan Van De Moortele (University of Minnesota #99) during Men’s pre-quarters at the USA Ultimate D-I College Championships. May 27, 2016. Photo: Paul Andris–UltiPhotos.com

Tuesday Tips is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate

Lacking the widely-spaced handlers of a horizontal stack, the traditional vertical stack offense relies heavily on its handler set to move the disc side-to-side and open up new cutting lanes for downfield receivers. Without the ability to generate open handler looks, a vertical stack offense can quickly fall victim to stagnation, as handlers swing the disc without gaining space or power position, or have cutting lanes shut down by poaches.

The handler wrap1 system ensures that everyone on the team knows how to make handler cuts that generate momentum for the offense, and allow the vertical stack to flow back and forth across the field. When this handler set is executed well, the offense should be able to move the disc easily when the stall count creeps higher and turn that reset into a positional advantage by attacking different space on the field. Let’s break down the moves that make this hander set run smoothly.

The Setup

Because the handler wrap is designed to open up throwing lanes to downfield cutters, reset cuts are primarily initiated by the thrower themselves, not the reset handler. At stall four if the disc hasn’t already moved upfield, the thrower should activate their reset by turning towards them and/or making eye contact. This ensures that both players are prepared for the cut and the reset is not blocking any active downfield looks.

There are two main scenarios a handler unit may find themselves in: one with the reset handler set up on the break side and one with the reset trailing in the force side space.

Starting Break Side

The simpler of the two scenarios has the reset handler set up on the break side of the field, ideally about 7-10 yards away from the disc and about even horizontally. From here, the reset can receive an immediate break throw (if the mark or reset handler’s defender is playing loose) or make the more common strike cut.

https://gfycat.com/SparklingClutteredBagworm

Here you can see the 2014 Colorado Mamabird team executing the simple handler wrap nearly flawlessly. After looking upfield for a few counts, 26 activates the reset and delivers an open strike. No cuts develop downfield after the reset makes the catch in power position and the mark clamps back down. The reset handler again makes a strike cut, but this time doesn’t receive the disc. Instead, the third handler in the front of the stack fills the space the off-mark just vacated and catches the around break, opening up further break side movement.

The cyclical nature of this sequence is easily repeatable, if neither cut is open. After the strike cut, if the reset handler doesn’t receive the disc, they should pivot and cut back towards the stack, taking the front position. If the incoming third handler doesn’t receive a break throw, the thrower can signal them with a pump-fake to go upline, making the same strike cut and clearing space for another fill from the front of the stack.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both of the cuts made in this handler set. The strike cut slashes into the forceside, making it hard for the mark to defend, and gives the reset handler momentum downfield to throw a continuation to a cutter immediately. However, it does push the disc horizontally and closer to the force sideline, which can cut down on the available space for cutting:

https://gfycat.com/AmazingOblongIndusriverdolphin

Pittsburgh shows the dangers of repeated strike cuts, as both handlers end up clogging space on the force sideline, making downfield cuts much more difficult and giving defenders easy poaching lanes. The strike throw is simple to complete and gains yards vertically, but sometimes the horizontal loss of yards is not worth it.

The around throw is much more difficult, as the mark is positioned specifically to stop it. Often, the pass will have to be thrown backwards, losing 2-3 vertical yards. However, it moves the disc toward the break side, helping to avoid that constant movement toward the trap sideline, and opens up the break side of the field for continuation cuts, potentially wrong-footing the defense entirely.

Starting Force Side

When the reset handler starts on the forceside of the field, again ideally 7-10 yards away horizontally, they are often left open by their poaching defender, leaving a wide open swing pass. This easy option gives the offense a new stall count as well as leading to a potential give-and-go move, if the thrower immediately cuts strike:

https://gfycat.com/SpitefulRecentFlies

Depending on where the disc and the defender are situated, however, this sequence may not be viable. If the defender of the reset handler is not poaching, or if the movement of the swing-to-strike combination would pin the offense on the force sideline, the around rage cut may be a better option.

https://gfycat.com/RectangularShowyLamprey

After swinging the disc to the center of the field, the Georgia defender starts to drift away from Stanford’s #23. Recognizing this, the reset handler cuts behind the thrower, catching a short easy throw and getting an opportunity to attack the break side of the field. Notice that 23 takes his cut about a yard behind the thrower; not so far that the throw becomes more difficult than a simple flip, but not so close that he crowds the thrower’s space. This throw can also be used when the reset handler’s defender is playing more tightly; if the cut is too well-guarded to get open on the initial cut, a hard stop and cut back out to the force side space should get the reset handler open.

Clearing Out

In a game environment, cutters will often be involved in the handler wrap after catching the disc. Once they are able to get the disc back to a handler using the handle warp motion, they need to know when and how to clear out of the handler space, or things like this happen:

https://gfycat.com/UnhealthySorrowfulBull

Five offensive players plus the thrower in the handler space. Ouch. Not only does that mean no available space to run the handler wrap, it also means there are only two cutters available downfield. The thrower has almost no options for his throw, and ends up tossing a 50-50 deep shot a moment later.

Here’s a better example:

http://gfycat.com/ScholarlyBrilliantHyracotherium

Oregon 8 receives the in-cut, looks up field for a few stalls, activates the handler, throws the around—basic handler wrap stuff. Afterward, he follows back into the handler set so 27 isn’t stranded as the only handler back. Once the disc swings once more however, 8 can see there’s another handler and he doesn’t need to be in the backfield anymore. He clears out to the stack, making sure to stay out of the zone where the thrower is looking so he doesn’t cut off any downfield receivers.

A cutter should be looking to clear out of the handler space as soon as they are able to swing the disc out, as long as they are not leaving the thrower alone in the backfield. If the throw moved the disc to the force side, clearing out is simple: run up the break sideline and rejoin the stack as usual for clearing out cuts. If the swing moved toward break side, the now-clearing cutter needs to be careful and read the flow of offense, so as to avoid cutting of players downfield. If there is an easy continuation break after the swing, the force side of the field should be open for clearing. If the player now holding the disc is looking for cuts in the break space, the cutter looking to clear out should drop a little deeper in the set and drift toward the break side, looking for an opportunity to clear through the non-active side of the field.

(Handler) Wrap Up

This handler set isn’t the only way to run a vertical-stack offense, but it does provide a good foundation for an offense. It is a simple set of cuts to remember, so both primary handlers and cutters will be on the same page. If the reset handler starts on the break side, the first look should be an around break throw. If that is covered by the mark or the thrower is not confident in their around throw, the reset should strike upfield and the front of the stack fill into the handler space. Starting from the other side, the thrower might have a free throw directly to the reset standing on the force side. If the defender is playing tightly, the reset handler can rage cut behind the thrower to attack the break space. Throwers should be sure to activate their resets at stall four by turning to face them and getting eye contact, ensuring there is enough time to get open.

Committing to the handler set will ensure that everyone on the field knows the cuts coming next, helping the disc to flow smoothly side to side and the offense to march downfield with ease.


  1. Editor’s note: this is the author’s term for the recognizable reset pattern. 

  1. AJ Klopfenstein

    AJ Klopfenstein is an Ultimate player and AUDL referee currently residing in Chicago. After beginning his playing career with DePaul University, he has played for the club team Haymaker, helped organize the Ultimate Chicago Sandblast tournament, and joined the ref crew for the Chicago Wildfire. His hobbies include financial software engineering and video game development.

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