Pro Championships 2019: Tournament Preview (Mixed)

Drag’N Thrust’s Erica Baken lays out in the 2019 US Open final. Photo: Daniel Thai —

Ultiworld’s reporting on the Club Mixed division is presented by Universe Point cleats. All opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Universe Point!

The final round of high-level regular season ultimate comes at us this weekend from Philadelphia. The Pro Championships is bringing together the season’s top teams for one last big pre-Series competition, with eight of ten participating mixed teams sitting in the Top 25 of our Power Rankings.

The final bid distribution is still undecided, with Love Tractor fighting for a bid and second order effects lurking for several regions. Meanwhile, elite teams have a chance to find out what adjustments must be made before the postseason. With what looks to be like our first non-extreme weather event for several weeks, check out the pools and brackets and plan to watch a stream! Games may actually happen on schedule this time, and without high winds toppling camera towers or teams forced to wake up at 5:30 am to beat a storm.

Tournament Profile

  • Date: August 31 – September 2
  • Location: Royersford, PA
  • Weather: Clear and sunny, with highs in the low 80s. A chance of showers on Sunday night and Monday morning
  • Top 25 teams: 8
  • Filming Schedule
  • Competition Schedule

The Final Bid Statement

Mixed has a shot at some serious bid reorganization this tournament. When teams pick their schedule in the beginning of the season, they play a risky game in choosing to participate in the last possible tournament. If they had earned themselves a bid earlier in the season, it could easily be lost with a few bad games, bad weather impacts, or unlikely upsets. But if they’re knocking on the door to the rankings, they have nothing to lose by throwing everything they have against the top teams.

Teams of Influence

#16 Denver Love Tractor has given themselves a final chance at redemption. At Pro-Elite Challenge, they put up an impressive run close to home, reaching the final before falling to Seattle Mixtape. But at ESC a month later, missing some key starters, they were upset by Weird, XIST, NOISE, and Toro . Let’s be honest: with the depth and talent they have, it’s hard to imagine they will have as bad a weekend as they did at their last tournament. So they’ll head to Philadelphia thanking their stars for this chance at damage control. A few solid performances against the top tier teams and they should move back into bid contention again. Chances are they’ll play up and secure that crucial second bid for the South Central.

While their bid isn’t quite on chopping block, #13 Durham Toro will be a key player in the bid picture on behalf of teams they’ve previously played. #15 West Chester Loco will be rooting for Toro and against Love Tractor, all in the hope of maintaining a third bid for the Mid-Atlantic. The Durham club has some tough matchups ahead of them in Pool B.

Finally, no. 9 New York XIST and no. 10 New Jersey Jughandle are also in the second order conversation, though likely less so. XIST is connected to Love Tractor, San Francisco Polar Bears, and Florida Weird, three of the first four teams out. Jughandle is also connected to PBR and Love Tractor. If either team goes off with a big weekend, they could cause some cascading effects.

Teams With A Lot To Lose: Snake Country, Space Heater

In addition to Love Tractor, who controls their own destiny, two of last year’s national semifinalists are not yet safe. Despite #7 Boston Snake Country‘s run to semis at the U.S. Open, the Boston team keeps sliding down to a dangerous region of the rankings due to unfavorable out-of-region skirmishes. They don’t yet have a ton of games on their record. A truly terrible weekend for the unpredictable superstar team could bump them out of the top tier and bring down the bids in the Northeast to two, but anything short of a meltdown should be enough to hold on.

So far this season, #9 Washington D.C. Space Heater has played up to the best teams, but can really take breaks or lose focus during their easier matchups. That kind of volatility, set alongside so many hungry lower-ranked teams, could spell disaster for the Mid-Atlantic. Space Heater’s games this weekend have an even higher weight than Snake Country’s, as they carry a lower game total. If they combust in Philadelphia, their position is not strong enough to protect them from a slide.

Walking The Equitable Walk

With the better part of the regular season behind us, we have seen each of these teams compete at a high level, and now have some (perhaps unreliable) stats about who is making the biggest measurable impact on their team. With the recent stat sheet that came out of the Canadian Ultimate Championship getting serious negative attention, it’s clear that high level mixed doesn’t always mean good, equitable, or interesting mixed.

High caliber and top tier mixed teams in USAU tend to talk a lot about their emphasis on working to create equity on and off the field. Will teams who distribute their play and work to develop mixed strategies that work make the top of the list, or will we see a weekend of ‘dudeball’ prevail at the highest level?

Here is a run-down of a few available stats sheets this season, and some expectations on what it may mean in terms of organizing their mixed game.

Philadelphia AMP

#2 Philadelphia AMP has a reputation of balanced mixed play, and it shows up on their stat sheet. Their top goal scorers are an alternating pattern of men and women, suggesting organized and intentional mixed play. Clearly they have an established system that moves the disc to every member of their team. Watch for pull plays that put Linda Morse in the deep space, or endzone plays that isolate Natalie Bova.

Goal leaders from US Open, in order: Anna Thompson, Sean Mott, Natalie Bova, Ryan Flamberg, Linda Morse

Washington DC Space Heater

This powerhouse team formed in 2018 around a core of women’s players, all well known field strategists and play designers. Their assist sheet from US Open tells that story in scores: they move the disc into Jenny Fey’s hands and she finds somewhere perfect to tuck it away in the end zone. The goal scoring stats were more well distributed throughout the team than the assists. The biggest tool in Space Heater’s toolbox, with so many expert throwers and so much trust in all seven players on the field, is their ability to surprise their opponents will a well placed break throw to any open space. With Space Heater, the cross-gender trust and respect is obvious. Watch for surprise throws to players you thought were out of the play.

Goal leaders at US Open: Anthony McLean, Kelly Highland, Georgia Bosscher, Kyle Khalifa
Assists leaders: Jenny Fey (12), Alan Kolick, Patrick Shriwise, Georgia Bosscher.

Boston Snake Country

For all the grumbling about Snake Country looking like an ex-Ironside team and an ex-Brute Squad team that just happen to be going the same way on the same field at the same time,1 their goal-scoring stats are well distributed, with a four-way tie for top honors. Their assists are where they heavily depend on their male players. No women on their O-line broke onto the top list. But watch for the women on Snakes taking advantage of their matchups on defense. This was the only team who had a woman, Chelsea Murphy, top the stat sheet for defense.

Goal leaders at US Open: Jon Cox, Kim Kulpan, Kirsten Lundquist, and Jacob Taylor all tied with seven goals at the US Open.

Minneapolis Drag’N Thrust

#1 Minneapolis Drag’N Thrust‘s stats stood out, showing they’ve been living up to their 2019 equity statement on the scoresheet. They were the only team with more women than men in their top six goal scoring slots. This suggests heavily intentional work to isolate women in the end zone, and practiced discipline from the men on their team to not crowd cutting lanes. The assists were less equally distributed, with men taking up most of the top spots. This suggests a form of play that starts and ends, at every point of structure, with intentional mixed strategy. If given the chance to get cool and collected, they play with their full seven better than any other team. If heavily pressured and rushed, this can break down into fast-paced, opportunistic play and follow fewer of those ‘good mixed’ rules.

Goal Leaders at US Open: Becca Ludford (12), Caleb Denecour, Brian Schoenrock, Claire Thalon, Kat Ritzmann, Sarah Meckstroth

Fort Collins shame.

We haven’t seen much from #8 Fort Collins shame. this season, just a good first appearance early in the season at Pro-Elite Challenge. The stats from that tournament were a little thin, but paint a picture of a team that distributes scoring opportunities well but depend heavily on the skills of their top male throwers. The biggest impact seems to becoming from Nicholas Snuszka, who topped the charts with eight assists and several blocks.

Equitable Impressions

With no reliable or significant stats available from Slow White, Toro, XIST, or Jughandle, it’s hard to tell what they will favor this weekend. But reports from ESC suggested that Slow White tends to choose a line of 4 men to 3 women, relying on superstar Tannor Johnson to initiate and dominate the team’s flow. Toro depends on their athletic women to create deep opportunities for the team, and have designed their flow to take advantage of that strength. Jughandle has always had a reputation of playing a well-distributed game, as well as two gender savvy coaches (Judy Jarvis and Zara Cadoux) working to make an equitable experience for their players. Their movement on the field this year still suggests they are looking to make space for their strong women cutters.

  1. They also have a sizable ex-Slow White contingent, but that seems to fly under the radar. 

  1. Karoline Hart
    Karoline Hart

    Karoline Hart runs a small vegetable farm in upstate New York. That really should be enough physical activity for anyone. But with a lifelong passion for sports, she makes time in her summer to play as much ultimate as possible. She most recently played the 2018 season with Boston Snake Country and is helping form a women’s team, Rebel Rebel, in Upstate New York this summer. She hopes to spend this summer learning how to create engaging sports narratives so she can use those skills to draw attention to the unseen and underrepresented members of this sport.

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