Doing our best to lay out the known knowns in a season with plenty of unknown unknowns.
July 9, 2021 by Steve Sullivan, Graham Gerhart, Lindsay Soo, Scott Dunham, Ben Murphy, Mags Colvett, Luca Serio and Alex Rubin in Preview with 0 comments
Previewing a new club season is always a monumental task, checking in with programs across the country to see how their squads are shaping up and what their prospects look like for the summer ahead. In 2021, even that is a total crapshoot. Rosters? Schedules? Expectations? Most teams still don’t have a firm handle on these things yet as the calendar flips to July. Stalwart programs are piecing together whether or how they’ll even compete in a regular season. Major TCT events are being revamped and inviting teams far beyond the traditional powerhouses. Players have the freedom to freely move between rosters and divisions throughout the summer so we may not have a clear picture of the competitive landscape until Series rosters are finalized in the fall. As we head into a season perhaps unlike any we’ve seen before, the one thing we know for certain is that we should be ready to expect the unexpected.
For now, we’ll do our best to share what we’ve learned so far as the regular season kicks off in earnest this weekend in Denver with the Pro-Elite Challenge.
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Where will the roster merry-go-round stop?
The relaxed roster rules and tournament requirements laid out by USAU for the upcoming club season have largely been well received by a community that has long complained about guidelines feeling too rigid. Furthermore, with Nationals bids already allocated and no rankings points to earn, it seems a number of players and teams are already adopting a “Woohoo-no-parents!” mindset when it comes to where and with whom they’ll play in 2021.
While this phenomenon may not be division-specific, it will almost certainly be most pronounced in mixed. Players who traditionally compete in the split-gender divisions may see this strange year as the perfect opportunity to cross the divisional rubicon. Some whose teams have been slow to get their seasons underway may choose to suit up with a nearby squad — even in another division — just to get some reps before their team is operating at full speed. Others, from all divisions, that were leaning toward retirement may accept invitations to mess around with a coed cohort of old friends for a random weekend rather than sit 2021 out completely.
We’re already seeing it. A host of top stars on the East Coast competed with Frankenstein’d mixed squads at the Richmond Cup. Intriguing names dot random teams signed up for the Pro-Elite Challenge this weekend. This preview is littered with news and rumors about All-Club level talents signing on to WUCC-bid-hunting programs. The top two voter-getters for the 2019 women’s division Player of the Year are both currently on North Central mixed rosters — neither of which with Drag’n Thrust. Which of these are real, permanent moves that division bluebloods need to start game-planning for? Who knows!
It seems unlikely that all of these pickups will last into the Series — nevermind beyond 2021 — but in the meantime, teams and players also may not be too quick to point out what’s just a one-off occurrence. Whether as competitive head-fakes toward quivering opponents or because people genuinely don’t know yet what they’ll want to do come fall, we may not see final rosters for a slew of competitive mixed squads until the deadline in September. And who knows, if individuals find they enjoy their swapped allegiance or random collections of players find success at regular season tournaments, maybe they convince themselves to give it a real go in the Series in hopes of landing a trip to Nationals or even a WUCC bid.
So buckle up, sports fans. While players and teams may rejoice in their newfound freedom, it might be dizzying whack-a-mole for fans and media to make sense of season narratives amidst a constantly shifting mixed landscape.
Catching the Local
In another side effect of USAU easing the requirements around TCT participation, we’re already seeing teams become increasingly picky with the tournaments they’re choosing to play. For most of the division, this has come in the form of more local tournaments and fewer coast-to-coast1 trips. That’s the case even for elite teams, but it also means they can be more picky with the competition they want to face. This makes it all the more valuable when an elite team hosts their own tournament in an accessible location.
Historically, TCT tournament sites have been set in locations that prioritize field space and accessibility for teams across the country, which in turn sets them in locations that aren’t actually ideal for the majority of attendees, being in the center of the country and farther from metropolitan areas. This is not the case for the revived Philly Invite or new Spokane Mixed Ultimate Tournament (SMUT).
In 2019, six of the mixed teams that went to Nationals were within a five-hour drive of Philadelphia, and an additional six more finished their seasons inside the top 40. It’s a similar story on the other side of the country, where four teams with recent Nationals appearances are clustered in the Pacific Northwest, along with a strong second-tier of regional challengers between Washington and Big Sky. In both cases, that’s nearly a full tournament’s worth of top-end talent if they all attend, and even if only a handful do, it’s an enticing enough draw that other teams from farther afield would potentially want to make the trek.
These two events are likely to be among the best-attended tournaments by some of the strongest competition in the country for teams looking to test themselves against each other before the Series. Considering how few tournaments most teams will play before the postseason, the Philly Invite (on August 7-8) and SMUT (on August 21-22) loom large as some of the most critical mixed events on the club calendar. USA Ultimate’s tentpole events might not be as flush with top competition.
This season will be filled with surprises, but don’t expect the top teams to stray very far from home.
Another Reshuffle in Boston
For most of the last decade, Boston has consistently fielded at least three teams that ranked inside the top 20 in the nation, often heading to Nationals as a group that had spent all summer waging constant battle and sharpening each other for an assault on the rest of the field. It worked, as prior to a down year in 2019, Boston had placed at least one mixed squad in the semis in each of the previous six seasons. The city has even qualified programs for every WUCC since 2006 — a feat matched by no other metropolis in these United States.
But that doesn’t mean the scene has always been stable. Every few years the team list and pecking order would shuffle, as different factions within and outside the elite programs splintered and reformed in new alignments. Slow White, Quiet Coyote, Wild Card, The Ghosts, Snake Country — all Boston area programs that earned a place in the semifinals at some point in the past decade.2 But after the disappointing showing in 2019, it seems 2021 will be another year of turmoil in Beantown, putting their WUCC streak in serious danger.
Initially announced ahead of the doomed 2020 season, Sprocket has siphoned away a core of young players from Slow, including all-world talent Tannor Johnson, his equally imposing sister Tess, Team Canada’s Brett Tan, college champ Caitlin Go, and others. They may not yet be realistic contenders for a national semifinal spot like some of their Boston predecessors, but there is more than enough talent here to immediately slide in near the top of the city’s pecking order in 2021.
In the wake of that announcement, the other big Boston news of the offseason was that longtime adversaries Slow and Wild Card explored a merger. Having both seen a sizeable portion of their rosters decamp to retirement or new opportunities, it seemed like a chance to put to rest a decade of rivalry to consolidate their remaining talent. But the programs were unable to reach an agreement on a shared vision or path forward together and will once again strike out on their own.
Meanwhile, Snake Country dissolved after just a two-year run, leaving a slew of experienced players untethered and ready to be claimed by other programs. It appears Slow has been the primary beneficiary, repatriating nearly half a dozen prodigal players who started their club careers with the city’s longest tenured program, as well as adding a few new pieces from the now defunct Snakes. Talented for sure, but there’s no denying that many of those players are rather long in the tooth. Will they be enough to return Slow to bracket contention in San Diego?
With only a handful of surefire returners, Wild Card are almost certainly in rebuild mode. They’re still sifting through the ashes and awaiting the final decisions from Brute Squad and DiG to see who else might come available to fill out a roster, but they will count themselves lucky to find their way back to Nationals, nevermind semifinals contention.
Even beyond these big-name programs, there are massively skilled players dotting other rosters across the metro area — for example, three members of the Boston Glory are signed on to nearby Mansfield Darkwing3 — further diluting the available talent pool.
While some cities are consolidating talent for a Worlds qualifying year, Boston is going the other direction and further splintering an already diffuse mixed scene. Somehow this has worked out for Boston in the past, and they will be hoping it does so again.
Breakout Players To Watch
Typically in our club season previews, we highlight the big-name stars who will likely end the year challenging for major award honors. This season, we’re calling your attention to some slightly lesser-known players that we think are ready to make a leap and leave their imprint on the season. Expect to see these names dotting tournament recaps as the season goes along.
Ashleigh Buch (Washington DC Space Heater)
For too long, Ashleigh Buch has been largely an ultimate unknown — that tends to happen when toiling away in flyover country, far from a major ultimate hub. During her time playing college in Iowa and then club with Kansas City Wicked, Buch earned scant attention in the ultimate media — a few mentions related to her work on USAU’s transgender inclusion policies and some brief references about her strong play at PAUC 2019. That anonymity is going to disappear in 2021 now that Buch has landed a spot with Space Heater in Washington, DC. For anyone who has seen her play, it was only a matter of time.
A USAU Live Ultimate ambassador, Buch exploded onto the mixed scene last month in her first appearance, looking like the best player on the fields at the Richmond Cup — even while surrounded by a slew of WUGC-level teammates on Sweet Cat. Her motor and athleticism were evident for all to see — streaking open on cut after cut from the start of the weekend through its conclusion, bidding past opponents to secure layout catches and blocks in bunches, skying Callahan winner Anne Worth in the tournament final. If Richmond Cup was an opportunity for Buch to make a case to her new Space Heater teammates that she was ready for a major role with her new team, she hardly could have done more to earn one. Buch may not be the flashiest name on the Space Heater roster this summer, but don’t be surprised if it ends up being the one that sees the most ink this season.
Nathan Champoux (Ann Arbor Hybrid)
It’s hard to get notoriety without a national stage. And unless you remember 2016 WJUC, you might not know Nathan “Skunk” Champoux. But if this year’s Hybrid, from Ann Arbor/East Lansing Michigan, makes Nationals, there’s little doubt you’ll miss him.
Diehard AUDL fans might know Champoux from his two-year stint with the Detroit Mechanix in 2016 and 2017. During his first season, he managed an impressively balanced statline, highlighted by 34 blocks. He even tied a league single-game record with an eight block performance against Pittsburgh.
Champoux has some of the least assuming athleticism and explosiveness imaginable, a beaming smile, and an almost goofy nature belying a closing speed that is frightening. Champoux’s defensive presence downfield makes any floating huck a risk and provides throwers a massive target going the other direction. Put him on any Nationals roster and he’s a difference-maker.
This year will be a good test to see what difference he can bring to a bolstered Michigan mixed team looking to break through to the national stage.
Manny Eckert (Seattle Mixtape)
Manny Eckert is truly a self-made player. Many Seattleites remember him as a skinny HS kid obsessed with ultimate. Since then, he has steadily developed his game, year after year, playing every chance he could snag. Those reps have paid off in recent years, as he led the Washington Sundodgers in assists (and blocks) at Nationals in 2019 and to a top two ranking in the COVID-aborted 2020 season as a dynamic thrower.
Returning to play for the Cascades in the AUDL in 2021, Manny’s play suggested that he wasn’t idle during the pandemic, as he has demonstrated new levels of athleticism, allowing him to win battles downfield as well as deliver it deep.4 His tutelage in 2-on-2 mini (or ‘ture, as they say in South Seattle) at the knee of the world champion has provided him with every throw in the book (and many that aren’t) as well as a mastery of small spaces. It’s a safe bet is that he will fit right into the always-unconventional Seattle Mixtape lineup, as they once again vie for the top of the podium at Nationals.
Liz Hart (Philadelphia AMP)
While it feels like forever ago, it hasn’t been that long since Liz Hart and Lindsay McKenna were lighting up the Ohio Valley with their impressive West Chester college team. Hart was the perpetual motion machine of that team on both offense and defense. She was always in action: cutting or throwing, setting up blocks or scoring goals, exhausting her opposition or… no, just mostly that. The good news for Hart fans is that she shows no signs of changing her ways this club season.
The season may not have officially started, but Hart is already getting buzz thanks to her impressive play at the Richmond Cup. Her team may have only picked up together for the tournament, but Hart showed her individual ability to be in the right place at the right time no matter what line she was on. The flashes she showed in one weekend are tantalizing enough to already make her a must-watch player on AMP, which is high praise considering their star-studded roster.
Grayson Sanner (Durham Toro)
While we haven’t seen a whole lot out of most players yet this season, Grayson Sanner is an exception. Like others in this list, he made a June debut at Richmond Cup and did not disappoint. Not only did he play exceptionally well individually — standing out even on a roster chock full of elite North Carolina talent — he helped lead Toro to upset two strong teams out of DC and Philly, and claim a surprising tournament title.
In Richmond, Sanner showed off his quickness in the handler space on offense and defense, as well as impressive disc skills and smart decision-making. He exhibited athleticism and versatility to take over both downfield and behind the disc. It was Sanner’s layout goal reception on universe point that knocked the top-seeded Philly team out of bracket and earned Toro a spot in the final. Expect him to carve out a big role on the team this summer in hopes of repeating that feat at the other end of the club season.
With only one bid to Nationals available in the Great Lakes, there will be a few teams in contention to earn a rightful place in San Diego. The favorite is Columbus Cocktails, back-to-back Regional winners in 2018 and 2019. Also vying for the spot will be top select Ann Arbor Hybrid, regional stalwart Cincinnati Steamboat, and probably some team of wily athletic masters eligible players from Chicago with a clever team name and hopefully a fun website.
Columbus Cocktails have earned pole position, coming into the season following a few strong years and a little bit of roster rebuilding. It seems like most of the core that helped Cocktails break through to Nationals in 2018 and repeat in 2019 are returning to help the squad go for a three-peat in 2021. They have had the strongest women in the region for a few years, and they are likely to be getting even better with the return of Sadie Jezierski. With the collapse of High Five heading into 2019, they picked up several helpful veteran men like Phil Cherosky and Jordan O’Neil that won’t be with the team at Pro-Elite Challenge this weekend — it remains unclear if they’ll rejoin later in the season. Cocktails are returning the biggest young stars from Ohio State on both sides of the disc, like Jezierski, Emily Barrett, Cara Sieber, and the Agami brothers. Look for Cocktails in the game-to-go yet again in 2021.
Ann Arbor Hybrid is seeking another leveling up as they turn over most of the 2019 roster in an effort to break through and make Nationals for the first time after losing in the game-to-go in 2019. They’re adding a few very strong women — two that had recently played with Rival in Brittany Wright and Sara Nitz, as well as Mya Hernandez who previously played with Grand Rapids Toast. They also sought to bolster the men’s side of the disc after looking overmatched against Cocktails last time around, by picking up David Yu, who played for Wisconsin Hodags, Alex Pan, previously of Polar Bears, and Jake Steslicki and Adam Stautberg who played with Michigan MagnUM in college. Michigan hasn’t seen a mixed club this good since Overhaul in 2012.
Cincinnati Steamboat is always a contender for the Great Lakes regional crown, and has the longest track record of success at or near the top of the region. As the team works to rejuvenate the roster as the core of players that were part of the last trip to Nationals in 2017 starts to age out, Steamboat will hope to take down their fellow Ohioans at the top of the region.
Every year there’s a team from Chicago with a bunch of physical and crafty-throwing veterans that seem like they could just as easily go late into the bracket at master’s Nationals, and are in better shape than their opponents expect. They’ve been able to capture the regional title before, and have always played late into the day on Sunday of Great Lakes Regionals. Who knows what kind of roster will come out of the Windy City this fall, but don’t be surprised to see one vying for upsets on Sunday, especially with roster restrictions loose and player movement high.
Nationals Bids: 1
This year of all years, isn’t it nice to have a region that’s reassuringly stable, yet still exciting to watch? That’s 2021’s Mid-Atlantic, with every 2019 regionals finisher from Select Flight-status on up and many on down returning for some form of regular-season play ahead of the Series.
Two-time defending champions Philadelphia AMP and a power-charged Washington DC Space Heater come in as strong favorites for the region’s two bids after a soft launch of sorts at Richmond Cup, where they contributed major constituencies to Mare of Fishtown and Sweet Cat, respectively. After a slight drop in 2019 following their much-hyped 2018 debut, Space Heater may stand to resurge this year, with Joe Freund returning after a 2019 tour with Truck Stop, East Coast newcomer and Richmond Cup all-tournament player Ashleigh Buch signing on, and several key additions from Scandal including 2018 breakout player honoree Kelly Ross, longtime vets Nada Tramonte, Kath Ratcliff, Kelly Hyland, and Molly Roy, and storied coach Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere all taking their talents to mixed during a year off for the elite women’s club.
Meanwhile, the early-June incarnation of Philly’s elite mixed team was powered by AMP talent past, including prodigal sons Calvin Trisolini and Nicky Spiva, back after 2019 seasons with other teams. Losing Player of the Year Anna Thompson to the West Coast will sting, but 2019 addition and West Chester alum Liz Hart will help salve the wound. Hart looked undiminished in Richmond since a rookie year of rock-solid role-playing and sneaky stat leadership at the top level of the club game (she was quietly second in goals for AMP last Nationals).
Speaking of West Chester, the top dogs better not get caught with an empty tank when up against West Chester Loco, who put up gritty showings in back-to-back games-to-go in 2018 and 2019 (losing 14-12 to Jughandle and 12-10 to Space Heater respectively). While focusing on regional play during the regular season in 2021, the team is back and setting sights on a run through the Series.
In fact, none of the above teams are attending any TCT events: beyond some limited regional round-robin play, AMP plans to attend Boston Invite and its own Philly Invite in August, while Space Heater will focus its regular-season tournament play on just the Philly Invite. “We had definitely considered TCT stuff (Elite-Select Challenge in Ohio and/or Pro Champs in Colorado), but [the Philly Invite] is closer to us here in DC, so we decided to go with that,” said Space Heater logistics leader Jenny Fey, also citing the strength of the elite mixed field at AMP’s tournament. “Since we started up in 2018, Space Heater has always been a home for people in transition (new parents, college kids with double seasons, etc.) so the more regional play is just a better fit — though we’re still always looking for good competition, of course. Each new year I’m not sure if Space will exist, but this year it was a clear yes given that USAU essentially blessed the approach we had already been aiming for.”
Sometimes regional contenders DC Rally, New Jersey Jughandle (not too far removed from their 2018 Nationals finish), and Pittsburgh Alloy (losing some women-matching talent to new Pittsburgh women’s team, Parcha) will also be active this year. Rounding out the crew of Richmond Cup alums to watch are Baltimore Fleet (who add Delrico Johnson as a captain) and Lynchburg Legion, who looked cohesive in Richmond despite just missing advancing from Capital Sectionals in 2019.
Finally, respect to Frederick, MD’s 8 Bit Heroes, the region’s sole Pro-Elite Challenge attendee in any division.
Nationals Bids: 2
Let’s go ahead and start by penciling Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust in for one of the North Central’s two Nationals bids. In fact, use pen. Betting on the three-time champs to dominate the region never lost anyone money. Sarah Meckstroth, Kat Ritzmann, and Caleb Denecour will all be back to provide strong leadership, though they do lose All-Club performers Erica Baken and Brian “Strings” Schoenrock, who have moved away from the area. Big-time additions including Danielle Byers, Nariah Sims, Matt Zumbrum, and Sarah Mondschein will do wonders to pick up the slack and ensure Drag’n still has a high ceiling this year. You can be sure the proud program will be aiming to snag a WUCC bid after missing out in 2018.
Drag’n may actually be one team that is not thrilled with the relaxed tournament requirements this season; the US Open is scheduled in their backyard again, but mixed interest in the event has been anemic so far and Drag’n may need to head elsewhere to find serious competition prior to the Series.
The region’s second bid is where things begin to get interesting for the North Central. As is the case throughout the country, there remains a ton of uncertainty about final rosters, but there are three legacy programs that all have previous Nationals appearances to their names and an intriguing new upstart fighting for a single slot this year.
Minneapolis’ other team, No Touching! hasn’t had to adjust their typical schedule in any major way — the team has never held tryouts and doesn’t practice with any consistency. No Touching usually features a sizable crew of elite masters-age players who want to continue playing high-level club ultimate without making a major time commitment. As of now, it’s in doubt how much stalwarts Sam Velasano and Paul Norgaard will be playing, if at all — neither are on the roster for Pro-Elite Challenge. Both are huge reasons why No Touching elevated from a good regional-level team to a perennial Nationals qualifier, so losing either would be a blow. New additions Zach Fleming (shame.) and Mike Petersen (Drag’N Thrust) could immediately make an impact on either side of the disc.
Speaking of impact pickups, Madison NOISE have the biggest in the region, securing the services of Robyn Fennig, who is excited to spend a club season closer to home after winning Player of the Year honors in the women’s division with Scandal in 2019. NOISE was already the game-to-go loser at the most recent Regionals, so depending on how much of the rest of their roster returns, Madison may have the inside track on the second bid.
A third-place finish at Regionals in 2019 was the closest Iowa’s Chad Larsen Experience has gotten to a return trip to Nationals for several years, though it may also have spelled the end of the Kevin Seiler era. The longtime talismanic captain does not appear on the team’s Pro-Elite Challenge roster and may have finally hung up the cleats, calling time one of the division’s best-ever careers. This weekend in Denver should provide a checkpoint for where the program stands in his absence and whether they will once again be able to challenge at Regionals.
Also of note is Kansas City United, a merging of some of Wicked and Prairie Fire’s top players. Wicked (never qualified for Nationals) and Prairie Fire (last qualified in 2016) aren’t going to Nationals anytime soon, so it seems like a natural step to combine and try to secure a bid from the only multi-bid division in the region. Kami Groom has appeared on their roster for the Pro-Elite Challenge and if that move sticks, watch out.
Nationals Bids: 2
While it took more than 15 years from the start of the division for the region to claim its first national title, the Northeast has long been a hotbed for mixed ultimate. In the past, teams from New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Toronto, and Quebec were regular fixtures on Regionals Sunday in Devens, with programs from each successfully earning appearances at Nationals. But in recent years, Boston has been the center of gravity from which few Northeast mixed bids escape. After yet another talent reshuffle in the city (see above), it appears there will once again be at least a triumvirate challenging for local supremacy — and the region’s three bids — including an intriguing new program that has splintered off to join the fray.
Sprocket’s impressive founding core headlined by Tannor Johnson has attracted several other young stars to their cause and will be able to call on the considerable talent of U24 reps Hazel Ostrowski and Rocco Linehan, as well as Jean Huang, formerly of Heist. Though they have designs to develop players and build for the long-term, Sprocket has enough talent to contend immediately and is hoping they can gel quickly enough to earn their ticket to San Diego.
Slow will still be strong competition, as they’ve quickly restocked their engine room, thanks in part to the demise of Snake Country. The loss of Johnson and Orion Cable is tempered somewhat by the return of 2018 POTY runner-up Peter Prial after a decade and a half away from the program. Bringing back former captain Kirsten Lundquist and signing up former Wild Card and Mischief captain Scott Gatto should provide some veteran leadership to a roster that also adds exciting rookies like Emma Palacio and Chloe Rowse. Put it all together and Slow looks plenty ready to improve on their disappointing last-place finish at the most recent Nationals.
With program stalwart Ian Engler moving out of town and unsure about his availability, Wild Card still doesn’t know how their roster will pan out and may be looking at a full rebuild. DiG appears likely to poach a number of their top male contributors, leaving Max Rick with a lot of responsibility. Tamar Austin looks set for a big role on the offense. Coaches Mike Mackenzie and Matt Heath will have their work cut out for them to prepare Card to fend off the rest of the region and get back to Nationals.
New York XIST is one of the teams champing at the bit to break up a Boston sweep of the region’s three bids. The 2018 qualifiers are on another upswing, pulling exciting new talent over from split-gender divisions. Half a dozen players from the PUL’s Gridlock will suit up with XIST this club season, including former D-III Player of the year Abby Cheng and Luisa Neves. Matt Lemar and the brothers Drost are a formidable force on the defensive side. Not only are XIST pulling talent from Gridlock, but also team systems, courtesy of shared coach Izzy Bryant.
All of these teams are planning on a similar summer schedule, squaring off at Boston Invite later this month, then the Philly Invite5 before the fall Series.
Even beyond the top programs, there is plenty of talent in the region to seed a few worthy challengers. Most likely to be lurking on Regionals Sunday this fall are Mansfield Darkwing, who can line up a potent top seven though it remains to be seen if they have the squad depth to keep pace with the top programs when the pressure is on. Don’t count out Brooklyn Grand Army or Boston League of Shadows either — both have played spoiler in Devens in the recent past.
Nationals Bids: 3
The three bids awarded to the Northwest for this season mirror the allocations from 2019, but the region doesn’t exactly look the same as it did last time.
Reports from Seattle indicate a bit of a roster overhaul for Mixtape, though the team is being cagey about what that entails and are holding their cards tight for now. The city’s women’s scene is in a major transition year and we’ve already seen a few Riot players pop up on other rosters in the region, so it wouldn’t be too surprising for Mixtape to have maybe pulled one or two as well.
Things may be a bit more stable for crosstown rivals BFG, as captain Mario O’Brien confirmed that they will be returner-heavy and look a lot like the 2018-19 iterations of the team. Reid Koss and Leah Bar-on Simmons are back as co-captains, with key additions include Kaitlynne Roling (NOISE), Cheryl Hsu (Polar Bears), as well as Linnea Soo and Charlie Mercer from Riot. There’s a chance that core contributor Tommy Li may be taking a year off; if that’s true the reigning world club champs will have big shoes to fill, both in terms of on-field production and sideline presence. Either way, they plan to ramp up slowly through July then go hard from August on at SMUT and Pro Champs before the Series, trying to earn the right to defend their WUCC crown.
Both Seattle giants have cruised to Nationals bids in recent years, but that may not be the case this time around. There are three teams from outside of the Emerald City with a legitimate shot at claiming a bid this year.
For Lochsa, predetermined bids are a massive relief. Captains Jeff Brandle and Paige Kercher describe their squad as a perennial bubble team, meaning that every game they would usually play all summer, from pool play to the consolation bracket, mattered. A lot. Without needing to run tight lines this summer, the regular season is just a chance for them to play and grow as a team. They see the third bid granted to the Northwest as the same bid they earned in 2019, and with a completely different tenor to the season, this is their chance to avenge multiple game-to-go-losses at 2019 Regionals. Former Seattle star Abbie Abramovich is suiting up for them this season, as is reigning D-I Men’s Player of the Year Jordan Kerr. Their initial roster announcement includes nearly 40 names, so it will be interesting to see how they pare that back come Series time.
MOONDOG leadership says that clinching a Nationals spot isn’t at the top of their to-do list for this season. The team is more concerned with community investment and youth development. But don’t be fooled — this team is good.6 The roster is almost entirely players from the Big Sky State but they’ve also added former Mixtaper Emily Smith-Wilson, North Carolina transplant Davis Mossman, Middlebury Donovan nominee Tara Santi, and DC Shadow player Emily Grimes. When push comes to shove at Regionals, expect to see Moondog in the thick of it.
Lochsa and Moondog will both start their seasons at PEC this weekend and give us our first look at their 2021 rosters. All of these aforementioned teams are planning to attend the new Northwest club mixer in Spokane called SMUT (Spokane Mixed Ultimate Tournament), set to take place on the weekend of August 21-22, which should be a good measuring stick for what the pecking order might look like ahead of the Series.
Finally, Vancouver Red Flag is the region’s wild card. Composed of a number of former Traffic and Furious George players, more than 60% of the roster has some Team Canada experience at the U20 or U24 level. There are major question marks about the team’s ability to travel and play in the United States this summer, though the team’s primary focus is clinching a mixed WUCC spot for Canada next summer. Notables on the roster include the Mot twins, Katie Wong, Janelle Siwa, and Peter Yu.
Nationals Bids: 3
For the South Central Mixed division, the obvious place to start is with Fort Collins shame. shame. usually gives off the vibe of a team that just picked up for the Series, but perhaps their near-miss in the 2019 club semis vs eventual champions AMP is causing them to take the 2021 regular season more seriously. They look to be the first team in the region to get mostly sorted out, having already won their first tournament, Colorado Summer Solstice. Almost everyone is back for 2021, although 2019 O-line handling tandem Nick Lance and Owen Westbrook skipped Solstice, which was a tryout tourney for the team. The most notable losses are Zack Fleming, who moved north, and top defender Kevin Coulter, who died tragically in a traffic accident with his Detroit Mechanix teammates in February 2020. However, goal scorers Aubree Dietrich and Nick Snuszka are back for another go, along with vets Ashley Daly Morgan and Joe “Smash” Anderson. There are some exciting/intriguing additions listed on the Fort Collins roster, including Molly Brown vet Crystal Davis and former World Games athlete Bart Watson.
Captain Spencer Tibbs told Ultiworld he is “excited to see what Kasey Anderson and Kiera Lindgren will bring to the team this year. . . Kiera not only had clutch D’s throughout Solstice weekend, but threw absolute bombs when we really needed it.” As far as goals, why not aim high: “shame. has done better and better each season, so this season we are looking to win Nationals. No better year for shame. to win it all than the year that doesn’t really count!” Just don’t expect them to abandon “that WHAC (White claw, Hucks, Alcohol, Chaos) lifestyle.” shame. is taking advantage of the Denver-heavy 2021 TCT calendar by playing PEC (Aurora) as well as Pro Champs (Boulder).
After missing out in heartbreaking games-to-go the past two seasons, Denver Love Tractor is back and ready to claim one of the two South Central bids. Many of the players are the same — they return 18 from 2019 — but they have a new coach in Bravo co-founder Wes Williams and new leadership. Love Tractor are a few weeks behind shame. in their season preparation and are planning to culminate tryouts at PEC. The dominant O-line tandem of Jack McShane and Jesse Roehm are back, along with most of their long-term mainstays, excepting Kate Pearson and Pete Gleason. However, they lose Dena Slattery and Austin Gregersen, who were huge additions to the offense in 2019, and Frances Gellert, whose handler defense and effectiveness after the turn helped key the D-line’s successes.
As captain Jesse Roehm told Ultiworld, “Replacing Dena will be difficult. She is a world-class player. We hope to add several skilled handlers via tryouts.7 Between those folks and our returner pool, we’ll need to identify who is ready to step into a larger role on offense.” The big news on additions to the team is Bravo mainstay (and 2016 USA representative) Henry Konker, a flexible piece who can put tremendous pressure on downfield cutters and generate blocks, while also contributing on offense to move the disc quickly and take shots downfield.
The third team likely to contend for Nationals from the South Central is Dallas Public Enemy. You’ll need your program for PE this year, as they return only nine players from their 2019 roster. Adam Goff is back as coach and Megan “Meagles” Tormey and Chris Casey have stepped into the captain roles, joined by fellow returners Chris Pleshek and Jason Christian. Gone are core handlers Kevin Christian, Dani Runzo, Alan Villanueva, and Brandon Malecek, along with goal scorers Jamie Eriksson, Helen Eifert, Jonathan Costello, and Michael Hays. Jon DeAmicis and Brooke Wooldridge have defected to reanimate early-aughts Nationals runners-ups Dallas Hang Time.
Fortunately, Public Enemy has been able to restock with some exciting new talent, including old teammates Lindsey Kappen “Crunch” and Matt Chambers, former Showdown players Katie Metzler and Bethani Eberhart, former Doublewider Griffin Miller, current Sol standouts Jake Sames, Evan Swiatek, and Joey Wylie, plus a few speedster athletes that you haven’t heard of yet (but you will). You will be able to see Public Enemy in action at SFI West and Pro Champs, plus a likely local tournament or two. They are trying to balance qualifying for Nationals this season with building more foundation for future seasons.
The team which looks most likely to challenge the top three in the region is new-look Denver Flight Club. They finished fourth at Regionals in 2019 though they now have just two(!) players remaining from the 2018 roster, including captain Rachel Stockdale, who is joined by second-year players Ollie Cunningham and Ciaran Shaughnessy. In hopes of becoming a more serious challenger in the region, they are revamping their roster with a load of pick-ups from a Denver Mesteno squad that is stepping back in 2021 (Teal Dabney, Holly Amerson, Stephen Lin, Tessa Walter, Noel Brennan), as well as Maddie Boyd (Atlanta Ozone), Rebecca Kestin (Stanford Superfly), Ellie Hasenohr (Vermont Ruckus), Ellie Wood (Virginia Hydra), Alex Flamm (Columbus Cocktails), and John Stavinga (Philadelphia Phoenix).
Nationals Bids: 2
The reigning National qualifiers, Durham Toro and Ashville Superlame, are likely the top contenders for the Southeast regional championship this year. Unlike 2019, the two will duke it out for a single bid to the big show. In a storyline that will be familiar to other parts of the country, North Carolina looks like it will have its own battle between the established regional powerhouse vs. the no-practice super team.
Both teams sustained some women-matching roster turnover in the offseason. Superlame lost speed after Michaela Dube’s departure and Toro lost both offensive and defensive firepower in Tyler Smith and Mary Rippe; all three switched over to the women’s division this season. Toro did, however, add a few notable pickups, including Georgia Tse of Phoenix and a few recent UNC Darkside standouts in Andrew Li and John McDonnell. They won’t be quite as strong as the crew that captured the Richmond Cup riches in June, but this program has been building for a few years and are feeling confident that they have a really good squad this season. They’ve gotten an early jump on the season by competing in Richmond and heading to Denver this weekend for Pro-Elite Challenge, with plans to also attend the Philly Invite in August before the Series. That’s lots of reps they hope will pay off with additional chemistry in the long run.
Perhaps predictable given the nature of their team, there’s a little less clarity on the specifics with Superlame. According to captain Simone Whale, most of their roster is returning and they will be attending Hodown in Asheville, NC. That schedule worked for them in 2019 when they parlayed an undefeated Regionals performance into a surprising quarterfinals berth at Nationals, though the margin for error within the region is zero this time around.
Like elsewhere in the country, the outlook of the rest of the region is unclear. Atlanta Bucket has historically been strong, attending Nationals on several occasions and making it to the game-to-go in 2019, but has since folded, along with the likes of JLP. Atlanta has been one of the most turbulent ultimate hubs in the country the past couple years, and the future of the high-level mixed ultimate in the area is uncertain. Next up for the city may be m’Kay, with rumors of a strong team in 2021. While m’Kay didn’t even make Regionals in 2019, they’ve picked up speedy former Bucket player Katherine Yost and one-time D-I men’s Player of the Year Chris Larocque, who are certainly talented enough to bring more success to the team.
Elsewhere, Nashville ‘Shine has traded in one playmaker for another, losing Sadie Jezierski and gaining hometown star Jesse Shofner. While ‘Shine didn’t make it out of the region in 2019, they and m’Kay could certainly operate as spoilers for anyone looking for the top spot.
Nationals Bids: 1
At this point, the only thing we know about the Southwest is how much we don’t know. Like always, the region is likely led by strong Bay Area teams, though it’s unclear how many will prove strong enough to contend for the Nationals bids on offer. Blackbird, a two-time national champ and stalwart mixed division team, is not planning to take the field in 2021, leaving some top players as club free agents.
2019 national finalist Mischief started their tryout process in late June and expects to bring back a lot of their roster, though mainstay players Caitlin Rugg and Ethan Falat are not playing in 2021. Former Blackbird Mac Taylor has been among the faces at their tryouts, which would be a big addition for a team that came so close to a title last season. Regardless of how their roster shakes out, Mischief’s focus is to have a healthy ramp up to the Series, rather than trying to compete at the highest level in July as they’ve sometimes had to in the past. We’ll see Mischief first take the field at the Select Flight Invite-West in August and get a better sense of their potential ceiling.
Regional runner-up Polar Bears is also planning to ramp up slowly to the fall. The team expects more turnover than usual — we’ve already seen a few names from their 2019 roster pop up elsewhere around the country — but captain Margot Stert told Ultiworld that there is a solid core of returnees to build the team around. Polar Bears might sneak in a regular season tournament in August, and will definitely be playing the Series.
The team most likely to fill the void if the Bay Area scene remains foggy: Los Angeles Lotus. Lotus played meaningful bracket games last season at Regionals, and is powering up to challenge the Bay Area squads. Stephanie Pritchard, Kevin Christian, and Jesse Cohen have signed on to the team, which is also reportedly getting an influx of big name former Wildfire players, including Kelli Iwamoto. Lotus will be at Pro-Elite Challenge and will attend multiple TCT tournaments during the regular season, hoping to build chemistry and get a leg up on their regional foes who aren’t as committed to playing this early in the season.
Outside of the top teams, there are a few others hoping to light enough of a spark to catch a blaze. In Arizona, there are a number of mixed teams that are on the fence about committing to a season in any capacity, but a consolidated Phoenix team could be dangerous, especially as both Rubix & Pivot made it to bracket play in 2019. Aptly named “Arizona Mixed 1” is signed up for PEC with some eye-catching names on the roster: Jamie Eriksson, Helen Eifert, and Sean Ham among them. If this team finds success in Denver and decides to stick together, they may be talented enough to push the California contingent at Regionals. In San Diego, California Burrito has retooled their roster with an influx of new talent in hopes of competing with Lotus for the title of SoCal’s best.
Nationals Bids: 2
Preseason Power Rankings
Of all elements of this preview that feel speculative, the preseason rankings are the most so. We know there are teams here that ultimately may not compete in the USAU Series as currently constructed and others that crop up will quickly prove worthy of inclusion. For now, let’s see how our initial impressions compare to actual in-season results.
Club Mixed Power Rankings:
Well, to Ohio or Colorado, at least. ↩
That doesn’t even count District 5 and Metro North from neighboring Connecticut. ↩
For as much as some cities’ AUDL franchises overlap with their dominant men’s club team, the Glory spread players over at least six different clubs in and around Boston. ↩
Though Sprocket is still trying to finagle an invitation. ↩
And still have some of the sweetest gear in the game. ↩
There are some interesting names attending tryouts, including 2020 D-I College Offensive Player of the Year Hallie Dunham, but who knows which of them will end up on the team. ↩