Club Championships 2021: How To Win A Championship In 10 Easy Steps (Men’s Final Preview)

It's as simple as that.

Ring's Eric Taylor pulls in the 2021 Club Championships semifinal. Photo: Natalie Bigman-Pimentel --
Ring’s Eric Taylor pulls in the 2021 Club Championships semifinal. Photo: Natalie Bigman-Pimentel —

Ultiworld’s 2021 coverage of the club men’s division is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

If PoNY or Ring wants to win a National Championship, they just need to follow the steps outlined below.

WATCH LIVE: ESPN3, 10:00 AM PDT (full broadcast schedule)

1. Make Players Honor Club over Semi-Pro Commitments

If you don’t have buy in, you have nothing.

Ultimate is a sport that asks you to sacrifice your personal and professional wellbeing to commit to a sport that will never love you back. That commitment is the essential value of a championship team, and it’s the commitment that PoNY required from its players this year.

With many top teams having to choose between letting some of their top players essentially skip the regular season in order to fulfill their AUDL commitments and holding a hard line on attendance, PoNY held. the. line. Who cares if Ryan Osgar and Jack Williams end up playing for your direct competitor in the National Championship game?1 Players don’t win championships; teams win championships. And so far at Nationals, PoNY have looked like a complete team, running a deep defensive rotation and an offense that has developed an obvious trust, the kind of trust that only comes from having a roster of players who all bought in for the whole season (plus the Bens — Jagt and Katz. Got to have those guys.)

2. Let Top Talent Do Whatever They Want Until the Club Series Starts

It has been a crazy couple of years. The pandemic took everyone out of their regularly scheduled programming and sent the world of ultimate into a deep hibernation that only began to show signs of awakening in May of this year, well after most elite club teams have drawn a season map. Given so much unexpected frisbee deprivation, how could anyone want to stand in the way of somebody playing as often as they can? Ultimate players are happiest when they are actually playing ultimate, and happy players are winning players.

Ring of Fire not only didn’t mind that a lot of the club played semi-pro with the Flyers, but it actually helped them build chemistry and systems to carry into the Series. It certainly helped them weather two universe points at Nationals to have had much of the team win in pressure-cooker situations at AUDL Championship Weekend. And their open-door policy brought the additional benefit of allowing them to pick up Jon Nethercutt, as well as a pair of useful leftovers from New York’s semi-pro policy.

3. Hone Your Game against Nationals-Level Competition for a Full Season

There are a lot of ways to approach the necessary process of team-building. You can go on a weekend hiking retreat, volunteer at a food bank together, or play night after night of Coup until everyone starts to mistrust each other so deeply that they have no choice but to start from scratch and trust each other again. But those are all substitutes for the real thing. The best way to create an ultimate frisbee team identity is to play a lot of ultimate frisbee.

And that is just how PoNY have plotted their 2021 season. Despite the total absence of Triple Crown Tour requirements this season, they went with business as usual: Pro-Elite Challenge, US Open, Pro Championships. Not only did this give PoNY plenty of time to work on their team systems, it also allowed them to cut their teeth against the kinds of teams they would need to beat in order to barrel through a Nationals gauntlet. Lo and behold, PoNY have, indeed, barreled through a Nationals gauntlet to reach the final.

4. Play Your First Game of the Season at Sectionals against Cary Bash Bros

The rules this year said that no one had to play a single game before Sectionals. Everything before that was optional, full-stop. So, honestly, what’s the point? Too risky, besides. Chain Lightning went to the U.S. Open, and it cost Atlanta homefield advantage in the AUDL playoffs.

Far better just to dance to the letter of the law. Trust that your team have their act together after a couple of practice weekends and just roll up to North Carolina Sectionals to hang a 14-point loss on some poor kids from Cary who were just trying to beat out Right Coast and BaNC to get to Regionals.2 Because with sports, it isn’t about how you start, goes the old adage: it’s how you finish.

Icing on the cake? Nobody but nobody has a single minute of footage on you for scouting.

5. Lose a Lot of Games Along the Way

As the poet3 said, “You can’t start a fire without a spark.” Easier said than done, Boss, easier said than done. The thing is, almost every player on PoNY are already champions in either club, college, or on the world stage. With so many accomplishments behind them already, what do they still have to play for? How can you pump them up to put in the work and to keep the requisite energy blazing throughout a long weekend? You know you need a spark, but what exactly is the spark?

A little inadvertent negging never hurt anybody. Go on, take a gander at PoNY’s page. You see all those red lines? Each one of them represents a result that was not good enough, and each one of those results planted a little voice in every player’s head saying, “You need to play better.” It’s hard to think of a more effective way to get a team to push themselves at practice and workouts than a middling 9-7 record against the rest of the field. New York were the underdogs in 2018, their last championship year. This season, an uninspiring regular season allowed them to cosplay as the underdogs again.

6. Roll to an Undefeated Season

People like to talk about “good losses.” About how it’s easier to learn from a loss than a win. That sometimes, you need to get punched in the mouth and taste some blood before you really learn what you’re capable of as a team.

Who know you says these things? Losers.

Me? Personally? I’ll take winning over losing any day. You want to get punched in the mouth? I’d like to keep all of my teeth where they are so that I can blast a gleaming smile with all my pearly whites when I’m accepting my winner’s medal.

Ring of Fire have won every game they have played this season. They are batting 1.000%, which last time I checked gets you into Cooperstown. The confidence that they have won every game becomes confidence that they will win every game. Pulling to Revolver on universe point in pool play, I’m sure they were glad that they had nothing but the clearest conviction that they would win that game. Which they did.

Confidence is skill, just like a flick huck or making good travel calls. Ring has been working on that skill all year, with every win they’ve added to the total. Why sully that with the memory of losing?

7. Build your Offense around the Same Stalwart Touchstones

PoNY’s gave up a grand total of zero breaks in the 2018 National Championship game. In their 2019 semifinal loss, they gave up substantially more than zero breaks. But despite these ups and down, the team has stayed the course and kept the offense running through the same key figure.

Jimmy Mickle has rewarded the team’s faith in the process (the process of giving him the rock) by returning to something close to his 2018 form. He’s been the picture of composure all weekend, cooly collecting resets against feral handler defenders and hitting tricky touch throws all over the field. He’s been hucking in appropriate moderation, finding the pace of play and hitting the shots that are there without forcing the issue.

Change is for those who have problems. No problems for PoNY as far as I can see. Stay the course, PoNY. Stay the course.

8. Give the Keys to the Offense to the D-Line Guys

If it’s broke, fix it. Okay, to say that Ring’s O-line was a broken entity in 2019 is an overstatement. That unit could score as fast as you can snap your fingers, and in heaps. The only trouble was that the exact same bunch were liable, at times, to overshoot and dig themselves into a hole. To right the ship in those situations, they would cross over the top handlers from the D-line: Sol Yanuck and Matt Gouchoe-Hanas. You may remember that it looked a little something like this. Efficient as all get-out, and basically untouchable every time they deployed it.

So with their eyes on moving past semifinals in 2021, Ring decided it would be best to skip the middleman: Yanuck and Gouchoe-Hanas are now handlers 1a and 1b for the offense. The calming effect of their chemistry and steadfast discwork has smoothed most of the bumpy points right out of existence. And Ring haven’t lost much of the quick-strike mentality in the process.

9. Have One of the Best Two Defenses at Nationals

“Uh-oh! Here comes the D-line!” That was the sound of Isaac Saul loudly taunting Sockeye after one of PoNY’s holds in the first half of their semifinal. PoNY were already up three breaks, and they had Sockeye shook en route to a 15-8 win. All in all, the PoNY defense embarrassed the reigning National Champions. Sockeye were not unique in this regard. The PoNY defense has done nothing less than inspire terror in the rest of the men’s division.

Jack Hatchett. Jibran Mieser. Ben Spielman. Conrad Schloer. Ben Katz. Grant Lindsley. Acquiring any one of them would instantly level-up any other D-line in the country. PoNY enjoy the benefits of them all. They have the combination of athletes and schemes to flatten out every throwing lane, get extra fingers near every under, and put a body or two on every deepshot. Going back to Northeast Regionals, they have looked like nothing less than a championship-winning unit.

10. Have One of the Best Two Defenses at Nationals

Leave it to a team from the Southeast to know how to scatter an opposition’s pull play, smother the resets, and cover the huck, play in and play out. Call it the Waffle House Effect. It’s hard to imagine them managing anything less given the complementary skill sets at hand with every seven on the line. They don’t even need a complicated scheme. Noah Saul and Ethan Bloodworth make life miserable for the primary handlers, Jacob Fairfax and Eric Taylor put the screws to the cut-and-shoot mids, and the division’s deepest stable of athletes — Connor Russell, Alex Davis, Trevor Lynch, Elijah Long, Suraj Madiraju, Ben Dameron — match up against everyone else.

They communicate with all the promptness of a hive-mind to send help or roll over matchup help. They have a nose for the bid. And you won’t find a D-line with more collective disc skills. That turns every turnover into an absolutely painful ordeal. Look no further than the demoralized, desperate Chain Lightning and Rhino Slam! offenses as proof positive that the fastest way to a championship is to pile on the breaks.

  1. Or all-world defender Jeff Babbitt leaves for the greener pastures of the misshapen husk of Philadelphia men’s club. 

  2. Bash Bros finished behind Right Coast and did not qualify for Southeast Regionals, sadly. 

  3. Bruce Springsteen 

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

  2. Patrick Stegemoeller

    Patrick Stegemoeller is a Senior Staff Writer for Ultiworld, co-host of the Sin The Fields podcast, and also a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.

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