12 Days of College Ultimate: 5 Team Strategies

On the fifth day of college ultimate Christmas, our staff give to you: five video breakdowns!

Vermont's Kennedy McCarthy at the 2022 D-I College Championships.
Vermont’s Kennedy McCarthy at the 2022 D-I College Championships. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Well, we don’t have golden rings for you here on the Fifth Day of College Ultimate, but perhaps you can find some gold in the strategies below. We’re breaking down some college ultimate trends and which teams employ them successfully.

Small Ball: UNC Pleiades, Brown Brownian Motion

A small ball attack is the core tenet that literally won UNC back-to-back championships. Of course, it helps when you have some of the best players in the game, but the quick movement and isolated matchups have been very successful for Pleiades. In fact, the only team that really came close to unseating the champs was Colorado, who fronted UNC downfield and forced them out of their comfort zone. Even then, it couldn’t entirely slow them down.

Watch how Ella Juengst and company used uplines and quickness to break down UBC’s defense:

UNC W 1

UNC W 2

Brown is one of the teams that have newly popularized a handler weave and small ball approach. They use a dominator set both in the long field and in their end zone offense. What’s unique about Brown is that both their O-line and D lines consistently use the tactic. This season, Brown loses a huge cog in that scheme in John Randolph, but clearly their entire team is capable of filling in these strategic roles.

Brown will go entire points with no cutters touching the disc. Check out some of their handler attack below:

Brown M 1

Brown M 2

Long Ball: Colorado Mamabird, Vermont Ruckus

Bombing hucks is a classic high risk/high reward strategy. But depending on who you have involved, the 50/50s can be more like 80/20s — in your favor. There are several teams who use a deep attack to varying degrees. Here, we’ll highlight two: Colorado Mamabird and Vermont Ruckus.

Mamabird relied on Alex Atkins for some serious heavy lifting in the 2022 season, as you can see in these two examples. Will they stretch the field as much without him this season?

Colorado M 1

Colorado M 2

Vermont Ruckus also use hucks to their advantage, centering around a familiar distributor and target. In this case, however, U24 selection Kennedy McCarthy will be returning to the field in 2023. Could she carry Ruckus to the title? Check out our way too early D-I picks to see what our staff think!

McCarthy gets involved on both the receiving and throwing end in the clips below, but a number of Ruckus players are two-way threats:

Vermont W 1

Vermont W 2

CVermontW 3

Star Performances: Aidan Downey (Georgia), Mika Kurahashi (UBC)

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta let your players make plays. Here are two teams who have stars capable of taking over the game.

Aidan Downey (USA U24 selection) showed his takeover ability (and flair with the disc) early in this college season in Georgia’s win over Brown at Classic City Classic. He ended the game with a staggering three goals, five assists, and two hockey assists. Here he is wearing #6 with the red hoodie with sleeves.

Aidan Downey – Georgia M

UBC’s Mika Kurahashi (Canada U24 selection) also had an incredible performance in the first half of their pool play matchup against Carleton at the 2022 College Championships with three goals and four assists. She went on to tear it up at Club Nationals, taking home a Breakout Player Of The Year win in the mixed division with Vancouver Red Flag. She looks poised to go on to be even more dominant this spring with the Thunderbirds.

Mika Kurahashi – UBC W

Zone: Stanford Superfly, UC Berkeley Ursa Major

Death, taxes, and Stanford women’s zone. You might think they are a one trick pony, but not so. Not only do they have excellent match up defenders like Hannah Huddleston, they also have multiple flavors of zone that are successful, as you can see below. Stanford is well coached and well practiced at these strategies.

The first is a 3-3-1 wall zone. Rather than a cup, the front layer jams the lanes and the second level forces the cutters out, creating separation and making downfield throws difficult. This allows the disc to move laterally and backwards but requires the offense to be patient and precise on lots and lots of short passes.

Stanford W 2

The second zone is a four person cup, which does the opposite: it pressures the disc and resets while encouraging larger cross-field looks, forcing throwers to complete more difficult passes through or over the cup.

Stanford W 1

The Cal men employ a patient, four person diamond zone to great effect. At the 2022 College Championships, they used it to take a 5-0 lead in their pool play game against Washington. Watch Washington’s 4.5 minute possession (sped up 5x), that never made it past half field:

Cal M 1

Matchup Defense: UNC Darkside, Carleton Syzygy

While some teams stick to zone, others prefer to let their athletes win their one-on-one matchups.

Don’t misunderstand, though: match-up defense can still be a team effort. Here you can see Darkside’s defensive scheme of consistent and intense pressure leading to tight window throws that their intelligent defenders can pick off:

UNC M 1

UNC M 2

UNC M 3

Carleton Syzygy are similarly relentless, both in the reset space and downfield. Check out some of the blocks they came up with at College Nationals:

Carleton W 1

Carleton W 2

Carleton W 3

  1. Lindsay Soo
    Lindsay Soo

    Lindsay Soo is a contributor for Ultiworld based in North Carolina. They have been playing competitively since 2012 and coaching since 2018. Her experience ranges from D-III and D-I college to Club, Semi-Professional and International competition. On Twitter and Instagram @soonami14, @soo_digital_media

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