Higher-seeds win comfortably despite team superstars to send chalk to semis
May 28, 2023 by Jenna Weiner and Bridget Mizener in Recap with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 college ultimate season 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.
We’re down to the final four at the 2023 D-I College Championships! We’re here to break down the storylines from the first round of quarterfinals. Top seeds prevailed, with Vermont winning their first-ever quarterfinal and UNC continuing their dominance.
Follow along on the D-I College Championships event page for updates as the College Championships reach their crescendo!
Vermont Exorcizes Quarters Ghosts, Dominates Carleton
Vermont continued their red-hot streak of offensive play with a wire-to-wire 15-11 win over Carleton Syzygy. Freshman phenom Caroline Stone (4G/3A) put her stamp on the game both downfield and with her throwing as her team looked virtually untouchable with the disc in hand. Ruckus cruised comfortably into semifinals, a first in program history, erasing last year’s quarters debacle from the collective memory.
With the benefit of hindsight, the first three points of the game so clearly foretold what was to come.
To open the game, Vermont’s O-line core, led by Kennedy McCarthy, Callahan nominee Sara VonDoepp, and Mae Browning, moved down the field like water through a sieve. Their quick disc movement sucked in the Syzygy defense; before long the Carleton deep defenders lost track of cutters over the top. Stone uncorked a crossfield flick for a wide-open Marina Godley-Fisher to make it 1-0. She’d go back to that throw several more times over the course of the morning with great success.
On the second point, Vermont’s D-line, stocked with several repeats from the previous O-line, applied defensive pressure — but not a crushing amount. Syzygy was able to work the disc down to the red zone before a scoring look sailed long. Unforced errors haunted Carleton all game; Vermont only recorded three blocks against 21 total Carleton turnovers. And when Syz gave it up, Ruckus didn’t give it back. Vermont needed just three throws to work the disc the full 70, VonDoepp sitting a nice away for McCarthy who ripped a shot to Pozzy for the break, 2-0.
The third point was a quick Carleton hold scored by rookie Naomi Fina. She was a huge bright spot for Syz all weekend as an incredible athlete and bid-happy receiver, reliable with the disc to boot. Her tournament goal total of 17 more than proves her nose for the end zone, and she’s been class in big games, putting up six goals in the quarterfinal. She and Mia Beeman-Weber (3A) will undoubtedly carry the mantle of this Syz squad for years to come.
If this were a broadcast, those three points would give the announcers their keys to the rest of the game. Vermont’s offense had unlocked the ability to move the disc effortlessly in the shallow spaces and capitalize on busted deep coverage over the top. They relentlessly punished Carleton’s unforced errors. And Carleton was at its best when Fina was getting the disc at a high clip. Vermont took an 8-5 lead into the half and didn’t look back — well, they looked back long enough to admire the bad memory they left in the dust.
Syz were able to punch back in the later stages of the game, including a break to make it 13-10. However, the game never felt close, and Vermont closed it out shortly to lock in their historic semis berth. Stone said it best: “It makes sense we’re the most entertaining team in college ultimate. We just gave everyone a show.”
Carolina Clinical Against Standout Superfly
The two-time defending champs North Carolina Pleiades are one step closer to making it three straight titles after smoothly beating Stanford Superfly 15-12 in the first round of the quarterfinals. While Superfly’s rightly heralded zone defenses did slow the Pleiades down, Stanford were only able to generate one late break as UNC’s offense was simply too poised throughout.
Stanford were Southwest regional champions for a reason this year, and they showed it in the early going against UNC. For the first six points of the game, Superfly went blow for blow with the Pleiades and the game was tied 3-3 with the game on serve. Then Erica Birdsong got up for a block and the UNC defensive line proceeded to slowly shred the Stanford zone to pieces. It was 4-3, Pleiades on top, and Superfly never led again.
It’s a well-worn fact that Stanford Superfly play some of the best zone defense in the division. It’s also a well-worn fact that the UNC Pleiades play some of the best zone offense in the division. And in ultimate, the offense always has the advantage.
Not since perhaps the days of prime Dartmouth Daybreak have we seen a team this adept at destroying any zone defense they come across. UNC’s offensive line sees your zone, laughs at it, and then continues on their merry way down the field. The Pleiades have a particular tempo reminiscent of a heartbeat when they play zone offense, pulsing rhythmically as they pop and weave and dice through the defense. Stanford is supremely skilled at playing zone defense, and against UNC it just simply didn’t matter.
“We had a lot of fun, honestly,” said UNC’s Theresa Yu about playing against the Superfly zone. “Stanford has a great zone and we’ve definitely been practicing a lot specifically for their zone. I had a lot of fun and I always love a challenge, so kudos to Stanford.”
However, given the narrow margin1, it’s not like it was entirely one-way traffic in this quarterfinal. Esther Filipek (2G/4A/2B) and Macy Vollbrecht (3G/4A/1B) are a fantastic one-two pairing at the top of the Stanford roster, and each filled up the stat sheet against UNC. They’ve been backed by a deep supporting cast this weekend as Superfly made their quarterfinals run, including second year player Sage McGinley-Smith, who, by the end of the round, was tied at the top of the goals scored leaderboard with 22.
“It’s fun cutting with everyone else on the [offensive] line cause they make it easy to be open because they make such good cuts,” said McGinley-Smith with humility after the game.
While Stanford were able to generate a late break to trim the deficit to two, fundamentally Superfly’s problem was that they couldn’t consistently find ways to put real pressure on the UNC offense. And when you have to deal with an offense as good as the Pleiades’, that’s going to be the end of your season. UNC moves on to the semifinals where they will face Vermont Ruckus for a place in the final.
for UNC, that is ↩