2023 D-I College Championships: UNC Overwhelms Vermont in Semis (Women’s)

UNC's experience shone through in their dominance against Vermont.

North Carolina’s Dawn Culton leaps for a catch past Vermont’s Caroline Stone in the semifinal of the 2023 D-I College Championships. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

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One of the most anticipated matchups of the day turned out to be a snoozefest as North Carolina Pleiades buried Vermont Ruckus 15-8 in the first semifinal. North Carolina continued to prove why they’re the class of the division and the odds-on favorite to win a third consecutive title.

How about this for a stat: the UNC O-line, driven by Ella Juengst (3A/3G), Alex Barnett (3G/2A), and Erica Birdsong (3G), played literally a perfect game, recording zero turnovers.1 Yes, really. That stinginess is a major reason why Pleiades will be the heavy favorite in the final. Yesterday, UNC’s offense was in cruise control, while Vermont played only a handful of clean O-points.

Ruckus, to their credit, kept it close through 5-5. When Kennedy McCarthy (5A/2B) and the rest of the offense are hitting, it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping them and their explosive deep game. Pleiades, though, is not just anyone. Over the course of the first few drives, the UNC defense began to key in on the rhythm of the Ruckus offense. Point after point, the margins got tighter, the resets more uncomfortable, and the disc movement slower and slower. Eventually, North Carolina began to earn coverage sacks, systematically locking up the downfield receivers, the reset options, and then swarming to bailout hucks as they went up. 5-5 became 11-5 before Ruckus could blink.

“The run in the second half was the result of the pressure we had been bringing the entire game. While Vermont’s a great team, they started to make mistakes and we were able to capitalize on those,” explained D-line stalwart Grace Conerly.

It was a true team effort from the defending champs: Dawn Culton (2G/2A) and Conerly (1G/2A/2B) were excellent as usual, but their entire roster stepped up. Second-year Izi Meyers-Miller answered the call on the big stage with two blocks in five points played, and Conerly shouted out the undersung Chapel Hill native Sarah Combs for her defensive work on Ruckus center handler Sara Von Doepp.

Though this fairy-tale season has come to an end for Ruckus, they have a lot to be proud of, including a history-making 15-11 quarterfinal win over Carleton. Captains McCarthy and Von Doepp expressed their pride in elevating Vermont to a place of national relevance.

“Kennedy set a goal for us this season, which was to reach new heights as a program, and we did that,” said Von Doepp.

UNC will face Colorado in the final, a clash of #1 vs #2 and a rematch of last year’s universe point title game. Conerly says the team is ready for the challenge.

“Pressure is a privilege. The more titles we’ve won, the more pressure there’s been and the more everyone in the ultimate community wants us to lose. As much as that sucks sometimes, it means we are succeeding as a team — we know that we have been the best team and we’re prepared to defend that title.”


  1. To be fair, with that scoreline, they didn’t play all that many O points 

  1. Bridget Mizener
    Bridget Mizener

    Bridget Mizener is a Midwesterner by birth, but a product of the North Carolina ultimate machine. She thinks women’s college ultimate coverage is important, so she’s taking it into her own hands. She lives, plays, coaches, etc. in Durham. Tell her everything she got wrong about your team at [email protected].

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