Three divisions filled with title contenders looking to make strong impressions.
August 3, 2023 by Edward Stephens, Laura Osterlund and Jake Thorne in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 club 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.
For the first time since 2019, the US Open will be the event it was envisioned to be: a premier showcase and sparring ground for the top USAU club teams in the country and demonstration of the sport’s international reach.
The big news is the return of a full slate of teams in all three divisions. The tournament only hosted a men’s division in 2021,1 and women’s was missing from the equation in 2022. International teams haven’t attended since 2019!
As far as top USAU clubs go? All 12 of the 2023 semifinalists from Club Nationals will be in attendance – and 19 of the 24 quarterfinalists. (The men’s division, with only five of eight quarterfinalists making the journey to Colorado, is holding that number back a little.) The 26 US Clubs in attendance will be joined – and, in some cases, also challenged – by international sides from Africa, Central America, South America, and Asia.
With the major logistical problems from the 2020 pandemic mostly in the rearview mirror, the US Open is set to be one of the best demonstrations of the club game on the calendar. Read on for our divisional previews for each of the three divisions.
Stay tuned to Ultiworld and our social media platforms for continuing coverage of the biggest club tournament yet of the 2023 season!
- Location: Aurora, Colorado
- Dates: Friday August 4 – Sunday August 6, 2023
- Weather: Friday will be the warmest with highs in the 80s, cooling off to highs in the 70s and lows in the high 50s on Sunday. Partly cloudy with slight chance of rain throughout, with thunderstorms slated for Saturday evening. Winds from 9 to 13 mph.
- Top 25 Teams: 9 men’s division, 8 mixed division, and 9 women’s division
- Tournament Schedule
- Ultiworld Event Page
Ultiworld will be streaming 2-3 games per round throughout the weekend, available for Ultiworld Standard and All-Access subscribers as well as those who purchase the US Open Event Pack. Ultiworld will be streaming a huge slate of club pool play, prequarters, and quarters games; three of the club semifinals; and 14 YCC games, including each of the finals.
The two primary showcase streams will be available to all Standard subscribers and above; Bonus Games will only be available to All-Access subscribers, Event Pack purchasers, or those with a Club Team Pack.
Here is the full streaming schedule:
All times Mountain.
Friday, August 4th
8:30 AM: Tokyo Crazy vs. New York XIST (Mixed) / Boston DiG vs. Buzz Bullets (Men) / Portland Schwa vs. Denver Molly Brown (Women)
10:45 AM: Philadelphia AMP vs. Seattle Mixtape (Mixed) / Chicago Machine vs. New York PoNY (Men) / San Francisco Fury vs. Boston Brute Squad (Women)
1:00 PM: Fort Collins .shame vs. Melbourne Ellipsis (Mixed) / Boston DiG vs. Salem Rhino Slam! (Men) / Tokyo Swampybarg vs. Toronto 6ixers (Women)
3:15 PM: Crossover: 2B vs. 3D (Mixed) / Crossover: 2A vs. 3C (Men) / Crossover: 2B vs. 3D (Women)
Saturday, August 5th
8:30 AM: Mixed Quarter / Men’s Quarter
10:45 AM: Men’s Semifinal 1
11:00 AM: Men’s Semifinal 2 on ESPN+, VHX for international viewers
1:15 PM: Mixed Semifinal 1
1:30 PM: Mixed Semifinal 2 on ESPN+, VHX for international viewers
3:45 PM: Women’s Semifinal 1
4:00 PM: Women’s Semifinal 2 on ESPN+, VHX for international viewers
Sunday, August 6th
8:30 AM: Men’s 3rd Place Game / Women’s 3rd Place Game
9:00 AM: Men’s Final on ESPN+, VHX for international viewers
10:45 AM: Mixed 3rd Place Game / Boys U20 Prequarterfinal
11:30 AM: Mixed Final on ESPN+, VHX for international viewers
1:15 PM: Washington DC Swing Vote v. Utah Swarm (U20X) / Dallas Nightfall v. Philly Forge (U20X)
2:00 PM: Women’s Final on ESPN+, VHX for international viewers
3:45 PM: Boys U20 Quarterfinal / Mixed U20 Quarterfinal
Monday, August 7th
8:30 AM: Boys U20 Semifinal / Boys U20 Semifinal / Girls U20 5th Place Semifinal
10:45 AM: Girls U20 Semifinal / Mixed U20 Semifinal
12:00 PM: Boys U20 Final
1:00 PM: Girls U20 Third Place Game
2:00 PM: Girls U20 Final / Mixed U20 Final
The first major event of the club season means learning a lot about the contenders, most of which populate this field.
It’s the Renaissance of Ultimate in New York right now. The coaching staff of #1 New York PoNY is treating this season like a Madden franchise mode with force trades turned on and salary cap turned off. They have 14+ players that realistically project to play at an All-Club level this season – a number that includes newcomers Jack Williams and Ryan Osgar, courtesy of #5 Raleigh Ring of Fire. Seriously, if there were ever a team you might be confident could beat an NBA roster in a game of frisbee, it would be 2023 PoNY. It’s worth mentioning they lost key O-line contributor John Lithio, who is a selfless cutter who created space for his teammates and used his size to make big plays downfield. Still, they are the far and away favorite to take down the tournament.
Although they had one of the more impressive regular seasons in recent memory last year, it was tough for #2 Washington DC Truck Stop to go out like they did, losing in the national final to a team they handled in pool play. But it’s a new year and this team is still stacked to the brim with world class talent. Frankly, they are the division’s best hope of taking down PoNY this year. Their offense is likely the most stingy with the disc in the entire division and their defensive systems are well thought out and effective. They lost a surprising amount of players in the offseason, most notably Christian Johnson, Jeremy Hess, and Duncan Fitzgerald, but the additions of AJ Merriman and Thomas Edmonds should keep them at about the same title-worthy level as last year.
#3 Portland Rhino Slam have justifiable title aspirations. They have been working through their old contacts list in the offseason, buttressing the core that took them to two consecutive national semifinals with tremendous returning talent from years past: Kuochuan Ponzio, Will Lohre, and (of course) Dylan Freechild, who last donned the horn in 2016. Ah, but will it work? It’s always a coin toss with Rhino. Their defense (Daniel Lee, Itay Chang, Vinh Bui, Owen Murphy) plays hard point after point. The offense, when hitting, is really tough to beat but usually will give up some opportunities to punish them with breaks. The re-rookies might be just what was missing that can help put Raphy Hayes, Leandro Marx, and David Sealand over the top.
Can the Chicago* Machine experiment finally work? Why the asterisk? For years now, #6 Chicago Machine has been the Mecca for travel players. In 2023, they are committing to the bit extra hard as it seems like more than half of the guys on the roster do not live in Chicago. Pawel Janas has officially gone Hollywood on us and is living in LA, Jordan Kerr probably has not stepped foot in Illinois for months, and Joe White is out galavanting with the Carolina Flyers so who knows where he is or what he is up to. That’s not to even speak of international imports Malik Auger-Semmar (Canada) and Connor McHale (England). Expect some big wins from their far-flung roster, but maybe with a lack of consistency and structure that might affect their results.
#4 Denver Johnny Bravo’s title run seemed to appear out of their native thin air last year. Even two days into Nationals at San Diego they were hardly on anyone’s radar, and it wasn’t until a huge comeback in prequarters to knock out Sockeye that they began to round into their final form. The hometown team for this weekend bring back plenty of last year’s best: reigning DPOTY Cody Spicer will still be leading a Tim Kefalas defensive scheme, for starters. Another round of the Alex Atkins and Calvin Stoughton traveling road show is also on tap. But as good as they are, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that their three steadiest O-line players from the title run – Ben Lohre, Will Lohre, and Cole Wallin – are not returning for 2023. Can they really reach the 2022 level again? Yes, they bring in Saeed Semrin and Jonathan Nethercutt to help offset the losses. Still, prognosticators are somewhat bearish on the contention front. It’s okay, though. It’s not like Bravo haven’t proved them all wrong before.
The talent pool this weekend is quite possibly the strongest showing that the US Open has seen in years. So strong, in fact, that there isn’t even time for any more preamble. We are diving right in with a report on the top contenders.
The season for reigning national champions #3 Seattle Mixtape has not started how most would expect, with losses at PEC West last month resulting in a ninth place finish. However, the same thing happened last season2 and that didn’t stop them from being unstoppable throughout the rest of their season. With that said, their PEC results could be taken with a grain of salt. It’s likely the Seattle powerhouse – they still have mainstays Khalif El-Salaam and Bert Cherry headlining their returning talent – will have used those results as a call to shape up and will show the division they’re in it to win it once again this weekend. A couple of questions that we should see answered one way or another is how well Mario O’Brien (or someone else) can fill the crucial Kelly Johnson center handler role from last season, and how quickly talented newcomers like Sadie Jezierski and Jack Brown establish chemistry with the team’s veterans.
This will be the first US Open for #1 New York XIST. After finishing last at nationals in 2021, they came back stronger last season, making it to the semifinals. It’s the roster that speaks louder than their dominant early season results, though. They retain most of their core from last year’s run — Genny De Jesus, Emily Barrett, and Mike and Ryan Drost — while making one of the division’s splashiest pickups in Anne Worth. Although in 2023 they have yet to see teams who do not come from the East Coast, it’s safe to say that they are ready to bring the heat to Denver.
If the US Open’s move away from Blaine, Minnesota is a disadvantage to anyone, it’s #2 Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust, as they no longer have the home-field advantage. But that might be okay for the team since they didn’t fare as well in the Midwest conditions last season and placed fifth. They pulled things together though as they won Pro Champs and made the semifinals at Nationals. This season, however, they’re looking quite strong. How strong, exactly? They only lost four players from last year’s semis run, and the additions for the 2023 campaign include one of their all-time greats (Erica Baken) and poach job of one of the top players on a rival (Dylan DeClerck, NOISE). Minneapolis could well be title town once more.
It’s a blessing and a curse to be the top seed at a tournament. This is what #4 Seattle BFG will face this weekend. They earned this top spot by winning PEC West, albeit with some tight scores along the way. The curse of the top seed, however3, is that it’s very rare that the teams in this position during TCT events stay on top and they often see losses in pool play. It’s quite possible that BFG could break this curse – especially since Sam Rodenberg appears to have catalyzed the offense, adding a new dynamism on top of the steady foundation of the Cheryl Hsu/Tommy Li backfield.
The club season has already been loaded with upsets, so we can’t count out some of the squads down the seed line.
It’s hard to say that #7 Madison NOISE are contenders to be champions because they have yet to play at a tournament this season and they’ve lost their best defender. But they thrive on being underestimated, they still have one of the world’s best throwers in Robyn Fennig, and they’ve shown for two consecutive Octobers that they know how to make it to the top.
It might be a hot take to say that #13 Philadelphia AMP, last season’s US Open winners, aren’t among the top contenders to win it again this year. However, since that victory, they may have lost a little steam, with a shocking prequarters exit at Nationals. This season, they lost two games at PEC East against the no.8 and no.10 seeds of the tournament (Sprocket and ‘Shine, respectively). That’s not to say that AMP – led by, among others, Raha Mozaffari, Liz Hart, Linda Morse, and Henry Ing – won’t be the reason for shakeups this weekend4 and may be able to pull out the big wins again.
At last year’s US Open, #10 San Francisco Polar Bears made it to the semifinals. Like all other teams, they’ve had their fair share of ups and downs in the past year, but they appear to be a legacy team on the verge of a big comeback. They have virtually unprecedented roster continuity and already made a strong showing last month at PEC West.
As a newcomer to the US Open this year, #5 Fort Collins shame. will no doubt look to cause some chaos. While Denver is about an hour away from their home city, shame. is the closest team there is to having the home-field advantage. They’ve already had a strong start to their season, winning Colorado Summer Solstice pretty convincingly. If they can get past some of the teams seeded higher than them, they could have a solid shot at making it far in the tournament. Like Polar Bears, they have strong continuity (Sara Pesch, Owen Westbrook, Nick Snuszka, Jade McLaughlin) from last year’s squad – to which they add long-time underrated Sockeye star Matty Russell.
What kind of title fight will 2023 shape up to be? That is the key question for the season from now until semis at the Club Championships, and one that could well see a firm answer over the course of three days in Aurora. The likeliest options seem to be a two-team contention tier, a three-team contention tier, or a kind of battle royale with as many as six or seven squads truly ready to scrap it out all the way to a national final.
Whether or not they will be joined by anyone else on their lofty perch remains to be seen, but it’s a sure bet that both of last year’s finalists, #1 Denver Molly Brown and #2 San Francisco Fury, have what it takes to reach that point again. Molly continue to benefit from the intrepid play of stars like Alika Johnston, Nhi Nguyen, Lisa Pitcaithley, and the Cárdenas twins, Valeria and Manu. They are an assertive bunch on the field who last year found the right balance between attacking and keeping possession.
Fury, meanwhile, continues to be the ultimate destination for many of the game’s brightest talents. Anna Thompson is the only thrower in the division who can rival Valeria Cárdenas’ blend of power, variety, and vision – and is almost certainly the more dynamic defender. But Thompson is only one star in a crowded sky. You know the names: Amel Awadelkarim, Maggie Ruden, Opi Payne, Nancy Sun. To that mix they add top international talent in Irene Scazzieri and Kanari Imanishi, and they have coaxed Dena Elimelech back into the fold from her walkabout year with Flipside.
If we’re looking at a three-team race, then #3 Boston Brute Squad represent the third vertex of the contention triangle. While they started a bit slowly in 2022, they warmed up in time for the main event and muscled their way into semis at Nationals, where they pushed Fury to the brink. They have seen heavier turnover (15) than both Molly and Fury combined (11), so there will be concerns about chemistry relative to their peers. Nevertheless, they have most of the top talent still in the mix: playmakers Liên Hoffmann, Levke Walczak, Amy Zhou, among others. Cate Woodhurst (Ozone) and Lilli Trautmann (Germany – World Games) are intriguing additions for 2023.
Or will it be a scrum? #4 Vancouver Traffic, #5 Washington DC Scandal, and #6 San Diego Flipside have all seen a measure of early season success. Traffic have both a very deep team and a connection between Catherine Menzies and Sarah Norton on offense that ranks among the division’s best. Flipside are the only team who, at least so far this season, have been as aggressive about taking deep shots as Traffic. Kaela Helton continues to look every bit as dominant as she did last season, and Kaitlyn Weaver is emerging as the key O-line talent to complement her.
Scandal demolished the field at PEC East – have they quietly been building a monster in the offseason? Behind all-world talent Claire Trop they appear to be hoarding riches. Shirlee Wohl, Amanda Murphy, Ashleigh Buch, and Lisi Lohre are all playing very well, and they seem to have officially recruited longtime women’s division badass Kami Groom (most recently of Raleigh Phoenix) since their initial roster drop.
Another team from the eastern half of the continent also looms just outside the picture frame, but could be poised to step in: #9 Toronto 6ixers. All they did last season was nearly knock off eventual champions Molly Brown in semis, and while they have shed some of the key offensive pieces from that roster, they still have one of the strongest players in the game in Britt Dos Santos. She’ll be flanked by playmakers like Alyssa Mason and Tiffany Zhang – will it be enough?
Stay tuned to Ultiworld and UltiPhotos for ongoing coverage of the 2023 US Open!
And even then, just barely ↩
With the same prequarters loss against MOONDOG ↩
other than the obvious target on their backs ↩
what they seemingly do best ↩