Three key observations from each division.
August 5, 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.
Three divisions, 54 games, upsets, near-upsets, blowouts, comebacks, and not quite enough air to make the disc fly like it does at sea level – Friday at the US Open had it all. A few top teams were eliminated, and four international sides (Tokyo MUD, Tokyo Swampybarg, Melbourne Ellipsis, and Stellenbosch Mutiny) have a visa to play at least one more round in the championship bracket.
With so much action, we thought it would be a little easier to summarize the biggest takeaways of the event so far.
Scandal Making an Ado
WARNING! CHALLENGER APPROACHING. We floated the idea in our preview – and Scandal themselves floated the idea with a rousing performance at PEC East a few weeks ago – but it seems to be manifesting in earnest that #5 Washington DC Scandal are positioning themselves as a title contender. They only padded that impression on Friday at the US Open, running rampant through their pool play opponents (15-8 over Traffic, 15-7 over Venado Azul) the way they have all season so far.
The cherry on top? A 14-13 victory over Fury to close out the day, which is as direct an argument as anyone can make for being part of the championship tier. The topline is the play of Claire Trop – she simply lays waste to the opposition, and on many offensive points Scandal’s other cutters spend significant periods of time making room for her cutting. Beneath that highlight reel star, though, is a deep, deep trench of talent. Blaise Sevier and Nada Tramonte had standout moments; Kat Ritzmann scored more goals than anyone not named Trop, and war horses Sandy Jorgensen and Jenny Fey found their classic form. Real talk, they are good. Let’s wait until tomorrow to shout ‘contender’ from the rooftops, but Scandal are making all the right moves so far.
Northwest Has a Bad Day
Sometimes you take it for granted that certain regions will be in the mix every year. Case in point? The Northwest has had three bids to Nationals every year since 2012. It’s basically birthright: play for a top Northwest team, get a vacation in San Diego. But after today’s uneven performance, will they be in the same position again this year?
Okay – hold up – this isn’t supposed to be as alarmist as it sounds. #4 Vancouver Traffic has probably done enough with their PEC West heroics last month to be in a safe bid-earning position. However – however – what happened to them today? They got clowned by a DC Scandal team who, even if they were better, weren’t projected to be seven points better. And then they turned a three-break start against Brute Squad into a deflating 15-11 loss. When teams let them sling the disc without restraint last month in Corvallis, they were good, but the offense couldn’t reliably keep their balance against teams in long points.
It’s a similar story with #12 Portland Schwa, who for a few points at a time seem to have a stable that can run with the thoroughbreds. Julia Sherwood, Geli Boyden, and Claudia Tajima are premier throwers in the division. Rachel Hess and Aubri Bishop score goals by the bucketful. They are as deep as a diving pool with high-level options on both offense and defense. But Molly Brown ran them right out of the Aurora Sports Complex with a 15-8 gutcheck, and they faltered in the clutch in an (admittedly exciting) elimination game against Tokyo Swampybarg, who were visibly fatigued. That 15-14 loss feels like a big red ‘denied’ stamp.
These just aren’t results that you can believe in from the Northwest. If they can’t clean it up in the consolation bracket, and if #10 Seattle Riot perform at the same level, a grim Regionals prospect could be in store for the trio.
Flipside Winning the Watchability Rankings
Our resident watchability genius Pat Stegemoeller hasn’t dropped the 2023 version of his Watchability Rankings yet, but rest assured you will see #6 San Diego Flipside high in the pecking order. Right now, in fact, you might just label them the prohibitive favorites. It isn’t just that they are good – which, as they proved with big wins in pool play and a never-say-die comeback to a respectable 15-13 loss to Molly Brown in the crossover round, they are. It’s more that they play the kind of fearless, ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission offense that everyone loves. Avery Jones, Maggie O’Connor, Megan Maxfield, Alex Diaz, Kaela Helton, and Kaitlyn Weaver are threats to toss a deep disc at any given moment, and the last three of those are also the major deep receivers. The result is a lot of pretty throws, and the kind of four-second bursts of suspense – will she or won’t she catch the disc? – that make for the most presentable version of the sport. Throw in the blue collar wrecking crew defense (Kristen Pojunis, Jasmine Childress, Camille Wilson) and you have a wonderfully easy team to cheer for.
Sockeye Boxing Club
It has to be frustrating today for #13 Seattle Sockeye knowing that they should have beaten Stellenbosch Mutiny in elimination prequarters and could have beaten #1 New York PoNY in the first round. For a team that has somewhat blown up the roster from last season to this, I was impressed with the performance they put up today. They are a team that can punch their way up against higher quality opponents, but also lack the consistency that comes with age and experience to take care of business against lesser teams.
Not making the bracket is tough, but I’m not necessarily selling my Sockeye stock. They’ve shown they can hang tough with what is likely the best team in the world and also put up a good fight against #6 Chicago Machine. Trent Dillon, Mitch Kulczak, and Garrett Martin stood out today – as close as you can come to ‘the usual suspects’ on a team that has shed so much talent – but it was some of their lesser-known depth pieces that were fun to see emerge. Eli Diamond, Max Gade, Dom Jacobs, and Ryan Shigley all played crunch time minutes and made plays. These high-pressure reps will be crucial for these young guys come the Series. And before you ask: no I’m not worried about them missing Nationals.
The Younger DC Generation All Leveling Up at Once
It’s still early in the season but it’s clear that #2 Washington DC Truck Stop is like that. Their new adds AJ Merriman and Thomas Edmonds were both phenomenal for the D-line. They looked poised and confident taking tough assignments and getting the ball moving once they procured it. Jasper Tom looked like one of the best handler defenders at the tournament today. The offensive duo of Christian Boxley and Tyler Monroe is a brilliant complement. Boxley is unguardable by 95% of the division and Tyler Monroe is looking like a freight train. Add in Moussa Dia, who has evolved into a dynamic two-way nightmare matchup, and that’s just scratching the surface of some of the talent on this team.
To no surprise, what stands out the most is how well their handler group performed. The club game is nothing new to all these young guys anymore. Jacques Nissen, Gus Norrbom, Johnny Malks, and Andrew Roy seem like they should be considered for the best handler core in the division. Today, it looked like Malks was the primary shooter, Nissen and Roy were shredding marks, and Norrbom was a deadly give-and-go reset piece. These guys combine their strengths to make the offense look really easy a lot of the time.
DiG Skeleton Squad Gets Buckets
#7 Boston Dig sent a brigade of 15 men to a sweltering hot, thin-aired, and premium tier-level tournament. Most teams in the country could not hold up under these conditions. But DiG managed to win their pool, hanging losses on both Buzz Bullets and #3 Portland Rhino Slam!.
Mac Hecht put on his red hat and laid waste to any defender who stepped to him today. He put up four goals and 12 assists in just three games on really solid efficiency given his monstrous volume.
Orion Cable also put in work as the primary cutter for the offense. Simon Carapella was superb. He’s looking like he might have a breakout season as one of the speediest players in the division. DiG’s performance – given how many players they are missing – raises their stock quite a bit. If you didn’t already have DiG in your top five teams, it’s probably time to reconsider.
Snuffed the Tragic Drag’N
If there’s one thing to know about #2 Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust, it’s that they know how to have really good days or really bad ones. And, well, this wasn’t one of the really good days. They had a winless Friday and will spend the next two days cosplaying as a consolation team in the consolation bracket. But – and it’s a really big but1 – they only lost their three games by a combined three points. Three tragic universe points made the difference. So even though it was winless, it wasn’t a total loss.
Let me explain.
It’s all about peaking at the right time, and today was not that time in the season for them. With the unpredictability of the mixed division2, it’s hard to tell how every team in this division will stack up from year to year. As this is their first (real) tournament of the season and it was clear they were still learning their systems and their new additions were adjusting to playing with each other. Even the return of long-time legend Erica Baken and the addition of Dylan DeClerk came with a learning curve, as their newness to the current iteration of Drag’N was hard to integrate.
“We’re throwing a lot at these players this year versus what we did last year. Even our returners are learning new systems, new ways to play, and obviously, it takes a learning curve to click,” said captain Danielle Byers. “We know that we’re not trying to peak here, it’s not over yet, we still got a big season.”
“Any team that’s learning new systems, you’re not going to get it perfect every time and, of course, when you’re really shaking things up, you’re going to get miscues, you’re going to get people reverting back to the old stuff when we get tired, we start to lose what the new stuff was.”
The Unknowns (the Internationals)
One advantage (and disadvantage) that most USAU teams have in this tournament is familiarity. Knowing how opponents play, whether it’s from having played the teams in the past or studying their games on a stream. The international teams, in general, had the luxury of teams not knowing their style. This is one reason why the international teams played so closely with the USAU teams.
For example, in the matchup between Top Ultimate and Mixtape, the two teams exchanged holds (mostly clean) for the majority of the game. Top Ultimate had an offense that was almost a Hex/Flow structure, usually resulting in a boxout and a catch that would look lucky to the untrained eye and Mixtape was seemingly unable to stifle things to the extent that one would expect. It wasn’t until the middle of the second half that they pulled away, in part because they started to figure out how to effectively defend it. Voltaje and CRAZY were similar in this way and often went on early runs but ultimately lost their games in the end. For instance, how do you know to defend a barrage of screaming low hucks if you’ve never encountered a team like CRAZY before?
One other potential disadvantage that the international teams had was their lack of depth compared to the rest of the teams. They had the legs to run their top players who could hang with the top teams. However, once these players started getting tired and needing to sub out on more points, their teammates could not do as well.
The dog days of summer are upon us, and this year, more than in previous years at the US Open, the heat was brutal on the athletes. The dry heat encroached on players as they dropped left and right from muscle cramps. Players and teams appeared more tired, and as they were exhausted, there was a general drop of sideline energy from teams.
The weather wasn’t the only environmental factor that teams had to face at this tournament. The increased Colorado elevation certainly played a major factor in gameplay throughout the day. Talking about the heat, the sun brutally beat down on players, much more than it does closer to sea level. Not only that, but with the thinner air, teams and players found it tricky to keep up, and multiple players cited needing to increase their cardio load with their seemingly decreased endurance throughout the day.
But most prominently, the thin air played tricks with the disc. With the heightened elevation, it was evident that teams struggled to adapt to the small, but still significant, changes in how the disc flew. Instead of the disc and throws to maintain shape, they sunk much faster. Even just by pure milliseconds, it became much easier for players to overthrow their teammates. It will be interesting to see whether teams are able to adjust in the mini-season that is this weekend, or if this will just be an anomalous weekend.
Stay tuned to Ultiworld and UltiPhotos for ongoing coverage of the 2023 US Open!
Yes, this article was co-written by Sir Mix-a-Lot. ↩
and the seeding for this year’s tournament is a sure sign of this ↩