All the favorites, contenders, and sleepers as the regional championships begin.
September 22, 2023 by Patrick Stegemoeller, Edward Stephens and Jake Thorne in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s 2023 coverage of the club division 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.
The club 2023 postseason is here! After teams battled all summer to earn bids for their regions, it’s time to figure who gets to go to the Big Show and try to win it all. We’ve got you covered with the favorites, challengers, and top storylines of every region.
2015 seems like a long time ago. Since then we’ve transitioned through two presidential administrations, two full generations of college ultimate players, and five full-length Carly Rae Jepsen releases. Not to mention a hundred-year pandemic. That’s a lot of water under the bridge. To illustrate the time elapsed in club division terms, 2015 is when High Five, drawing together players from Ohio and Michigan, took down Chicago Machine in the Great Lakes regional final. If that seems borderline incomprehensible, it’s because Machine haven’t done anything less than run the regional table since then, a streak of six straight Great Lakes titles.1
Does anyone have what it takes to keep Machine from getting a lucky seventh? Yo no sé mañana – but it isn’t looking too good. Machine made it to quarters at Nationals last year, and they might have made it further if they hadn’t caught a suddenly hot Johnny Bravo side. Since then, they’ve only gotten better. Nate Goff and newcomer Malik Auger-Semmar have been forces cutting for Pawel Janas and Joe White on the offense, and the D-Line is as block-hungry as ever.
The top candidates to unseat them are Cincinnati Omen, who broke through to the program’s first Nationals last year. This year, though? Their tour of top-level USAU events wasn’t quite strong enough to earn a second bid for the region, putting them in a tight spot. That said, they now have a year’s experience sharpening themselves against the division’s best. Combined with some serious pop – Michael Ames, Rick Gross, and Travis Carpenter are the big names, but they’ll get major contributions from William Wettengel, Noah Krumme, and late-season U24 Team USA addition Lucas Coniaris – it’s enough to give them a puncher’s chance. Unlikely? Sure. Impossible? Absolutely not.
Chicago Trident I2 are probably the only other team potentially in the mix for the regional final, and then only if their path takes them through Omen rather than Machine. They’ve got a solid mix of younger club players (Ian Falck, Reid Martin) and area stalwarts (Milan Rivas) and might just be able to score an upset to reach the game-to-go. The pickings are slimmer for clubs like Kentucky Colonels and Indianapolis I-69, who should be focused on long-term planning to set themselves up for a better chance at the big show in future seasons.
Dates: September 30-October 13
Location: Frederica, DE
Number of Bids: 2
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥
Favorites: #1 Washington DC Truck Stop, #12 Virginia Vault
Challengers: #24 Pittsburgh Temper, New Brunswick Garden State Ultimate, Philadelphia Phantom
After a year of three-bid plenty, the Mid-Atlantic returns to a two-bid squeeze in 2023. The region can have few complaints; Washington DC Truck Stop are the #1 team in the county, Virginia Vault have played the role of dutiful bid-earners, and none beyond that pair have looked to be at the level required for Nationals.
Based on regular season rankings, this would appear to be an open-and-shut case of Truck and Vault collecting their bids to Nationals. An anticipated final between the two squads would be a fun “big brother v little brother” affair as Vault try to pull the upset over their top-seeded neighbors. Beyond any drama generated by that matchup, there probably won’t be any big shocks out of the Mid-Atlantic. Probably.
While Vault have solidly wedged themselves into the National firmament, they have not demonstrated such overwhelming consistency that an upset at Regionals would be completely surprising. Going winless at Pro Champs, dropping a game to Sub Zero at ESC, and putting up merely semi-convincing wins over Temper and Phantom leave juuuuusssstttt enough daylight for the challengers to think they could have a shot in one game for all the marbles.
Something that might bolster Vault’s confidence is none of the teams in the hunt below them seem ready to make the leap. Temper have been in a tailspin all season, failing to beat a single Nationals team from last season. GSU are a fun story and have put up wins over Temper and Phantom already this year, but haven’t seriously threatened a top-20 team since a close loss to Ring of Fire in June. Phantom are 0-2 against the rest of the region’s top five teams.
Even if Vault do stroll to the second bid, there is intrigue in how the rest of the region finishes. A good showing from Temper could stop the bleeding for the program, but finishing behind Garden State and Phantom would not help the recovery plan for 2024. Getting to the game-to-go would be a successful season for both GSU and Phantom, giving them recruiting momentum to make a charge at Nationals next season. And the final Select Flight spot seemingly belongs to Arlington Oakgrove Boys, but don’t sleep on Red Wolves, who picked up Ted Sither for the series and have the potential to string some nice sequences of play together.
Dates: September 30 – October 1
Location: Des Moines, IA
Number of Bids: 1
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥🔥
Favorites: #14 Minneapolis Sub Zero
Challengers: #18 Winnipeg General Strike, #21 Madison Mad Men, #25 St. Louis STL Lounar, Minneapolis Mallard
An oddly compelling region given its limited footprint on the National scene. Just look at that seeding. The presumptive favorites and 14th ranked team in the country are a 5-seed because they lost at Sectionals to a team from their own city. The team that made Nationals last year are the second seed behind an undefeated team that largely hasn’t played outside of the region, and the 3-seed is a Canadian outfit that walloped all comers at Sectionals. Pretty intriguing, right?
We should start with Sub Zero, because they may be facing the highest stakes of all the contenders. After being a credible quarterfinalist at Nationals for a couple years and clear top dogs in the North Central, a rebuilding season in 2022 went awry and Sub found themselves watching Natties at home after an upset at the hands of Mad Men.
A one-year blip is survivable, but a two-year trend could mark a moment of real upheaval in the region. Sub had a respectable regular season, but lost to Mallard at Sectionals. It wasn’t an instance of low personnel for the team either: Sub had most of their roster present but just came out flat against a hot team and lost. Part of the issue for Sub Zero may be that while the team boasts a lot of exciting young talent in Paul Krenik, Will Brandt, Leo Sovell-Fernandez and co., they don’t have as many top players in the primes of their career, which often leads to inconsistency.
And let’s not discredit Mallard here entirely, as they’ve clearly taken a step forward as a program. With some of the best recent players out of the University of Minnesota – like Anthony Jirele, Josh Kautz, and Cash Barber, who in years past likely would have played Sub – Mallard have shown they’re much more than a Twin Cities B team. As the four and five seeds, the two teams get a rematch in pool play that will give Mallard a chance to show their win at Sectionals was no fluke.
Elsewhere, Mad Men skipped Sectionals by qualifying for Nationals last season, but the tape on them so far doesn’t look like a Natties lock. “Uninspiring” could describe their results so far this season, with no wins over Nationals-level competition. With a roster that looks even more like a Wisconsin Hodag alum team, Mad Men should have the experience and chemistry to weather a tricky tournament, but the talent ceiling is still a big question.
Topping the seedings are two teams who are undefeated in USAU play: STL Lounar and Winnipeg General Strike. Despite being the no.1 overall seed, relatively unknown STL Lounar have a lot to prove at Regionals after playing the weakest schedule of the top seeded US teams. But hey, undefeated is undefeated, and until someone beats them, they’ll be on course for Nationals. The other squad to offer a bit of mystery are General Strike, who come down from Canada looking primed to cause some mischief. You’ll remember the names Mark Lloyd and Quinn Snider from their exploits over the past decade, but it’s not just a two man show in Winnipeg. Strike are a team that run deep with big athletes, and they’ll be a handful for any opponent.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Devens, MA
Number of Bids: 3
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Favorites: #3 New York PoNY, #6 Boston DiG, #13 Toronto GOAT
Challengers: #20 Ottawa Phoenix, New England Scoop, New York Blueprint, Montreal Mephisto, Amherst TireBizFriz, Amherst Sprout
Ultimate’s history is only semi-documented, so sweeping statements can be hard to definitively verify, but let’s just try this one on for size and see how it feels: Northeast Men’s Regionals 2023 is the deepest region there has ever been at the USA Club level. Can we prove that? No, but looking at the body of work from Northeast teams, it feels right.
From top-to-bottom, there are no holes. At the summit you’ve got the favorite to win the National championship in PoNY and a legit semis contender in DiG. They played out an amazing universe point final at Regionals last year and both teams look even better this season.
PoNY have some questions to answer after getting blown out by Truck Stop in the semifinals of Pro Champs while missing several of their top players. With their full complement of stars PoNY are the most talented team this (and just about any) season, but we haven’t yet seen them hit the peaks their list of personnel seems to promise. DiG for their part have looked formidable, with a program rebuilt by the coaching team behind Brown’s recent college success and an offense retooled around the returning Mac Hecht. A clash in the final with regional bragging rights on the line would be the perfect chance for both teams to show just how serious their ambitions are for Nationals.
Lurking behind them are Toronto GOAT, who did the region the courtesy of actually earning a bid this year. GOAT are the swing team – if they show up and play like they did last season when they upset DiG in the game-to-go they will challenge the top two, and the three bids to Nationals are likely spoken for. But if they don’t, then the door is WIDE open for several teams to come in for that final bid.
Top of that list are Ottawa Phoenix, who already beat GOAT this season at SFI-East and then played them within a single point in the semifinals at Canadian Nationals. Phoenix’s high-variance style gives them the tools to beat a team like GOAT, but has also subjected them to close games against teams nowhere near the National conversation, like a nervy 10-8 win over Red Wolves at SFI.
Behind Phoenix are a host of teams from all over the Northeast that similarly have the potential to barge through a crack left open by one of the favorites. New England Scoop have been knocking on the door of a top-25 ranking all season and could be the next iteration in a long line of second Boston teams making Nationals. Amherst Sprout made Nationals two years ago and arguably have a more exciting roster this time around, bolstered by late reinforcements like the NY Empire’s Zach Burpee. New York Blueprint split a pair of clashes with Sprout during the regular season, and are undefeated in games when U24 Mixed breakout star Jacob Cowan is playing. Montreal Mephisto finished 10th at Worlds last season and put a jolt into the region by showing up at West New England Sectionals and emerging victorious over Sprout and TireBizFriz. And speaking of TireBizFriz, that collection of uncut gems could swashbuckle their way to a win against just about any of these teams if their execution matches their confidence.
Northeast Regionals is a cruel mistress. Just ask DiG last season. One slip from a favorite can put a striving underdog in a position to shake up the entire region. The competition just to be the one who can take advantage of such a slip is fierce – multiple teams that have a non-zero chance at making Nationals are going to finish outside of the Select Flight slots – so it’s hard to parse who will be in position late on Sunday to pull off an upset. But however the final results shake out, it’s going to be a dramatic weekend in Devens.
P.S. It wouldn’t be Northeast Regionals without a stacked team of elite Boston area players showing up for just the series and terrifying everyone. Meet Mystery Box. Yikes!
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Lacey, WA
Number of Bids: 3
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥🔥
Favorites: #10 Portland Rhino Slam!, #11 Seattle Sockeye, #19 Vancouver Furious George
Challengers: #23 Eugene Dark Star
Going into the season, we would’ve thought our preseason national title contender, Rhino, would easily win the Northwest. However, after seeing them go 11-10 this season, it might not be so simple. The upside is still there for them given the talent on the roster, but so far, they’ve looked sleepy and uninspired this season. Can we expect them to turn it on? Or have what they’ve shown us this season been the real Rhino all along? At the end of the day, though, they have to be the favorites this weekend – because with guys like Dylan Freechild, Raphy Hayes, and Leandro Marx leading the way, it’s natural to have irrational confidence in Portland.
Speaking of irrational confidence, I’ve just got a good feeling about Sockeye this weekend. Sure they took what was potentially the most embarrassing loss of the season and perhaps Sockeye franchise history to Mutiny at US Open.4 They also kind of look like a college team with how much youth talent they have on the roster; it’s easy to like their swagger and the trust they’re putting in homegrown youth talent to take on big responsibilities. If they can earn some momentum plays and stay dialed, I think Seattle punch their ticket to Nationals.
Furious George are a tough team to assess because of the limited meetings they’ve had against high level USAU competition this season. Their 14-1 record is impressive, but they didn’t play any good teams in the back half of their season. I’m not convinced they’re going to look prepared to play in high pressure win-or-go-home Regionals games. They’re a talented group, but their recent struggles at Canadian Nationals do not inspire confidence.
The chief thief in play to steal one of the bids? Look to the land of Nike. Eugene Dark Star are, somewhat quietly, a very solid team and almost certainly will surprise the field with their quality this weekend. Look out for their high-risk appetite and high-variance playstyle to shock some of these more systematic clubs.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Austin, TX
Number of Bids: 2
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥🔥
Favorites: #7 Denver Johnny Bravo, #9 Austin Doublewide
Challengers: Boulder ISO Atmo, Houston H.I.P, San Antonio Alamode, Golden Fungi, Dallas Brawl, Houston Clutch
Cutting right to the chase, the South Central is all about the inevitable annual battle between Austin Doublewide and Denver Johnny Bravo for the regional crown. It’s one of the best rivalries in the sport – the two have squared off in the final nine out of the last ten seasons.5 Last year the pendulum swung to Doublewide as they hung on for a universe point win. This season? It’s anybody’s guess. You can throw the records out the window when these two teams tangle.
Bravo have had the slightly stronger season to date – and, as defending national champs, the more illustrious recent history. With both Lohres having left the team and Alex Atkins sidelined with an injury, the burden of carrying the offense has largely fallen on the shoulders of Quinn Finer, and he’s been exceptional. Strong performances from Seth Faris, Calvin Stoughton, and Denny Bechis alongside Finer, plus some top-notch work by Cody Spicer, Chance Cochran, Saeed Semrin, and Noah Coolman on the D-line have Bravo in good form heading into the meat of the Series.
Just don’t hand them the South Central title before the games are played, because Doublewide will certainly push them. Jake Radack and Chase Cunningham are prime throwers in the backfield; they have plenty of appealing targets like Abe Coffin and Sam Murphy. Overall they were a bit of a work in progress at Pro Champs, but you could see the shape of a Nationals quarterfinalist in the midst of the construction. Alec Wilson Holliday, Joey Wylie, and Oliver Fay have shown considerable spot playmaking capability, and a few plays will probably make the difference against Bravo.
Some years have seen a third strong contender in the region – H.I.P. made the final in 2016; so did Boulder Lotus in 2021 – but 2023 won’t be one of them. The competition for the Top Select spot is going to be fierce, though, with the likes of H.I.P., Denver ISO Atmo, Golden Fungi, Dallas Brawl, San Antonio Alamode, and Austin Riverside all bunched together at season’s end. There’s no telling what will shake out here behind the bids.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Advance, NC
Number of Bids: 3
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥🔥🔥
Favorites: #2 Atlanta Chain Lightning, #8 Raleigh Ring of Fire, #17 Raleigh-Durham United
Challengers: Tampa UpRoar, Tennessee Tanasi, Charlotte BaNC, Chapel Hill Cash Crop 2, Kennesaw Delirium
In a reversal that would have been unthinkable as recently as the week leading up to Southeast Regionals last season, Atlanta Chain Lightning enter Regionals with a slight leg up on their longtime rivals Raleigh Ring of Fire. Not only did they steal the regional crown away from Raleigh last year with a dramatic Jeremy Langdon sky, but they have serious momentum from a major showing at Pro Champs, where they made the final and pushed a heavily favored Truck Stop side to universe point. The Liam Haberfield/Hayden Austin-Knab/Brett Hulsmeyer hybrid triumvirate on offense poses matchup problems all over the field. And when the defense gets the ball, it’s a pick-your-poison scenario with Adam Miller, Michael Fairley, and Nicky Spiva all bringing wildly different skills to the backfield. The kicker is we haven’t even seen them at full force yet: not only have they been keeping John Stubbs in the cupboard for a rainy day, but news just broke that they’re bringing in last year’s phenomenal Australian import Tom Tulett for a repeat performance in the Series. Sheesh.
Speaking of teams not at full-strength, Ring of Fire have been cobbling together tournament rosters of loose ends all season. Sometimes Jacob Fairfax is with the team, sometimes he’s gone. Sometimes Eric Taylor is injured, sometimes he’s healthy. Matt Rehder played at one out of two tournaments; Dylan Hawkins wasn’t wearing cleats at Pro Champs. But the thing is – the thing is – we have a sleeping giant on our hands… if they’re bringing something close to a full outfit down Tobacco Road to Advance, NC. The new pieces (Matt Tucker, Andrew Li, Kevin Pignone) seem to fit well. It shouldn’t surprise anybody if they overtake Chain for annual bragging rights – even going it old school without a dedicated coach (a rarity among top teams in this day and age).
What would be surprising is if any of the other contenders hurdle them for one of the main two bids. They’re most likely playing for third. Usually that means Top Select status – but this year, Raleigh-Durham United, largely on the strength of a win over PoNY just as the season opened, have nailed down a third bid to Nationals. While they aren’t in the same league as Ring and Chain, they are the clear favorites for the final ticket to the West Coast. Albert Yuan, Will Coffin, and Tobias Brooks are a few of the key names, and they picked up a legendary soldier of fortune in Brett Matzuka to help guide them to victory.
RDU have a good set up, but they don’t have the bid locked down by any stretch. Several strong candidates to steal it from them lurk just further down. Any of the fourth through eighth seeds have it in them to knock out the favorites in a game-to-go. The lineup? An athletic and relatively unscouted Tampa UpRoar; a Tennessee Tanasi side who’ve hovered on the fringes of Nationals for the last few years and will be champing at the bit for another shot after a long absence;6 Charlotte BaNC, who benefit from a growing Charlotte youth scene; a deliriously talented Kennesaw Delirium who were a point away from winning SFI East earlier this summer; and, most intriguingly, Cash Crop 2 – they’re a group of (mostly) UNC Darkside players including headliners Josh Singleton and Eli Fried.7 With a huge prize on the line, expect some high-octane play late into Sunday.
Revolver come into Regionals a heavy favorite. They are 20 spots up on their closest competitors in the rankings. With a strong regular season performance and an undeniable talent and depth edge on the field, Revolver should feel confident even with only one bid. This is the most well-built Revolver team we’ve seen since 2018, and they feel like a squad with semifinals upside at Nationals. For all that upside, though, they’re not quite at the level of invincible going into this weekend. Long time rival Condors and recently burst onto the scene Zyzzyva will both put up strong resistance to Revolver’s phoenix rising season. Could they derail it entirely?
Condors looked promising early on this year at Pro-Elite Challenge, and had a strong starting position to sneak in as a bid-earner. They quickly forfeited their advantage in the bid race by sending a skeleton crew to Elite Select Challenge that got punked by the other attending teams. But even with the departure of some of the cornerstone Condors players these past few years, SoCal still have weapons that pack a punch. Sean McDougall, Brandon Van Deusen, Marcel Osborne, and Lukas Ambrose are all worthy men’s club players who can compete with the likes of the Revolver talent. With so few data points on the Condors this season it’s hard to say exactly what type of form they will be in, but expect them to vastly outproduce the performance they put up at Elite-Select Challenge. They could lull their opponents into a false sense of security generated by their lackluster regular season results.
Zyzzyva aren’t a household name or anything – heck, “zyzzyva” isn’t even an household word8 – but after this weekend, maybe they will be. It’s been a historic season for their young franchise as they’ve scored marquee wins over Raleigh-Durham United, Mad Men, and most notably, Condors. This is a team characterized by their young talent. In fact most of their best players – including Evan Magsig, Dexter Clyburn, Gavin May, Robin Vickers Batzdorf, Raekwon Adkins, Dylan Nice, and Max Williams – are all under 24. They’ve got a solid pool of legitimate players but their depth might run a little shallow deeper into the tournament when the miles start to add up on their star players. It seems like this team has something to prove this season, and they want to show they aren’t just a little brother program in the Southwest to Revolver and Condors.
The rest of the region probably aren’t bets to compete seriously. They’ll be fighting for the leftover scraps of respectability – and hopefully enjoying the gorgeous Norco vistas.
In the men’s division, only Truck Stop have a longer regional winning streak (10). ↩
not to be confused with Chicago Trident II, who will also be attending ↩
Mid-Atlantic Regionals has been moved back a week due to projected inclement weather. ↩
Tanasi went to Nationals in 2010 and 2011 ↩
For brevity’s sake, I didn’t even mention Atlanta Hooch, whose cast of dashing misfits includes a certain handsome over-the-hill Ultiworld reporter in addition to several actual good players. ↩