All the favorites, contenders, and sleepers as the regional championships begin.
September 22, 2023 by Edward Stephens, Jenna Weiner, Kelsey Hayden and Zack Davis 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.
Sometimes, just a few tournaments can tell you everything you need to know about a region. Take, for example, the top three teams in the Great Lakes: Chicago Nemesis, Columbus Rival, and Indy Rogue. Each played in two TCT tournaments, with the trio pairing off at PEC-East, SFI-East, and ESC, and each set of results spoke volumes about where each team was, and is, this season in the regional pecking order.
Some ten-plus weeks ago, Nemesis and Rival took the field for their season openers at PEC-East. Although the tournament was cut short due to weather, Nemesis notched a pair of wins over KnoxFusion and Flight before falling well short of Phoenix and Scandal, and Rival played close with Parcha, Ozone, and Tabby Rosa. Nothing too notable as of yet, so the status quo kept pace with Nemesis leading the way.
Two weeks later, and Rival wrapped up their regular season with an appearance at SFI-East, where they were joined by a Rogue team that had opened up their early season play undefeated. Though Indy couldn’t maintain their undefeated streak, they scored a big win over their regional rivals Columbus in the third place game to establish themselves as a credible threat to finish second in the region. Both Rogue and Rival’s rosters are speckled with names you might recognize from the PUL’s Indy Red and Columbus Pride, respectively, with each roster’s crop of burgeoning stars offering a promising future for both squads.
A promising future it’ll likely have to be, since Nemesis showed their class in their final regular season tournament at ESC, where they were joined by Rogue as Indy rounded out its season. For Chicago, their stable of talented veterans — Steph Rupp, Abby Shure, and Connie Chan to name just a few — helped lead them to a universe point upset over Riot in pool play and an eventual semifinal showing, while Rogue fell flat, only picking up a single win on the weekend.
The gap between Nemesis and their regional competitors was significant, and remains that way as the four-time reigning Great Lakes champs don’t look to be upset before making it a quintet of titles. Expect the experience and talent of Nemesis to win out this weekend, and Rival and Rogue to wrangle for the runner-up role.
Dates: September 30 – October 11
Location: Frederica, DE
Number of Bids: 3
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥🔥
Favorites: #2 Washington DC Scandal, #13 Pittsburgh Parcha, #15 Washington DC Grit
Challengers: #16 Philadelphia Flight
Washington DC Scandal are the complete package, and despite falling short of the win at Pro Champs they demonstrated that they’ve got what it takes to win it all in October. What does that mean for Regionals? Simply that they are the runaway favorites to take home the title in Frederica this weekend. Claire Trop is a top-3 player in the women’s division right now, and an easy argument can be made that she’s not #3 or #2. She suffered an injury at Pro Champs that kept her sidelined for the semis and final, but Scandal took that as an opportunity to show off their depth, rather than as an excuse to roll over. Prior to the tournament, Scandal hadn’t dropped a game, and you shouldn’t expect them to drop another one this weekend.
Although the first bid is a virtual lock, there are two more, and it’s not clear which two teams will earn them.There are three teams in the Mid-Atlantic with a great shot to be sitting in chairs when the music stops: Pittsburgh Parcha, Washington DC Grit, and Philadelphia Flight. Parcha and Grit are the favorites to earn them, with Parcha feeling like a heavier favorite, but it’s a narrow gap.
If you want to put stock into past results, Parcha already has two wins over Grit this season. A 12-11 nail biter at PEC-East and a more convincing 11-6 result at ESC. Parcha played well at Pro Champs as well, snatching a win over Seattle Riot. Grit, for their part, weren’t able to come away with any wins in Milwaukee, but they played a tight game against Traffic and have wins over solid outfits like Florida Tabby Rosa and the very team they’re looking to defend the bid from: Flight.
Flight aren’t to be counted out though. They have notched a quality win this season against Atlanta Ozone and have gone up against squads like BENT, Schwa, and Phoenix credibly, a level of competition few other teams in the field have had a chance to see. Additionally they took care of business at Sectionals, with their closest game being a 15-8 win against the Philadelphia Zephyr. This is a strong unit.
Any three of these teams are capable of beating the other two and it’s far from a foregone conclusion who will be booking their flights to San Diego.
The original format worked perfectly to create the most drama possible for these incredibly closely matched teams – while pools would be chalky, the crossover game and semis had the potential to make the tournament very exciting, very quickly. But the weather had other ideas, forcing the event to postpone. Hopefully the eventual conclusion comes in as equally tension-filled format.
In 2018, the North Central arguably hit its peak in competition. Heist and Pop squared off for the regional title, led by Robyn Fennig and Chip Chang, respectively, with Madison edging out Minneapolis for the regional title on universe point. Pop went on to secure the second bid, and both teams scored upset wins at Nationals.
Five years on, though, and this isn’t that same North Central. Fennig and Chang have both left for Western pastures2, and while Pop have retained a strong core, Heist haven’t been so fortunate. This season, as Minneapolis go for their fourth straight regional title, Madison find themselves rated closer to fourth-seed Omaha Banshee than to the regional favorites. It’ll be quite the uphill climb for Heist to have a real chance to knock off Pop, even though Madison do have a number of players who bring experience and chemistry from their time playing together on the PUL’s Milwaukee Monarchs, including Eileen Bequette, Allie Mueting, and Rachel Hildebrand.
For Pop, this weekend will likely serve as one final tune-up before they make a fourth consecutive trip to San Diego. The Minneapolis roster, which has considerable overlap with the PUL Central Division champs Minnesota Strike’s roster, has many of the familiar names we’ve come to know out of the Twin Cities metropolis. Makella Daley, Steph Wood, and Rebecca Enders are just three of the leading lights for a Pop team that, despite not having necessarily their best season, still enter the weekend as clear favorites to advance without much drama. Then they can set their sights on a task that has eluded them so far in 2023 – winning games against Nationals-level teams.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Devens, MA
Number of Bids: 3
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Favorites: #5 Boston Brute Squad, #8 Toronto 6ixers, #10 New York BENT
Challengers: #19 Northampton Starling, #20 Québec Iris, #21 Boston Siege
Oh, the Northeast Region. Is there a better region to watch? Probably not. Is there a more heartbreaking region to be a part of? Definitely not. Even in a year when there are three bids on the table, that’s not nearly enough, with at least six strong contenders in the mix at Devens this weekend.
Let’s start with the perennial favorites, Boston Brute Squad and Toronto 6ixers. These two east coast beasts have been at the top of the region for years, and nothing this season has led us to believe that 2023 will be any different. While neither team has been particularly dominant against the highest levels of competition – both Boston and Toronto attended US Open and Pro Champs and had 7-6 and 6-7 records, respectively, between the two tournaments – both squads are head and shoulders above the rest of the region. Who will lock in the first bid is yet to be determined but Boston gets the edge thanks to a 15-11 win over Toronto at Pro Champs earlier this month. It feels safe to say that Brute Squad and 6ixers will take the top two spots, in some order, but after that is where the real fun begins.
To put it in perspective, four teams ranked between #8 and #21 will be fighting for this final third bid. And to add to the craziness, there really is no obvious favorite if you look at their records against each other. Let me try to lay this out for you…
BENT lost to Starling by one at New York Warmup at the beginning of the year, Siege have lost to Starling twice, once in the final of Select Flight-East and once at a mysterious three-team tournament called ‘Log Jam’ in Vermont in August. Iris have played Siege twice, splitting games with them, and Starling have played Iris three times with a record of 1-2 against them. There are no common opponents between all four teams, so we can’t even look to their other games for insight. What we can look at is the schedule for NE Regionals though, which conveniently has put BENT and Siege together in Pool C, and Iris and Starling together in Pool D. This means first thing Saturday morning the hierarchy will begin to form.
BENT’s roster is the most star-studded, and as a result it feels like they have the highest ceiling. But BENT has often been on the outside looking in after NE Regionals, so they’ll need to rely on the likes of Yina Cartegena, Ella Juengst, and Abby Hecko to draw on their big-game experience and lead the way to San Diego. On the flip side, Starling are only in their second season and haven’t had much opportunity to prove themselves yet. And while they haven’t faced the most varied or deep competition this year but they’ve beaten all three of the other third bid contenders so it will be exciting to see how high Starling can fly. They are probably the favorite to clinch the Top Select spot, if they can’t lock down that elusive 3rd bid.
TLDR; This weekend, the only certainty is that there is uncertainty in Devens, and it’s going to be very exciting to see how it all shakes out on Sunday.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Burlington, WA
Number of Bids: 3
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥
Favorites: #7 Portland Schwa, #9 Vancouver Traffic, #14 Seattle Riot
Challengers: #23 Seattle END, Seattle Underground
The Northwest clinched three tickets to Nationals. That’s usually a good sign for regional hijinks – but this one feels a bit like a forgone conclusion when it comes to who will be taking the train to San Diego.3 The real question however, is in what order will they board?
Vancouver Traffic and Portland Schwa have both played a lot of games this season, meaning that both teams have had plenty of time to find their rhythm and create the beautiful O-line chemistry and D line grind that every team needs for success. Traffic started the season really hot – at Pro-Elite Challenge they made waves with a 14-9 dominant win over last year’s national champions Denver Molly Brown. They followed that with a decisive win over Riot and another W against San Diego Flipside. It looked like Traffic might have finally broken through to be a truly elite level team in the women’s division. Since then however, they haven’t been cruising at quite the same speed. At US Open, Pro Champs, and Canadian Nationals they racked up losses against every top team they played – Brute Squad, Scandal, Northwest rivals Schwa, Phoenix, and Toronto 6ixers.
For their part, Portland Schwa have had a more steady journey through the season, with more overall wins but against less stiff competition. When they have actually faced the best of the best this season, they fell to Fury and Flipside at PEC, and Molly Brown at US Open. They do however have the head-to-head advantage against Traffic: they beat their regional rivals 14-11 in August. Can Schwa do it again or will Traffic re-discover their early season groove and win the region? It’s hard to predict what will happen other than the fact that it’s going to be a really, really good Northwest final.
Seattle Riot are notably below the top two teams and notably above the rest of the region. It feels reasonable to say that they should take the third bid without too much trouble. Perhaps after a gritty final the loser of Traffic-Schwa will falter and open the door for Riot, but considering they’ve lost by seven to Traffic and nine to Schwa this season, it seems unlikely the top two contenders would lose that much focus. Fellow Seattle teams Underground and END would undoubtedly love to cause an upset but the task is probably too tall. While this isn’t the Riot we knew through the 2010s, this is still no team to sleep on. They’ve got great players and a strong, successful history in this difficult region.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Austin, TX
Number of Bids: 1
Excitement Level: 🔥
Favorites: #3 Denver Molly Brown
Challengers: Austin Vengeance, Houston Crush City, Denver Small Batch
In terms of sending a team to Nationals, South Central Regionals is a formality. It is, functionally, a glorified training weekend for Denver Molly Brown. Is that going too far? You tell me: since we returned to play from the pandemic, Molly have won both regional finals by a score of 15-4, over Houston Crush City (2021) and Denver Small Batch (2022). That’s hardly even breaking a sweat.
Expect more of the same this weekend from the defending champs. You know the names: Lisa Pitcaithley, Nhi Nguyen, Claire Chastain, Valeria Cárdenas, Manu Cárdenas, Ronnie Eder, Kristen Reed … that’s a Category 5 top end, and there is plenty more power behind it. They’re going to blow the competition right down.
It doesn’t have to be this way! And, not so long ago, it wasn’t. Texas Showdown used to push Molly every year – and sometimes win. Showdown did not return post-Covid, though, and the new Texas scene, while robust, has yet to produce a team at the same level. If you squint, though, you can see the makings of a good crop down the line. Austin Vengeance did emerge from the pandemic intact, and they have been getting stronger each year. They’ve been getting great crossover chemistry from a lot of shared roster composition with the PUL’s Austin Torch – Sierra Rimmer, Summer Wilson, and Emma Berrigan (to name a few) – and they’ve brought in playmaker Rebecca Fagan for this season. They seem like they have the strongest foundation for the future, and they spent a few weeks well inside our top-25 this season.
For the present, though? Vengeance’s Lone Star rivals are prepared to give them fits, just like they did at Texas Sectionals. Crush City have been on the come up, and they too feature a couple of Torch players in Shiru Liu and Elise Franke. They beat Vengeance two weeks ago on their way to a sectionals championship. The team they beat? That would be the brand new San Antonio Problems4, who make up for in chutzpah what they lack in history. They came out blazing at Sectionals to hand Vengeance an unexpected loss, and they played tight with Crush City in the final. Another weekend of seeing those three two-step around each other – and longtime Denver second squad Small Batch, who could beat any and all of them for top-select status – will be well worth our attention.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Advance, NC
Number of Bids: 1
Excitement Level: 🔥
Favorites: #2 Raleigh Phoenix
Challengers: #17 Atlanta Ozone, #24 Florida Tabby Rosa
If you have not seen any games this season, please go watch the Raleigh Phoenix games from Pro Champs. After entering the hyperbolic time chamber following a second place finish at PEC-East the Phoenix players emerged strong enough to take on any team in the nation. They proved that by notching two wins over (then) top-ranked Scandal and one over Molly Brown. The team’s returning stars are shining brighter than ever. Lindsey Soo, Sarah Meckstroth, and Bridget Mizener look focused, and are each moving the disc with a quiet, calm efficiency that is no less effective for its lack of flash. Their efficiency is only amplified by the explosive nature of the young players that have been trickling out of the college powerhouse that is North Carolina Pleiades. Alex Barnett and Dawn Culton in particular have found a new level this year. Additionally, the team have been bolstered by the pickup of Qxhna Titcomb, who has fit into the Phoenix systems seamlessly. Phoenix are without a doubt the out and out favorite to win the Southeast – and unfortunately for the other participants that will be traveling to Advance, NC this weekend to play there is only one bid to the big top out of the region this year.
Phoenix making it out of the tournament seems like a forgone conclusion, but it’s not a guarantee! That’s why they play the games. Both Atlanta Ozone and Florida Tabby Rosa are solid teams and in the top 25 for a reason. The thing is that neither team has a win against any team in the top 20 this season. So unless they’ve seriously leveled up in the interim since we saw them at ESC, it’s going to be very hard for either team to find a win against Phoenix. That being said, there are a few reasons to keep an eye on them. 1.) Both teams have enough promising young players that we could be getting a sneak peek at a Nationals team in 2024 and beyond; 2.) the battle for Top Select should be fierce; and, most importantly, 3.) the Erynn Schroeder-Kate Travaglini traveling roadshow is back in business (now on Tabby) after a few years off!5 Those two are worth watching any time.
If you’re looking for a prediction, this tournament will go to chalk. There were no big upsets at any of the sectional tournaments in the Southeast, or really any threat of one, and the gap between the tiers of teams here is just too large.
Dates: September 23-24
Location: Norco, CA
Number of Bids: 3
Excitement Level: 🔥🔥
Favorites: #4 San Francisco Fury, #6 San Diego Flipside, #12 San Francisco Nightlock
Challengers: #18 Oakland LOL, #22 San Diego Wildfire
Like clockwork, the Southwest has three bids to Nationals, and like clockwork, Fury lead the way. The Southwest champs every year since the regional redraw in 20126, last year’s runner-ups have once again done the usual Fury thing of reloading with incredible talent to make an umpteenth run at a title. As is nearly always the case with Fury, you could just about pick out any group of names out of a hat and have them be key contributors, so on this occasion how about we choose some of their stat-leaders from the US Open? Long-time Fury Lisa Couper led the team in goals with 13, while the immortal Carolyn Finney led the team in assists with 12. Add in a fully healthy Allie Tsuji and international addition Irene Scazzieri, who each chipped in nine goals, and there’s little reason to think that Fury won’t claim the crown this weekend.
Perhaps the only reason to think that Fury won’t walk away as Southwest champs is a little team called Flipside. The Southern Californians, who are one of three teams (alongside Scandal and Molly Brown) to hold a win over their NorCal competitors this season, have once again established themselves as a credible Nationals bracket contender. Along with the aforementioned win over Fury, Flipside also holds wins over Schwa and 6ixers, along with a pair of victories over Japanese squad Swampybarg at the US Open. Kaela Helton has returned to lead the way for San Diego, along with Maggie O’Connor, Kaitlyn Weaver, and team rookie Megan Maxfield, who has ably stepped up as a potent goal-scoring threat after the departure of Dena Elimelech. That quartet heads up Flipside’s dynamic offense and will try to give Fury a run for their money in the likely regional final.
Rounding out the trio of bid-earning teams is Nightlock, who solidified their place in the top-15 with a one-loss ESC that included wins over Parcha and Grit. That performance helped make up for a winless US Open a mere two weeks prior, and set Nightlock up to make a go at their 11th straight Nationals. After the WUL’s San Francisco Falcons’ successful season, Nightlock have benefited from the strong play from a number of those carryover players, including Kara Hammer, Jackelyne Nguyen, and Mila Hernandez-Flowerman. That pre-built chemistry may not be able to help them over the edge to beat Fury or Flipside, but it should do plenty well enough to earn Nightlock another trip south to San Diego next month.
The next-up contenders this season are, as is tradition, the perennial next-up teams in the Southwest: LOL and Wildfire. Both bring gaudy records into Regionals, with LOL undefeated and Wildfire carrying a lone loss to LOL, though those records come with a caveat. Neither have played any bid-earning teams this year, and in fact LOL haven’t even played any out-of-region competition. In years past, both LOL and Wildfire have put scares into Nightlock in the game-to-go, but this time around it may prove a taller task than before. Bet on the chalk.
Mid-Atlantic Regionals has been moved back a week due to projected inclement weather. ↩
Fennig still travels to play with a North Central herd, just in a different paddock – mixed. ↩
Team train rides should definitely be a thing, right?? ↩
Author’s note: I love this team name. ↩
They last played club together for Ozone in 2018, and they were also on the 2019 PUL semifinalist Atlanta Soul. ↩
and before then the Northwest region champs in 2011 ↩