Clubhouse Chatter: The Grand Opening

A deep group of talented teams are igniting the excitement this postseason.

New York BENT at 2023 Northeast Club Regionals. Photo: Burt Granofsky — UltiPhotos.com

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.

Welcome to Clubhouse Chatter, where the Ultiworld staff keep you caught up on the major events of the club season. The Pro Championships wrapped up the club regular season and the winners in all three divisions threw down the gauntlet in front of their likely Nationals competition. Add in action on the bid line, and it was a statement ending for a standout season. Here, then, are your top line takeaways from the first weekend of the postseason’s penultimate round.

A hypothesis I want to float before the moment passes: club ultimate in all three divisions is undergoing an opening like we haven’t seen for at least half a decade. It’s happening at the very top, it’s happening around the frame of the Nationals picture, it’s happening deep in the soil at Regionals all over the country.

Like… what’s happening out there? It’s as if we have shot pressurized water into the bedrock of the sport, and the resultant fracturing is releasing an unprecedented volume of high-level play all at once. Quick tour through the women’s division. Okay, so last year Molly Brown broke the Brute Squad/Fury stranglehold for a championship – but that was after nipping at their heels for the better part of a decade. This season has seen a presumptive top-2 (Phoenix, Scandal) who didn’t climb above quarters last year, little sib (Flipside) cracking on big sib (Fury), and an “I’m still here, adenoid!” Brute moment versus the defending champs. And all that happened in the regular season. Regionals only added more szechuan sauce to the wok.

In the Northeast, BENT didn’t even make Nationals last year, but they still dropped the hammer (admittedly beef-ed up with new recruits) on 6ixers who, in case anybody forgot, have made the final and semis in their last two trips and are still brimming with major playmakers. Ozone dropped away from Phoenix in the second half of Southeast final, but for 14 points in the first half Quincy Booth, Maria Vargas, and Soju Hokari were almost more than the Raleigh frontrunners could handle. The Northwest saw a fresh-faced Riot side get the better of Schwa – turning around a 15-6 deficit (!) from the last time the rivals squared off at Elite-Select – and play very close with Traffic in both pool play and the final, a sign that the legacy club could return to their old heights sooner than expected. The South Central wasn’t dramatic at the top, but the two-step that unfolded all season between the Texas tricep (Crush City, Vengeance, Problems) and Denver Small Batch is exactly the kind of seed that will yield some delicious second-bid fruit soon.

And that’s not even mentioning the roaring back into the picture of Wildfire – San Diego’s almost forgotten “second” team – who were, arguably, a string of confusing calls away from one of the biggest upsets in regionals history against perennial qualifiers Nightlock.

Where do we start in the men’s division? Both of the classic rivalry finals that took place (Doublewide/Johnny Bravo and Chain Lightning/Ring of Fire) went the way of the card’s underdog. That hardly scratches the surface. A third classic regional final matchup, Revolver/Condors, didn’t even take place, since the once-mighty Condors had their place usurped by second-year NorCal program Zyzzyva. Grand Rapids Beacon, who I have to admit I had never even heard of before this weekend, spoiled a heavily-favored Cincinnati Omen’s attempted return to Nationals. And, of course, there were the two high-magnitude breakthroughs: New York Blueprint hitting every necessary gate on the daunting slalom that was the Northeast regional backdoor bracket, and venerable graybeard program Eugene Dark Star dumping Nationals fixtures (and men’s division torchbearers of arguably the sport’s capital city) Sockeye to claim a spot at the big show for the first time in program history.

Mixed, long the division most open to chaos and calamity, featured its share of shockers. You can point to Ithaca Townies – another squad I had never heard of – making it all the way to the Northeast game-to-go and pushing last year’s national semifinalists XIST for a while. You can look at the way Oregon Scorch rose in the National picture to give themselves a real shot at one of the three bids in the Northwest… and then lost in pool play to Tacoma Grit City! Sacramento Tower knocked out Polar Bears – a wild result even for a typically contentious Southwest. And Charlotte Storm, who have been good for years without ever crossing the line into great, took down two of last year’s Nationals qualifiers from the Southeast, absolutely smearing Dirty Bird 13-4 and then breaking on universe to eliminate Space Force. Sure, none of these mixed teams could quite keep the ball spinning all the way through the end of the day Sunday and claim a ticket to San Diego, but the point stands.

Do you know what I think? I think it means something. Since the introduction of the Triple Crown Tour requirements, teams that have made Nationals have been at a huge advantage when it comes to returning to Nationals, and there are times when the odds of reaching the Big Show without being one of the select few invited to the US Open or Pro Champs have felt all too slim. It just so happens, though, that, all at once, teams all across North America – not forgetting about your dream season, Ottawa Phoenix, even if it fell a little short – have begun to remember that there are more ways to earn opportunities to push forward in the sport without just being handed those opportunities by the self-reinforcing calendar carryover rules. It’s quite thrilling and beautiful to behold.

That’s my theory, anyway. Here’s hoping for more proof this weekend in the North Central and Mid-Atlantic to back it up. Long live this new era! It’s open season on the favorites, and to hell with the chalk.

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

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