Drag'n Thrust, XIST, Red Flag, and Mischief all have solid cases for and against.
October 17, 2023 by Laura Osterlund in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 Club National Championships 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.
It’s a tale of two, uh, tales in Pool B: the two power teams who have risen in the face of adversity, and the scrappy underdogs with nothing to lose. Whichever of the two archetypal tales fits them, one thing can be said of all four teams – they thrive off of their depth and athleticism. As they can’t stand out with one of their biggest strengths, the team that executes their systems the best
could will rise to the top.
Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust
USAU Ranking: #2
Power Ranking: #3
Regional Finish: North Central 1
Overall 2023 Record: 10-5
Against the Nationals Field: 4-3
Against the Pool: 0-1 vs. XIST
According to one of Isaac Newton’s most well-known rules of gravity and physics, what goes up must come down. As their name implies, Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust1 know physics quite well and have discovered the inverse of that saying: what goes down can, in fact, rise back up.
Not many teams have had the ups and downs quite like Drag’n this year. Starting a season with a roster as strong as it was (mainly returners and several strong and flashy new additions), combined with a semifinal appearance at last year’s Nationals, many were expecting big things from the legacy team. So, when they lost all their games on day one of US Open,2 placing them in the ninth-place round robin, we were all surprised. Yes, it was a tournament for learning a few all-new systems, but this seemed like an excessive learning curve.
By September, though, Drag’n turned things around and became a totally different looking team at Pro Champs. Not only did their offense have more flow, but they also found ways to have some of the most energy of any team in the division. Using whipped cream, cowboy hats, and a piñata, Drag’n ensured their success in Milwaukee, winning the tournament for the second year in a row. Then, with convincing wins throughout North Central Regionals, they ended their season back at the top of the ranks, earning the no.2 seed at this tournament.
Drag’n have perhaps one of the scariest O-lines in the division, as Danielle Byers and Emma Peaslee continue to rake in the goals, Jason Tschida and Emma Piorier have had breakout seasons with some of the most consistent performances on the team, Caleb Denecour continues to make efforts to show us that he’s a POTY contender,3 and Erica Baken looks as strong as ever. Not to mention Dylan DeClerk, Rachel Johnson, Bryan Vohnoutka, and Jane Koch, who all tear up the field on the D-line.
After losing in the semifinal last season, they have some unfinished business to take care of this weekend.
“We got really close last year and saw the potential of the team. The goal is not to underestimate anyone and get really excited about the different matchups and hold our mental energy, even if things aren’t going our way,” said assistant coach Maggie Peck. “The goofy stuff is now a nice staple in our team culture, so it’s carrying that on even when things aren’t going exactly our way.”
Likely Ceiling: National Champions
Likely Floor: Quarters
New York XIST
USAU Ranking: #7
Power Ranking: #12
Regional Finish: Northeast 3
Overall 2023 Record: 22-6
Against the Nationals Field: 5-6
Against the Pool: 1-0 vs. Drag’n
In what can only be described as a breakout4 2022 season, New York XIST not only won their pool at last year’s Nationals but put up a stout fight in the semifinal game against eventual champs Seattle Mixtape. It’s safe to say that they put their name on the map with their performance, showing everyone that they actually do exist.5 They started the season with two very dominant finishes at early tournaments (FROGS and Boston Invite), getting blowouts galore. But those were local. The New Yorkers then hit the TCT scene with higher-level competition.
Despite the high hopes set for the team and some exciting wins, XIST did not have the tournament results they – and many others – expected. They finished a below-par seventh overall at US Open. Pro Champs looked similar; despite being the only team at the tournament to win against the eventual tournament champions (and now Nationals poolmates) Drag’n Thrust, they once again finished in the middle of the pack.6 The team even saw struggles at Regionals, losing to #11 Boston Sprocket in semis of the championship bracket. (But they recovered and almost effortlessly won the the game-to-go-to-the-game-to-go and the game-to-go to snatch the Northeast region’s third and final ticket to San Diego)
“We’ve shown glimpses of the caliber that we can be,” said coach Izzy Bryant. “I just think we have yet to put together a complete tournament. And that’s been a learning moment and something that we’re processing as a team.”
To an outsider, the mid-tier results XIST have had this season may look like a reason to shrug them off as actual championship contenders. But, they shouldn’t be counted out just yet. Not only do they have a powerful roster that includes heavy hitters such as Genny DeJesus, Josue Alorro, Luisa Neves, and Leila Denniston (just to name a few) all making big moves on the field in their own ways, but, according to Bryant they have the motivation and are finally starting to hit their stride. It’s all about peaking at the right time – do you really want to peak at the beginning of August? – and there’s a strong chance XIST will do just that this weekend.
“Having thoughtful conversations and our approach and our planning to our opponents feels in line with a championship-caliber team,” said Bryant. “It’s exciting to see how we’re hitting our stride right now, and I would love to see how we put it together at Nationals. Because I see the work that the team is doing on and off the field and I just want to see that reward come in.”
Likely Ceiling: Finalists
Likely Floor: Prequarters
Vancouver Red Flag
USAU Ranking: #10
Power Ranking: #9
Regional Finish: Northwest 3
Overall 2023 Record: 21-3
Against the Nationals Field: 0-2
Against the Pool: 0-0
After a mediocre finish to their first season competing at USAU Nationals last year, Vancouver Red Flag are back and more ready than ever to show the US scene what they can do. Even though they competed at Nationals a year ago, they consider this their first full season with both USA Ultimate and Canadian Ultimate events. They won all of the Canadian Ultimate tournaments they went to, including regionals and Nationals, with flying colors7. After proving to be the best-performing and most dominant team in Canada, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone to find out they were hungry for more.
“I think one thing that was good was the length of the tournament. Canadian Nationals is normally a three to four-day event as well, so there are a lot of games that are spread out across a few days,” said Red Flag captain Edward Guo. “You can prepare your body, and prepare mentally, it’s not just a two-day seven-game thing. There is more preparation and more mental focus required, so I think that helps us in terms of US Nationals.”
In the USAU tournament circuit, the Canadians have proven that they can win against the regionals-level teams across the United States, yielding success at Fruit Bowl, SFI East, and Washington Sectionals. Notably, they have wins against #18 Montana MOONDOG and #19 Bay Area Sunshine. They have only lost three games within their season- against #8 Cleveland Crocs, #23 Oregon Scorch, and #4 Seattle Mixtape. However, they have yet to play against a majority of the teams in attendance in San Diego. It’s hard to know how a team will stack up against others, but they could use that to their advantage. They also have young legs – oh, don’t worry, they love to talk about their legs – and athleticism on their side. After a 12th-place finish at last year’s Nationals, the team took some time to look at the challenges they were given and has put in the work throughout this season to hone in on their skills, mentalities, and physical fitness. This year, Red Flag is more than just another team that is happy to be there, they’re motivated to break through to the next level and show their competitors they can hang.
“Our team is very young and motivated. There’s a lot of U-24 talent on the team as well as planners who’ve had the experience from other adult club teams in the past,” said Guo. “For us, we’re just hoping to use our legs and work really hard on the field. Our legs are something and our energy and our determination on the field, it’s just trying to win the point with our legs.”
Likely Ceiling: Prequarters
Likely Floor: Out on Day One
San Francisco Mischief
USAU Ranking: #16
Power Ranking: #6
Regional Finish: Southwest 1
Overall 2023 Record: 15-6
Against the Nationals Field: 3-3
Against the Pool: 0-0
Those who wouldn’t know much better might call it a comeback. But it might not be.
The last time #6 San Francisco Mischief made Nationals was in 2019. You might remember they made it to the final. In the 2021 season, all eyes were on them to make big moves but they quietly retreated in the backdoor bracket at Southwest Regionals, failing to make it to the game-to-go. Since then, we haven’t heard much from the Bay Area team. Until now. The 2023 season has looked somewhat like a rebirth for Mischief. They made the final at Pro-Elite Challenge West, placed fourth at Elite-Select Challenge, and emerged victorious from the chaos that was Southwest Regionals. With these results, plus wins over stronger teams such as Lawless, Polar Bears, and Crocs, it would not be a surprise if they create some havoc in their pool8. They’ve taken their tournament results (the good and the bad) to help gain an understanding of themselves as a team and earned them a great deal of confidence and buy-in of the belief that they could be a good team once again. Despite their success, they’ve managed to fly under the radar this season, which they could use to their advantage.
“I almost want to say ‘don’t underestimate us’ but I kind of like the underdog mentality, to be honest,” said captain Vicki Chen. “I feel very excited and optimistic for our first return to Nationals in a few years. I think some fast-paced offense and high-pressure defense is what our team was built on.”
Long-time veterans Vivian Chu and Lily Steponitis, as well as emerging Chris Lung, have continued to prove this season to be valuable assets who make moves. But, the team has some younger talent, who made themselves known in the college scene, to look out for as well, including Jaclyn Wataoka, Liam Jay, and Adeleen Khem.
Because there has been a good amount of roster turnover since the last time they made Nationals, they’ve added some younger talent throughout the years who will be making their Nationals debuts. While some teams may see that as an impediment, Mischief has put a whole lot of trust into their fresher faces.
“This team is quite deep. Even though we have a lot of young players, we have contributions from every player on every line. I think that’s going to be really helpful for us at Nationals,” said Chen. “We (also) play certain defenses quite well and we spend a lot of time honing those. And honestly, I think mental resilience is a big strength that our team has.”
Likely Ceiling: Quarters
Likely Floor: Out on Day One
a team named after the four forces that make a disc fly: gravity, lift, drag, and thrust ↩
All three on universe point ↩
After being among the runners up for the past few years ↩
Keep in mind they finished dead last at 2021 Nationals ↩
See what I did there? ↩
This time in fifth place ↩
pun intended ↩
one might say they could cause Mischief ↩