AMP, Mixtape, NOISE, and Hybrid combine for perhaps the most exciting and challenging pool across any division!
October 17, 2023 by Alex Rubin 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.
Mixed Pool C projects to be the most challenging pool in any division at the 2023 Club Championships. With four top ten teams, all of whom have at least made–if not won–the final in the last four seasons, we’re in for a treat.
USAU Ranking: #3
Power Ranking: #2
Regional Finish: Mid-Atlantic 1
Overall 2023 Record: 18-4
Against the Nationals Field: 8-4
Against the Pool: 0-1 vs Mixtape, 2-0 vs NOISE, 2-0 vs Hybrid
The top seed in Pool C are the only ones who haven’t made a national semifinal since before the canceled 2020 season. While nothing can truly be considered likely in the typically chaotic mixed division, #2 Philadelphia AMP have more than enough talent to make it back to that stage and even win the entire tournament for the first time since 2019.
What makes AMP special is that, in addition to player of the year contenders like Henry Ing and Lindsay McKenna, they roster incredibly strong depth and can genuinely rely on their entire lineup to play in clutch situations.
“I just think we really do trust everyone on the roster,” co-coach Patrick Sherlock said. “It’s genuine and it’s not necessarily about ranking people, but about like there’s a range of different skills. And I think that’s a huge quality of mixed. There are people like Henry [Ing], for example, who get a lot of attention for their dominant play. And there are others like Natalie [Bova] who dominate in a way that might look completely different or maybe not as noticeable or might take watching the team more or with more nuance. But we have dominant players at every position.”
Paul Owens, Rachel Alfano, Eric Witmer, and Danielle Walsh are a few of the returners who stepped into bigger roles and thrived this season. Newcomers Delrico Johnson, Adilina Malave, Luke Greenley and Grace Maroon have become instant impact additions. And we’ve made it this far without mentioning 2021 All-Club selection Linda Morse, two-time Team USA selection Raha Mozaffari, or perennial first team All-Dawg Eric Nardelli. There’s simply too much talent on this team to highlight every single one of their talents. They’ll be favored to advance out of the Club Championships’ toughest pool, and yet with early exits in each of the past two seasons, AMP understand the importance of taking each game seriously and not looking past any opponent.
AMP are a collective 4-0 against pool opponents NOISE and Hybrid, but understand that regular season success does not guarantee anything in the gauntlet that is Nationals. “I like that we have familiar opponents,” captain Sumi Onoe said. “We know what to expect to some extent. I just hope that even though we beat NOISE and Hybrid this season every time we played them that the team comes out hot and does not expect that we can win those games.” Their top-of-the-pool game against #4 Seattle Mixtape is likely to become must-watch TV1 as it could determine who advances from the pool or straight into the quarterfinal round.
Likely Ceiling: National Champions
Likely Floor: Prequarters
USAU Ranking: #8
Power Ranking: #3
Regional Finish: Northwest 1
Overall 2023 Record: 17-7
Against the Nationals Field: 3-4
Against the Pool: 1-0 vs. AMP
The defending champions are back. Just like last year, #4 Seattle Mixtape started the season slow, taking big losses at Pro-Elite Challenge and US Open before turning a corner, losing just a single game since mid-August. Those early losses to Scorch and MOONDOG helped the team realize it needed to start this season from scratch rather than pick up where last season left off.
“We actually were able to have this experience back in 2018 after we won and realized how hard repeating is,” Mixtape captain Jesse Bolton said. “Knowing that just because things work the year before doesn’t mean…we don’t have to get better. There are new pieces we need to implement and focus moving forward so this time around, especially with the wake-up call in the first game at PEC, it was a very quick reminder that, hey, this team this year is not last year’s team. And we needed to build from the bottom up. We couldn’t just start where we ended last year.”
Paige Kercher, Mario O’Brien, and Cori Bigham are among the veteran talents taking big roles this season. Compared to previous seasons when Mixtape would rely on young, up-and-coming prospects, this year’s rookies are more seasoned.
“Picking up people who are more experienced, it’s definitely a challenge of meeting them halfway of where they are and where the team needs them to perform and what role they need to play,” Bolton said. “They have all had plenty of great performances on other teams. So we wanted to highlight their superpowers on our team while also putting it in the framework of what our system is about.”
There is still plenty of excitement about the team’s young prospects. Jack Brown is shaping up to become this year’s Alex Nelson: a breakout player who is able to make game-changing plays deep in the bracket. “I think this is going to be a big coming out party for Jack Brown,” Bolton said. “I think he has been slowly adjusting to the mixed game, learning how to attack the disc at good angles. I think in the beginning of the season he had been pulling up a lot on plays that we know he can make, but he knows could potentially be dangerous. We’ve been working with him to find better ways to make those plays, and he is doing much better.”
Beyond Brown, Sadie Jezierski is a player to watch. Though Mixtape’s offense has shifted to a cutter-focused attack rather than a backfield-driven offense, she has the talent to anchor a backfield and the flair to move the disc in unconventional ways even in high-pressure situations. Veterans like Khalif El-Salaam, Jesse Bolton, Bert Cherry, Steph Lim, Zach Sabin, Alexa Romersa, Ari Lozano have a championship level know-how that will propel this team to success.
Mixtape’s biggest test came at Regionals when they played regional rival Seattle BFG twice, losing the first in a seeding crossover before winning the regional championship game. Those games each were decided by one goal, and more or less came down to who won the flip before the game.
That win over BFG and a US Open victory over AMP highlight a successful season, but Mixtape will have a big test ahead with a pool full of top teams. AMP, NOISE, and Hybrid have all experienced recent success late in the club season and will challenge Mixtape right from the get-go.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Bolton said. “I think people are calling it the Pool of Death. I am right there with them. I think all four teams play a very similar style. And it’s going to be iron versus iron. A lot of great matchups. Top down in each matchup. And like I’ve been talking to leadership and I’m like, hey, we’ve got to play all of these games really close because who knows, there could be a wild three-way tie in this pool.”
Likely Ceiling: National Champions
Likely Floor: Quarterfinals
USAU Ranking: #9
Power Ranking: #9
Regional Finish: North Central 2
Overall 2023 Record: 12-6
Against the Nationals Field: 3-6
Against the Pool: 0-2 vs. AMP, 1-0 vs. Hybrid
For the past two seasons, Madison NOISE have pulled off whatever upsets necessary to make it all the way to the national semifinal. Third time’s the charm, right?
“We’ve been able to maintain a consistent core for the last couple of years,” captain Tom Annen said. “That’s the kind of team… that ends up doing pretty well, or go deep at nationals or go deep in the season. Other teams that have a major core that sticks around for a while and gains chemistry over a couple of years. So, I mean, from that same point, I think that’s probably a pretty special thing to have.”
Robyn Fennig’s throwing arm is also a pretty special thing to have as a key part of the NOISE core. Fennig spent the season delivering assists in bunches even as she switched from an O-line centerpiece to a D-line breakmaker, with her real life move from Madison to Sacramento, California preventing her from practicing with the team for much of the year. But even as a travel player, Fennig is the heartbeat of this team. She’ll likely shift over to assist the offense as situations dictate given the two years of chemistry built with many of the players on that unit. Two other newcomers will have a big role on offense: rookie Pieran Robert and international veteran Nasser Mbae Vogel. Robert has become an athletic centerpiece to pair with Jack Kelly downfield, and Vogel brings another steady veteran hand to move the disc and keep possession flowing.
The continued growth and development of NOISE’s role players keeps the team in contention year in and year out. Matt Grinde has been a good handler defender for a few years now, but added a level of offensive pop to his game that benefits a D-line that hasn’t had a consistent quarterback (the one position really where NOISE have seen turnover the past few seasons). Sydney French and Sadie Reding have also turned heads with their heads-up defensive play and ability to find space for killer continuation cuts on the counterattack. With experience across the entire roster and a new cohort of young stars playing their best ultimate of the season, NOISE have what it takes to make a loud statement at Nationals.
After last season’s success centering their team around a four letter acronym, NOISE have another for this season: G.U.T.S. It stands for glitter, understanding, trust, and selflessness and is represented by a mock Aggro Crag, the trophy from the hit TV show Nickelodeon GUTS.2 With a schedule as tricky as this one, pool play may feel like a series of GUTS challenges. NOISE will need to bring their best to advance to bracket play, but once they’re there they’ll have two seasons of experience to fall back on as they look to make a third consecutive semifinal appearance.
Likely Ceiling: Semis (again)
Likely Floor: Out on Day 1
Ann Arbor Hybrid
USAU Ranking: #15
Power Ranking: #7
Regional Finish: Great Lakes 1
Overall 2023 Record: 13-8
Against the Nationals Field: 4-7
Against the Pool: 0-2 vs. AMP, 0-1 vs. NOISE
#7 Ann Arbor Hybrid are probably the best pool bottom seed in the history of the mixed division.3. Though they face a tall task getting out of a stacked pool, Hybrid’s skills as a defense-first team that can run off strings of breaks better than any team in the division keep them in any game.
For Hybrid to make the bracket, they probably just need to win one of their pool play games, but they’re not targeting any specific matchup. Instead, they’re taking their tough schedule as it comes. “I think it’s probably gonna be kind of what it was in 2021 where it’s just one game at a time and try and win the next game,” captain Mark Whitton said. “When we got a little too ahead of ourselves in 2022, where we’re like, anything less than winning was unacceptable, which is some stuff that people said, you can open yourself up to, not disappointment, but you kind of lose sight of what you need to do along the way.”
Along it’s a tough pool play schedule, Hybrid want to let their athletes take over. Nathan Champoux and Sara Nitz have earned their reputations as defensive disruptors. Kat McGuire is poised to take over as a dominant downfield presence on offense given the absence of typical running-mate Maddy Simko. James Hill and Cian Johnson are tall, athletic receivers who can pull spectacular catches out of even totally unfavorable situations – let alone 50/50s – and Chris Doehring is a speedster who finished 3rd in goals scored at the D-I College Championships just a few months ago.
If those names are new to you, they’re basically household in Michigan. “It’s kind of awesome that we’ve been able to get all the talent that’s in the big state together and on a team,” Whitton said. “It’s kind of miraculous it’s worked for this amount of time and people are still having fun still liking each other.”
Not only are Hybrid having fun, but they’re taking their roles as leaders and role models in the growing Michigan ultimate community seriously. While they’ll be playing to advance in the competition down in San Diego, they’ll also be playing as representatives of an entire state.
“Hybrid have a bit of a reputation for defensive intelligence,” captain Dan Donovan said. “And I think having that sort of recognition as the established program, it’s given them – people, individuals who have been associated with the Hybrid program – I think it’s given them authority and respect to take things back from Hybrid to their own communities within Michigan. So I think if you look at the college scene in Michigan, the people that were associated with Hybrid at some point, they go back to their college program and they have the authority to say, hey, you know, this is all the things that Hybrid’s doing defensively and that we should start implementing. So just to kind of be known and respected I think has helped the community members take stuff from what we’re doing and bring that to others. I think it’s probably helped all of Michigan Ultimate to have a respected program like that, kind of at the top.”
With this role as leaders in their community and excellent ultimate players in the spotlight, Hybrid still have a tricky task ahead of them: to win a series of incredibly difficult games in pool play. As Whitton and Donovan were discussing the team’s outlook, they acknowledged that the team is both “happy to be there” and also trying to win each game. In the most Hybrid answer possible, captain Charlotte Wilson made sure her co-captains understood, “you can be both.”
Likely Ceiling: Quarterfinals
Likely Floor: Out on Day One