Yale’s Journey with Hex Could Take Them to New Heights

How the strategic machinations of a small D-I Metro East team challenges the way ultimate is played.

Yale Ramona coach Shane Skriletz talking to his team on the line. Photo: Maya Franz

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On a fall afternoon in my rookie year of college ultimate with Yale Ramona Quimby, I sat encircled with my teammates around a scattering of discs. Shane Skriletz, our coach, arranged them into a loose hexagon with one disc in the center. Over the course of 30 minutes, Skriletz walked through the motions of Ramona’s offensive system, Hex. He slid the discs from position to position while he talked, at times rearranging the discs completely. The focus was not on prescribed offensive movements, like I was used to, but rather on principles like connectedness and flow. This was my introduction to Hex.

For as long as I have been a player on Ramona,1 we have run Hex. Unlike traditional systems that arrange cutters in a stack and generate longer options downfield, Hex is a flowy offense with a unique hexagonal shape that uses many short, quick passes to advance the disc. Rather than encouraging handlers and cutters to stick to certain areas of the field, it instead encourages players to cycle in and out of spaces with the flow of the offense.

Ramona is one of the few teams running Hex at the college level. Since switching to Hex, Ramona has found new levels of success, reaching a power ranking of 14 in 2023 in Ultiworld’s Power Ranking after being unranked in recent program history. Before Hex was introduced in 2019, Ramona inconsistently made the bracket of Regionals and rarely progressed past quarters. Since Hex, Ramona has had three straight Regional finals appearances.

Our recent success is not just limited to our region. In 2023, Ramona went on a run to the finals of Commonwealth Cup, notching wins over ranked teams to make their mark on the national scene. A round robin later that season against UNC Pleiades, UVM Rukus, and Tufts EWO saw Ramona match up against some of the best teams in the nation. There are other factors in Ramona’s success, such as the recruitment of multiple high-impact players; however, it’s undeniable that the offensive system has had a big effect on a team’s performance.

As I learned more about ultimate and read the community discourse on Hex,2 I began to wonder why our coach chose this offense for us. What did this niche strategy offer us? Why has it been so instrumental in our success as a team? How does it impact the way Ramona players experience ultimate? To answer these questions and more, I sat down with my coach, Shane Skriletz, and a few teammates to talk about our favorite topic: ultimate.

The Case For Hex

Skriletz’s fascination with Hex began when he was learning to handle. Early on in his career, he realized that he was never going to be the fastest or most athletic player on the field. So, Skriletz began looking for other ways to utilize the inherent advantages that offense has over defense to be successful. Seeking the return pass, moving omnidirectionally, flowing quickly to keep the defense off balance–all of these actions allowed him to play at a higher level and became a crucial part of his playing style.

When he stumbled upon FelixUltimate.com, Felix Shardlow’s ultimate strategy and tactics site, the Hex offense that Shardlow invented resonated with Skriletz. “This feels a fit for the way I play and the way I feel people should begin to play,” as Skriletz described it. The principles of Hex reflected the habits that Skriletz valued and saw in elite players and the shape of the offense seemed to facilitate those practices much better than a stack. “It looked like a good structure to maximize the style of play that I think is most advantageous.” Skriletz reflected.

A few years later, when Skriletz began coaching Yale Ramona, he wanted to choose an offensive system that suited the unique needs of the team. For one, Ramona draws from a pool of less than seven thousand undergraduates. There’s no local youth scene feeding into the school and many members join the team without ever having played ultimate before. In order to match up against the larger, more dynastic schools they faced, Ramona needed a system that would allow them to be successful, even when the team was athletically and skill-wise mismatched.

Hex gave Skriletz the framework to do just that. “Hex just shines a magnifying glass on that requirement to cover both sides in alternation that not many offenses do. […] That opens up all of the possibilities for the rest of the offense.” Essentially, the constant movement of Hex offense requires the defense to always be adjusting their positioning. By forcing the defense to react quickly, the offense can exploit moments where the mark and downfield defenders are not maintaining a consistent force and allows the offense to throw to advantageous spots on the field. Skriletz hoped that the novel Hex would allow Ramona to press their offensive advantage without requiring players to have a large arsenal of throws or out-athlete their opponents.

Equally important was a system that would develop players to continue their ultimate careers after college. With Ramona being an entrypoint to the sport for so many of its members, it is a priority of the program to teach the game and give players the skills they need to be successful. To that end, Skriletz believes Hex “empowers everybody to be a little bit of everything. […] It just broadens the responsibility and the possibility for everyone on the team.” By giving everyone opportunities to make valuable throws, rotate in and out of positions, and take initiative to dominate for moments during games, Hex raises the bar for players. “Despite the steeper curve in the beginning, it gets more players to a competent or adequately-skilled level,” Skriletz said.

Growing Pains

The process of transitioning to Hex was challenging for the team.3 After all, a fast-paced offense that lacks prescribed movements is difficult to teach, especially to beginners. For players with experience, the shape of the offense creates strong and weak spaces that differ from those in stack offenses they might have played in high school. Both Wilhelmina Graff and Lila Brady were rookies when Skriletz initiated the move to Hex during the 2019-2020 season. Before Ramona, Graff had eight years of ultimate experience, participated in YCC, and was on the U20 Mexico team. She had never heard of Hex before college. Brady started the season having never played ultimate before, learned the vertical stack in the fall semester, then transitioned to Hex by spring.

“We were resistant to the idea of its efficacy. It wasn’t what we were used to and we didn’t feel particularly good at it,” Graff said about the early months. As a handler, Graff struggled to anticipate how her teammates would be cutting for her when she had the disc. She identified knowing when to cut and when to make space as key struggles for players. The clockwork cutting and clearing order provided by a stack offense was absent with Hex. The resulting uncertainty led to stagnation on the field with players confused on when to move.

Yale Ramona’s Lila Brady. Photo: Reed Colfax

For Brady, as a new player learning Hex, the flow of the offense was overwhelming and difficult to understand at first. She recalls feeling like she did not yet have the tools she needed to move effectively through the system, specifically field awareness. Without those crucial concepts, she struggled to understand Hex as a strategy in the ways that she does now.

Skriletz acknowledged the steep learning curve that Hex necessitates. The most difficult thing about Hex is players must gain a basic level of ultimate skills competency while learning a dynamic offensive system. “The lag of individual skill to collective ability is a bit challenging,” Skriletz remarked. Instead of falling back onto the stacks, Shane leaned into the struggle. “We are capable of growing in multiple dimensions. Playing an offense like Hex where you […] have to do all of the things will set people up to be more well-rounded throughout their growth.” He hoped with his “do it all” approach, though players may grow a bit more slowly, they would also be growing broader and into more complete players.

A New Era for Ramona

It has been a multiyear process learning how Hex and Ramona fit together. In the past couple of seasons, there has been a noticeable shift. “We were actually starting to understand the principles and now I feel like we are getting the benefits,” Graff said. Graff credits this change to rookies starting ultimate with Hex. “We finally had enough people who learned Hex from the beginning. […] If you start learning that from the beginning, it makes it easier for the whole team.” Skriletz has also gotten better at coaching the system. “He’s gotten really good at teaching it and I notice a big difference,” Graff noted. Throughout his time coaching Hex, Skriletz has strived to teach “a variety of things (drills) to choose from to offer a lot of different perspectives on the same objective and give everybody a chance to attach to something,” he says.

Though the transition was difficult, the players I spoke to all firmly believe learning Hex was the right move for Ramona. Brady credits the offense with a deeper understanding of ultimate. Regarding the vertical stack she initially learned, she said “When you’re really lost, having some sort of formula to follow was just really helpful for me. I was also therefore not a good player. If all you’re doing is following a formula then there is a ceiling to what you can be as a player […] It is still kind of limiting, even if you become really good at that formula.” Hex opened the door for her to learn high-level skills earlier and more effectively. Brady believes the offense has greatly improved her field awareness and abilities. “I am so so glad that we have learned it. […] Even younger players on our team have a level of field awareness that I don’t see in our opponents.” Regarding the learning curve, Brady said “The challenge of it is that it is really complex but if it is taught and explained well, that can be surmounted.”

For Graff, playing Hex has “made me a lot quicker player. Trying to throw and go more often and find those opportunities to give-go and get in power position. […] it’s given me that toolkit where I can press this advantage and go.” Graff feels like Hex allows her to rethink the traditional role of handlers in an offense. She no longer needed to follow the expectations that stack offenses put on handlers and when they activate to reset the disc. The Hex system encouraged Graff to be a more proactive handler who can be assertive and drive the flow of the offense–which she often does. Graff also echoed Skriletz’s points about growing broadly. “It gives you a little more plasticity.” She says. “It has the potential to develop everyone as more assertive cutters and throwers.”

Talking to Annabelle Brothers, a current rookie on Ramona, I got another ringing endorsement for Hex. Brothers started playing ultimate for the first time this fall; she has the advantage of learning Hex when it has already been entrenched on Ramona. In the beginning, she had a hard time wrapping her head around the lack of set positions in Hex. However, she soon learned to enjoy the flexibility of the offense. In her experience, “just because of how dynamic Hex is, I tend to end up in most spaces in the field at some point.”

She has also gained a strong understanding of space on the field. “You’re responsible for making space and filling space across the full field. […] It forces you to be more heads up.” For Brothers, the most fulfilling part of playing Hex is being a part of the flow. “When our team finds the flow, it is so satisfying to see. […] there’s so much movement on the field that the options seem less limited. In the positive sense, the options are unlimited.”

Looking Forward

Yale Ramona’s Wilhelmina Graff. Photo: Reed Colfax

Graff and Brady are both finishing their last season of college ultimate and thinking about the future. Graff is a newly minted captain of Sprocket, a competitive mixed club based in the Greater Boston area. While her club does not run Hex, Graff enjoys how well Hex principles integrate into her game. “It just fits my style of play. I love fast give-gos, finding unique spaces, Hex really prioritizes that and emphasizes the need for people to do that.” She believes the system should be taught more widely. “I could see the advantage of teaching people the Hex principles that Shane told us.”

Brady is moving to San Francisco after graduation and plans to continue playing ultimate competitively. She’ll be taking her Hex toolkit with her, especially the principles of moving omnidirectionally and setting a fast tempo on offense. “It’s just a very different style of play that I think is more fun and also offensively advantageous.”

This summer, Brothers hopes to organize more opportunities to play ultimate in her hometown, Martha’s Vineyard. She is continuing to find her role in the Hex system and is learning ultimate. As for Skriletz, he’ll keep refining Ramona’s adaptation of Hex and prepare to share it with the next class of rookies.

Yale Ramona’s adoption of the Hex system is just one of many strategic shifts taking place in the collegiate sphere. College teams serve as unique incubators within the sport, shaping the future of ultimate by guiding the way young players learn the game. Because we look towards college for ultimate’s future stars and leaders, new strategies in that realm carry important implications for the sport’s trajectory.

These new strategies not only affect the way ultimate is played, but also challenge us to continually reevaluate and refine our tactics. Whether it’s Hex, stacks, or something entirely different, ongoing strategic evolution is essential for advancing the sport. The effects of these experiments within the college game will reverberate throughout the ultimate world for years to come.

This spring, Ramona took a long bus ride to Frederica, DE for the inaugural East Coast Invite. Larger tournaments bring more opportunities for Ramona to test out our Hex against new teams. One such matchup from ECI was a game against Penn State Crisis.

Yale Hex vs. Penn State (ECI 24)

On a turn from Crisis, Destiny Montero picks up the disc and centers it to Louise Puchalla. Seeking the return pass, Montero positions herself for a breakside swing, then moves the disc further breakside to Brady. As the disc moves from the back of the shape to the break-side point, Montero, who started in a back position, rotates upfield. Without a quick return option, Brady turns towards the center of the shape, finding me, who filled the central space recently vacated by Ai-Li Hollander. When the disc bounces back to Puchalla, every player is in a different position from where they began.

These moments showcase how a Hex system distributes touches and encourages everyone to get involved. One point, 25 connections, all seven players actively moving the disc. For a growing team looking to establish its place in the Metro East, Hex may just be the key to success.

  1. An extensive tenure of two years. 

  2. Including this reddit thread titled “Is HEX Trash”, which garnered 128 comments. 

  3. For a peek behind the curtain, watch this TikTok

  1. Felicia Zheng
    Felicia Zheng

    Felicia Zheng is a D-I College Women’s reporter for Ultiworld. Originally from Wisconsin, she is currently on the East Coast playing with her beloved college team, Yale Ramona Quimby. In her free time, she enjoys talking about all things ultimate with teammates, friends, and strangers alike. You can reach her by email at [email protected].

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