Buzzer Beater: UFA Week 1

Salt Lake’s win over DC cements the Shred as New York’s top competitor.

Salt Lake's Jacob Miller throws a backhand past a DC defender in the club's 2024 Ultimate Frisbee Association home opener. Photo: Wade Bricknell
Salt Lake’s Jacob Miller throws a backhand past a DC defender in the club’s 2024 UFA home opener. Photo: Wade Bricknell

An offseason of excitement ended as the first pulls of the 2024 UFA season launched this weekend. The New York Empire extended their now-record win streak to 31 games, Seattle and Oakland each earned statement wins to kick off their playoff quest out West, Carolina earned an early advantage in the South with a home field win over rival Atlanta, and Minnesota did not mess around by dominating Pittsburgh. Jeff Babbitt made his Boston debut with a win, but all eyes turned to Salt Lake where the #1 and #3 teams in our Power Rankings faced off.

Shred Breeze to Season Opening Win

The New York Empire are on a collision course for their third straight title, and UFA fans around the country are begging for some team–any team–to step up and challenge them. While the Empire are still the betting favorites, both the DC Breeze and Salt Lake Shred have looked the part of capable challengers in recent years. Both teams lost multiple times to the Empire last season, but had yet to face off themselves before Saturday night’s debut of the UFA Super Series. Both teams certainly had some rust to shake off, but by and large the near-title billing lived up to the hype.

With a strong home crowd of Shred Heads backing Salt Lake, Gene L’Heureux launched the game opening pull to the back of DC’s end zone. Though I’m sure they’ve practiced possession-opening sequences in practice, there’s nothing like game speed. DC went sideways for a few throws before a quick drop from Andrew Roy gave Salt Lake a window for a one-throw break to open the game. Between two teams so evenly matched in talent, small differences in execution or comfort in a loud environment made an outsized difference. The Shred tacked on another first quarter break to open up a two-goal lead that they wouldn’t give up.

“There’s almost always some nerves and uncertainty going into the beginning of a season,” Salt Lake’s Jordan Kerr said. “We decided to go in with a really simple game plan and mindset and I think that worked out pretty well.”

DC strung together enough of a run to close the gap to just one goal at the end of the third quarter, but the Shred pulled out a 4-0 run in the 4th to close out what ended up being a comfortable win. “We pride ourselves on making opposing teams run all four quarters with the Shred, and during that 4th quarter run you saw our D-line win the quarter and essentially the game with their legs,” Kerr said.

The Shred’s ability to play through a steady wind also made a difference. Salt Lake wound up 7/7 on huck completions while the Breeze were just 2/10. While the elevation in Salt Lake and this being each teams first game with the new Frisbee definitely contributed to the disparity, the Shred also played excellent defense. “A lot of those DC missed hucks came in the second half of the game,” Kerr added, “and I credit that to our D-line’s pressure throughout all 48 minutes.”

On the offensive side for Salt Lake, Will Selfridge finished with six goals and looked like an elite midfielder. He and Grant Lindsley were incredibly in-sync, often bouncing their play off of one another. Kerr capped off a 20/20 throwing performance with four assists. The Shred were not broken until the third quarter, and DC only scored one break the entire game without the benefit of a timeout to sub on their offense. The Breeze were playing without Jasper Tom and David Bloodgood, two key D-line handlers, which could explain their low 30% Break Conversion (by contrast Salt Lake converted 50% of their chances).

DC will have a chance to earn their first win of the season next week when they travel to Philadelphia to face a Phoenix team looking for a statement win. Salt Lake opens their West Division schedule next week with a doubleheader in California against the Growlers and Aviators.

News and Notes

  • Montreal went 0-2 on their road trip, but they performed well losing by two each to East Division playoff favorites Boston and New York. Montreal’s Tobe Decraene threw ten assists across the two games. Jeff Babbitt notched three goals and five blocks in his Boston debut.
  • Houston started their season strong with a win over Dallas at home. Houston’s Ben Lewis scored four assists and nine goals to lead the Havoc offense.
  • Minnesota avoided a trap game disappointment with a seven goal win at Pittsburgh. Wind Chill newcomer Matt Rehder scored a callahan in his first game with the team as part of a three goal, three block game.
  • Seattle announced their playoff candidacy by doubling up San Diego 28-14. Zeppelin Raunig’s seven goals led the game. Seattle’s key offseason addition, Lukas Ambrose, notched four blocks in his Cascades debut.
  • San Diego did bounce back to defeat Portland on Sunday. Travis Dunn’s seven assists, three goals, and 571 total yards all led both teams.
  • Carolina avoided the slow starts of the last few years with an eight goal win over Atlanta. A 12-3 run spanning the second and third quarters broke open what started as a close game. Allan Laviolette paced the Flyers with six assists in his return to the team.
  • Oakland beat LA at home 20-17 to start their season with pole position in their playoff push.

Mailbag

Have a question about the UFA? Send it in to [email protected] with UFA Mailbag in the subject line. You can also message me on Twitter at @StallSeven, or subscribers can DM me in the Ultiworld Discord

Are you buying Montreal stock after their close losses on the road to open the season?

-Theresa on Discord

I’m really tempted to go all-in on Montreal as a playoff contender, but there’s a few things holding me back. First is that it is only week one. Neither Boston nor New York looked like their complete selves as both adjust to new players or players shifting roles. I think both will improve over the course of the season while Montreal is closer to their ceiling. Second is that Montreal had the element of surprise in UFA rookie Tobe Decraene. While Boston and New York were also integrating new pieces, it was not so shocking to see Jeff Babbitt or Liam Haberfield as an offensive centerpiece for their respective teams. Decraene has some film from last summer’s U24 championships, but the UFA game is different enough that opposing coaches probably had a harder time than usual game planning for the Royal offense. I expect Montreal to face more prepared defenses in future weeks.

All of that being said, who expected this from Montreal? I definitely did not. What’s most encouraging to me is that the Royal were able to put out this kind of performance on back to back nights–that’s really hard to do in the UFA! While I am counting on the rest of the league to adjust, Montreal will certainly grow and develop as well as their new look O-line gets more comfortable with Decraene and the return of Quentan Bonnaud after he did not play last season. Their defense is deep and looks capable of playing with two of the best teams in the division. If they’re able to keep this up, games against Philadelphia and Toronto are absolutely winnable, and their home games against DC, New York, and Boston now look that way too. The East Division may have just gotten a lot tougher!

UFA Power Rankings:
Rank Team Change Prior
1 - 1
2 - 2
3 - 3
4 +4 8
5 - 5
6 - 6
7 - 7
8 +1 9
9 -5 4
10 +7 17
11 -1 10
12 -1 11
13 -1 12
14 - 14
15 - 15
16 - 16
17 -4 13
18 +5 23
19 +1 20
20 -2 18
21 -2 19
22 -1 21
23 -1 22
24 - 24
  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

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