A Look Inside the Best of the North Central, the Macalester Pursesnatchers

The Pursesnatchers finished fifth in the North Central last year. This year, they pulled off two universe point wins over the dynasty programs in the NC en route to taking the third overall seed at Nationals.

The Macalester Pursesnatchers pose for a team photo after breaking seed at the 2024 women's ultimate frisbee tournament, the Old Capitol Open. Photo: Macalester - @pursesnatchers_ultimate
The Macalester Pursesnatchers pose after breaking seed at the 2024 Old Capitol Open. Photo: Macalester – @pursesnatchers_ultimate

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The Macalester Pursesnatchers have truly risen through the rankings in the last few months. In 2023, they found success almost exclusively against Grinnell and developmental teams but against strong NC teams they experienced big losses, including by three to Winona State and two to St. Olaf. Macalester last attended Nationals all the way back in 2011, with minimal regionally competitive seasons in recent history. But then came 2024 and Macalester made their mark on the division, taking down both Carleton Eclipse and St. Olaf on universe point to claim the North Central title. What was able to turn the tide for the Pursesnatchers?

A Mental Shift

Prior to the 2024 season, the Pursesnatchers did not consider themselves a competitive team. “Our biggest thing this season has been the choice to not count ourselves out,” shared the Macalester captains, Claire Knopf, Nora de Rege, Else Gerber and Elise Gautier. “We have not played at this level [in] recent years…and it took a lot of adjusting of our mindsets to believe that we actually can play at this level!

“This year’s success has really just come down to a mental switch and believing that we are able to [compete] with top teams,” they continued. “Even as early as the fall, us captains felt this was our year to make a competitive push at Nationals.”

Clearly the Pursesnatchers are prescient, because not only did they flip the competitive switch to make Nationals, but they earned a bid and claimed the top spot in the best region this season. This commitment continued post-Confregionals in their Nationals preparation: “Because classes ended pretty early this year we’ve been able to really put our heads down and prep together as a team which has improved our execution, consistency, and chemistry,” the captains said. “Consistency and commitment from every player on our team is what has gotten us this far and we’re excited to show what we can do on a large stage!”

This commitment carried over into the Pursesnatchers’ mental preparation, priming themselves for the atmosphere of Nationals and the possibility of getting caught up in the moment. “Going into this tournament, we’re not planning on doing anything different,” the captains said. “We’ve found success this year by just playing how we know we can play and that’s our plan for this tournament as well.”

The last big mental shift the Pursesnatchers took this year is a focus on their spirit, harkening back to their last Nationals attendance in 2011 when the team took home the spirit award. While the team generally instills good spirit culture, they’re aware that focusing on having fun and enjoying ultimate helps them play at their best.

“Another goal we’ve had going into all our tournaments this season is being a team other teams want to play! We brought on a spirit captain this year, have upped our sideline cheering/games during time outs, and work on looking unified,” the captains added. “We approach these tournaments and this season from a pure love for the game, our team, and the sport as a whole!”

Continuously Growing Talent

Macalester’s biggest strengths this year are their individual contributors, most notably Claire Lee. Just a sophomore, Lee played with Washington D.C. Rally last season, a team that finished 13th at Mixed Club Nationals. While Lee didn’t light up the stat sheet at Nationals, the opportunity to practice with and play against high level talent week in and week out over the course of a club season has a huge effect on a players growth, and Lee was no exception. Also, Lee was no slouch, as highlighted by her Donovan video which features a healthy amount of footage from her time on Rally.

While Lee may not be the longest-tenured player on Macalester, her high-level reps and sheer athleticism will take the team far in Milwaukee. “[Lee’s] skills, intensity, frisbee IQ, and speed make her impossible to mark and always ready to receive the disc,” the captains shared. “Her trust in the team makes her a perfect teammate.”

But it’s hardly a one player show. Claire Knopf came to the team with high school experience in Minnesota and brought a strong amount of ultimate skills and knowledge to a young Pursesnatchers team. Sophie Diliberti is another standout, with the captains complimenting her ability to “quickly cut past any defender in the under and the deep space. Her decisive cuts, awareness of the field, and relaxation when she has the disc makes her a reliable and strong player.”

Iris Guo, another second year player, adds to the Pursesnatchers’ depth. “Her awareness in the deep space, her keen eye on the disc while on defense, and her speed makes her a true threat against other teams,” said the captains.

Don’t let their lack of time on the big stage fool you; Macalester’s success this season is no fluke. They put in the time and energy to achieve their success and are excited to show what they can accomplish on the national stage. The captains are aware of the value that good recruiting and chemistry building can have, and with a strong class buoying up the Pursesnatchers, this meteoric rise to the top of the division seems like the start of Macalester’s dominance. This is a team you don’t want to miss in Milwaukee.

  1. Anna Browne
    Anna Browne

    Anna Browne is a writer for the D-III Women's Division. She has been playing competitive ultimate since 2019, spending her college years at Michigan Tech. Anna is based in Detroit, Michigan where she plays in the Women's Club Division and coaches the Michigan Tech Superior Ma's.

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