D-I College Championships 2024: National Final Preview (Women’s Div)

Two of the most storied teams in the division are set to clash after battling through come-from-behind universe point semifinal victories. It's UNC versus Stanford for all the marbles

North Carolina’s Emily Przykucki celebrates catching the game-winning goal over Carleton in quarters at the 2024 College Championships. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

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Two dynastic programs, one unexpected final pairing. After both clubs posted improbable four-point comebacks in their respective semifinals, no.4 North Carolina Pleiades and no.6 Stanford Superfly collide in a matchup virtually nobody predicted. Pleiades are going for an unprecedented fourth-straight title, while Superfly have not won since 2016 but look to add a ninth ring to the division’s fattest trophy case.

Let’s start with UNC, back in the final for yet another year. While the three-time defending champions are the favorites, the story this spring has not been one of unwavering dominance as in previous years. For a team accustomed to winning — 2022 Callahan winner Dawn Culton is the team’s only player who experienced a Pleiades season that did not end with a ring — it’s been a bit of an adjustment. As the team shapeshifted to accommodate the losses of Alex Barnett, Ella Juengst, Sydney Rehder, and Grace Conerly, the rest of the division closed the gap. North Carolina’s regular season featured three losses to two different teams, including a universe-point thriller against Carleton Syzygy at Northwest Challenge in March that ended their historic 1,451-day winning streak.

This tournament, though, has been smooth — albeit tightly contested — sailing for Pleiades. Their pool play win over no.5 Oregon Fugue secured them the top spot in Pool D and earned them a bye to quarterfinals.1 Pleiades avenged their regular season defeat against Carleton Sunday morning, turning the tables on Syzygy in yet another universe point thriller, 14-13. They then turned around and did it again that afternoon against Colorado, clawing back from a 13-9 hole and scoring five goals in a row to secure their spot in the final.

For Pleiades, their path to victory is continuing to play their game and relying on their big-game experience. They continue to be one of the most disciplined teams in the division with their steady reset system and short field efficiency. As has been the case all year, Culton has been the best player for Pleiades this tournament. Her 5G/1A statline from semifinals does not even begin to cover her impact. She was absolutely everywhere, making game-saving plays on both sides of the disc.

Sarah Combs has also been having a heater of a season for Pleiades that only got more hot since arriving in Madison. Her relentless cutting and perfect hucks saved Pleiades from many tight situations. In the backfield, Theresa Yu, Emily Przykucki, and Alli Reilly all add a measure of dependability. 2023 BPOTY second runner-up Erica Birdsong, however, played limited points in the bracket and her status for the final is questionable due to a lingering injury.

And one important note — we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention North Carolina’s path to another title got a lot easier when Vermont, responsible for Pleiades’ other two losses this spring, fell to Stanford in the semifinals.

Let’s talk about that Superfly team. Stanford has long been the masters of the slow-burn season, where they post good-but-not-great results all spring before violently peaking at Nationals. There’s something to it; at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter your record in the regular season if you can win on Memorial Day weekend. ‘Fly adhered to the first part of that formula this spring: in their three regular season tournaments, they took six losses and failed to notch any wins over top-six teams. They fell twice to Oregon Fugue, once in heartbreaking fashion at Santa Barbara Invite, where they had a late lead. They also dropped games to Vermont and Carleton at Santa Barbara that weren’t particularly close.

Their path to the final, then, has been nothing short of a revenge tour for the ages. They set the tone for their tournament early, upsetting Pool C one-seed Carleton Syzygy in their first uninterrupted game of the tournament.2 The win locked up the pool, and a bye to the quarterfinal, where they met Oregon. This time they left no doubt, steamrolling Fugue 13-8. Their semifinal against Vermont, however, was anything but comfortable. After being down 8-4 at half, ‘Fly battled back to take the lead late in the game, ultimately breaking to win on universe point 14-13. The entire Stanford team played out of their minds in the second half, gelling in a way that makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the division.

That’s one of the keys to victory if ‘Fly are to take down Pleiades: work through the whole roster. Their downfield cutting core of Amelia Hawkins, Sage McGinley-Smith, Anika Quon, and Dora McCotter-Hulett will need to push the pace to generate offense, something that they did remarkably well against Vermont, who is arguably the most athletic team in the division. Esther Filipek (as always) will push the pace on the turn. And the duo Stanford relies on the most, Macy Vollbrecht and Harper Baer, will need to perform at their ceilings. In particular, Vollbrecht has been dominant for ‘Fly all tournament, ruling the deep space and looking unflappable in the backfield.

It’s not a Stanford preview piece either if we don’t mention the vaunted Superfly coaching staff, whose deep toolkit of defenses have been incredibly effective in slowing down the most potent O-lines in the division. Their variety of zone and junk looks can slow down any offense and it’s imperative they throw out enough different looks to keep Pleiades from finding a rhythm. That said, North Carolina has no slouches on the sideline either — the two programs went 1-2 in last year’s Coach of the Year awards.

Brains. Brawn. Blue blood. No matter what, expect a tightly contested game between two of the greatest programs the college division has ever seen. If you’re in Madison, be sure to catch it live at 12:30pm CT/ 1:30pm ET, and if not, you can find it live on ESPNU.

  1. In fact, all the semifinalists this year bar Colorado are pool winners, indicating that the bye from prequarters was crucial, especially given that prequarters and quarters happened on the same day, which is atypical for this tournament. 

  2. Thank goodness this game wasn’t played on Friday 

  1. Bridget Mizener
    Bridget Mizener

    Bridget Mizener is a Midwesterner by birth, but a product of the North Carolina ultimate machine. She thinks women’s college ultimate coverage is important, so she’s taking it into her own hands. She lives, plays, coaches, etc. in Durham. Tell her everything she got wrong about your team at [email protected].

  2. Grace Conerly
    Grace Conerly

    Grace has played frisbee for 9+ years. She's won some stuff and lost some stuff at various levels. Her most notable accomplishment is winning Triangle Ultimate’s indoor recreational winter league, 2019.

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