D-I College Championships 2024: Back-to-Back-to-Back-to-Back (Women’s Final Recap)

UNC Pleiades made history by winning a fourth consecutive title.

North Carolina celebrates winning their fourth straight national title at the 2024 College Championships. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

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It’s déjà vu all over again for #3 North Carolina Pleiades. After close calls in bracket play, UNC rolled to their fourth straight title, defeating #6 Stanford Superfly 15-10. Pleiades’ big-game experience and depth were on full display, and a talented Superfly team simply couldn’t find a way to extend their impressive Nationals run. 

Pleiades began the game on offense facing down a swirly stadium breeze, a vocally hostile crowd, and the acclaimed Stanford wall zone. All weekend, Superfly capitalized on their tactical strengths and their physical length — Macy Vollbrecht and Georgia Walker-Keleher are imposing in the deep space and on the mark, respectively — to generate turns in less-than-ideal conditions from all their opponents. 

But Pleiades were not just any opponent. Known for years as one of the stingiest offenses in the division, the Pleiades O-line threw no fewer than 53 completions on that first point to advance the disc up the field for a one possession hold, Theresa Yu finding Dawn Culton for her first score of the game. 

Right away, the tone was set: Stanford would not get any rushed throws, ambitious passes, or easy turns from the Pleiades O-line. Superfly were going to ask Pleiades to throw many, many passes; Pleiades’ answer all game would be “no problem.”

Stanford’s first few possessions looked far different. Their normally smooth, big-space offense looked a little tight and coughed up the ball almost immediately, and Culton reeled in her second goal in short order. ‘Fly put out the same line, but their usual deliberateness was clearly shaken, and after another quick turnover, Pleiades took advantage quickly, Macy Hudson finding Culton yet again. 

Superfly had blinked, perhaps unaccustomed to the bright lights of the big stage and the stadium environment, and all of a sudden Pleiades — who’ve been on this stage for three straight years — were up 3-0. 

Experienced or not, this Superfly team had seen their share of adversity this weekend and had no intentions of laying down. Devy Weir found Anika Quon for ‘Fly’s first hold, notching a critical mental victory and putting the pressure back on the Pleiades offense. That offense briefly faltered; a missed throw in the reset space from Pleiades gave Stanford a short field break chance and Esther Filipek found Quon to get back within one, 3-2. 

But from there on out, the Pleiades offense settled in against the Stanford zone — ’Fly would only earn back one more break. Emily Przykucki, Allison Reilly, and Sarah Combs looked content to dink and dunk in the backfield until they found an opening. 

One name noticeably absent from that list of Pleiades handlers is Callahan nominee Theresa Yu, who played one point of the game and did not return to the field due to injury. The success Pleiades found in spite of that absence highlights the depth and development the team has undergone this season. Reilly and Combs both shouldered a high volume of touches, and Przykucki stepped into the center handler role seamlessly, facilitating the offense through the air with poise.

Culton Scores D1W24 Final

For their part, the Stanford offense found success when they looked to Macy Vollbrecht. ‘Fly’s Callahan nominee bore the responsibility with aplomb, continuing her strong play all tournament — 8G/13A/19D on the weekend — as a dependable reset and absolute menace in the deep space. 

Vollbrecht Highlight D1W24 Final

When she and cutters Harper Baer, Sage McGinley-Smith, and Anika Quon were able to create flow in big spaces, they were nigh unstoppable. McGinley-Smith, in particular, had a strong game (3G/1A/2D) attacking relentlessly downfield.

But the points where ‘Fly found that flow were too few and too far between, and the North Carolina defense capitalized on their mistakes at too high a clip. When Stanford did put in a hold, the Pleiades offense was simply too patient to give Stanford the quantity of break chances they needed. 

The gap at halftime was 8-4, and even with the tone set by Sunday’s comeback drama, the lead Pleiades built felt more and more insurmountable by the minute. They had seen a collapse firsthand and consciously set themselves against it.

“[Coach] Liam Searles-Bohs’ key message to us was, ‘This moment is the one right in front of us. It’s not over until we’ve caught that last goal. We can’t get ahead of ourselves,’” said Reilly. “You saw that yesterday; Colorado thought they had it and they did not have it. You gotta get to the end.” 

The backfield duo of Przykucki and Reilly, in particular, were unwilling to give away the disc, opting instead to throw hundreds of dishies until they inched their way into the end zone. Despite the best efforts of the immovable object that was the Stanford defense, who did get a break back at 12-8, the unstoppable force of the UNC offense kept on rolling. 

Culton sealed the deal in style with a blade to Caroline Spencer, adding the final assist to her 6G/4A/3D tally on the day and ending the game, 15-10.

UNC Final Goal D1W24 Final

While Stanford ultimately came up short, a silver medal caps an incredible weekend for a Superfly team that nobody thought would get this far — except for Stanford themselves.

“I guess we were the sixth seed, but I feel like in our minds we are the one seed,” said Filipek.

“That’s the mentality we have going into it. If we’re thinking ‘Oh, we’re the sixth-best team,’ that’s not really going to help us. Thinking we deserve to be in final, and we can fight and get there, was really what helped push us into believing in each other.” 

That belief should continue; Stanford should definitely be considered title contenders in the near future. It’s not just their championship pedigree — given the talent of their most recent crop of young players, including Harper Baer and Dora McCotter-Hullet, the Superfly program is in good hands for years to come. While they’ll lose a key piece in Vollbrecht as her eligibility expires, they return most other major contributors and their player development and mentality of growth will serve them very well.

This win means Pleiades stands alone at the top of the mountain as the only college program in history — in either division — to win four straight titles. It wasn’t as (seemingly) effortless as the last one; North Carolina had to survive two consecutive universe-point games in the bracket, and the lost the famous win streak earlier in the spring. What they didn’t lose, however, was an unshakeable belief in their ability to win.

“[The streak] is something cool that we had, and winning a championship is cooler,” said Culton. “I’d prefer to lose in the regular season and win Nationals, and I’d rather have a streak of winning Nationals.” 

Now they have one that’s four years long.  

 

  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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