PUL Championship Weekend Preview

DC Shadow and Austin Torch do battle in the air for the disc. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

The 2024 Premier Ultimate League Championship Weekend is taking place this weekend in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and a first-time PUL champion is guaranteed to be crowned. This season’s two remaining undefeated teams, the South Division’s DC Shadow and the North Division’s New York Gridlock, lead the line while hosts Philadelphia Surge and surprise South Division qualifiers Austin Torch will try to spoil the favorites’ party in both squad’s first appearance at Championship Weekend.

With the divisions cross-matching for the semifinal matchups, Austin will try to ride their momentum from their final weekend win over Raleigh Radiance as they seek to upset New York, while DC will take on Philly in a long-awaited showdown on a Saturday night. Each team will have their chances in what are set to be sweltering conditions in Philly, so here are the reasons why each team will, or won’t, end the weekend with their franchise’s first title in hand. The first semifinal between Austin and New York starts Saturday at 4 PM ET and the second, between DC and Philly, at 7 PM ET, with the final taking place the next day at 2 PM ET. All games will be streamed free on the Premier Ultimate League’s YouTube Channel

Austin Torch (South Division #2, 3-3 regular season record)

Why They Will: Let’s not bury the lede here — Torch come into the weekend as significant underdogs against the undefeated Gridlock. Even still, there are reasons to think Austin could get past not only New York but either DC or Philly in the final, the first of which is the heat. Torch made it to Championship Weekend in the first place by beating Raleigh in scorching conditions down in Texas, and the forecast for this upcoming weekend doesn’t look too different from the heat Austin played through to get here. If they can manage the soaring temperatures better than their opponents, Torch have at least half a chance at pulling off another pair of stunning upsets this weekend.

Why They Won’t: Overall records aren’t everything, but against a field featuring a pair of undefeated teams and another one-loss squad, Austin’s 3-3 record stands out like a sore thumb. Two of those three losses are to teams they’ll be guaranteed to face if they were to make the final (either DC or Philly), and their third is a confounding defeat against Atlanta Soul that was the Georgians’ only win of the season. On paper, Torch have a weaker squad than the rest of their Championship Weekend competitors, and their hot home-cooking that carried them to the win against Raleigh may have well been just the one-off it seemed to be.

New York Gridlock (North Division #1, 6-0 regular season record)

Why They Will: It’s pretty simple for New York: they’ve gone undefeated so far and have several of the best players in the world on their roster. Even with two games to potentially play over the course of the weekend, Gridlock have to feel good about their chances given how much success they’ve had with their small but mighty core of players. Yina Cartagena led the league in assists and throwing yards by what seemed like miles, Jolie Krebs is coming off of a Callahan-winning college season, and do we need to say more about what Valeria and Manuela Cardenas can do on the field together? New York’s roster is about as potent as they come and it could well carry them to a title this weekend.

Why They Won’t: Carrying a roster of fewer than 20 people all season has to come back to bite you at some point — right? New York didn’t play two games in one weekend all season, and even if they do get past Austin in their Saturday semi, any sort of fatigue they’d carry over into Sunday would likely be punished by DC or Philly. And that’s not even accounting for any other potential last-minute unavailability of any of Gridlock’s top grouping of players. New York defied the short roster odds all year on their way to their undefeated regular season campaign, but that’s not guaranteed to last all the way through the finish line.

Philadelphia Surge (North Division #2, 5-1 regular season record)

Why They Will: In case you weren’t aware, Philly sports fans go hard for their teams, and in their first Championship Weekend appearance, Surge will get the benefit of having their home crowd supporting them in full voice all weekend. This Surge roster is talented up and down the board, too, and their lone loss came on the road against Gridlock, so getting to potentially face New York at home could make all the difference. Yes, that requires getting past DC in the first place, but we’ve seen how snakebit Shadow have been at Championship Weekend in the past (more on that in a moment), and after getting snubbed last year, this may just be Philadelphia’s time in the sun.

Why They Won’t: For Philly, the first hurdle may be the highest as they drew a semifinal matchup against a DC Shadow team that has been near-untouchable all season. And then, even if they were to pull the upset in game one, their most likely opponents in the final would be the one team they couldn’t get past this season in New York. That loss against Gridlock also showed some of the weaknesses of this Surge team which could spell their doom this weekend: an offense that runs hot and cold, and a defense that couldn’t come up with stops when they needed them. They’ll need to perform well above that level if they’re to claim the crown this weekend.

DC Shadow (South Division #1, 6-0 regular season record)

Why They Will: It’s pretty simple for DC: they’ve gone undefeated so far and have several of the best players in the world on their roster. Yes, yes, that’s the same opening line as we had for New York, but really, with the likes of Claire Trop, Kami Groom, and Ashleigh Jentilet leading the line, it’s a pretty persuasive argument. Shadow’s defense also remains the best in the league by a distance, and helped contribute to an overall point differential an astounding 32 points better than the next best team. Even when that team happens to be your semifinal opponent, DC showed time and again this season why they’re the likely favorites coming into the weekend. Now it’s just a matter of getting over that finish line.

Why They Won’t: Sometimes, fate just has it out for you. That must be how DC feels after making back-to-back Championship Weekends as the top seeded team, only to fall short both times. Maybe there’s something in the water, maybe it’s nerves, or maybe just bad luck, but if it’s gone wrong for Shadow before, there’s no guarantee that’ll change this time around. Even as undefeated South Division champs, they still have to get through a top-tier Philly team to make the final, and then likely would have to overcome fellow undefeateds New York to take down the title. It’s a challenging path, and one made even more difficult if fate isn’t on their side.

  1. Jenna Weiner
    Jenna Weiner

    Jenna Weiner is a Senior Staff Writer, a co-host of Ultiworld's Double Overtime podcast, and considers herself a purveyor of all levels of ultimate. She's played mostly on the west coast but you're likely to find her at the nearest ultimate game available.


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