The Line: Appreciating 7 Incredible Plays by the Cárdenas Sisters

A look back at a pair who have set fire to the world stage and are poised to do so again this summer.

Washington DC Scandal’s Allie Wallace and Amanda Murphy go for a disc against Denver Molly Brown’s Manu Cardenas during their 2023 Club Championships semifinal. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

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The Line brings together lists of sevens from our reporting staff.

The World Ultimate Championships are fast approaching – August 31st is under 60 days away – and we can start looking forward to seeing some of the sport’s brightest talents. Among those great players, arguably foremost, stand Colombian all-stars Valeria and Manuela Cárdenas. They are true titans of the game. After almost a decade of play at the highest levels starting with their teenage years – they represented Colombia at the 2016 World Ultimate Championships before they were 18 – they are now entering their athletic prime.

Manuela (left) and Valeria Cárdenas at the 2016 WUGC. Photo: Jolie Lang — UltiPhotos.com

Greatness in sports is often defined with numbers. The higher the number the better and players with the highest number are often defined as the greatest. True greatness though is apparent on the field. You know it instantly when you see it. Oftentimes the high numbers are a byproduct of that greatness, but it’s one thing to ogle at the impossibility of the number and another thing to see the moment where one of the numbers ticks up. Some of those moments are built differently than others. Not every goal is electrifying, not every block is earth shattering, and not every assist is mind boggling, but these are.

1. Layout on the Line

In the context of the rest of the 2022 National final, this play isn’t particularly special – arguably it wouldn’t even make the top-five list of the game’s highlights – but for anyone not at the absolute zenith of the game this would be the highlight of a career. That’s the power of being great, it can make an incredible play seem routine. This is a great shoestring grab from Vale, who goes full horo to snatch it up, manages to stay in bounds, then has the composure to stand up and deliver a difficult throw around the mark to her receiver in stride.

 

2. Thrusters Engaged

Always a great matchup when Molly Brown faces up against Fury, as both teams seem to bring out the best in each other. This often results in great plays like this one from pool play at the 2023 Pro Championships:

 

First, I think it’s worth pointing out the vision Manuela has as a cutter. Look at this still from how the play started:

She flips the disc to Vale and immediately gets a step on her defender. She could gain an easy 10-15 yards here, but no, she sees the lane past the defender in the middle of the field, the defender on her teammate deep and then a third defender off screen, and just hits the boosters, catching over half of the defense flat-footed.

Another thing worth noting is the trust Valeria has in Manuela to just be there. She’s not faking, making looks, or checking her dump option, she’s just waiting on Manuela to get deep enough so she doesn’t overthrow the disc.

Then, of course, Manuela makes an electric grab for the point.

3. Telekinetic Connection

Lepler called it right on this one, the connection between the sisters seems at times telekinetic, and this throw from the 2022 Club Championship semfinal is a great example of that connection.

 

It’s not just that there are maybe only a handful of players that have this throw, it’s also that Manuela knows to expect it here. It’s tempting to focus on Vale in the video (she is making an incredible throw) but Manu is sprinting at the back cone before Vale even has her feet set. They both know this is the play, even when no one else does. Claire Trop (noted great player) just lets Manu go, thinking that there’s no play to be had there, but is proven wrong in electrifying fashion.

4. Air Patrol for Macana

Manuela is arguably the best player in the air in the game right now, and she’s definitely the most striking. Every grab she makes in the air seems to end with an exclamation mark. That emphasis is only increased by the presence of defenders. Getting over the pile here with force and ripping down the disc is far from a routine play for most, but Manuela manages to make it happen time and again.

5. Comeback Clutch

It’s not just on offense that the Cárdenas twins are able to exert pressure and wreak havoc, and it’s not just in the club scene. They are also an absolute international force on defense, represented here by a flying Vale on universe point against Team USA back at TEP earlier this year.

It’s worth pointing out that this is the third bid in a row for the Colombian national team this possession, and as they say, third time’s the charm. At full speed it almost looks like a foul or a strip, but in the slow motion replay it’s clear she made the perfect bid, placing her hand between the receiver’s and going around without making contact. The body control, the focus, and the poise here are off the charts. Of course she gets up, composed, and Colombia marches down the field to seal the win and the comeback, having been down 12-9.

6. Reflex Rejection

It’s hard to write anything about this. I mean what is there to even say? Just look at it. Who does this? The reaction time is otherworldly. Valeria is shifting her weight in the other direction to cover off the swing pass as Kami Groom is moving to make this throw and Valeria is still able to plant her feet and throw her body in the other direction to make this block. And in a club championship semifinal no less! There are maybe only a handful of players in the world that could make this play, and it just so happens that the one of that select few is also featured in this article.

7. The Block Heard ‘Round the World

When you clicked the link you knew this play was going to be here. You probably scrolled through the list before reading it to make sure.

Manuela Cardenas

Every time I watch this clip my brain just scrambles for a bit and I can’t string words together. It’s a play that elicits an animal instinct. It’s free dopamine. I think part of it is the emphasis Manu gets on the block – it’s not a simple hand out stopping the disc, she swats it down. There’s so much authority that it’s hard to imagine there was another possible outcome. This is a play kids will look up on YouTube at 2 AM in 20 years. The play is so good Evan Lepler is speechless. A simple “Oh goodness” and a “Wow” on top from Megan Tormey and then a solid three seconds of dead air. What more needs to be said?

  1. Zack Davis
    Zack Davis

    Former D-III player for Spring Hill College, poached on the breakside.

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