February 1, 2024
By Evan Lepler
The two best F words in the English language?
One is “Frisbee”, and the other is “Free”.
(Yes, “Friday” is another magnificent F word, but excellent ultimate frisbee is enjoyable any day of the week.)
Truthfully, any "Free Frisbee" is tough to top, especially in the form of the greatest collection of showcase games any professional ultimate league has ever introduced.
Even if saying UFA still causes your eyebrows to twitch upward—I’ll admit, it’s getting more comfortable by the day but it’s not exactly natural yet—the premier Ultimate Frisbee Association Super Series is a tantalizing slate of matchups, games that will inevitably define the flavor and energy of the upcoming 2024 season.
So let’s take a quick look at the eight elite battles that have been tabbed as the inaugural UFA Super Series.
DC Breeze at Salt Lake Shred — April 27
The Super Series features four matchups between teams who’ve never met before, but this opening weekend contest immediately registers as a potential all-timer. The obvious narrative heading into DC-Salt Lake is the battle to be number two, but let’s be clear, these are two teams with genuine and realistic ambitions to potentially be the last team standing at Championship Weekend this August.
The Breeze have endured several seasons in New York’s shadow, suffering one heartbreaker after another against the league’s reigning champs, and there’s a real argument that DC, despite never having advanced to the semifinals, has been the second best team in the Association over the past two years. With a new head coach—the Breeze introduced Lauren Boyle as Darryl Stanley’s replacement last week—along with a tremendous assortment of talent, the Breeze enter 2024 with a renewed belief that this year can and will be different.
Meanwhile, the Shred could not meet the moment in last summer’s championship game against the Empire, but Salt Lake’s youthful contingent of rising stars will learn from that experience and return even stronger. More than half of the Shred’s active 20-man roster for the title game was 25 years of age or younger, and it certainly feels like the ceiling for Utah ultimate is perhaps several years away from reaching its peak. That’s not to say they couldn’t win it all this year; it’s to emphasize that Salt Lake has the foundation to be among the very best teams annually for the foreseeable future.
Consequently, seeing DC and Salt Lake square off in front of the inevitably electric ShredHead fans at Zions Bank Stadium in Week 1 of the new season will be, to put it simply, the most anticipated opener in UFA history.
New York Empire at Atlanta Hustle — May 4
Fourth meeting, New York leads all-time series 2-1
As long as the Empire avoid a shocking setback at home in their season opener against a team that went 0-12 last year, the New York juggernaut will carry a UFA-record 31-game winning streak into this Week 2 test in Atlanta. When the Empire last traveled to the Hustle’s home digs, they left as losers, on the wrong side of a 22-21 thriller on July 24, 2021, a result that astonishingly still stands as New York’s last regular season loss. Overall, including the playoffs, the Empire are 38-1 since that riveting day, when Atlanta’s Kelvin Williams blocked Ben Katz’s potential game-tying toss to John Lithio at the buzzer.
From Atlanta’s perspective—there’s no polite way to say it—the Hustle will be preparing for the new season while looking to bounce back from perhaps the most painful playoff loss ever. Their devastating 21-20 overtime defeat at the hands of the Austin Sol in the 2023 South Division title game still stings all these months later, but if ever a team had a cause to renew its commitment and proudly pursue a rampage of revenge, the Hustle are now that team. Certainly, they don’t need to be reminded how their 2021 postseason loss against the Empire, also in overtime, also belongs on the short list for most excruciating playoff results in the decade-plus existence of professional ultimate.
Amidst all these unpleasant memories, here’s something else that’s also true: the Atlanta Hustle truly believe that they are the team with the best combination of skill, size, and athleticism to threaten New York. And they might not be wrong. Brett Hulsmeyer, Dean Ramsey, and Jakeem Polk are athletes created for the next generation of ultimate. Hayden Austin-Knab has repeatedly shown glimpses of All-League ability, and he’s still just 23 years old (turning 24 in a couple weeks). Don’t forget about reigning Callahan Award winner Justin Burnett, whose blocks last season (21) match his current age. And accomplished veterans like Austin Taylor, Matt Smith, and JP Burns have the vision and scar tissue to steer Atlanta right back into the top tier of contenders.
We’ll see whether it’s enough to emerge victorious against New York’s wealthy stable of past and future MVPs, but either way it’ll be an absolutely fascinating early-season measuring stick moment for both franchises.
Minnesota Wind Chill at Madison Radicals — May 24
32nd meeting, Madison leads all-time series 19-12
First things first: Hallelujah for Free Friday Frisbee! (This is one of three Super Series games that are on Friday nights.)
Although the Radicals have won the majority of their all-time meet-ups with Minnesota, the Wind Chill have prevailed in eight of the last nine contests against Madison since the pandemic. More importantly, Minnesota returns to the field in 2024 for the first time as a reigning division champion, having seen their hometown Championship Weekend experience stunningly end in a one-goal overtime result that Wind Chill leadership has undoubtedly been reliving every day since. The feeling of disappointment and taste of their first semifinal are both motivating factors that should raise Minnesota’s profile and ambitions as the new season nears.
Of course, Madison still owns arguably the league’s greatest home-field advantage. There’s no more consistently electric environment in the league than Breese Stevens Field. But the lasting memory of the Radicals struggling to put away winless Detroit in their 2023 finale speaks to how things have so drastically changed since the franchise’s glory days. In the five-year stretch from 2014 to 2018, the Radicals only lost three games at home, zero against teams in their division. Last year, Madison was beaten four times on its home turf, all against Central squads whom the Radicals trailed in the standings.
This game will be an important early-season barometer for both teams, and it will unfold with the backdrop of College Nationals also being in Madison that weekend, with the semis and finals of the college championships scheduled to also be played at Breese Stevens Field that Sunday and Monday.
Atlanta Hustle at Colorado Summit — May 31
We already chronicled the Hustle’s heartbreak, but the Summit’s season-ending trajectory last year was not much better. Considering Colorado won 17 of its first 19 games after joining the Association in 2022, last summer’s collapse, with five losses in their final eight contests, was a demoralizing way to conclude a season they began as a legitimate championship contender.
But the Summit are too talented to let the slide continue. Behind a thoughtful braintrust and exciting core of youthful contributors, Colorado will be a popular preseason pick to challenge Salt Lake out West and emerge as a main threat to the Empire. Alex Atkins, when healthy and focused, is as unstoppable a talent as exists in the entire league, while Quinn Finer also resides as one of the elite hybrid cutters in the country. The Summit also possess a noteworthy home-field advantage, with both the altitude and rowdy Colorado fans giving their foes fits throughout the franchise’s history.
Of course, the Hustle will arrive to the Rockies battle-tested and determined to win the Mile High matchup. Atlanta might actually have the toughest schedule in the entire league in 2024, with nine games against teams that made the playoffs last season. Consequently, every game will feel huge for the Hustle, and who knows how Atlanta will handle it?
Colorado Summit at Minnesota Wind Chill — June 15
Second meeting, Colorado leads all-time series 1-0
Hey, it’s the trip to the Twin Cities that Colorado wishes it could have made last August!
Certainly, after the Summit’s double-digit rout over the Wind Chill on June 24, 2023, Colorado envisioned another West Division title and a trip to Championship Weekend, hosted, of course, in Minnesota. Instead, it was the Wind Chill that were a single goal away from playing in the very last game of the year.
There’s no question that Minnesota eagerly awaits this rematch against the Summit, for the Wind Chill know they did not play their best game in Golden last June. They never quite figured out the altitude, going 8-for-19 on their hucks, and they were outplayed in virtually every facet of the game in that 25-15 blowout. With that said, a couple months later the Wind Chill proved to be a very different team at home, coming within seconds of upending the same Salt Lake team that went 2-0 against Colorado during the 2023 regular season.
Furthermore, it’s probably past time to mention how vitally important these interdivisional games will be for divisional seeding and home-field advantage. Only the top teams in the league have received these coveted Super Series spots, but the prize is also a burden, bestowing considerably more challenging schedules to teams that will make it tougher to stay near the top.
Salt Lake Shred at New York Empire — June 29
Third meeting, New York leads all-time series 2-0
Even if you’re a more casual ultimate fan rather than the diehard viewer, you probably already know all the storylines involved with Salt Lake and New York.
They were both undefeated when they crossed paths last July in Utah, when we witnessed Ben Jagt’s spicy triple spike, ensuing ejection, and prompt reinstatement by Shred Coach Bryce Merrill, using the Integrity Rule in a way nobody ever previously envisioned. Six weeks later, the rematch in the championship game saw Salt Lake experience multiple uncharacteristic first-quarter mistakes, which, when combined with New York’s historically suffocating defensive performance, left the Shred staggered and disappointed to not bring their best on the league’s biggest stage.
A decade ago, a team like the Shred would’ve needed another trip to the finals to get another shot at the league’s consensus super team, but the Super Series generously yields that opportunity in Week 10 of the ensuing regular season. Perhaps both will be still be unbeaten. Or maybe they’ll be needing wins to stay atop their uber-competitive divisions. Either way, the Shred will get another crack against New York, nine weeks after Salt Lake’s home tilt vs. DC.
So you wanted to play against the very best? Be careful what you wish for.
Indianapolis AlleyCats at Colorado Summit — July 6
To be completely transparent, yes, I was surprised to see the Indy AlleyCats on the Super Series schedule. With that said, I am definitely intrigued to see how they will attack this daunting challenge. They absolutely will be amped up for this epic opportunity; whether they can handle Colorado’s established firepower is another question entirely.
The AlleyCats are quietly coming off a 9-3 regular season under new Coach Drew Shepherd, with some new and talented young contributors emerging alongside their veteran mainstays like Cameron Brock, Travis Carpenter, and Keegan North. Teenage phenom William Wettengel turned heads in his rookie campaign, producing 22 blocks, second-most in the entire league.
It’s easy to envision this late-season game becoming a critical must-have contest for both teams, with Colorado and Indianapolis jockeying for playoff positioning in the West and Central, respectively. It’s not a stretch to say that the Summit’s success—or lack thereof—against interdivisional foes like Atlanta, Minnesota, and Indy could dictate whether Colorado gets to host in the playoffs or—gasp—misses the postseason entirely.
New York Empire at Minnesota Wind Chill — July 12
The matchup that very nearly became the championship game this past August, undone only by Salt Lake’s buzzer-beating heroics and Minnesota’s overtime misfortune.
After the fact, Wind Chill Head Coach Ben Feldman confidently maintained that Minnesota was meticulously prepared to slow down the Empire’s high-powered offense and keep it close against New York, and they will finally get their chance this July on the penultimate weekend of the regular season. Once again, the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ comes to mind.
While the Minnesota fans fill be boisterous on behalf of their Wind Chill, there should also be a strong contingent of New York supporters, particularly with Ben Jagt and Ryan Osgar both having Minnesota roots. And though the Twins baseball club will be out of town that weekend, notable New York twins Mike and Ryan Drost, who enter the 2024 season with a combined 400 career blocks, maybe will create another highlight or two for their all-time reels.