By: Kevin McCormick
The field of teams competing for a 2018 National Championship in the mixed division includes five first-time qualifiers and six former champions. The winners of this year’s U.S. Open, Pro Championships and World Ultimate Club Championships, plus last year’s national champion, headline the four pools, each with their own unique and dramatic storylines. Parity might be at an all-time high in the mixed division, so make sure you tune in starting on day one, so you don’t miss any of the action!
How to Watch
The 2018 National Championships preliminary rounds will be held at Surf Cup Sports Park in Del Mar, Calif., before the semifinal and final rounds move to Mira Mesa High School in San Diego.
What to look for on Thursday (pool play):
AMP (1) / Blackbird (8) / No Touching! (12) / Toro (13)
2017 runner-up AMP (1) is a top title contender this year after going 19-4 during the regular season and earning tournament victories at the Boston Invite and U.S. Open. AMP has faced Blackbird (8) in Nationals pool play every year since 2015, with AMP winning the past two matchups. Blackbird will be eager to even the score against AMP and earn a bye to the quarterfinals; the two-time champion had an inconsistent regular season, but as always, they have the veteran experience to win any game in the right conditions. No Touching! (12) played Blackbird extremely close at the Elite-Select Challenge, and their unique defensive playbook opens the door for an upset in any matchup. Toro (13) suffered losses to both AMP and Blackbird in pool play last year and will be looking to prove they can hang with the division’s elite, although they have yet to face any of the top eight seeds at Nationals this year.
Drag’n Thrust (2) / shame. (7) / Polar Bears (11) / XIST (14)
Three-time champion Drag’n Thrust (2) enters the National Championships as arguably the hottest team at the tournament. The Minneapolis powerhouse posted a 19-3 regular-season record, including a perfect 6-0 performance at last month’s Pro Championships. But they will have their hands full with their third-round matchup against shame. (7), who upset them in pool play last year. shame.’s arsenal of big receivers and even bigger throws can keep them alive in any matchup, as evidenced by the fact that all seven of their regular-season losses were by three points or less. Six-time qualifiers and 2010 champions Polar Bears (11) return to Nationals after a two-year hiatus, with a very different roster. The Polar Bears had a strong regular season, winning the Select Flight Invite and reaching the finals at the Elite-Select Challenge. Five of their seven losses on the year came against fellow Nationals qualifiers; they also have some encouraging wins over other Nationals qualifiers, but they haven’t yet faced anyone in their pool. First-time qualifiers XIST (14) played Drag’n Thrust closely at the Pro Championships, suggesting potential for a huge upset and a complete shake-up of Pool B.
Mixtape (3) / Space Heater (6) / Mischief (10) / Jughandle (15)
Reigning national champions Mixtape had a disappointing start to their 2018 campaign; after a shocking quarterfinals exit at the World Ultimate Club Championships, they went 0-3 on the first day of the U.S. Open, crushing any hope of repeating their 2017 Triple Crown. But after salvaging a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Open, they put on an impressive performance at the Pro Championships, claiming victories over the other four American WUCC qualifiers and coming up one point short of the tournament title. Unfortunately, Mixtape has a tough draw in their pool’s second seed, Space Heater (6), whose talent-stacked roster has been clamored over since its announcement many months ago. Space Heater recruited stars from Nationals-caliber teams across the country, including a handful of U.S. WUGC and World Games representatives. Their wealth of high-stakes experience came in handy as they claimed a Nationals bid by way of overcoming an 8-2 halftime deficit against Alloy in the Mid-Atlantic Regionals semifinals. The Mixtape v. Space Heater matchup will draw a lot of attention, but neither team can look past Mischief (10); the 2006 champs recovered from two early regionals losses to defeat both Blackbird and Polar bears en route to win one of the most competitive regions in any division. Jughandle (15) will look to play spoiler in Pool C, after defying all odds to qualify for their first Nationals ever, despite being seeded seventh in a three-bid Mid-Atlantic Region.
BFG (4) / Snake Country (5) / Slow White (9) / Cocktails (16)
If you’re looking to make any safe bets in the mixed division, be sure to steer clear of Pool D; there are 24 possible ways a pool of four can finish, and just about all of them are on the table here. BFG (4) is the pool’s top seed; they took gold at the World Ultimate Club Championships this year and finished as runners-up at the U.S. Open. But some late-season roster changes and a head-scratching loss to No Touching! at the Pro Championships suggest they may not be a lock to win the pool. Snake Country (5) won a very deep Northeast Region in their first year of existence, but have only played three games all season against teams at Nationals seeded 13 or higher (two losses to AMP back in June and a win over fellow first-year team Space Heater in August). Snake Country carries a fair bit of Nationals experience, though, with many on their roster having formerly played for perennial qualifier and 2016 champion Slow White (9), which should add some drama to their second-round matchup. Slow White experienced growing pains this season, as they essentially transitioned from one roster to another, with several key players departing after Worlds. Despite a number of blowout and unpredictable losses, they certainly have the talent to win games when it matters. Rounding out the pool is Cocktails (16), who swept through Great Lakes Regionals with ease but had an unremarkable season, going winless at their only TCT event and earning no victories against fellow Nationals qualifiers. Some might not expect much from a last-seeded, first-time qualifier from the Great Lakes…but in 2015, The UPA faced the exact same situation and went on to win their pool and fall one point shy of a Nationals semifinals berth.
Games to Watch on Day 1 – Thursday, October 18 (all times EST):
12:00 p.m.: Via USA Ultimate: BFG v. Slow White. A rematch of the World Ultimate Club Championships gold-medal game pits two teams against each other who have both had to deal with mid-season roster transitions this year. BFG won at Worlds and again in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Can they continue their dominance, or will the third time be the charm for Slow White?
2:15 p.m.: Drag’n Thrust v. Polar Bears. In their first game at Nationals since 2015, the Polar Bears will get a rematch of the 2013 championship game. This game could be their best opportunity to become relevant on the national scene again.
2:15 p.m.: Snake Country v. Slow White. What more needs to be said when a storied program like Slow White competes against so many of its former players? Despite not having faced each other this season, these two teams know each other very well, and the stakes will be high as these teams compete for the pool’s top spot.
4:30 p.m.: Space Heater v. Mischief. The east coast all-star team Space Heater will get their first taste (as a team) of west coast competition against Mischief. Space Heater will enter as the favorite, but Mischief’s experience and proximity to home might narrow the margin.
6:45 p.m.: Drag’n Thrust v. shame. Drag’n Thrust is playing some of the best ultimate in the division right now. But shame.’s “throw caution to the wind” attitude can get any team off their game when things are clicking. shame. earned an upset over Drag’n Thrust in pool play last year, so there’s no reason to think it can’t happen again.
6:45 p.m.: Via USA Ultimate: Mixtape v. Space Heater. The game everyone’s been waiting for all season, and we’re fortunate enough to get it on day one of Nationals. Mixtape, an established program of gritty athletes playing a style that seems casual on the surface but is quite methodical to the observant, against Space Heater, relatively inexperienced as a unit, but a chimera of battle-tested individual talent with a collective reservoir of we’ve-been-here-before moments that rivals any team in the division.
Check out the full schedule here, and check back in here for daily recaps on tct.usaultimate.org!