Columbus Pride Powers Ahead of Nashville Nightshade in PUL Season Opener

by Niki Lesniak

Nashville, Tennessee – April 20, 2019. The first game of the Premier Ultimate League, the first professional womxn’s league in ultimate history, was decisively won 24-13 by the Columbus Pride. Nashville Nightshade struggled to work out first-game jitters and for the most part, Nightshade’s turnovers were unforced drops and miscues.

For the most part, Pride played a horizontal stack, though they often hit offensive flow so quickly that a stack was unnecessary. Pride’s players displayed chemistry that made their offense look calculated and smooth. Nightshade didn’t always make it easy for them, often getting close to making Ds that it was almost unfair that Pride would still come out on top. Two moments of great athleticism that stand out are #3 Alaine Wetli’s grab for Pride’s 9th goal, and #5 Sophie Knowles grab for Pride’s 10th goal.

Nightshade ran a side stack, which in theory opens up a lot of field space for cutters to use. But it was too easy for Pride to defend. It took too much time for cutters to enter a viable position from the side of the field, which limited the number of options the thrower could take per stall. Every Nightshade cutter had a Pride player on their heels, making those limited options have a tight window, which may have upped those unforced errors. However, Nightshade captain and PUL board member Liz Barnes was not particularly upset with the side stack strategy. “We have very talented cutters and throwers on this team,” she said. “But the side stack is just one offensive look we have in our tool box. We have other options that tailor towards the strengths of our team.”

Sadie Jezierski of Pride of Columbus lays out for the first score in Premier Ultimate League history against Nashville Nightwatch! April 20th, 2019

Nightshade’s defense learned quickly that Pride’s offense was run through their handlers. In the second quarter Nightshade began running a poachy handler defense that certainly slowed Pride’s flow. In response, Pride’s handlers were forced to be more patient. They hardly seemed bothered by the increased number of passes they were throwing, easily moving the disc amongst themselves. Even when Pride cutters struggled to get open, the handlers patiently waited until there was an open downfield window to hit a cutter.

Nightshade handlers, on the other hand, didn’t have the same confidence. Their throws and plays erred more on the side of high-stall Hail Mary’s, which was a testament to Pride’s solid person defense and skilled marks. (We can all appreciate #27 Kelsey Kuzmic’s footblock with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.)

Pride’s defense seemed to contest more plays than Nightshade’s. In the third quarter, Pride’s Knowles received the first yellow card of the season. In the play in question, there was some contact between Knowles, on defense, and Nightshade’s captain Liz Barnes, on offense, on a contested deep throw. Unique to PUL, the card system is somewhat like soccer’s. In response to “unsportspersonlike” conduct, whether intentional or unintentional, observers can issue yellow cards (warmings) and red cards (automatic ejection), and two yellow cards is an automatic red card. It will be interesting to see how observers utilize the card system in the league down the line, especially in more heated games.

It remains to be seen if Nightshade can adjust their offense in the coming weeks and create a system in which cutters don’t have to work so hard to get open so their handlers are not forced to resort to high-risk throws. Nightshade next plays against Austin Torch in Week 4 and Pride will take on New York Gridlock in Week 3.

Niki Lesniak is an ultimate player currently residing in Maine, though originally from Seattle. She has been playing Ultimate since 2005 in the mixed and women’s division and has played in over 25 different countries. 

Tim Kepner