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Pleiades are a flying disc dynasty

The Carolina women’s team won its fourth-straight national title in the sport also known as “ultimate Frisbee.”

Frisbee player runs through tunnel of supporters holding hands above after victory.
Carolina's Pleiades ultimate team won its fourth-straight national championship in May, defeating Stanford. (BE Ultimate)

Carolina sports fans colloquially refer to UNC-Chapel Hill as the “University of National Champions,” and there’s truth to the moniker. From field hockey to women’s soccer to men’s basketball, Tar Heel student-athletes consistently rise to the top nationally.

But many Carolina fans may not know that the University now has a full-fledged women’s collegiate dynasty in a non-varsity sport. 鶹ƵAV team is a Goliath in the flying disc sport known as “ultimate Frisbee” or “ultimate.”

When the Pleiades traveled to Wisconsin in late May to vie for their , they could feel everyone in the stadium rooting against them.

“No one really likes to see the defending back-to-back-to-back champions win,” quipped team member Martha Plaehn. “So we were dealing with a crowd that maybe was not friendly to us.”

The jeers didn’t hinder them. Neither did Stanford’s infamously stingy zone defense.

On May 27, the Pleiades defeated Stanford 15-10 in the Division I women’s championship to bring a fourth-straight national title back to Chapel Hill.

“It felt incredible, and it doesn’t get old,” said Dhara Buebel, another team captain. “I am so incredibly impressed by what my teammates did, and that’s something that won’t wear off – that feeling of accomplishment, that feeling of not only do we get to do this really cool thing, but we get to do it together.”

Founded in 1995, the Pleiades program grew through the systematic effort of players, coaches and alums to become the juggernaut it is today, making seven-straight nationals appearances and winning its last four.

Simply put, the Pleiades don’t lose, especially in recent years. Starting in February 2020, the Pleiades went a staggering 1,498 days without losing, winning 143 games in a row before dropping a regular season contest against Carleton College on March 17.

Players point to multiple factors for that sustained success, starting with head coach Jessi Jones and her staff. A master strategist, Jones has developed systems that the Pleiades can use in every game – with room for creativity when needed.

Just as important is the culture that Jones and the Pleiades established. Named after the “Seven Sisters” star constellation, Pleiades feels like a loving family, welcoming players of all gender identities and all levels of ultimate experience.

“I think Pleiades is really cool because of the way that that it uplifts its players,” said star player Dawn Culton, who has been part of all four national titles. “I’ve never been on a team where people have believed in each other to the extent that people believe in each other on Pleiades.”

Culton scored six goals in the team’s most recent national title game, and she . A May graduate from the UNC School of Social Work, Culton said she enrolled at Carolina, in part, because of Pleiades’ reputation in the ultimate world.

But even for less-experienced players like Plaehn, who tried out for Pleiades on a whim during her first year in school, the program quickly provided a special sense of community.

“My experience at UNC is completely wrapped up in my experience with Pleiades in a really beautiful way,” Plaehn said. “This is a community I never realized I would discover. All of my best friends are my teammates. My partner is one of my teammates.

“I know there are other communities like that at UNC, and they’re beautiful and maybe undiscovered, but I think having a community like Pleiades is so important and has completely shaped my college experience.”