Level Up: Vertical Stack in Ultimate Frisbee

Are you looking for an effective offense in Ultimate Frisbee, that even the best teams run? Do you want to know what to do when playing offense in Ultimate Frisbee? Do you want to learn more about Vertical Stack? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you are in the right place! The article below explains how to run the Vertical Stack in Ultimate Frisbee.

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What is a Vertical Stack in Ultimate Frisbee

The Vertical Stack – often referred to as “Vert Stack” – is an offensive system in Ultimate Frisbee. It’s called a “Vertical Stack” because the downfield cutters (usually 4 or 5) are lined up vertically near the center of the field, like the image below.

Ultimate Frisbee Vertical Stack

Goal of the Vertical Stack Offense

The goal of the Vertical Stack offense is to attack and take advantage of the horizontal space on the field. Certainly, there can be (and should be!) deep throws when running a Vertical Stack. However, the advantage of setting up a vertical stack is the space created on both the open side and the break side of the field, as highlighted in the image below.

This offense works best when the cutter at the back of “the stack” starts cutting. It’s their job to use the open space on the field to try and get open. 

Open Space in Vertical Stack

Once their cut is complete, there will be a new cutter at the back of the stack. It becomes this cutter’s turn to try and get open. This flow continues, as cutters from the back of the stack cut into the open space to get open – and they cycle back to the front of the stack once they are done.

Positions in the Vertical Stack

Each of the positions outlined above are described in more detail below.

Active Cutter

When cutting in a Vertical Stack offense, the active cutter is the person at the back of the stack. In most cases, this should be the only person who is using the open space on the field to cut and get open. 

Usually the Active Cutter is going to make a checkmark cut, and try to use the space on the open side or the break side of the field to get open. If they get the disc on their cut, they look upfield for the next cutter. If they don’t, they need to clear quickly to get back to the stack, where they wait their turn to become the Active Cutter again.

Cutters in the Stack

The Cutters in the stack that are not the Active Cutter are waiting their turn, and filtering downfield towards the back of the stack as the players and disc moves around the field.

It’s important to note that this is not a passive position.

Cutters in the stack need to stay alert for opportunities (if their player poaches), and keep moving so their defender stays focused on them. One of the biggest weaknesses when running the Vertical Stack, is that smart poaching defenders can cause problems. It’s the job of a cutter in the stack to prevent their defender from poaching, and punish their defender if they do poach.

Once a Cutter in the stack cycles to the back of the stack, they become the Active Cutter again.

Front of the Stack

Sometimes, the person at the front of the stack plays a special role. This player is often a handler, or someone who is comfortable being in the handler position.

Most of the time, this person’s job is to make sure the stack is in the right place. Generally speaking, they should set the stack up about 10-15 yards upfield from where the disc is. As the disc moves around the field, it’s their job to remind the cutters where to go – to clear back into the stack, and to keep the stack 10-15 yards upfield from where the disc is. This is often done by yelling “stack on me”.

If the handlers get into trouble and are having a hard time resetting the disc, the stack setter needs to help. Often times they’ll make a handler cut back towards the handlers, get the disc on a swing or break throw, and a new handler will cycle into the stack and become the front of the stack.

Handler

Handlers in the Vertical stack will look to use the break side of the field to complete passes to the Active Cutter. Though there are plenty of opportunities to complete passes to the active cutter on the open side, or deep throws, in the Vertical Stack Offense.

If the Active Cutter doesn’t get open by stall 4 or 5, the Handler looks to swing or dump the disc to the other Handler. If the swing or dump cut isn’t open, the Handler looks to the front of the stack as a last resort.

Usually the handler with the disc is upfield from the handler without the disc. This keeps the handler defender from poaching the lane.

Advantages to Vertical Stack

There are many advantages to running the Vertical Stack Offense. 

First, this offense creates lots of space on the open side and break side of the field. This gives handlers a huge advantage when trying to break their mark. Cutters also have an advantage cutting, and can frequently get open on the break side of the field.

Second, because there is so much open space on both sides of the field, sometimes defenders forget about the deep space. Deep plays (like a few outlined below) become quite viable – especially if the break side becomes open.

Finally, the Vertical Stack Offense is relatively easy to teach and play. There is only one Active Cutter at a time, and the rest of the players on the field are in the stack. This creates an isolated matchup with the Active Cutter, and makes it easier for the Handler to determine if the Active Cutter is open or not. Cutters take turns as the Active Cutter, which makes it easy for the cutters to identify who is cutting and when.

Vertical Stack Plays

One final advantage of the Vertical Stack, is that it’s very easy to start the point with a set play after the pull. Starting with a play makes sure the offense is on the same page, and lets the point start with momentum. Sometimes the play works really well, and you get an easy score on the defense as well!

There are probably hundreds of variations of different plays from the Vertical Stack Offense. Below are a few classics that should serve your team well no matter who you are playing.

Flood

Flood for Vertical Stack

The Flood is the classic play out of the Vertical Stack. The idea of this play is to get all the cutters flowing one direction – but for the active cutter to cut back into the open space. It’s a play based in misdirection.

The image below shows how this play can be run. It’s a very effective play to run off the pull.

Handler’s Choice

Handlers Choice in Vertical Stack

There are a lot of names for this type of play, but I’ll just call it Handler’s Choice. The idea here is that the handler has two options to throw to – a cutter on the open side, and a cutter on the break side. 

This play is really great to run if cutters aren’t cutting effectively to the break side, or Handlers think they can take advantage of the break side more.

Unstoppable

Unstoppable in the Vertical Stack

This is kind of a silly name for a play, but it’s name has a kernel of truth in it – it is very hard to stop…especially if it’s run after the Handler’s Choice play above.

This play works best if the handler has been able to complete a few throws to the break side. The defense will be concerned about stopping the break throw at all costs. With an effective checkmark cut under on the break side – then deep – the cutter should have a good chance at an open huck for an easy score.

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