May 28, 2013 by Keith Raynor in Analysis with 11 comments
As five players stood quietly awaiting the announcement of the Callahan award winner, awkwardly looking around not knowing what to expect, each player probably forgot about their physical discomfort – the scrapes and bruises acquired during the most intense weekend of Ultimate they’ve had – with only room in their conscious mind for their emotional discomfort. Aching bones, sore tendons, and tired muscles are par for the course, but most of these players had spent the past two or three days rising to the demands of their respective teams.
All but one.
Claire Chastain, the star player of UNC-Wilimington’s Seaweed, was fresh, unfazed by a weekend of competition. That was because her team did not make the trip to compete at the College Championships. We’ve spent the week marveling at the play of Lien Hoffman, Bailey Zahniser, Becca Miller, and Claudia Tajima, but Chastain’s name was scarcely mentioned. Perhaps it was that that made her seem unlikely to factor into the award’s decision. Perhaps it was history, since only three players had ever won the Callahan without their team playing in the season’s final tournament.
Now four players can claim that unusual fact.
In a rather stunning upset, Chastain’s name was boomed over the speakers, and a pierced lip curled into a smile as the UNC-W player’s teammates and male counterparts from Wilmington’s open team (who did qualify for the tournament) rushed the field to surround her with celebratory raucousness. On a day when, up to that point, all the favorites had won, this was a curveball.
It isn’t for lack of talent that the power-packed Chastain was written off. That part of the equation was unquestionable. Wilmington was very close to winning an additional bid for their Region – many thought that they were a more talented team than some of the last strength bid winners – and competitive in the one bid Atlantic Coast Region. They had beaten teams in the College Championships field. For a team that lacked depth, Chastain can be credited with a lot of that success. She’s capable of making big plays from nearly anywhere on a field. On Phoenix, the elite women’s club she plays for, she’s a key cog. She was the only current college player invited to try out for Team USA’s World Games team.
The trick was that, typically, voters run with the assumption that if a player wasn’t good enough to get their team to the show, they probably weren’t the top option for the Callahan. It is a common criticism for discussion of individual accolades and to what degree team success is indicative of individual stars’ talents.
Despite all of that, the players selected Chastain. Sometimes, a special talent is so convincingly influential on and off the field that it feels unfair to vote for someone else. UNC-Wilmington’s Claire Chastain may be that player. Whatever she may be, there’s one thing she is definitively: the 2013 Callahan winner.