The top candidates for Player of the Year, (kind of) ranked
April 20, 2015 by Charlie Enders in Opinion with 14 comments
Let me start off with this: The Ultiworld 2015 Player of the Year award isn’t a lifetime achievement award. As such, I will solely be focusing on these players’ 2015 play. Also, these are in no particular order. But they kinda are.
The Case for Thorne as POTY: Best player on the best team
Everyone knows the case against a Pitt player being POTY: They have so many top guys that it’s difficult to single out any individual in particular. And this is true. Completely justifiable cases for POTY can also be made for Pat Earles, Trent Dillon, and maybe even Marcus Ranii-Dropcho.
But Thorne has outplayed them all this year. He is the definition of offensive consistency and efficiency; at Easterns he played nigh-perfectly. He draws the opposition’s best defender each and every time he sets up in Pitt’s sidestack, and yet is consistently wide open on their initial iso play. He isn’t the flashiest player (see Freechild, Bennett) or the most tenacious defender (LaRocque), but he is far and away the most consistently great on offense. Playing mistake-free is his forte, and other than one strange turn on a D point, Thorne went above and beyond that in their Easterns final against UNCW.
The problem that no one talks about with Pitt’s offense is that it’s just so…boring. They throw to the breakside so often and so easily that sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what the defense is forcing. They run basically the same side stack 95% of the time, and it works every time. And they don’t turn the disc over. Thorne may be the most boring of all. I couldn’t even find a compelling GIF for him. Make something look challenging! Try throwing through someone’s legs! Spike edge down when you score, instead of casually tossing the disc aside like it’s a trifling matter that doesn’t require your attention any longer. For God’s sake, do something objectionable!
All that being said, Thorne is probably the odds-on POTY favorite as of this writing.
The Case for Freechild: (Probably) Best All-Around player in the Division
What else can be said about him? At some point you run out of superlatives. He has a handling style that should be named after him, he won the Callahan in 2013, and is one of the most exciting players in the game to watch. Now in his fifth season, he has led Oregon to an extremely successful regular season, a season that could have been obscured by the players Ego ALMOST got. While Aaron Honn and Simon Higgins would have shot Oregon into the stratosphere, Ego still looks like a contender without them. Freechild is the chief reason for this, and that’s not solely because of his on-field prowess. In fact, I’d argue Ego’s success has much more to do with Freechild’s leadership than his play. And his play, as always, has been incredible.
That’s UNC’s Jon Nethercutt guarding Freechild on the upline. But even without Freechild playing, Ego has looked more than competent. They beat Washington, a top ten team, without him in the finals of the President’s Day Invite. But watching that game, it clear that when Ego scored there was no one more excited than Freechild. This is his last shot at a College National Championship, and he knows that he can’t do it on his own. If Ego makes it to the National title game this year, my POTY vote (if I had one) would be for Spikezilla.
The Case For Bennett: Most irreplaceable player, most “Did he really just do that?” moments
Matt Bennett is already a legend. An 11-assist game at Nationals is probably enough by itself, but Bennett is the type of player that will throw something so ridiculous (and successful) that word of him trickles down the grapevine. Bennett is the kind of player that will throw something that will cause hysterical giggling, pointing, and “didja see that?”-ing from impartial onlookers. For example:
Those are from the same game, by the way. Bennett is a wrecking ball that crashes through the defense’s best-laid plans. He accomplishes this by throwing throws that he (usually) has no right to complete, taking the defense by surprise more often than not. How do you stop a thrower who is so deliciously unpredictable? I’d advise Cup-a-Saurus myself, as Bennett seems averse to hammers, but then he would probably just blade a 50 yard flick into the back corner of the endzone. One more superlative for Bennett: “Most likely to make a defender come of the field and violently spike his hat”.
The oft-cited knock on Bennett is that he turns the disc over more often than a truly elite player should. And I would agree with that statement… if Bennett weren’t getting the disc almost every other. As has been noted here already, Bennett and Dalton Smith both have roles as handlers: Bennett the more high risk/high reward, Smith the more conservative. Bennett has played his role capably this season, and A&M’s success at Nationals will be entirely dependent on if his hot play can continue.
The Case for Maxstadt: Best player on best team that isn’t Pittsburgh
Coming into this season, most people had the Seamen as the second-best team in North Carolina, behind rival UNC Darkside. Almost no one had them as the second-best team in the country. They have dominated in every tournament they’ve attended this season, and Xavier Maxstadt is a chief reason why.
Coach Greg Vassar gave Maxstadt “Simon Montague Privileges”, allowing him to throw whatever he wants, whenever he wants. That signifies a coach’s admittance that his team’s best chance at scoring is through whatever magic this guy can conjure with the disc in his hands. Stuff like this:
That second throw… It’s a flat forehand across the middle of the field, to the side that his receiver isn’t looking. And it works. It’s beautiful. It’s in a spot where only Jack Williams could get to it. Some great chemistry between those two, by the way.
But everyone knows that Maxstadt can throw all the throws. Fewer people knew how great of a defender he is. When Wilmington’s O turns the disc over, more often than not it’s Maxstadt (or the superb Williams) earning the disc back with either a smart poach or an athletic d.
Yeah, he immediately launched a huck for the win that was D’d by Ranii-Dropcho. Sometimes his decision-making is suspect. But can you imagine if he had competed that huck? That might have wrapped up the POTY debate in one bonkers play.
He ain’t bad at hucking, either.
In my 2015 College preview, I proclaimed that Maxstadt and Luke Hancock were the best handler duo in the country. I stand by that. And while Hancock is undeniably an indispensible part of the offense (and is, like Maxstadt for a majority of his career, supremely underrated), Maxstadt is the 200 horsepower outboard motor that propels the Seamen forward.
The Case for LaRocque: Defensive menace, most distinguishable player from DUF’s faceless army
Like I said earlier, this is not a lifetime-achievement award. Although LaRocque has been an invaluable asset for DUF over the past four years, the Ultiworld POTY award is solely focused on what he has done in 2015. And he has been busy.
While DUF has certainly had an up-and-down year, LaRocque has remained consistently excellent throughout. DUF is known for it’s crazy-fiery intense man defense, and while Larocque mostly plays O, there is no starting O-line handler in the country that is better at defense after a turn.
DUF also just seems to have an unending supply of intense, no-nonsense defenders that lay out for everything. While there are notables (Andrew Roney, Connor Holcombe), LaRocque stands out as the most offensively gifted on the team. Plus, he can do this:
Again, this is not a lifetime achievement award, and that play was from two years ago. So don’t let it influence you in any way.
The Case for Nethercutt: ???
I’m not sure if there is a compelling case right now for Nethercutt. He began this season as the odds-on favorite to be the 2015 POTY. He’s undoubtedly one of the best players in the college game, and could be the best pure handler. But UNC has struggled the entire season to recoup their 2014 success, and Nethercutt has been overshadowed as a result. Darkside won no major tournaments this year. Other than that crazy throw to beat Pitt on double game point, Nethercutt has largely fallen by the wayside as other players stepped up and supplanted him as the favorites for POTY. And yet I can’t bring myself to take him off this list completely. He’s too good a player, and UNC too good a team to not make some noise at Nationals. They’ve underperformed all year, and I think that Nethercutt will be the driving force behind a deep Nationals run. Darkside is one of only two teams to beat Pitt this year (so far), something that Nethercutt had a little to do with…
A deep Nationals run could certainly vault Nethercutt back into contention for POTY.