Recognizing a season of superlative efforts from around the Men's Division.
October 13, 2016 by Patrick Stegemoeller, Hugo Sowder and Naomi Redmond in Analysis, Opinion with 0 comments
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With Nationals over and the winners crowned, it is time to take a moment to recognize the top performers in the Men’s Division this season. While the talent of the division reaches far beyond short lists, the Club Awards are meant to honor those players who put together what we believe to be the best seasons in the Men’s game this year.
While we consider both regular season and postseason performance, because of the nature of the club division, we weight success in the Series and at Nationals above all else. The Club Awards are selected based on input from Ultiworld reporters, contributors, and editors.
Offensive Player Of The Year
Josh Markette (Boston Ironside)
Josh “Cricket” Markette has long been one of the most exciting throwers in ultimate, treating discs more like a paintbrush than a hunk of plastic. This season, he channeled all of that creativity and ability into something that looked… well… frankly, it looked kind of boring.
For their opponents, Ironside’s offense this year was death by a thousand resets. A normcore juggernaut of relentless around backhands and unguardable dump cuts in tight spaces. It was completely unstoppable, if perhaps seemingly uninspired. But within Ironside’s crushing pragmatism, Markette found a new kind of artistry, a certain brutalism that comes from running this Platonic ideal of a vert stack in which the defense has almost no say in what the offense does. Pulling all the strings from the engine room, Cricket was like Boston’s Xavi, dictating the game by refusing to even let his opponents play.
Markette’s stats from this season are not mind-blowing, particularly with guys like Kurt Gibson and John Stubbs soaking up a lot of goals and assists. But so many of those scores came from all the work Markette put into moving the disc down the field, throwing unstoppable break after unstoppable break, and collecting reset after reset. Markette built the platform upon which the rest of Ironside’s offense flourished.
He did all of this — at age 37, no less — while taking a pounding from defenders hell-bent on using physicality to throw him off his game. Those attempts were largely in vain however, as Markette proved to be unflappable and his focus never waned despite the physical abuse he took from bigger defenders on the mark and in the cramped spaces around the disc.
That focus is really what elevated this season above some of the crafty veteran’s other sterling campaigns, and was encapsulated by his finest moment. Trailing Revolver 12-11 in the final at Nationals, Ironside desperately needed a hold to keep pace with the defending champs. Boston had the disc ten to fifteen yards out from the endzone when Revolver’s Andrew Hagan stuffed a dump throw from Jeff Graham to Markette. With the disc plummeting to the turf and Markette moving in the opposite direction, it looked like a sure turnover.
But a split second later, Markette was — miraculously — in possession of the disc and distributing it before anyone on the field, on the sidelines, or in the stands could even process what had happened. Somehow, Cricket had the presence of mind to react to the hand block, anticipate the falling disc’s path, perfectly spear the disc just before it touched the ground, and then deliver a crisp break flick through traffic before anyone else could figured out what had happened, much less how it was possible.
It takes a superhuman level of focus to pull off a sequence like that, and that focus defined Markette this season. He was just locked in, with time seemingly moving slower for him than everyone else. He was seeing plays develop two steps before they happened, and this allowed him to be two literal steps ahead of his defenders all season long. Over the course of the season, those steps added up to quite a lot, most notably a championship for Ironside and a well deserved Offensive Player of the Year award for Markette.
Runners-Up: Grant Lindsley (San Francisco Revolver), Nicky Spiva (Washington DC Truck Stop)
Defensive Player Of The Year
Jack Hatchett (Boston Ironside)
It has been a long road for Jack Hatchett. His journey from being the 28th man for Ironside in 2011 to becoming their defensive X-factor in the finals of Nationals five years later may not get the kind of attention it deserves, but his performance proved to be a deciding factor for Boston in Rockford.
There’s one word that describes the kind of player that Hatchett has evolved into: workhorse. While it’s easy to say Ironside may not have been able to win a title without Kurt Gibson’s heroic performance or Josh Markette’s virtuoso handling, you could just as easily argue that without Hatchett’s voice buzzing in Josh McCarthy’s ear to put him on Grant Lindsley during halftime of the men’s final, Boston would have been hard-pressed to overcome their deficit against Revolver and finally exercise their Nationals demons. Hatchett’s block against Lindsley to start the second half changed the tone of the game and was the first step on Boston’s final path to a national championship.
But, Hatchett’s performance in the finals represented only part of the picture for the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. He took responsibility for his assigned matchups all weekend in Rockford — and all season long. When Boston needed a lockdown defender, Hatchett stepped up in a huge way. In Ironside’s zones and junk looks, his field awareness and downfield positioning took key players out of games, even as Hatchett found room to peel off and create havoc through his help defense. On a turn, Hatchett was a constantly grinding cutter and while he wasn’t quite as high profile a target as Kurt Gibson, his reliability and consistency set him apart in the later rounds of the Club Championships. In both the quarters and semis, he registered blocks against the likes of Nick Stuart and Ben Lohre. Bravo’s Lohre in particular was a key assignment; as a top downfield target for the irrepressible Jimmy Mickle, locking up Lohre was vital to securing Boston’s 15-11 victory.
Which brings us back to his game-changing performance against Grant Lindsley. Hatchett called his own adjustment in the huddle and took on an unenviable matchup. There are moments in sports when know a game has ‘turned’. Hatchett’s block gave Ironside the break — and, ultimately, confidence — they needed to close the gap with Revolver and get back into a game where Revolver’s offense had to that point pitched a perfect game. Hatchett’s containment of Lindsley the rest of the way was an inspiring individual performance that represents exactly why a grinder like Hatchett is so invaluable to an elite team.
You may not see a player like Hatchett wrack up goal after goal, but he’ll make sure his matchup won’t either. Hatchett owned this role all season and was rewarded with a well deserved championship. With a mixed world championship and national title under his belt, Jack has earned himself a long-awaited offseason and is Ultiworld’s 2016 Defensive Player of the Year in the Men’s division.
Runners-up: Nathan White (San Francisco Revolver), Hunter Taylor (Raleigh Ring of Fire)
Breakout Player Of The Year
Malcolm Bryson (Vancouver Furious George)
It seems fitting that our Breakout Player of the Year should come from this season’s best Cinderella story — Vancouver’s Furious George. Following a somewhat lackluster regular season and after missing a ticket to the show last year, the bottom seed shocked everyone in Rockford with their march into their first quarterfinals appearance since 2006. Leading their score sheet? Malcolm Bryson.
Bryson is in many ways still a truly raw player, having only completed one season on the club circuit before this year. A late pickup for the U23 Team Canada squad that went to finals in London last summer, this Furious sophomore was selected to take the field with Team Canada at WUGC this year as well. In this fall’s game-to-go at Northwest Regionals, it was Bryson who scored the final break to knock Rhino out of contention and send Furious back to the Club Championship stage. He’s the quintessential example of Vancouver’s changing tide: after years of cultivating and coaching up junior and college programs, there’s been an injection of gutsy youth players into the elite teams who are not just coming into their own, but taking on starring roles.
An undeniably frustrating player to cover, Bryson buzzes around the field with a level of confidence that you wouldn’t expect from such a fresh face. Dynamic to the bone, he commands the midfield with cheeky dishes and running through defenses before they even realize he was there in the first place. This versatile playing style, his impressive field awareness, and spicy quick-release throwing flair helped the Furious lads open up options all throughout the Club Championships. Known for his agility and speed, he was leaving even the most seasoned defenders in the dust all weekend long, flitting around for short yardage or finding his way into the endzone. Staking out points on both offensive and defensive lines, Bryson also made his mark with some huge defensive plays like this Callahan denial against Patrol.
A product of the University of Victoria’s classically underdog program, Bryson quickly rose through the college ranks to earn his spot with Furious. With a freshman All-Region nod back in 2013, he’s since built up a reputation for being a squirrelly hybrid player that dominates on both sides of the disc. Although he spent most of the 2016 college season on the sideline, he exploded on the club scene this summer and looks set to terrorize the college division in his third year as a captain and his final year of eligibility with UVic.
With the wildly successful “Year of the Monkey” in the bag, no one can ignore all the young talent that has been taking a bigger role on the Furious George roster. As a player just beginning the upward climb of his career, we can expect to stay on the Bryson hype-train for some time. With another college series at his fingertips, anticipate that he’ll expand his throwing repertoire and vision, only getting more dangerous for his next splash on the club stage.
Runners-Up: Tom Tulett (Denver Johnny Bravo), Mark Rauls (Denver Johnny Bravo)
Coach Of The Year
Jim Schoettler (Denver Johnny Bravo)
Reaching the semifinals at Club Nationals isn’t easy for anyone, and much it’s harder when you’re a first year coach handed a roster full of odds and ends. But Jim Schoettler did just that, and earns himself the Coach of the Year award for his efforts.
After esteemed head coach Bob Krier stepped down following last season, Denver Johnny Bravo found themselves in need of a new coach. They turned to Schoettler, who had entered semi-retirement after leading Colorado Mamabird to a college title in 2014. Not only did Schoettler need to fill the large shoes of Bob Krier, he had to do so with a team that was entering a rebuilding phase after losing almost all of the core of the 2014 title team. With these significant challenges laid out in front of him, Schoettler exceeded everyone’s expectations1 and charted a course for the new era of Johnny Bravo.
Stalking the sidelines with a football stuck in the crook of his arm, barking out commands and admonishing mistakes, Schoettler cuts a striking figuring. But for all the stick he gives his players on the field, he is universally beloved by them off of it. This bond and trust that he instilled was crucial in making a team full of role players and unknowns2 believe him when he said they could compete with the best in the world.
Their performance validated that belief, as Bravo made it to the finals or semifinals of every tournament on their schedule this year, which included the Pro-Elite challenge, the Pro Flight Finale, and of course Nationals. Their track record on the season demonstrably prove that Bravo were an elite team this season, and to stay at that level after losing legendary figures like Nick Lance, Bart Watson, Ryan Ferrell, and Sean Keegan is quite an accomplishment.
A big part of Bravo’s success can be traced back to the offense Schoettler implemented, a high octane version of the crushing vertical stack he ran during his days coaching Colorado. It puts a premium on fundamentals, smart clearing, and quick decision-making — which was perfect for the industrious players that filled Denver’s roster.
With Jimmy Mickle as the star whose gravity sets the whole system in motion, Schoettler’s offense put his players in positions to succeed and build off of Mickle’s brilliance without making them do anything they aren’t capable of. An offense that easily could have devolved into Mickle constantly throwing players open, instead became a smooth machine that allowed Mickle to reach the heights of his talent while also getting the rest of the roster involved.
Virtually every player on Bravo exceeded expectations in their performance this year, and that is no coincidence. From seamlessly integrating the team’s Australian import Tom Tulett to guiding Ben Lohre as he took “the leap” this season, Schoettler’s magic touch elevated everyone on the squad while also getting them to play as a cohesive whole. You really can’t ask more than that from a coach.
Runners-Up: Mike Denardis (Raleigh Ring of Fire), Josh McCarthy (Boston Ironside)
Including his own. He admitted after Bravo’s semifinal defeat to eventual champs Ironside that he wasn’t even sure if the team would make Nationals at the start of the season. ↩