The Donovan Award: The 2017 Finalists

The top vote-getters for the inaugural Donovan Award.

Ultiworld is excited to present the finalists for the inaugural Donovan Award. The Donovan Award is a player-voted award for the Division III player that best demonstrates an exceptional level of skill and athleticism on the field; upholds the principles of Spirit of the Game, equity, and fairness in their own actions, as well as holding teammates accountable to do the same; and is a leader off the field, both on their team and in the greater ultimate community.

Here are the five finalists in each division, listed alphabetically, with their bios from their nominations attached (some have been edited for clarity).

Men’s Division

Henry Babcock (Senior, University of Richmond)

Henry Babcock came into Richmond as the most developed player in our team’s history. As a freshman, his vast arsenal of throws, in combination with James Robb’s abilities as a downfield cutter, brought the team to their first D-III Nationals appearance. It would have been very easy for Henry to become complacent, coming off of a standout YCC performance and immediately taking a huge playing role on the team, but that’s not Henry.

The hardest working member of our team, he leads us through workouts, drills, and scrimmages with an unparalleled level of effort. Henry finishes every season far better than he was at the beginning, pushing the limits of what we thought he could do. His athleticism, throws, field sense, and calm demeanor make him one of the biggest threats in DIII ultimate.

Henry’s contributions on the field do not end with his playing. A natural born leader, he has completely changed the culture of the Richmond Spidermonkeys. In these past two seasons, the team has evolved from a Regionals level team to a team that could compete on any level. He has also fostered a culture of developing freshmen into game changing players, primarily by encouraging them to take risks and build confidence.

His two-year co-captain has said, “This program would not be where it is without him. On a personal level, he is a loyal friend, a rational thinker and a cutie. I can’t imagine a player with more love of the game.” Our coach, Matt Graves, said that Henry “had a vision of what our program could become and has motivated us to progress as a team.”

Our team is not the only team that he has had a profound impact on. When he goes back to his hometown, the kids at his high school simply refer to him as Coach. Honestly, with the amount of teaching that he does for us, we may as well start calling him that too (not a slight to our actual coach). His combination of passion to improve not only himself but also his teammates, his dedication to the Sprit of the Game, and impact on the Ultimate community makes Henry Babcock the embodiment of what the Donovan Award represents.

Emmett Blau (Senior, Williams College)

Emmett, of the burgeoning class of “second generation” ultimate players, grew up with a disc in his hands, and it shows on the field. His mother won a national championship with Lady Godiva and was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, and his father was a major part of the NYNY dynasty.

In high school, Emmett played for John Jay Air Raid, New England Black Ice, and competed at YCCs with BUDA. He distinguished himself as an elite handler and athlete on the National stage, captaining BUDA his senior year.

After Emmett’s freshman year at Williams, he represented the USA at the U19 World Championships in Lecco, Italy, where he started as a D-Line handler. After his sophomore year, he competed with Boston Garuda, where he was a primary cutter on the O-line.

Following his sophomore year at Williams, Emmett spent much of his summer continuing to teach others Ultimate as a counselor at NUTC, helping to teach younger ultimate players skills, spirit, and respect for the game.

Emmett was selected as captain of WUFO for his Sophomore year, demonstrating the incredible faith that year’s leadership had in him as a player and a leader, despite his relative youth. In Emmett’s three years of captainship, I have had the privilege of playing with and learning from him. He has spent countless hours recruiting and developing new players (including myself), teaching the tenets of the game and always emphasizing the importance of spirited play. Emmett is an incredibly strong leader on the team, and has always effortlessly commanded the respect and attention of his teammates. He continuously leads by example; he is always the hardest-working and most positive player on the field, but most importantly, he displays great spirit regardless of the situation or stakes. Throughout his college career, Emmett has served as a model teammate, player, captain, and human being for those around him.

Emmett is an absolutely dominant player on the field. It is exceedingly rare that Emmett is not the strongest player on the field on either side of the disc. He is an incredibly complete player who, quite simply, can do it all; he excels as a handler, cutter, deep threat, covers a huge expanse of the field in zone defense, and plays absolutely shut-down person defense. Emmett consistently rises to the occasion when the game is on the line, making the big sky, D, or throw required for the team’s success. It would be difficult to understate his importance to our team, and all I can really say is that I am incredibly happy that I do not have to play against him in those high-pressure situations.

Now in his senior year, Emmett is hoping to lead WUFO to our first-ever appearance at DIII College Nationals. After graduating a large senior class last year and lacking a coach this season, Emmett has become only more critical of a component to the team. He has faced this challenge head-on, assuming a larger leadership role (and effectively serving as our coach in most ways) and has almost single-handedly willed our team to victory on numerous occasions. Many of the players on the team have begun to say that “as long as we have Emmett, we have a chance.”

Zach Norrbom (Senior, University of Mary Washington)

I’m sure I’ll miss some things, but Zach Norrbom has an extensive ultimate background. He played for HB Woodlawn in Washington DC during high school. During that time, he played with BUDA mixed at YCCs when they won the national championship. Zach spent multiple years on the D.C. Current in the MLU during its existence and currently competes with the AUDL’s D.C. Breeze.

Zach helped coach and be a counselor at both Nike Ultimate Camps and still does NUTC every summer. He also helped with the WAFC YCC team two years ago. He has tryouts for U23 this summer for team USA.

Zach eats, sleeps, and breathes ultimate when he’s not making clay pots and cups at school. I’m sure every nominee occupies most of their life with ultimate, but Zach plans & attends every practice and also coaches nonstop. He is even coaching on the line before the pull during the game to go to Regionals. He demands the best of his team and himself. He runs sprints on the field after a 15-5 win. He challenges his teammates to be on his level and to match his intensity. I really only help to coach this team so that his head does not explode during tournaments. I try to alleviate the immense pressure he feels game in and game out.

Dom Schuster (Junior, Franciscan University)

Dom has been playing ultimate his whole life. At the age of six, he played junior ultimate in Cincinnati with kids older than him, ranging from ages 7-13. In the 8th grade, Dom joined Holy Family Catholic Revolution and played with them all throughout high school. He captained the team his junior and senior year, culminating in a #1 ranking for the best high school team in the nation.

During the summers, Dom competed with Cincinnati’s YCC team Flying Pig, placing 2nd twice in his career with them. Dom’s experience and skill landed him a spot to represent the USA on the U19 WJUC team, which earned a silver medal in Italy. After many second place finishes, Dom finally achieved a championship his freshman year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, winning DIII Nationals after an undefeated season. The following year, the team made another run at the title, but lost a heart-breaking game in bracket play to eventually place 5th in the nation. This year, Dom looks to reclaim the title with Fatal before graduating early this spring.

Probably having something to do with being second oldest of eight siblings, Dom is a family guy with a heart for serving the youth. All through high school, he coached the Junior Ultimate team he played on for so many years to give back to the league that raised him in the sport. This past year, Dom took his service one step further by traveling to the poverty-stricken Jamaica with a mission team to aid poor school children (bringing some discs with him, of course).

Franciscan Fatal proudly nominates Dom Schuster for the first-ever Donovan Award; he is a fantastic player, brother, and friend.

Calvin Trisolini (Senior, Haverford College)

Calvin has provided an infectious love of ultimate over the past four years at Haverford College.

Without a coach or an established system, Calvin was tasked with building the Donkeys from the ground up when he became a captain his sophomore year. Using his knowledge from his days at CFS (captain for two years) and his past two seasons of playing for AMP, Philly’s top mixed club team, Calvin has provided the often physically outmatched Donkeys with a system to succeed by turning role players who couldn’t throw more than ten yards into confident players with high IQs and intense respect for spirit of the game.

Being at a college with 1,200 students has done Calvin no favors in terms of coverage, but no D-III player has had a bigger effect on his team over the past three years than Calvin. At our annual home tournament, Cal missed pool play due to illness and the team lost repeatedly, going 1-3. Coming back Sunday, still sick, Calvin lifted the team into the semis with a signature win over nationally ranked Brandeis. Last spring, Calvin led the team with 73 assists, the second highest on the team was 29, third was 14.

The incredible part of Calvin’s game is how he’s grown over the past four years. While he’s always had the arm and the energy, Calvin’s touch on his deeps has improved year after year, to a point where at Conferences, he was able to consistently launch full-field, upwind flicks that sat on a silver platter for the intended receiver.

“What makes Calvin special is that while he could be the best player on the field at any time he wants and always draws the toughest defenders, he chooses to play a much less flashy role than he is capable of. He shows a focus and confidence in his teammates, does not assume the burden of any game rests solely on him, and has fostered a stronger, more cohesive Haverford team as a result. While his throws, knowledge, and athleticism will certainly be missed upon his graduation, his selflessness has instilled the team with depth, determination, and confidence that will allow the team to continue to perform in his absence,” said Donkey alum Max Charles.

Donkey Ultimate wouldn’t be the same without him, and he will be dearly missed. Thanks for the ride.

Women’s Division

Tulsa Douglas (Junior, St. Olaf College)

Tulsa Douglas grew up in the sport of ultimate and her commitment to the sport shows through her clear and consistent record of achievement. Douglas played at Amherst High School on varsity for three years, captaining her senior year. She played on the youth club team, BUDA, for four years and captained for two of them. After high school, she got her start in adult club playing for the Minneapolis Millers and last season she played with Boston Siege. This is her 3rd year of college ultimate and her 2nd year as captain of St. Olaf Vortex.

In her college career, she has been named Freshman of the Year (North Central, 2015), named to the All-Region 2nd team (North Central, 2015), named Player of the Year (North Central, 2016, DIII), captained a team that won the Spirit of the Game award at DIII Nationals, and threw the second most assists at the very same tournament. These are the kinds of facts that epitomize Tulsa Douglas as a player. She is tireless, hardworking, and constantly pushing herself and her teammates while simultaneously communicating her passion for the game through her unyielding spirit and mental strength.

Her work off the field is just as relentless as her work on the field. This year, she ran two nationally known projects: 99 Days of Ultimate Women, and 28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism. She founded an organization at St. Olaf called Empowering Girls through Sports, dedicated to gender equity in sports and promoting youth development through athletics. She has been a coach at the National Ultimate Training Camp (NUTC) for three years, and a counselor at Amherst’s youth day camp for six years.

If there is any player in Division III ultimate who exemplifies the skill, the spirit, and the leadership worthy of the Donovan award, it is Tulsa Douglas.

Tessa Jones (Senior, Swarthmore College)

Tessa “Kirby” Jones began playing ultimate as a freshman at Swarthmore College, bringing with her a quiet determination and devotion to practicing. Since that time, she has played with a variety of teams including the University of Edinburg’s Ro Sham Bo and Boston Vice, spanning three continents.

Kirby was pulled into a handler position as a sophomore, quickly stepping up to her new role and immediately becoming an integral part of the Warmothers offense: in the spring semester of her sophomore year the team had only three handlers, two seniors, and Kirby. So she handled. A lot. Kirby was on the field for every point of every game of all four tournaments the team attended that spring, with the exception of a single point off for an injury. When the next point ended, she got back on the field. When Kirby was a freshman and sophomore, most of the upperclassmen on the Warmothers seemed hesitant to layout. Layout practices were an afterthought, layouts in games were rare, and bidding was seen as something other teams did. Unhappy with this, Kirby put in the hours to teach herself, staying after practice for an hour or more to get down on the ground again and again. She started by bidding in warmup drills, often hilariously late, to the cheers of the team. But each day that she ended practice with a grass-stained chest and a skinned left elbow she got a little closer. Eventually the bids started coming on time, and Kirby became unstoppable.

Once she solidified her own form, Kirby began encouraging others to bid too — in big ways and small, by organizing transportation to take 10 members of the team to a layout clinic in Baltimore, by shouting “LAYOUT” at teammates when a disc went anywhere near them, and by modeling what it means to truly value the disc.

This perfectly exemplifies her leadership style: Kirby leads by example, pushing both herself and her teammates to work as hard as possible at all times. One short story perfectly sums up Kirby’s incredible influence on the culture of the team: earlier this semester, on a rainy Saturday, the team did a drill to practice up-line cuts. And 13 of the 14 people there laid out. Kirby was already respected for her handling prowess by the time she was elected captain her senior year, and since then has managed the incredibly difficult task of accommodating brand new players while still challenging herself at practice, honing her already impressive skill even further.

Kirby brings an intense focus to every practice and game, motivating her teammates and intimidating her opponents. Her break throws alone are discouraging to any mark: to teach rookies how to mark we run a drill known as the “Don’t Get Broken By Kirby” drill. (Spoiler — everyone, rookies and vets alike, gets broken by Kirby. Every year.)

Beyond her bids, beyond her organization skills, indefensible upline cuts, and infallible ability to break the mark, Kirby personifies dedication to self-improvement, leadership, and the sport of ultimate, and that is why she is the best choice for the 2017 Donovan award.

Lindsay Levin (Senior, Lehigh University)

Lindsay “Domino” Levin, having played ultimate all four years of high school, joined Gravity in a big way. She and two other girls her age joined the team, but after a freezing cold game in the rainy snow, she was the only one left of her freshman class, making her the only current senior on gravity and the only person in her class for four years.

Upperclassman respected her and instantly saw that she was an impactful player. Quickly they gave her a handler position of which she has been playing all four years on Gravity. A small person but a big player, Domino continues to impress other teams as well as her own teammates, playing almost all of the points and having throws that can be described as nothing less than perfect.

More importantly than her ultimate abilities, Domino has proven she is more than capable of not only running a team but taking 16 rookies and turning them into players. Domino leads by example, missing not one practice all year and giving it her all every game. Domino (with the help from the other veterans) created an environment where the rookies felt comfortable trying new things and never felt ashamed or yelled at. Domino rarely showed frustration or got angry at anyone; you always knew you cut to the wrong side when Domino gave you an exasperated smile and jerked her head the other way, telling you to cut the other direction.

As head captain, Domino did her job perfectly, creating a team of not only incredible players but also incredible friends.

Zoë Lewis (Senior, Haverford College)

Though Zoë was first introduced to the sport of ultimate through recreational leagues in high school, she didn’t begin playing seriously until her freshman year at Haverford, when she joined the Sneetches. She was immediately a standout player and was one of two freshmen to make the A team. She traveled with the Sneetches to Nationals where the team placed 3rd.

Beginning that very first year, Zoë has displayed incredible commitment to the team and to the sport of ultimate. Over the past four years, it has not been uncommon to find her at the fields 10 or 15 minutes before a practice, working on her hucks and pulls, or just excited for practice to start. Since her sophomore year, she has been a starting cutter on both offensive and defensive lines. At Regionals last spring, she played every point of multiple games, and without her the Sneetches most certainly would not have made it to the championship game against Oberlin.

This year, Zoë has brought the same commitment, love, and intensity to her role as a captain of the Sneetches. Because we don’t have a coach, the captain role involves planning and leading practices, organizing tournaments, teaching new players, and providing constructive criticism to experienced players. Zoë has taken on all these tasks with joy and determination, and has helped shape a successful season for our team.

One of Zoë’s defining philosophies in captainship has been that success as an athlete doesn’t come from innate talent, but is a result of hard, focused work. Her incredible skills demonstrate the truth in this; she has taken every offered opportunity to play over the past four years, whether it has been optional practice, pick-up with the men’s team, seasonal leagues in Philadelphia, or playing club with the local mixed team Bitmap last summer.

As a captain, she strives to bring more opportunities for players to grow and learn in new settings. This included bringing players from AMP to lead clinics and scrimmage, organizing pickup with players from multiple colleges over the summer, and helping to organize an indoor college mixed league during the winter season. In particular, she seeks to support women’s ultimate in every possible way, demanding respect and equality on the field, not only for herself but for all female players.

Zoë is incredibly well-spoken and can (and does) talk about ultimate for hours. But her spirit and presence on the team is so strong that during halftime circles in tournaments, all she has to do to pump the team up is look each player in the eye. On the field, she makes game changing plays (layout Ds, layout scores, skying people several inches taller than her) but also makes each player on the team feel confident and comfortable playing with her.

One word that is frequently used to describe how Zoë makes other players feel is ‘safe’. For handlers, it is reassuring to know that she is always going to make that hard in cut and more often than not have an open look. For cutters, she is reliably making a strong continuation cut, pushing in or busting deep depending on what she knows her teammate is looking for. Overall, Zoë brings a unique combination of spirit and intensity, which has truly shaped our team over the past four years. She is an incredible player, but also highly committed to bringing up each and every one of her teammates.

For these reasons, she is an ideal candidate for the Donovan award.

Emilie Willingham (Senior, Truman State University)

Emilie Willingham is a powerhouse on and off the field. She has been playing ultimate since high school and for the past five years has been helping lead TSUnami to Nationals every year. Her passion and dedication to the sport and her team are impeccable and create an environment that helps the team push themselves to new heights.

Willie is also a member of Chicago Nemesis and works just as hard as their spirit captain. This year, Willie was one of the captains for TSUnami and, with her leadership, the team has reached a new level of playing. There is more understanding of the game and a spirited competitive attitude on the field. Willie’s love of ultimate has spread to the rest of TSUnami and will hopefully continue to spread for years to come.

For a better look on the type of player and person Willie is, see this article by Ultiworld’s Marianna Heckendorn.

***

The Donovan Award winners will be announced during the Division III College Championships this weekend in Lexington, KY.

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