We award the top performers this season.
November 2, 2017 by Colin Clauset, Graham Gerhart and Kevin McCormick in Awards with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s 2017 Mixed Club Awards are presented by Universe Point cleats; all opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Universe Point!
With Nationals over and the winners crowned, it is time to take a moment to recognize the top performers in the Mixed 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 Mixed 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
Tannor Johnson (Boston Slow White)
Truly a singular offensive talent, Tannor Johnson was a force on the field for Boston Slow White throughout the 2017 season. One of the rare deep threats who can just as easily operate behind the disc, Johnson seemed to be everywhere all at once at Nationals, powering Slow White out of a tough pool and into the semifinals.
Johnson notched 10 goals and five assists in a three game stretch, taking over in the final pool play game against Seattle BFG to seal a bye to quarterfinals, and his presence helped dismantle a Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust squad in the first half, before using his throws to keep them on the back foot and push Slow White into the semifinals. Against Seattle Mixtape, no combination of defenders could contain him, and he kept Boston’s hopes alive, posting five goals and two assists in the semifinals.
Johnson was the focal point for the Slow White offense as the season wore on, constantly pushing for yards downfield and keeping defenders honest with his arsenal of throws. However he was involved on offense, he was a player that teams needed to account for at all times. With as much parity as we have seen in the mixed division this year, defensive strategies tended to be straightforward; but with Johnson on offense, teams would visibly alter their approaches to try and limit where he would have an impact.
Very few were successful. Even Mixtape, the team that knocked Slow White out of contention for a repeat championship, put their top defenders on complementary pieces, trying to prevent him from seeing too many open hucks or open throwing lanes. In spite of a gameplan that looked to limit him at every turn, Johnson still kept Boston in the hunt. His presence on the field opened space for teammates that would not be there otherwise.
Poised with the disc, incredibly fast and agile as a cutter, and impossible to guard in the air, it is tough to believe that the prime of his career could still be a few years down the road. Combine all that with impeccable timing on his cuts and the athleticism to win back the disc on a turn anywhere on the field, and you have a player to build a program around. His offensive talent is what pushed Slow White into contention again, and will keep them in the conversation for as long as he continues to suit up for the squad. Tannor Johnson is Ultiworld’s 2017 Mixed Offensive Player of the Year.
Runners-up: Raha Mozaffari (Philadelphia AMP), Jeff Pape (Seattle BFG)
Defensive Player Of The Year
Evan Klein (Seattle Mixtape)
When looking at a defensive player, there are a few qualities to watch for. Conditioning and fitness are big components, but good defenders also need to have solid spatial awareness for where their mark is and where they are in relation to the rest of the field. Defenders need a good sense of timing, not only knowing when to jump or bid for a disc, but also knowing when they can help another teammate by flashing into a lane or peeling off for a few counts to poach before recovering. Evan Klein stepped up his game this year and showed off all those traits at an elite level, coming up with key blocks deep while also forcing opposing offenses to account for his positioning all over the field.
Klein has been a mainstay on the Seattle Mixtape D-line, frequently taking on some of the toughest matchups in the division while also showing off a level of field awareness that puts him in the right place at the right time to help his teammates. Klein routinely made the right read on discs that kept getting bounced around in the Sarasota wind, earning blocks for Mixtape and pushing downfield to convert breaks for one of the most dangerous D-line offenses in the division.
In the semifinal against Boston Slow White, you could see Klein locking down his mark on defense while also looking for opportunities to disrupt the throwing lanes or help off the back of the stack. His presence allows other explosive defenders like fellow captains Bert Abbott and Khalif El-Salaam to hunt for blocks underneath, knowing Klein can clean up in the deep space. Certainly not lacking explosive athleticism in his own right, Klein has incredible closing speed, allowing him to bait deep throws and catch up to any huck that is not inch-perfect.
Knowing when to rotate on defense and identifying the right time to bait versus locking down on defense is a tricky line to stay on, and Klein does this incredibly well. Watching any point during the final against Philadelphia AMP — and really whenever he is on the field — Klein makes his presence known. From the first defensive point for Mixtape, Klein moved from shutting down a pull play to running Michael Ing around the field. Klein limited Ing’s effectiveness downfield and wore him down on the turn, catching two goals in Seattle Mixtape’s first National Championship.
All season long, Klein was the rock that allowed Mixtape to be aggressive on defense, all while racking up blocks of his own, and he is Ultiworld’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year in the mixed division.
Runners-up: Sarah Meckstroth (Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust), Mia Bladin (Boston Slow White)
Breakout Player Of The Year
Anna Thompson (Philadelphia AMP)
As mentioned in her POTY runner-up write-up, Anna Thompson had mostly flown under the radar heading into the 2017 club season. Her unbelievable campaign in leading Philadelphia AMP to the brink of a national championship ensures that she will never be overlooked again, though her previous anonymity has made her meteoric rise all the more gratifying.
At Nationals, Anna Thompson’s recorded scoring total (Goals/Assists/Ds) was 19, among the highest of any woman across the division.1 That stat line is possible by virtue of competing with a team that values and trusts their women. With contributors including Thompson, Carolyn Normile, Linda Morse, and Raha Mozaffari, it’s understandable why Philadelphia’s women have the most touches-on-disc of every team in the division. Considering the talent around her, it’s even more impressive that Thompson played such a prominent role throughout the tournament after just one season with the team and in her first ever mixed Nationals.
Thompson’s role on the field is very similar to Mozaffari’s: she’s everywhere that AMP needs her to be. Considering Mozaffari is both her coach at UPenn and her ‘workout buddy’ for the club season, it’s no wonder that Thompson was described as ‘Little Raha’ by Evan Lepler. The versatility of Thompson and Mozaffari are a huge part of AMP’s unrelenting offensive unit. Thompson’s ability to change direction and first-step acceleration keep her defenders trailing constantly. There’s an obvious reason her cutting style has been described as ‘relentless’ and ‘exhausting’ by those tasked with marking her. She has a full range of throws and isn’t afraid to launch hucks for her receiver to chase. Shut down one facet of her game and she’ll fill another role with equal precision.
“I remember after a few practices and maybe an early season tournament, Patrick mentioning being impressed by Anna’s ability to stay calm and composed especially under pressure,” explains Mozaffari. “He wanted our offense to revolve around that particular calmness and attitude, so she assumed the most difficult role on a mixed team — being the primary female offensive handler. I feel bad that people confused us on the field a lot but I’ll accept the fact that she made me look good.”
Despite frequently starting upfield, Thompson will filter into the handler position and AMP gives her plenty of space to unleash hucks or tidy I/O breaks. While almost exclusively an offensive player, Thompson’s field awareness makes her a defensive asset after the turn. Smart poaches, full-extension bids and a fast closing speed are all part of her repertoire. Her talent was on full display against Mixtape in the finals where she had a recorded four assists, tying Player of the Year Mark Burton.
If you didn’t manage to watch her enough at Nationals, she’s on the USA u24 Mixed team heading to Australia in January. Lookout, Worlds.
Thompson’s season surpassed mentioning her age as a gimmick, but if you want to be more impressed, look it up. It’s worth getting used to hearing her name. We’ll probably be discussing her for years to come.
Runners-up: Lani Nguyen (Seattle Mixtape), Charlie Schuweiler (Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust)
Coach Of The Year
Patrick Sherlock (Philadelphia AMP)
Philadelphia AMP’s successful 2017 campaign is evidence that a program is capable of developing a slew of talented young players without sacrificing results. Look no further than their coach Patrick Sherlock to see how it’s done.
As with many successful club coaches,2 Sherlock recognizes the importance of savvy recruiting. He keeps an ear to both the college scene (as the coach of UPenn Venus) and the local league scene (captaining multiple teams in various seasons), staying connected to potential recruits by whatever means possible. Talented athletes with potential to improve are invited to play leagues together or participate in one of AMP’s many off-season sessions. The cream of that crop then gets invited to official tryouts or to an early season tournament.
But what sets Sherlock apart from most coaches is the attention he gives to individual player development for every member of the team. He spends countless hours watching and editing film, whether to create scouting videos for opponents or for one-on-one review sessions; he has film folders for almost everyone on the team about their habits, both good and bad. Every player receives individualized feedback and is given opportunities to try roles they feel they’d be successful at. It’s no wonder their starting offense plays so confidently, despite being mostly U24-eligible.3
In addition to player development, Sherlock also invested heavily in a non-playing aspect of the sport this season. “One of the biggest successes of AMP this year was receiving third in spirit at Nationals,” says Raha Mozaffari, a 12-year team veteran. “That had a great deal to do with Patrick making our team attitude a priority and responsibility that we focused on at practices, not just at tournaments — and it paid off.”
Philadelphia’s new-found attitude was instrumental to their play style this season, thriving on sideline energy and eccentric celebrations to reinforce good decisions and smart tactics in the face of unfavorable outcomes. For example, the team’s defensive schemes largely focused on forcing opponents to play long points, whether with zone, junk sets, or simple back-hip/lane-sagging person defense to force lateral movement. This strategy helped AMP pull away in the second halves of games, as opposing O lines tired while AMP, with a deep and well-conditioned army of defenders, remained tenacious. The prevailing trust exuded by the team prevented over-correcting strategically when results didn’t happen quickly; teams were sometimes able to score early on in games, but struggled to string together offensive holds later.
There’s much more that could be discussed to make the case for Sherlock deserving Coach of the Year — AMP’s focus on keeping the disc high side in a crosswind, or the evolution of their hybrid stack, or their incredible success going 4-women on offense — but the case is already quite clear. Having fallen just shy of a national title, and with a chance to double peak in Cincinnati and San Diego, AMP is likely to return a bulk of their team for 2018. With nine months for Sherlock to prepare them, the rest of the world better watch out.
For those wondering what more a coach could possibly do for their team… never underestimate the power of an empathy kick:
Runners-up: Rob Doyle (Dallas Public Enemy), Mike Mackenzie (Boston Wild Card)
Behind Sam Valesano, Sarah Meckstroth and Christine Bookhout ↩
Especially in the mixed division. ↩
Of the eight lines put out on DGP of a national final in 2016 or 2017, AMP’s was by far the youngest, with an average age of 23.14. The next youngest — Brute Squad 2017 — was more than two years older on average. ↩