The Donovan Award: The 2018 Finalists

Ultiworld is excited to present the finalists for the second annual Donovan Award, presented by the National Ultimate Training Camp. 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

Spencer Cobb (Senior, US Naval Academy)

Spencer fell in love with the sport of ultimate as a junior at Yorktown High School. As soon as he arrived at the United States Naval Academy, he sought out the ultimate program. Even as a lowly plebe, Spencer committed all of his time to the team, setting an example for the other freshmen and the upperclassmen as well.

Over the next three years, Spencer worked tirelessly to help build the program to be a consistent Regionals and potential Nationals contender. Faced with a high attrition rate from the team and administrative obstacles, Spencer did everything within his power to develop a culture of commitment and to build the legitimacy of the team. Outside of practice, Spencer organized rookie throwing sessions, often giving up his own precious “liberty” to help the newcomers, and would sometimes personally pay for jerseys for rookies who struggled financially.

Despite his short stature, Spencer plays like someone a foot taller and has no fear of taking much larger matchups. Coach will often refer to him as “the biggest short guy on the field.” Spencer is a two-way threat: dangerous on defense and never afraid to put his body on the line, and with quickness on offense that leaves his defenders seeking the trainer. He trusts his teammates and distributes the disc with ease, but will take over a point if the need arises. He gives his all through the whole weekend, often still playing almost every point during the last game on Sunday. Spencer’s dedication to his team and to the sport of ultimate makes him a fine Donovan Award candidate.

Spencer Cobb Donovan Video

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Justin Keller (Senior, University of Richmond)

Justin Keller had never played a game of ultimate before coming to the University of Richmond. Now, not even a (currently) broken wrist can stop him from playing the sport he has grown to love. As a freshman, his speed and raw athleticism made him an asset to the team and laid the groundwork for his collegiate ultimate career. Since then, Justin has filled every role on our team, handling on D-line, becoming a primary cutter, and crossing over at critical points in games.

He is constantly the most intense player on the field and a very natural leader, which made him an obvious choice for captain his senior year. He leads by example and works as hard, if not harder, than any other player on our team. To our other players, he only asks that you give 100% and learn from both your mistakes and your successes. He is the life-blood of the University of Richmond Spidermonkeys both on the field and off. Whether it is leading conditioning workouts or a late-night trip to Waffle House, Justin is running the show. He hasn’t been a popular name in the all-region threads, but he is a known name in the DIII Atlantic Coast Region and deserves an appropriate amount of recognition. Justin has also played in the Virginia community with Richmond Floodwall and Charlottesville Tyrannis.

Justin Keller Donovan Video

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Phillip Korolog (Senior, Colorado College)

Meet Phillip Korolog, Wasabi’s nominee for the 2018 Donovan Award. A two-time Captain, 2017 All-Region selection, and rare D-III selection for a U-24 National Team tryout, Phillip has quietly become one of the best college players in the country with his unrivaled cutting ability, deft break throws, relentless shutdown defense, and complete willingness to layout for any disc he has a chance at. His numbers speak for themselves: he racked up 30 goals, 40 assists, and 17 blocks in only two tournaments (MLC and Stanford Open).

Unable to play the remainder of the semester due to injury, he continues to be with us and is still our most important contributor. Phillip plays ultimate with a tenacity that every coach desires. He never turns down a challenge and plays with a quiet, spirited fervor – deconstructing his matchup, always going full-speed, and never backing down. To quote Alan Villanueva, 2018 Donovan nominee from regional rival Air Force, and Ultiworld’s 2017 Runner-Up D-III Player of the Year: “Phil is an absolute savage. I dare you to find a weak part of his game, because you won’t.”

A member of Wasabi since the fall of 2013, Phillip has emerged to become a part of the Wasabi greats. When Colorado College Wasabi competed in D-I, Phil was an integral part of the 2014 and 2015 teams that were a break or two away from stealing a bid to D-I Nationals. Over the course of his tenure with Wasabi, Phil has developed into a coach and player that every team admires and respects.

Perhaps the most admirable piece of his game is his ability to stay calm and collected throughout any situation. His willingness to win, his drive to be great, and the way he attacks a challenge never comes above respecting his opponent, respecting the rules, and his overall respect for the sport of ultimate. He frequently educates inexperienced teammates on spirit, doing his part to make sure that Colorado College Wasabi continues to be a revered, jubilant, spicy, and fair opponent in the D-III scene for years to come.

Circling back to the beginning, Phillip has been unable to play with us most of this spring season, but even off the field, his value is immense. Now sharing coaching duties, Phillip has been an invaluable presence on our sideline with his high ultimate IQ, highly respected voice in the huddle, and always good natured attitude. Becoming USA Ultimate Level I certified earlier in the season, Phillip hopes to continue coaching youth once his college career comes to a close – and we have no doubt whomever he decides to pass his wisdom onto will be great.

Phillip Korolog Donovan Video

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Zach Norrbom (Graduate Student, Mary Washington)

Zach Norrbom is being nominated for the 2018 Donovan Award for pretty much every category possible. With a tireless work ethic both on and off the field, he brings a copious amount of spirit and positivity in both college and club, while also empowering youth and helping to grow the next generation of ultimate players at regional ultimate camps.

Zach is respected by all and leaves a lasting impression on everyone he comes in contact with, even if they fall victim to his elusive handling skills.

2009-13: HB Woodlawn / High School
2013-18: UMW Mother of George / College
2013: BUDA / YCC Mixed Champs
2 years: DC Current / MLU
3 years: DC Breeze / AUDL
2 years: Ant Madness / Mixed Club
2 years: Ambiguous Grey / Mixed Club
2 years: NUTC
5 years: Capital Ultimate Camp
2013/14: All freshman region team
2014/15: All Region 1st team
2015/16: All Region 1st team
2016/17: All Region 1st team
2016: Club Nationals Spirit Award
2018: U24 National Team Tryout

Zach Norrbom Donovan Video

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Alan Villanueva (Senior, US Air Force Academy)

Alan started playing ultimate in his hometown — Huntsville, Alabama — with pickup crews and at summer league in 2010. As only a freshman at the Air Force Academy, Alan quickly became an integral part of the 2016 DIII College Nationals 3rd place team. In addition to becoming a leader on- and off-the-field for Afterburn, Alan has played for the local men’s club team — Colorado Springs Syndicate — in 2016 and 2017.

Due to Alan’s commitment to service in the Air Force and the Academy’s year-round schedule, he has been unable to commit greater time to the club season. Alan earned an invitation to the U-24 National Team tryouts in June 2017, where he stepped up against some of the nation’s best young talent. Alan is well known in the Colorado Springs community as a dynamite player and humble individual.

Even with the arduous rigor of cadet life, he makes time to bring his skill and charismatic attitude to the local club teams, rec leagues, and high school programs. Alan is the center-piece of Air Force’s O-line with the ability to hit just about any part of the field with a wide array of throws, while impacting the game just as much as a cutter down field. He crosses over for critical points to give Afterburn’s already impressive D-line extra firepower to take it over the top.

Alan is the type of player coaches dream of coaching. He is passionate about the sport, he’s focused on improving and developing his game, he’s respectful of his teammates and his opponents, and he’s hard working and intelligent. On top of all that, he simply takes joy in the sport of ultimate. Alan’s talent, grit, respectful attitude, and love for the game make him the ideal candidate as Afterburn’s Donovan Award nominee.

Alan Villanueva Donovan Video

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Women’s Division

Tamar Austin (Senior, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Tamar Austin began playing ultimate starting back in 2011 with the Boston area YCC team. From captaining her high school team her senior year to playing club with Boston area mixed teams (Lions, Darkwing), and even stepping into a leadership role in just her second semester at RPI, Tamar has brought an intense desire to teach and improve both herself and those around her every time she steps onto the field.

While Tamar had the skill level to pursue D1 college ultimate out of high school, she instead chose to attend RPI in order to pursue an education in Biochemistry/Biophysics. Tamar sought out and joined the women’s club ultimate team her freshman year, but following the end of her first competitive spring season, the team was on the brink of disbanding. With only six players returning for the 2015 season, Tamar doubled down on her efforts to recruit and teach the sport of ultimate to the women of RPI.

Rebranding the team as Strut, Tamar has helped to grow the sport at RPI from a team of six ladies into a 20 women, Nationals-contending club ultimate team. Changes she implemented were as simple as making an effort to learn everyone’s name or reaching out to someone who hadn’t gone to practice, something often overlooked by previous leadership. This led to a higher retention rate than the team had ever experienced. She recognized the need for an emphasis on accountability and meaningful use of practice time, which allowed the team to rapidly develop. Tamar’s knowledge and love of the game outside of competing at tournaments has helped to grow the ultimate community, both at RPI and in the northeast as a whole.

In addition to recruiting and teaching ultimate to a brand new class of freshman the past three years, Tamar has developed into an all-around athlete on the field. While it’s easy to push yourself in the middle of a tournament against new competition, it takes a certain attitude to push yourself to get better every day at practice. When you sit down and think about the number of times Tamar has laid out over the years, both in an effort to push herself to get better but also to encourage her teammates by leading by example and showing them that their hard work can pay off, Tamar shows the type of attitude and commitment one expects to see out of a Donovan nominee.

If you had to describe Tamar Austin as a player in one word, it would have to be ‘confounding’. Whether you’re on the sideline watching her come out of nowhere to catch up to a huck or playing against her and asking yourself how one person can take away all of your cutting options, Tamar stands out on the field as a player. With the awareness to anticipate the play three throws ahead of everyone else, Tamar is able to use her natural athleticism, combined with a desire to push herself both on the field and in the gym, to play anywhere on the field, whether it’s acting as an handler against an impromptu zone, taking off deep to break up a poach underneath, or shutting down the opponent’s first look on defense.

While Tamar is able to match up on any opponent due to her skill, her ability to play point after point at a high level comes down to her heart. Since her freshman year, Tamar has been willing to stay late or workout on her days off in order to help others improve and to continue growing as an athlete. Tamar has given everything she has these past five years to pull Strut back from the brink of disbandment, and she now has the opportunity to prove that Strut deserves to be known as more than just a “low level D3 team from the Metro Least.” But Tamar’s influence, both on Strut and with her fellow competitors at tournaments throughout the northeastern regions, goes much deeper than her ability to complete any throw, break any mark, or catch any pass within reach. Tamar strives to show spirit both with her teammates at practice, and with her opponents during the game, so much so that players from other teams are disappointed when Tamar can’t attend a tournament because they wanted to compete against her again.

Her love of the game is infectious and motivates everyone around her. As one of our newer players on Strut puts it, “Coming to the team with ultimate experience from high school, I was immediately impressed by the amount of knowledge Tamar has, and by the amount of respect [she gives] her opponents and teammates on the field. Tamar also pushes her teammates at practice and isn’t afraid to call someone out when they aren’t putting in their full effort. Even when she is frustrated, her heart is in the right place – her frustrations always come back to her desire to make the team as great as she knows they can be – and her energy is channeled into taking the necessary steps to get there.”

Tamar’s willingness to give everything she can to help her teammates grow and develop, both as players and as individuals, exemplifies why she should be considered as a frontrunner for the 2018 Donovan award.

Tamar Austin Donovan Video

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Grace Castro (Senior, Catholic University of America)

The thrill of watching Grace Castro, the soul and the engine of Catholic University of America’s Nun Betta, can make your heart skip a beat. Her dynamic and visionary style of play spotlights her ingenuity and showcases the arsenal of her technical skills. Off the field, Castro can rally every Nun Betta player and coach behind her with her unwavering enthusiasm for the team and the sport.

Over the course of her time at Catholic University, her engaging and fun-loving personality have been infectious. As a leader, she has rooted the team’s culture in joy, growth, and the spirit of the game. Along with Captain Christine “Gram” Tomasic, the team has initiated weekly film session “strat chats” to review concepts, pod workouts, and additional “office hours” with the assistant coaches for additional skill development. The team’s recruitment has increased over the last two years, a testament to her personal investment in building connections with each rookie and helping them grow into their own unique identity on the team. For example, with her fellow captains, she’s given BETTA bands to reward players who have made exceptional contributions to the team by exhibiting the following characteristics: Be positive; Ever Present; Takes mistakes in stride; Teammates first and last; and Accepts the uncontrollable.

On the field, Castro excels both as an individual player, as her versatile skills can outfox opponents, and as a leader, as her love of the game energizes the team and her style of play sets up others for success. This season, Castro’s range of throws and degree of precision have proved difficult to contain. Her electric first step and seamless footwork (perhaps due to her background as a fencer) allow her to navigate the field with ease, creating space out of any situation. She has dedicated effort to understanding the skill level of each player on the 30+ person roster and adapts her movement accordingly.

On defense, Castro harnesses her athleticism and field awareness to move seamlessly from poaching off her player to denying a deep look to cutting off an in-cut. Off of the turnovers she creates, she has the presence of mind to make the most of the transition, whether it be an immediate huck to a reliable deep cutter, a quick lateral reset to put the defense on their heels, or to run through to set up the first cut herself.

For those who have experienced her deep love for the team, it comes as no surprise that the two years that Castro has served as captain coincide with the program’s two bids to Nationals. In 2017, she claimed a spot on the D.C. College All-Stars team, USAU’s first team all-region, and on the Ultiworld D-III All-America Women’s 2nd Team. Castro has extended her skills through her club season commitments, beginning with Hope (Rhode Island, 2015), Baywatch (Connecticut, 2016), and GRIT (D.C., 2017).

While she holds nationals-level aspirations for her club career in 2018 and beyond, she will finish her college career by leading her team to Nationals and living out the team’s motto: “Tada Gan Iarracht”- Gaelic for “Nothing without Effort.” For those of you who get to see her in Rockford, IL, you’ll see no one who puts more effort on the line for her team than Grace Castro.

Grace Castro Donovan Video

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Tulsa Douglas (Senior, St. Olaf College)

Tulsa grew up immersed in the East Coast ultimate community, playing both club and varsity ultimate in high school. After graduation, she dedicated her passion and drive to St. Olaf, where she has captained three of her four years playing with Vortex. She has also competed with the Minneapolis Millers, Boston Siege, Boston Brute Squad, and most recently, the U24 US Women’s National team.

Tirelessly, she has worked to push both herself and her teammates to improve. On the field, she is an unyielding force critical to the team’s offense and defense. Her power, athleticism, and precision are evident in each throw and cut. Alongside a dominant on-field presence, her sideline energy is a source of strength for many of her teammates. Through spirit and mental strength, she shows true respect and passion for her team, her opponents, and the game. Tulsa strongly believes that a thorough knowledge of the rules promotes spirited play. As such, over half of Vortex joins her each year in studying and learning the rules of ultimate to debate the complex scenarios presented in USAU’s nationals rules quiz, inspired by Tulsa’s love of the game and true respect for spirited play.

In her free time, Tulsa works diligently to promote equity in women’s sports. Two years running, she has run the nationally known projects 99 Days of Ultimate Women and 28 Days of Food, Frisbee, and Feminism. She founded an organization at St. Olaf called Gender Equity Movement, dedicated to gender equity in sports and promoting youth development through athletics. Vortex unanimously nominates Tulsa for this award because she inspires us every day through her leadership, skill, and spirit both on and off the field, and we are so proud to call her our own.

Tulsa Douglas Donovan Video

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Haley Lescinsky (Senior, Williams College)

Haley began her ultimate career in high school during her senior spring. Already committed to Williams and learning to play ultimate at Westerville North High School, Haley traveled 10 minutes to see her future squad, La WUFA, compete at 2014 Nationals in Westerville, Ohio. From that moment forward, she has been a dedicated and crucial member of La WUFA.

Playing mostly as a cutter her freshman and sophomore years, Haley obviously stood out on the field due to her exceptional athleticism and speed. Over her junior and senior years, Haley has captained La WUFA and upped her ultimate game considerably. She is a role model to all in her athleticism and true love for the game.

The summer before her senior year, Haley played for the Albany Airbenders, primarily as a handler, and got comfortable putting up some crazy throws, making her essentially unbeatable on the field. It is not often Haley meets a match to her speed, deep game, or crazy good zone offense handling skills, but she is always excited and rises to the challenge when she does. Her ultimate prowess was recognized last year when she was named to the 2017 All-American D-III team.

As a captain over the past two years, she has worked to help make the team more accessible to all those excited about learning ultimate. She is patient with new players, dedicated to the team, our program, and the sport. It is worth noting that La WUFA does not have a coach, so Haley has essentially been filling that role for the past two years. We know she will continue to contribute to the national ultimate community for years to come.

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Emma March (Senior, Oberlin College)

Senior and current captain Emma March has been a role model and a leader on the field since she started playing ultimate her freshman year of college. She played this past season with Notorious CLE and hopes to continue playing high level ultimate beyond Oberlin.

Emma is a caring and quiet leader who leads with her play. When she steps on the field she becomes a director. As her defender urgently starts stalls, she stands patiently seeing the field, directing her cutters. At 5’11”, Emma makes an incredible deep-deep, utilizing her field sense gained from years playing competitive soccer. And her defense on and off the mark often gives our team the break that we need.

During DIII Nationals in 2016 in Winston Salem, Emma had the second highest number of Ds of all the players. But what really makes Emma March an irreplaceable players is her diverse throwing arsenal. She’d prefer to look off open side cutters if it means opening up the field with a deep backhand break. Her inside breaks are just brutal. Her lefty-backhands come in handy in a tight end-zone situation. She’s been a commanding handler and a grounding center for our team these last three years.

In terms of her involvement in the larger ultimate community, she has participated in Cleveland competitive league teams and played for Notorious CLE. This shows her commitment to improving as a player and learning more about the sport. She brought back not only the knowledge that she learned about frisbee, but an understanding of the experience of being a rookie back to the team in a way that made rookies feel welcomed and supported. Emma March develops relationships with players of all years and takes an interest in helping them perfect their individual skills, taking time outside of practice to help teach people to throw. Emma does everything she can to support injured and sick players. Emma inspires people to push their talents and spirit. She simultaneously brings focus and wackiness to the team.

Emma March Donovan Video

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