Which player would you most want leading your team at Nationals this weekend?
May 21, 2019 by Keith Raynor, Charlie Eisenhood, Katie Raynolds, Graham Gerhart, Daniel Prentice, Edward Stephens and Alix Robbins in Opinion with 0 comments
College ultimate is filled with stars. Some play in high profile environments, get reps for elite club teams, or play in international competition. Others compete with deep squads that don’t always make them the headliner for their team. Still others ply their trade for off-the-radar programs that dim their limelight. But our coverage team tries to see them all.
So who are the best players in college ultimate right now? To try to clear away as much of the white noise created by circumstance as possible and get to the heart of each individual’s value and contribution, we asked a group of seven Ultiworld contributors to weigh in. In order to avoid some of the incongruent interpretations from last year’s exercise, we refined our criteria a bit this year and gave our participants the following prompt:
If you were starting a college team right after the end of the regular season, with the express goal of winning the 2019 College Championships, how would you rank the players within the division? You aren’t building a team of all your selections, so don’t worry about how the players complement each other. Consider each pick the first pick of a team, drafting in order, only you can’t pick the players you’ve already ranked above. All current D-I players are eligible to be drafted, but with their current injury status.
We each listed out our top 25 players, then combined our lists to create a composite ranking. Also changed this year was our accounting method, awarding a descending number of points from each contributor based on their rankings. So, for example, players earned 25 points for a first place ranking, 24 for a second place ranking, and so on, from each voter.
Here’s how the Top 10 shook out (you can find #11-25 here if you’re a subscriber).
|1||Jack Verzuh (Dartmouth)||1||2||1||1||1||1||2|
|2||Dena Elimelech (UC San Diego)||2||1||2||2||2||3||1|
|3||Sadie Jezierski (Ohio State)||3||3||5||3||5||2||3|
|4||Claire Trop (Dartmouth)||4||5||3||5||3||6||7|
|5||Julia Kwasnick (UC Santa Barbara)||5||4||11||6||7||5||5|
|6||Anne Worth (North Carolina)||12||7||7||4||9||4||4|
|7||Caitlyn Lee (Dartmouth)||9||8||4||9||6||10||13|
|8||Ellen Au-Yeung (British Columbia)||6||19||6||10||8||9||8|
|9||Ella Hansen (Oregon)||7||6||15||7||10||11||16|
|10||Anna Thompson (Pennsylvania)||8||13||12||NR||4||7||6|
With the composite list in place, we discussed our selections, our snubs, and our pet favorite players. But first, a bit more on how we each approached this thought experiment.
What elements did you most or least favor when compiling your lists?
Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): I mostly tried to sort players into tiers and then decide who I would feel the most confident putting out onto the field for a critical point. It can be really difficult to assess different players in different systems, so having a subjective gut feel for who you’d want out there was a good tiebreaker for me.
Graham Gerhart (Senior Staff Writer): For me, there are obvious tiers of players but I also was looking for players that could take over a game. If this exercise is to theoretically build a team around these players, I value a player that can put the team on their back. I valued players more highly if I’d seen them do this already, and it was an important factor at the back end of my list.
There are some fantastic players in college that don’t have the personality to take command of a game and that hurt them in my rankings. It was also why I eventually didn’t end up with any rookies on my list. Proven entities that have taken hits already and have grown season over season matter; rookies have too many question marks for me.
Edwards Stephens (College Reporter): If I’m starting a team, I want the players who have found a way, be it through developed skill, natural advantages, or determination to get what they want on the field over and over again. The ones at the top of my list are the ones who, according to what I’ve seen, manage to do it the most.
Daniel Prentice (Senior Staff Writer): I prioritized players who’ve demonstrated an ability to have a great impact on the game at the highest levels. I valued US National Team experience, high-level club experience, and performance at past College Nationals above all else. Of course, the eye test and this regular college season were important factors, too, but you’ll see most of my players have demonstrated some sort of high-level success in the past already.
I also highly valued the ability to take over a game, and affect it in many facets. To build a team around a player, I want them to be able to beat opponents in multiple ways, and have that killer instinct to demand the disc — and beat their opponents with it — when the season is on the line.
Alix Robbins (Women’s College Reporter): So, similarly to Daniel, I tried to balance high level of contribution to individual college team, the eye test, overall consistency of play, and elite experience. A few players bumped up or down on variables and it was difficult to rank the players who were generally more well rounded but a step behind in a certain skill and players who specialize in a particular aspect of the game. I did also factor in my perception of each individual’s contribution to team morale/backbone and scale the player up or down for being particularly crucial to a team’s overall culture.
Katie Raynolds (Women’s D-I Editor): I looked primarily for individual talent, and I always weigh defense heavily. If I think a player is a stronger defender, I rank them higher. I largely ignore Club contributions because to me it’s a different game. Also, I tried to only rank players I’d actually seen play several times and felt familiar with.
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): Much like last year, I’m looking for a proven ability to excel against the best players, with a bonus for being able to do it in the college environment. I always value versatility, but will accept extreme specialization in lieu of that.
Unlike last year, Jack Verzuh is not a unanimous #1 choice. Edward and Graham, can you explain why you’d rather have Dena right now?
Gerhart: Choosing these Top 25 players is always difficult, so I made sure I had a few rules for myself and one of them was that I was going to allow recency bias. If there are two players with amazing resumes, what has either of them done for me lately? In the case of Elimelech and Verzuh, one of them just led her team through a historic regular season where she was clearly the best player on the field in each game she played. UCSD also beat Dartmouth in the head-to-head game without Elimelech.
I won’t deny that Verzuh has a better overall resume and has been a better player historically. But I will say that if I’m building a team tomorrow, I want the player that has proven to be the best this current season, not last year.
Stephens: We’re splitting hairs, right? That’s the point of this exercise? As far as I’m concerned, Elimelech and Verzuh are far and away the two best players in the division. I gave the edge to Dena in this case because I feel like this season she’s hungrier than Jack. Sounds wishy-washy, I know. I see Verzuh’s hunger in isolated moments: disc goes up, they’re hungry to make the play; Dartmouth need to grind out the last twenty yards of a break chance, they’re hungry to find the opportunity. But I feel like I see Elimelech hungry in every moment of every game. They both have the skills to do it, but it seems (to me) as though Elimelech has actually been warping the shape of games more than Verzuh this season. That’s the difference.
Raynor: Y’all have over thought this. If you’re trying to win a title, I’m going to take the generational talent whose metaphorical hand is running out of space for metaphorical rings. And, I know this seems like blasphemy, but is Jack actually healthy? I think I’ve seen them playing at mostly full capacity.
Dena’s superb, but even if you say they’re equal in talent, one has the proof of elite success.
Prentice: At the end of the day, Verzuh is one of the greatest talents we’ve ever seen play college ultimate. And they may be the most unique. Elimelech is an exceptional talent as well, and I think the frontrunner to win POTY this year. But Verzuh is Zion Williamson — with two championships. There’s never been a player quite like them, and no one in the game today that can match their impact in the division. I’ll take that and the proven, title-winning acumen in a slight edge over Elimelech’s superior 2019 regular season campaign.
Stephens: I think what we see from them in Austin is going to be a deciding factor. For the purposes of settling this argument, I’d love to see a UCSD-Dartmouth final.
Gerhart: A final? Barring a puzzling upset, they’ll likely be playing each other in quarters.
Eisenhood: People have forgotten how good Verzuh has been. I cooled on them somewhat last year, but their performance for Riot in the big games at WUCC was the next level performance I’d been waiting to see. Every year, we hype the matchup — Gegg vs Verzuh! Schmaltz vs Verzuh! Verzuh dominates every time.
Raynolds: I’ve never seen any individual player stop Verzuh from doing what they want in the college division. Ever. This Nationals will be no different.
Two players who were in last year’s Top 5 — #2 Ellen Au-Yeung and #4 Ella Hansen — are still in school but now fall down the list (#8 and #9, respectively). What changed in our collective opinions of them?
Raynor: I think this was honestly one of the hardest parts of this year’s list. It’s hard not to see Ella Hansen and EAY and consider their established ceilings. These are elite players we’ve seen take over college games in a way few others can. I’m willing to chalk up a fair amount of this year’s decreased productivity to changes in context rather than meaningful changes in their abilities.
I say all that because they have not exactly even been the 8th and 9th best players just this year. They’re getting floated a lot by what we’ve seen from them in other contexts.
Gerhart: It’s also that other players have stepped up while Hansen and Au-Yeung have ‘maintained’ more than taken another step up.
By virtue of UBC’s depth, Au-Yeung didn’t need to be more impactful than she was last season. In contrast, Oregon really needed Hansen to be lights out for every game of their season, and there were times when she struggled to match the expectations placed on her. Other times, she was fantastic, thus why I rated her quite highly.
Raynolds: I dropped EAY lower because my top nine players above her are all playmakers, while EAY currently operates as the division’s best role player. She rarely makes mistakes and is a true swiss army knife player… but I’d take Kwasnick’s blocks or Caitlyn Lee’s throws ahead of Au-Yeung’s versatility.
Oregon put a lot of weight on Hansen’s shoulders this season to make their offense function, and I think the cracks showed. She still has top 10 throws.
I agree with Keith that both players are getting some lift from their overall resumes instead of their 2019 season performances.
Prentice: I just haven’t seen the Hansen of years past this season. She took the club season off, and I hoped that might mean she’d come out absolutely on fire for the college campaign, but I haven’t seen it. She’s been asked to do just about everything for Oregon, and that’s certainly been a factor for her lower efficiency levels this year. But the sharpness hasn’t been where I’d hoped it would be for one of the division’s best pure throwers.
As mentioned by Keith and Katie above, she really falls where she does on the list based more on the talent that I know is there, which could certainly still flash at Nationals and make us all look silly. But her 2019 campaign has been slightly disappointing for me, and that makes me worry about what her performance will be in Round Rock.
Katie, not only are you the only person to have Anna Thompson outside your Top 15, you didn’t even rank her. Care to explain?
Raynolds: If I had to guess, everyone making these lists included a player they have not seen play, either in footage or in person (except maybe Keith, who is a footage fiend). We all cover different parts of the country, and there’s simply a high chance we haven’t seen every excellent player actually play.
I didn’t rank Thompson because I haven’t watched her play much. Because I compete in Club women’s — and therefore don’t cover Club Womens or Club mixed — and I report primarily on West Coast college teams, I have barely seen Thompson play. The same can be said for Ari Nelson and Margo Urheim, though I’ve watched more footage of them. In making this list, it felt disingenuous to rank a player whom I don’t know a lot about, simply because it feels like she “should” be on the list.
Do I feel bad about not having seen Thompson play more? A little. Then I remember how many other hours I spend watching this sport, and I cut myself some slack.
I’m curious — Keith, Daniel, Graham, Edward: is there anyone you ranked without having seen them play?
Gerhart: No. But then again, I probably tie with Daniel for having spent the most time covering and reporting on college ultimate this season. I also prioritize watching film of teams that I haven’t seen.
That being said, there are players who made it on the list for others that I haven’t seen. Marie Perivier and Gabrielle Krajniak come to mind.
And perhaps if I had seen them play they might have made my list. It’s a fair point you’ve made.
Raynor: I haven’t seen game film of Sarah Kim with Northwestern, just some club and some college reels. I guess the same is true about Penn, but Thompson’s so proven and Penn has some results I think reflect her. Maybe I fell for her Callahan video.
Stephens: I ranked Ari Nelson largely on what was reported about her, since I’ve never seen her play. And I may have ranked her conservatively because of that. It’s like reading about old-timey baseball, when most of the games weren’t filmed. Oscar Charleston and Josh Gibson, Negro Leagues players who never got the chance to play in the majors, are considered by some to be two of the Top 15 players of all time, largely based on the testimony of a few contemporary reporters. I guess I’m comfortable taking our writers’ words for it, when I don’t have any of my own evidence to the contrary.
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