The most impactful players in the women's division on the defensive end.
November 11, 2019 by Ultiworld in Awards with 0 comments
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Ultiworld is pleased to announce our fourth annual Women’s Club Awards. 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.
2019 Women’s Club Defensive Player Of The Year
Opi Payne (San Francisco Fury)
Watching the trajectory of Opi Payne over the years has been a true treat in the women’s division. After beginning her career as a burgeoning star for Scandal — helping them earn back-to-back titles while thrust into a high-volume, front-and-center role — she joined Molly Brown. Payne was given a sizable role next to Claire Chastain and the other top Denver women, still getting a healthy set of touches, but allowed to focus on her strengths without needing to carry quite as much water. Now with San Francisco Fury, Payne seems to have found a great opportunity to be burdened with even less offensive responsibility and tightly hone her natural defensive chops. This year she used those chops to become the more fearsome defender in the division, significantly lowering the percentages against elite matchups playing in positions like she held in her previous stops.
Opi Payne is one of the women’s division’s true defensive aces. Her quickness and speed shut windows more completely than the “Barn door protocol.” Her takeoff time is spooky fast, enough to force throwers into blinking hesitation, turning would-be throws into pump fakes and clears. And she can play well above her size. But the physical gifts have simply enabled broader application and sharper command of her ultimate IQ. Payne orbits around cutters, a hub of small adjustments to disc and player positioning. With her extensive defensive range, these shifts force the offense to be in constant consideration of where she might disrupt a play.
While the counting stats are unimpressive — three blocks at Nationals, and just one more from Fury’s regular-season TCT events — you’d be hard pressed to find anyone1 cutters wanted to deal with less. It’s no wonder she led Fury in defensive points played (11) in the national semifinal while helping earn them four breaks despite minimal offensive involvement. And San Francisco turned to her for the key matchups: Riot’s Jack Verzuh, 6ixers’ Lauren Kimura and Anouchka Beaudry, Brute Squad’s Lien Hoffmann.
And lest we forget: she pulls, and pulls well. This is probably an underrated skill in our game, but Payne sets her defense up for success before the opponent’s offensive possession even begins. Even if her matchup, for whatever reason, completely evaded being involved in the offense to limit Payne’s block-generation, she would still influence the point. Over the course of a season, that adds up.
That’s the beauty of Payne’s game in this defensively-focused role. It used to be all about the big things with her. Now, she’s still doing big things, but they are the product of many little things synergizing to form an elite defensive performance this season.
– Keith Raynor
1st Runner-Up: Angela Zhu (Boston Brute Squad)
This is the third time in four years that Zhu has been the 1st runner up for Club DPOTY — along with a pair of college OPOTY nods in the same stretch — and it’s easy to see why she continues to make these podiums. She is an ultimate-playing Terminator, sent here to destroy all opponents. The green light she’s been given on Boston Brute Squad is brighter than the Bat-signal, and she punishes offenses better than any vigilante could. Thanks to her remarkable ability to read the field while in motion, Zhu can disrupt just about any offense on the fly, and causes a turn where none seemed possible.
Zhu is only credited with seven blocks this season, which is perhaps the greatest case for why the eye-test still matters in competitive sports. Whereas Zhu may not have been the player on Boston to earn the most blocks, she was almost undoubtedly the player most responsible for causing turnovers for Brute Squad. In her sixth season on the team, Zhu has the complete trust of her teammates to call switches, poach in lanes, and flare out from defensive sets if she thinks it’s necessary. With every season, it’s been harder to argue that Boston’s success over her tenure has not been acutely affected by Zhu’s ascendancy in ultimate. Last Nationals, Zhu led the tournament in blocks, this year she did so much more than that, and her team won a title. The results speak for themselves.
– Graham Gerhart
2nd Runner-Up: Austin Prucha (Washington DC Scandal)
Giving Scandal‘s coaching staff a dynamic player like Prucha this season was like throwing fireworks into a furnace. At any point, something explosive, and beautiful, and terrifying is going to happen all at once, and probably a handful more times after that. It’s not just that Prucha is an elite defender, she’s an offense-ender. The best-laid plans go to waste if Prucha is on your intended receiver. She’s one of the very few female players that will almost always force a thrower to revert to Plan B.
Scandal used her as an enforcer downfield, and rightfully so. If you know you have a bigger, stronger player than your opponents, you don’t have to be a sophisticated tactician to employ that power correctly. Prucha did what she was born to do on Scandal, and it worked to great effect. With both person and zone defense, it was her ability to lock down the deep space that allowed the rest of Scandal’s defenders to get crafty with their poaches and marks. D.C. had a good defense last season, but adding Prucha gave them a new wrinkle that shot them into the stratosphere. Considering how so much of Scandal’s success this year was off the hard work of their defensive unit, it’s been all but impossible to talk about Scandal without mentioning Prucha, and that should say enough by itself.
– Graham Gerhart
who isn’t on the POTY podium… ↩