2020 D-I Women’s Breakout Player of the Year, Presented by Spin Ultimate

Ultiworld’s 2020 College Awards are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

Each spring, Ultiworld presents our annual D-I College Awards. While the 2020 college season certainly didn’t play out as we all hoped and was not allowed to reach its natural conclusion, we still want to celebrate and honor the tremendous performances we saw already this spring.

Our selections are based on sanctioned play as if the season ended today. Given the uncertainty that the coronavirus crisis hangs over the rest of 2020, we may or may not see any postseason events that traditionally have heavily influenced our award selections. With what season has taken place, we have reviewed the tape, talked to players, coaches, and onlookers, and discussed with our reporting team. While the amount of data is limited — and we recognize that not every player and team got equal opportunity to perform — we felt we had enough to offer our opinions on the players who had the greatest effect on this season as it was.

The Breakout Player of the Year recognizes rising juniors or seniors who made themselves known in a new light this season. While our nebulous definition of “breakout” reflects an evolving set of criteria, rather than celebrating the improvement of those from whom big things were already expected, we aim to use this award to celebrate the emergence of those who previously have not been on the national radar. Whether it be through growth in ability, role, or both, the Breakout Player of the Year and runners up honors those who rose to the occasion with improved and high-impact performance on a new level this spring — putting them squarely in the spotlight moving forward.

Player of the Year Award
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Offensive Player of the Year Award
Rookie of the Year Award
Coach of the Year Award
All-American First Team
All-American Second Team

D-I Women’s 2020 Breakout Player Of The Year

Elsa Winslow (UC Santa Barbara)

UC Santa Barbara’s Elsa Winslow. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

Winslow’s potential production this season was already a topic of conversation before the season even started. Thanks to UCSB’s graduating class in 2019, there was plenty of room for players to start soaking up more touches, and no one did it more effectively than Elsa Winslow.

It’s not just that she could outrun the Energizer Bunny, Road Runner, and The Flash in a footrace; Winslow’s on-field chemistry with her team was next to none. The timing and consistency of her cuts made her an easy target and a goal-scoring machine. The question for opposing coaches was really whether they wanted to exhaust their best defender trying to keep up with Winslow, or just throw an endless onslaught of fresh faces in hopes that she’d exhaust herself. Neither really worked.

Winslow’s skill set isn’t exactly unique for college — there were plenty of players in the division this season that are phenomenal athletes with a nose for the end zone. But Winslow’s volume of contribution outpaced others in similar roles. In the semifinal of Presidents’ Day against UCSD — the reigning college champions — Winslow scored six of her team’s goals and added on two assists for good measure.

Winslow may not have arisen out of complete anonymity, but she was undoubtedly one of the rising stars in the game this season, and there’s every reason to believe she could have been the top goal scorer in the women’s division at Nationals. With another year or two of eligibility, we may see the name Winslow on future awards lists.

California’s Claire Toth at Presidents’ Day Invite 2020. Photo: Greg Pettus — UltiPhotos.com

First Runner-up: Claire Toth (California)

After the 2019 season, the Southwest lost a lot of individual stars, and many of the best teams in 2020 found success as a unit rather than from the transcendent performance of one player. California stands as the exception. On a team where more than half of the roster were rookies, Toth refused to let the Pie Queen’s season be defined as a ‘rebuilding year.’ With her instantly recognizable red hair streaming behind her, Toth blocked, scored, and assisted her way into becoming one of the most lethal two-way stars in the tournaments Cal attended.

Even with a shortened season, Toth’s importance to her team was evident. Without her contribution at the Stanford Invite, Cal finished in 14th place in Stevinson — a stark contrast to their sixth-place finish at Pres Day, when Toth was present. In many of Berkeley’s closest games, the difference between a win and a loss came down to what Toth was able to do on the field. After showing flashes of brilliance in 2019, Toth took the Southwest Triple Crown by storm. There’s nothing more you could want from a BPOTY finalist.

UCLA’s Stephanie Yen at Stanford Invite 2020. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

Second Runner-up: Stephanie Yen (UCLA)

Other players on the list may have finished their season as bigger stars, but no player came out of nowhere quite like Stephanie Yen. That’s pretty appropriate if you watch her play: just watch UCLA’s offense receive the disc, stare at the end zone for a bit, and watch Yen rapidly burst into your field of vision as she collects another goal. With blazing speed, Yen became the ignition at the end of the lit fuse of the BLU offense, isolated in space then turning one hard fake into acres of room for a huck to attack.

Obviously, that level of athleticism proved to have applications beyond streaking deep. Yen was a threat to generate run-through blocks or footrace to the front cone when those opportunities arose. But never was her impact as purely on display as when she’d rush out of the stack, throw the defender onto their heels, and motor to the end zone. Again and again.

  1. Graham Gerhart
    Graham Gerhart

    Graham Gerhart is a Senior Staff Writer at Ultiworld, focusing primarily on the Women's and Mixed divisions. Graham graduated from the University of Cape Town in South Africa after playing 4 years with the UCT Flying Tigers. He now lives and works full time in San Diego. Follow him on twitter @JustGrahamG

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