And the Women's Player of the Year is...
November 15, 2021 by Ultiworld in Awards with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s 2021 Women’s Club Awards are presented by Five Ultimate; all opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Five Ultimate!
Ultiworld is pleased to announce our annual Women’s Club Player of the Year award. 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 — this year even more so than most. The Club Awards are selected based on input from Ultiworld reporters, contributors, and editors.
Our Player of the Year winner and runners-up are the three best performers of the 2021 Club season and the POTY podium represents our highest individual award. The winner is not eligible for consideration in any of our other individual awards.
Player of the Year Award
Offensive Player of the Year Award
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Breakout Player of the Year Award
Coach of the Year Award
All-Club First Team
All-Club Second Team
Club Awards Voting Breakdown
2021 Women’s Club Player Of The Year
Lindsay Soo (Raleigh Phoenix)
In a shortened season, it’s the players who can maximize their value in only a few games that rise to the top. Luckily for fans and followers, there were plenty of players that did just that this season, though none did it as emphatically as Lindsay Soo.
With only a single regular season tournament to their name, Soo showed up at Nationals as the most pivotal player on the fastest rising team in the nation. Fury deservedly won the title this year, but Raleigh Phoenix won the crowd, in no small part thanks to what Soo did for their team in the games that mattered.
It’s not even that Soo’s role on Phoenix was the flashiest. They weren’t the first option to go deep or the center handler distributing the disc. Instead, Soo was the team’s do-it-all factotum, someone willing to step into any role if it would get the job done. On the field, they were a plug-and-play piece who was up to the challenge of assuming any position on the field with assured confidence. While neither the team’s top scorer nor assist leader, Soo was instead the fulcrum that kept Phoenix’s offense running.
Don’t let a “modest”1 stat line fool you. Soo was frequently the player that set up the goal, or kept the defense honest enough that their teammates could score with ease. The one stat column where Soo tops their team is one so commonly overlooked: of Phoenix’s high-usage offensive unit, Soo had the fewest recorded turnovers this season. Despite the remarkable plays made by their teammates, it was Soo that you wanted to have the disc when the going got tough.
Look beyond offensive impact, and Soo stands out even further. David Allison, Soo’s coach, remarked that Phoenix’s offensive line could likely also be the best defensive unit in the country, which was key to their team success. Soo was the epitome of that duality. They honed their defensive chops through years of playing on some of the best D-lines in college, club, and semi-pro, and remain a defender at heart, one that just so happens to also be one of the nation’s best offensive players, too.
Raleigh asked a lot of their offense at Nationals, but it was Soo that could be relied upon for a block to prevent a break or to play such smothering defense that their opponent couldn’t make an impact off the turn. No matter the circumstances, if Phoenix had a need on the field, Soo could fill it. They were the one piece in Phoenix’s puzzle that fit every hole.
The conversation around the POTY award this season included more parity than years past, but there was never a doubt that Soo belonged here. They constantly showed up for their team when Raleigh needed them. Although there are plenty of highlight moments from their season, it was the play-to-play grind that ultimately set Soo apart. It was the times when they didn’t make the highlight reel, simply because they were a mile ahead of their defender or outworked the zone. It was the consistent tournament-long effort that Soo put in at Nationals against the best defenses in the country. It was the season-wide imperturbation in spite of the competition they faced.
For POTY-level players, there are a few intangibles that put them a head above the crowd. In Soo’s case, almost no other player had this many trust shots thrown to them with absolute confidence that they were coming down with it. The best defenders in the world crowded around Soo, and they still came up with the disc for their team time and time again. For Soo, those trust shots defined the team dynamic that put them in a position to leave the largest stamp on the division this year.
In a year where anything seemed possible, it was Phoenix that came within a point of doing the unthinkable, and in doing so became the story of 2021. While it was clearly a team effort, and Soo would be the first person to highlight their teammates instead, Phoenix had one of the most lethal offenses in the country, in no small part because of their initiating cutter who could play any position on the field, guard any player on the turn, and make every throw in the book.
Time to hop on the Soo bandwagon folks. It turns out that it’s electric, fully-charged, and has plenty of room. Plus, they’re the best seats in the house for 2021’s best player. With WUCC 2022 and the next installment of the Rise of Phoenix storyline looming, season tickets to the Soo show may start selling out soon.
Anna Thompson (San Francisco Fury)
She’s done it again, folks. Even in a shortened season with a new team in a new division, we saw much of the same incredible play from Anna Thompson that earned her the mixed division’s 2019 Player of the Year award, and it brought her once again to a POTY podium.
Between her double-digit assists at Nationals and her numerous now trademark layout blocks, Thompson came up big time and again for San Francisco Fury as she claimed her third straight club championship title in San Diego — the only player in the world who can make that claim. And while Thompson most frequently served as a secondary handler this year on Fury’s offensive line, she still stood out despite being surrounded by star veteran talent. In a season in which the oldest team in the women’s division won, it was their youngest player that emerged as key to their title victory.
In most team sports, including ultimate, the best players are usually those who pair high usage rates with high efficiency, able to shoulder a significant portion of the team’s playing load while maintaining top-quality execution. Thompson epitomized that with San Francisco this year as one of only two Fury players to register double-digit points played in both the semifinal and final,2 seeing time on both the offensive and defensive lines while doing so. Far more impressive than the sheer number of points that Thompson played for Fury in those big games, though, was the stunning rate of success that Fury had when she was on the field. Against Phoenix, Thompson’s lines won 10 of the 11 points they played, and against Brute Squad, Thompson was on the field for more San Francisco goals than any of her teammates, with 8 of her 11 points played ending in a Fury score. Her stunning two-way effectiveness was perhaps a touch more subtle this year with Jessie O’Connor often serving as San Francisco’s center O-line handler, but that didn’t mean that Thompson didn’t have her usual plethora of highlight-reel plays.
In the quarterfinal against Riot, Thompson registered two layout blocks in the end zone as Fury ran away from Seattle with a 15-6 win. Against Phoenix in the scintillating semifinal, the 2019 Mixed POTY notched another layout block as Fury built an early lead; she would eventually throw the winning pass to Lisa Couper on universe point as Fury’s offensive line closed out the upstart team from Raleigh. And in the final against Brute Squad, to no one’s real surprise, the former UPenn superstar came up with yet another layout block as Fury took a series of early breaks against Boston and cruised to the title. All total, her five officially recorded blocks arguably undersell Thompson’s defensive presence on the field, while Fury’s O-line’s near one-hundred percent conversion rate while Thompson was on the field underscores her impact for the champions.
While not the most vocal member of Fury, Thompson’s outstanding play once again spoke volumes to her ability to change the game with incredible potency and consistency.
Lisa Pitcaithley (Denver Molly Brown)
It’s hard to miss Lisa Pitcaithley on the field. The double meaning there is fully intended. Not only is she a striking, physically gifted player that draws the attention of the crowd and her opponents with her on-field ability, she also has some of the safest hands in the women’s division, making her a surefire target for Denver Molly Brown’s throwers. How many times over the course of the season did we see Denver draw up a pull play specifically designed to set up Lisa P with the goal or assist? Once Molly Brown recognized the success rate of these plays, there was no stopping Pitcaithley, even when her opponents knew the plays, too. Lisa P was too threatening to front and allow the deep cut, but far too deadly with the disc to give an open under anywhere in the attacking half of the field. When both options are that bad for the opposition, what choice do they have? That’s what we saw from Lisa P this season: a high-caliber player who was put in the perfect position to succeed.
It’s not as if she hasn’t been effective in previous seasons, either. Lisa P has been a well-known talent since she was a teenager, and had won a national title before she turned 20. It’s not like she’s been quiet since then either, but what we saw from Pitcaithley this year exceeds that of any past performance from her; she put together a season on par with many of the other heralded downfield cutters we’ve seen make this podium in the past, especially as her cutting ability is not even the most compelling aspect of her game.
While her connection with Claire Chastain and Manu Cardenas helped cement her as one of the most potent goal scorers in the division this season, Pitcaithley was equally effective after a turn and was arguably the best defender on a team that cut a name for themselves with defense this year. Time and again, Pitcaithley was the one who put her body on the line to get the layout block or skying grab. With tight margins against tough opponents, it was Pitcaithley that would often return possession back to the team when they needed it most.
It may have been a truncated season, but Pitcaithley led a top four team in both goals and assists, helping usher Denver to a 15-3 record and a WUCC berth at Nationals. As a whole, Molly Brown deserves their accolades for adjusting to a new roster while maintaining their elite status, and Lisa P was undoubtedly a critical part of that. Considering that she’s still very much in her prime, we could see Pitcaithley back on this podium very soon.
Their 8G/6A/5D line at Nationals is modest only by superstar standards. ↩
Rock-steady center handler Jessie O’Connor was the other. ↩