2021 Mixed Club Defensive Player Of The Year

Celebrating the best defensive performances of the season.

Ultiworld’s 2021 Mixed 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 Mixed 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 — this year even more so than most. The Club Awards are selected based on input from Ultiworld reporters, contributors, and editors.

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 Mixed Club Defensive Player Of The Year

Clea Poklemba (Madison NOISE)

Madison NOISE's Clea Poklemba. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
Madison NOISE’s Clea Poklemba. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Without Clea Poklemba’s heroics, Madison NOISE probably would not have been a semifinalist. Some of our awards are based on statistics and the basic analytics we have in ultimate. With Poklemba, the basic eye test is all that is needed. Leading their team with seven recorded blocks — good enough for the second-highest total in the division — Poklemba not only pops off the stat sheet, but they always seemed to come through when the game needed somebody to spark a momentum shift.

At this season’s Club Championships, Poklemba authored key break sequences to jump start a comeback against overall no.1 seed Fort Collins shame. in the opening round of pool play. Their run through block iced the final pool play game against Boise Lochsa to clinch an undefeated first day. They earned blocks on the last two points of the game before throwing the game-winning hammer against Boston Sprocket in the quarterfinal round. It seemed every time NOISE needed a big play, all they had to do was put Poklemba on the field and let them do something special.

Though not the most physically imposing individual, Poklemba delighted fans with the closing speed to chase down blocks on in cuts and the hops to block hucks as well. On a team with other defenders who were better known coming into the season, it was Poklemba who outshined them all and carried the NOISE defense through every tough turn all the way to the national semifinal.

The Corvallis, Oregon, native was not exactly an unknown entering Nationals, but they certainly turned heads and enlightened those who were not aware of their sterling positioning and block-hunting abilities. Ultimate does not have particularly strong methods of measuring defensive impact, but earning late game blocks and shutting down some of the best cutters in the country on the biggest stage our sport has to offer is good enough to earn Poklemba the praise as this season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Alex Rubin

1st Runner-Up

Nathan Champoux (Ann Arbor Hybrid)

Ann Arbor Hybrid's Nathan Champoux. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
Ann Arbor Hybrid’s Nathan Champoux. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Every once in a while, we are blessed with a clip that captures the essence of a player. This clip of Nathan ‘Skunk’ Champoux getting two clean, skilled, high-pressure blocks in the mixed semifinal and then immediately offering a hand in congratulations to Dylan DeClerk for catching the goal captures the athleticism, skill, and sportsmanship that characterizes Champoux’s game. He may have crossed your radar when he made the 2016 World Juniors team, and if not, hopefully you were watching for him this year after our mixed season primer.

Blessed with the kind of athleticism that most of us can only dream about, he’s grown since that Juniors team to become a complete player. While he is now a threat with the disc in his hands and able to cross over to the O-line, he remains a relentless defender first and foremost, as evidenced by tying for the team lead in blocks in San Diego. As a mainstay on the Hybrid D-line, Champoux is able to play defense differently than most — taking the toughest matchups and baiting blocks, poaching in lanes to disrupt the offense, and anticipating opportunities to switch with his teammates. He also embraces spirit and sportsmanship in a way that is clearly on display in the clip above, and is consistently demonstrated across all levels of play. From pickup to league to casual tournaments to the mixed club national final, Champoux is always beaming smiles, getting tons of blocks, handing out huge high fives, and winning spirit awards from his opponents.

Going forward, the biggest question is whether Skunk is more likely to ascend to the top of one of the DPOTY podium, or if he can help carry Hybrid to the kind of sustained excellence that earns outright POTY consideration. Either way, Champoux is likely to be a household name for many years to come.

Ben Murphy

2nd Runner-Up

Michelle McGhee (Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust)

Minneapolis Drag'n Thrust's Michelle McGhee. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust’s Michelle McGhee. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

First, some framing. This year was Michelle McGhee’s first year with Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust, she played mostly in an offensive handler role, and she’s on the Defensive Player of the Year podium. No, we didn’t put her on the wrong voting list, McGhee’s defensive play was simply that good for Drag’n Thrust, and in her very first season playing mixed club ultimate McGhee put her stamp on the division.

Just as her nickname of “Hydra” would imply, McGhee’s defensive presence was felt all over the field and on both sides of the disc. While she did play primarily on the Minneapolis O-line, McGhee also crossed over to the D-line on a fairly regular basis. This proved particularly effective in Drag’n Thrust’s huge comeback against shame. as McGhee applied great pressure on the Fort Collins handlers that helped force turns, which then fueled Minneapolis’ resurgence.

With her two-way play, McGhee ended up compiling the most playing time on Drag’n Thrust at Nationals, demonstrating just how much trust Minneapolis had in their nominal rookie. McGhee’s defensive prowess was a gift to the Minneapolis O-line, which was able to play a more aggressive style knowing they have a defensive ace ready to help get the disc back after a turnover. Then when she was on defense, McGhee had the talent and experience to step up and shut down the best opposition women-matching players.

The former U24 standout brought her big-game experience and exceptional field awareness with her to the Midwest and was able to integrate near seamlessly into the Drag’n Thrust system, and in the process made such a mark on the mixed division as to earn her a place on the DPOTY podium in her very first year in the division. It’s a strong start in the division for sure, and it’s likely not the last we’ll see of McGhee when it comes to the mixed club awards.

Jenna Weiner

  1. Ultiworld

    Ultiworld is the premier news media site dedicated to the sport of ultimate. This article includes the work of a number of our staff or contributors that have been identified within the piece.

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