2021 D-III Men’s Player of the Year

The top overall performers from an abbreviated fall season.

Ultiworld’s 2021 College Awards are presented by the National Ultimate Training Camp; all opinions are those of the author(s). NUTC helps young players become better athletes and community members.

Each year, Ultiworld presents our annual College Awards. While the 2021 college season certainly wasn’t typical with its quick course through a fall Series to a first-ever December College Championships, we still want to celebrate and honor the tremendous performances we saw.

We begin our awards presentation with Player of the Year, our most prestigious award. Our Player of the Year winner and runners-up are the three best performers of the 2021 College season and the POTY podium represents our highest individual award. The winner is not eligible for consideration in any of our other individual awards.

D-III Men’s 2021 Player Of The Year

Kyle Henke (Oklahoma Christian)

Oklahoma Christian's Kyle Henke. Photo: Rodney Chen -- UltiPhotos.com
Oklahoma Christian’s Kyle Henke. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

In our preview of Pool D for D-III Nationals, we posited that Kyle Henke “might be the best individual player at the tournament.” Anybody who watched Henke play in Norco may well wonder why we felt the need to include the “might” qualifier in the first place. Henke was in a tier of his own this season, leading Oklahoma Christian to the program’s first national title, and he is our unanimous selection for Player of the Year.

Henke anchored the best O-line in the division, and he was utilized on that line in a variety of ways. Whether receiving the centering pass and starting in the handler space or serving as the initiating cutter, Henke was prominently involved in every pull play for the Eagles. In the final, Henke led the Eagles in receiving yards with 263, and he was second in throwing yards with 396 (barely edged out by Elliott Moore’s 399), showing a relatively strong balance in how he impacted the game. Henke also showed an ability to change his role based on what his team needed in a particular game. In the quarterfinal against Whitman, Henke served as more of a cutter, finishing the game with 7 goals and 1 assist; in the final, he found himself doing more work in the handler space, finishing with just 2 goals but 5 assists.

Not just restricted to the O-line, Henke frequently rotated onto the Oklahoma Christian D-line, patrolling the deep space and leading the offense after a turn. He threw the first break in the final, and on a line that struggled to get breaks throughout the weekend, much of their success came on the points where Henke was on the field.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Henke’s performance this season is the efficiency with which he operated. Despite his high usage, Henke valued the disc and rarely made mistakes. Take the final as an example: in 45 touches, Henke had just one turnover.

As a graduate student, it’s unclear what Henke’s future with the Eagles looks like. Having already signed a two-year contract with the Austin Sol, we can at least count on seeing the 23-year-old play in the AUDL for the foreseeable future. If this does turn out to be Henke’s lone season of D-III ultimate, then he certainly made it count, winning a title and playing at maybe the highest level we’ve ever seen from an individual in the division.

1st Runner-Up

Drew Otterlei (St. Olaf)

St. Olaf's Drew Otterlei. Photo: Rodney Chen -- UltiPhotos.com
St. Olaf’s Drew Otterlei. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

It says a lot about Drew Otterlei that he finished as 1st runner-up for POTY despite almost exclusively playing on the St. Olaf D-line. Otterlei’s combination of size, athleticism, and throwing prowess made him the ultimate catalyst for the Berzerkers’ D-line, capable of taking a variety of matchups on defense while also marshalling break chances after a turn. Otterlei was one of the strongest throwers we saw in Norco, showing a wide array of throws and continuously setting up his team’s defense with excellent pulls.

As a graduated player taking advantage of the unique eligibility rules for this fall season, this was unfortunately the last we’ll see of Otterlei in D-III ultimate. After years of trying to get St. Olaf back on the big stage, it was a joy to see Otterlei lead the Berzerkers both on and off the field in Norco. Expect to hear his name at the professional and club level for years to come.

2nd Runner-Up

Walker Frankenberg (Middlebury)

Middlebury's Walker Frankenberg. Photo: Rodney Chen -- UltiPhotos.com
Middlebury’s Walker Frankenberg. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

The last time we saw Walker Frankenberg play D-III ultimate in 2019, he was throwing his body around on defense en route to being first runner-up for Rookie of the Year. Two and a half years later, Frankenberg has developed into the center handler and driving force behind the offense for the second-best team in the division. The same athleticism that made Frankenberg such an exciting defender in 2019 made him one of the division’s most difficult matchups in the handler space, using his quick first step and exceptional top-end speed to consistently create separation for resets.

On crucial points when Middlebury needed him most, Frankenberg crossed over to defense to provide additional firepower and help secure breaks. A senior captain on the Pranksters, Frankenberg will be back this spring and enter the season not only looking to avenge a loss in the national final, but also as a preseason favorite to finish at the top of this podium in May.

  1. Michael Ball
    Michael Ball

    Michael Ball is the Men's D-III College Editor for Ultiworld. You can reach him by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter @mike_ball423

  2. Zakk Mabrey
    Zakk Mabrey

    I helped start my HS intramural ultimate club as a junior at North Central HS in Indianapolis. At Indiana Wesleyan, I served as club president for three years, and was a captain. Now graduated, I live in Indianapolis, run D-III Midwestern Invite, and help with various other tournaments and ultimate projects within the state, while writing for Ultiworld. Catch me on Twitter @tnlzmabrey

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