Which player would you most want leading your team?
April 22, 2022 by Ultiworld in Opinion with 0 comments
College ultimate is filled with stars. Some play in high-profile environments, get reps for elite club teams, or play in international competition. Others compete with deep squads that don’t always make them the headliner for their team. Still others ply their trade for off-the-radar programs that dim their limelight. But our coverage team tries to see them all.
So who are the best players in college ultimate right now? To try to clear away as much of the white noise created by circumstance as possible and get to the heart of each individual’s value and contribution, we asked members of our coverage team to weigh in on the following prompt:
If you were starting a college team right after the end of the regular season, with the express goal of winning a hypothetical 2022 College Championships still scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, how would you rank the players within the division? You aren’t building a team of all your selections, so don’t worry about how the players complement each other. Consider each pick the first pick of a team, drafting in order, only you can’t pick the players you’ve already ranked above. All current D-I players are eligible to be drafted, but with their current injury status.
Our process was altered this year in order to improve how representative our rankings are of the opinions of our voters. We each listed out our top 35 players — up from a cap of 25 in past years — to iron out some of the gradations on the fringes and then combined our lists to create a composite ranking. In addition, we included the ballots of a few anonymous elite players from different regions. We used a weighted scoring system for votes, with Players’ Ballots counting as 60% of the value of Staff Ballots.1
Here’s our top 10. Our full top 25, as well as every player receiving votes, will be available in a second article for our subscribers on Monday.
|Rank||Player||Staff Ballot||Players' Ballot||J. Weiner||E. Stephens||K. Raynor||G. Gerhart||S. Sullivan||C. Eisenhood||S. Dunham||NW Player||NE Player||SW Player||SC Player|
|1||Abby Hecko (Washington)||Abby Hecko||Dawn Culton||Dawn Culton||Marie Perivier||Abby Hecko||Abby Hecko||Dawn Culton||Abby Hecko||Abby Hecko||Dawn Culton||Marie Perivier||Dawn Culton||Dawn Culton|
|2||Dawn Culton (North Carolina)||Dawn Culton||Ella Juengst||Abby Hecko||Abby Hecko||Marie Perivier||Kennedy McCarthy||Abby Hecko||Marie Perivier||Ava Hanna||Marie Perivier||Ava Hanna||Marie Perivier||Ella Juengst|
|3||Carly Campana (Carleton)||Marie Perivier||Abby Hecko||Stacy Gaskill||Dawn Culton||Dawn Culton||Stacy Gaskill||Marie Perivier||Dawn Culton||Carly Campana||Steph Phillips||Dawn Culton||Carly Campana||Abby Hecko|
|4||Ella Juengst (North Carolina)||Carly Campana||Ava Hanna||Carly Campana||Ella Juengst||Carly Campana||Carly Campana||Carly Campana||Ella Juengst||Ella Juengst||Carly Campana||Kennedy McCarthy||Ella Juengst||Elsa Winslow|
|5||Marie Perivier (Georgia)||Stacy Gaskill||Carly Campana||Rani Shah||Tori Gray||Jules Madigan||Dawn Culton||Stacy Gaskill||Carly Campana||Dawn Culton||Ella Juengst||Alex Barnett||Kate Lanier||Stacy Gaskill|
|6||Ava Hanna (UC San Diego)||Ella Juengst||Marie Perivier||Ava Hanna||Stacy Gaskill||Ella Juengst||Marie Perivier||Kennedy McCarthy||Ava Hanna||Clil Phillips||Abby Hecko||Ella Juengst||Abby Hecko||Carly Campana|
|7||Stacy Gaskill (Colorado)||Ava Hanna||Elsa Winslow||Grace Conerly||Caroline Tornquist||Ava Hanna||Ava Hanna||Jules Madigan||Jules Madigan||Stacy Gaskill||Elsa Winslow||Abbi Shilts||Kennedy McCarthy||Clara Stewart|
|8||Kennedy McCarthy (Vermont)||Kennedy McCarthy||Kennedy McCarthy||Abbi Shilts||Kennedy McCarthy||Kennedy McCarthy||Ella Juengst||Annelise Peters||Steph Phillips||Emily Pozzy||Ava Hanna||Abby Hecko||Tori Gray||Mindy Radike|
|9||Elsa Winslow (UC Santa Barbara)||Jules Madigan||Stacy Gaskill||Ella Juengst||Clil Phillips||Annelise Peters||Rachel Hess||Ava Hanna||Stacy Gaskill||Steph Phillips||Kennedy McCarthy||Sarah VonDoepp||Ava Hanna||Annelise Peters|
|10||Hazel Ostrowski (Tufts)||Elsa Winslow||Hazel Ostrowski||Lauren Yamasaki-Liske||Cami Lamont||Stacy Gaskill||Caroline Tornquist||Kate Lanier||Elsa Winslow||Madison Ong||Clil Phillips||Stacy Gaskill||Abbi Shilts||Ally Constantino|
Our first-place vote-getters: Dawn Culton (North Carolina) with five, Abby Hecko (Washington) with four, and Marie Perivier (Georgia) with two. Hecko and Culton were neck-and-neck for the top spot, while some low rankings knocked Perivier back to fifth overall. Why should your number one pick reign atop the rankings?
Edward Stephens (Senior Staff Writer): I went back and forth with these three for a long time, trying out each in my head as the #1 option. And I don’t have a good answer, per se, but here’s why I went ahead with Perivier: I think power throwing is the most crucial single skill in college ultimate, in both divisions. The players who develop the true ability to spot a forehand and backhand 60+ yards, and to be able to create their own opportunities to get those throws off, are the ones who most drastically shape the field of play. Of these three well-rounded, enormously talented players, Perivier is the one who is able to do that consistently. If I’m starting a hypothetical college team in 2022, that’s the most important building block for me.
But, like I said, I don’t feel completely confident in that decision given the clear success and brilliant play of Hecko and Culton. One of the other voters will surely show me the error of my thinking.
Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): I went with Hecko over Perivier because we’ve seen Hecko deliver in the biggest spots throughout her career in club, college, and youth. She was obviously the best player in the limited 2021 season. Why wouldn’t she get the nod at #1 in 2022? Layout Ds, strong throws, critical big plays: Hecko brings the full package of skills to the field.
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): I have Hecko first, as she offers the best balance of proven competitive excellence and diverse skill set. Watching Dawn Culton’s physical dominance in the Northwest Challenge final made me question that, and I’d probably move her over Perivier if I was voting again today.
But Hecko and Perivier are stronger throwers, with Perivier’s handler game leading the pack there, and like Edward, I valued that over a lockdown defender who is also elite deep target. The gap between Hecko and Perivier’s elite level experience felt too large — especially relative to their throwing ability and skill level — for me to go away from the Washington star as the #1 player.
Scott Dunham (Staff Writer): Hecko was the clear top choice for me, a complete player who excels in every role. Culton is obviously a stand-out defender and deep cutter after a turn, but didn’t make my podium due to the throwing side of the equation. I agree with Edward that power throwing is a crucial skill, which is why I have exemplars Ava Hanna and Carly Campana as my #2 and #3. However, In the games I have seen, Perivier had a low huck efficiency which is a major reason I didn’t include her in my top 10.
Steve Sullivan (Executive Editor): I guess it falls to me to make the case for Culton. Buckle up for me writing way too much.
In some ways, it feels a little strange that I slotted the North Carolina star into the top spot ahead of some worthy rivals, in part because I typically agree that the most valuable and impactful skill in college ultimate is elite throwing prowess. And yet I didn’t waver much in placing Culton #1, largely because I think the gap between her elite skill to the next closest comparison feels bigger to me than the gap between Perivier’s throwing or Hecko’s playmaking to their closest rivals on those traits.
Dawn Culton is so far and away the best block-getter in college ultimate right now. Lest we forget, the only Ultiworld D-I player award winner from the Fall season that was a unanimous selection was Culton as DPOTY. Part of it is preternatural instinct and field awareness, something that has been apparent from very early on in her career; watching her play with the Warhawks many years ago, she already had the innate understanding of where to be looking and moving to put herself in positions to go generate a block. But the larger part is her combination of size and speed. Teammate Ella Juengst gets a lot of due credit for her unmatched quickness, with legs churning so fast they practically blur into a Roadrunner-esque whirl. Culton’s speed is more akin to the powerful loping of peak Sandy Jorgenson — once Culton locks in on a straight line and opens up her stride, each forceful footfall propels forward her into an increasingly devastating top speed to pull away from even the other gifted athletes she often matches up against. That same power allows her to launch herself into layout bids, using her length to routinely produce block after block after block.
But it’s not just her defensive prowess. That same field sense, speed, and size make Culton an equally potent offensive weapon. The Pleiades star times and positions her cuts perfectly such that she can utilize her speed to win a footrace to the end zone without starting so early that her teammates struggle to put the disc out in front of her. On the D-line, she’ll generate a layout block, pop up off the ground, then check over her shoulder to make sure a teammate is prepared to pick up and huck before she puts her head down and takes off. On offense, she’ll expertly set up her spacing while a teammate collects a centering pass or initiation under, getting out into the lane at precisely the right moment to maximize the threat to end the point with a quick 2-throw hold to her streaking to the end zone. She’s a phenomenally polished athlete that previews what the sport could look like when quote-unquote real athletes inevitably takeover. And with Culton, the engine never stops. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her look tired. The devastating speed is just as potent late in the final round of a tournament as it is on the first point Saturday morning.
She may not be quite as flashy as Hecko or threaten quite as much of the field with the disc in her hands as Perivier, but she’s in a league of her own in terms of generating blocks and then converting them into quick goals from a downfield spot. Her teammates and coaches gush over her skills and attitude. If there’s a single current college player I would bet on making a future World Games roster, it would probably be Culton. Maybe that’s not necessarily the same thing as being the best player in college right this second, but she’s the player I’d be most scared to have lined up across from me in a title-deciding point. I want that person on my team, full stop.
Jenna Weiner (Senior Staff Writer): Not nearly as much to say here as Steve, other than to agree with much of what he said and to offer that I had Culton at #1 and Hecko at #2 because that’s how I had them at the end of 2021 and there’s not been anything that has notably changed my opinion from then.
Graham Gerhart (Senior Staff Writer): Hecko’s resume is as good as any other player’s. She might not have won a college national title yet, but she was an impactful player in club on a team that was one goal away from winning a national title last season (I stand by this take) and followed that up by being the best player at college Nationals in the fall.
It surprises me that Culton is such a favorite of the players, but maybe it shouldn’t. Defensive players don’t get their due and Culton deserves to be highlighted.
Speaking of Perivier, she, Ella Juengst (North Carolina), and Carly Campana (Carleton) form a dense trio competing for the third spot. How did you rank these three and why?
Weiner: For me, Campana is so central to Carleton’s success and from what I saw from her and Syzygy at Stanford Invite, it warranted a place in the top five. As for Juengst, she’s an incredible player, but playing alongside all of the other amazing UNC folks put her slightly lower for me than she might otherwise be. And then for Perivier, I’ve never loved the idea that how poorly a team does when a player isn’t there is a demonstration of how good the player is. Especially since Georgia with and without her haven’t majorly impressed this season, she fell down the board for me, although I probably in hindsight should have rated her higher given where other folks are at.
Raynor: I have Perivier, Campana, and Juengst, in that order (although interspersed with two other players). Perivier’s diversity of ways to drive offense gives her an advantage over the others as your engine. While her best attributes don’t outscale either Campana’s or Juengst’s, in the aggregate, she offers slightly more value.
I’ve been a fan of Campana’s tools for a while and she keeps getting better as her throwing game grows. Are we ever going to see her play elite club? Feels like she could slide into an elite club O-line downfield role very easily, with her ability to generate separation and then attack with big, damaging throws.
Juengst’s superpowers are very obvious: when you want someone to do what she does, there’s nobody better — even at the club level, she’s at the tippy top of her role. But I have trouble ignoring the limitations of her lack of size and throwing range.
Eisenhood: Perivier > Juengst > Campana.
Perivier has a total takeover ability that pushes her past these other two great players. The kind of “you can’t stop her!” energy that few college players can bring to the table.
Juengst’s speed offers similar benefits, but the throwing limitations are enough to push her below Perivier for me.
Carly Campana feels like she has an opportunity to prove she belongs at the top of this trio at Nationals. We’ve certainly seen her be the driving force for Syzygy.
Gerhart: This is a bad exercise because it makes me second guess myself even as I’m writing it. Maybe there is no right answer?
For me, Campana, then Perivier, then Juengst. Perivier has the most explosive dynamism of the three and when she’s on, she’s unstoppable. That being said, she’s struggled to turn that into meaningful results, which hasn’t been a problem for Campana, who’s a threat at any position on the field and has such a range of weapons that there’s not much you can do to stop her.
Juengst is only third because of her size and limitations, although, if you ask me who’s going to win the most championships out of the three in their career, it’s gotta be Juengst. She can will her team to a win no matter how tough the situation, we have already seen that this year.
Dunham: Campana tops my ranking of this set. She is a dominant deep target, but is even more dangerous coming under as she has outstanding power and precision on deep throws. She is also great in small spaces and saved Carleton against Stanford’s zone at Northwest Challenge by coming back among handlers to break Syzygy through the cup.
In previous years, Juengst would be lower for me, but she made huge strides in her throwing over the pandemic and now is a real asset with the disc in her hands. Other players may be faster in a straight line, but I have yet to see a defender stick with her quick changes of direction.
I rate Perivier lower due to lack of precision on hucks (and the turnovers which result). It may be what her team is asking of her, but often it seems she just throws it as far as she can (which is a long way) without regard to how her receivers are being covered.
Some voters had Kennedy McCarthy (Vermont) in the top five, others had her outside the top ten. What’s the right spot for the cutting phenom?
|Ranker||Staff Ballots||Players' Ballots||J. Weiner||E. Stephens||K. Raynor||G. Gerhart||S. Sullivan||C. Eisenhood||S. Dunham||NW Player||NE Player||SW Player||SC Player|
|Above McCarthy||Ava Hanna||Elsa Winslow||Annelise Peters||Caroline Tornquist||Ava Hanna||Abby Hecko||Stacy Gaskill||Annelise Peters||Annelise Peters||Ava Hanna||Dawn Culton||Abby Hecko||NA|
|Kennedy McCarthy Rank||8||8||12||8||8||2||6||13||14||9||4||7||Unranked|
|Below McCarthy||Jules Madigan||Stacy Gaskill||Marie Perivier||Clil Phillips||Annelise Peters||Stacy Gaskill||Jules Madigan||Clil Phillips||Kate Lanier||Clil Phillips||Alex Barnett||Tori Gray||NA|
Eisenhood: McCarthy has POTY potential. But I’m not convinced we’ve seen her fully prove that she can take over a game the way some of the players up at the top of my board have. I’m high on Vermont as a team, but I think McCarthy needs to reach that next level of dominance for her to be a top 10 lock.
Raynor: I’ve actually cooled a little bit on McCarthy. Her downfield offensive impact is still elite, with a ceiling of the best player in the division, but I’m seeing a little less offensive diversity and less dominant defensive play than I believe she is capable of. Clearly has tremendous ability, but I want to see those other elements to put her truly into the division’s upper crust.
Gerhart: Postseason McCarthy is gonna burn your takes to the ground.
I agree that what we’ve seen from her so far is not the peak of her performance, but if anything, that’s a case for why she should be so high. We know she has another gear and she’s still a top player without having to get to that level just yet!
Dunham: We all agree that McCarthy has huge potential, but doesn’t seem to be fully utilizing it. For me, there were too many careless hucks and inconsistent intensity at Northwest Challenge, as others on her own team outshone her.
Weiner: For McCarthy, as with so many players, she dropped simply because of the talent in the division and from my perspectives having seen much of the division outside of Vermont and UNC out at Stanford Invite. Given Vermont and McCarthy’s showing at NWC, I think a rise well into the top ten for me isn’t remotely out of the question depending on how McCarthy shows up this postseason.
Sullivan: The wildly varied rankings for McCarthy are a fair reflection of her volatility in terms of game-to-game impact. She obviously has the talent to be a real difference-maker at this level — we’ve seen her be the best player on a Club Nationals roster and a total take-over college player. When she’s on, like she was against Washington at Northwest Challenge, she can explode and go supernova for a game, allowing Ruckus to hang with and beat some of the best teams in the country. But to Scott’s point, we have also seen her take too many risks with the disc in her hands and at times let her focus lapse in ways you really hate to see in your team leader. She feels kind of like Colorado’s Alex Atkins in that way, a player who had similarly divergent assessments in the men’s division of this exercise — from the very top to the mid-teens. Ultimately, there are very few players who have the ability to be the best player on the field in a game late in the Nationals bracket; if you want to win a title, you need a player with that kind of ceiling. McCarthy is one of them.
Stay tuned for part two of this exercise, where we share our 11-25, more discussion, and a full list of every player who received votes.
Our experience has shown that players’ ballots trend towards regional concentrations and emphasizing the strength of their teammates, as well as other quirks such as occasionally not ranking themselves, which is why their ballots are weighted in this manner. ↩