The best players in the game right now.
October 19, 2022 by Ultiworld in Opinion with 0 comments
There’s no shortage of talent in the USA Ultimate Club mixed division. We look a lot at team success, and often see familiar names and faces in those discussions. But who are the best individual players? Who brings the most value to winning a championship? Figuring out which stars shine the brightest is more art than science, but perhaps there’s democratic power in numbers.
So who are the best players in the division 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, as well as an anonymous group of elite players, to weigh in on the following prompt:
If you were starting a club team today with the singular goal of winning a theoretical Club Championship this October, how would you rank the players within the division? You aren’t building a team of all of 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 players who were on a 2022 USA Ultimate Club mixed division roster of a team that reached regionals are eligible to be drafted. With regards to injuries an absences, we will include all rostered players unless there is confirmation a player will not be competing, or would not be able to compete, at Nationals.
Our process was altered from our 2020 rankings 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
We’ll start with our top 10, and discussion about that group. Then we’ll reveal the entire top 25, followed by the complete ballots, and additional conversations about the rankings.
The Top 10
|Rank||Player||Pts.||K. Raynor||T. Diffendal||S. Sullivan||B. Murphy||C. Eisenhood||Dan Donovan (Hybrid)||Oliver Atkinson (Lochsa)||SC Player 1||SE Player 1||Ryan Turner (Slow)||James Highsmith (Hybrid)||SW Player 1||NW Player 2||NC Player 1|
[Editor: There are some sorting issues with the table that cannot be altered at the time. Our apologies for the inconvenience.]
Eight of our 13 ballots placed Khalif El-Salaam (Mixtape) at the top, giving him a comfortable first place position. All five dissenting ballots were from players, although none of them agreed on the appropriate replacement and the Players’ Aggregate still had him comfortably in first. He got not first place votes in 2020. What makes Leaf such a clear #1?
Ben Murphy (Contributor): For me, I was debating a few players, but Khalif is the one that has the strongest overall contribution — basically no weaknesses, whereas some of the others maybe have something you could nitpick. I did consider Caleb and Shof but I feel like Leaf has done it better in bigger stages than those two. #whathaveyoudoneformelately
Oliver Atkinson (Player Ballot, Boise Lochsa): Leaf is clear number 1 to me this year because his fitness from world games has allowed him to put 100% effort into every cut and point. In college you could have questioned his throws, then at beginning of club his decision making was suspect both of which he improved drastically over the past few years. I felt the final “weakness”in his game was his effort level on a point in and point out basis. After a turn he could be exploited as long as you weren’t foolish enough to put it deep. Now he is a lockdown defender after the turn
Also, he’s the best player on the best team.
Steve Sullivan (Executive Editor): Honestly, this was one of the easiest calls of this entire exercise this year. I won’t deny that I’ve been skeptical if not downright critical of Khalif’s play in the past. Some overly ambitious or silly throwaways, some stretches of passive or lazy defense and too many dangerous plays (though, to his credit, also some great examples of safe play in high-profile spots).
But the work he has put into his game and fitness over the past few years is immediately apparent and well deserving of the praise earned through this position. His game has matured a lot in his ability to pick his spots to be aggressive with the disc, his timing and decisiveness on motion is second to none in the division, and his effort and focus never waver. He has grown in his ability to lead and command a team, as well. Outside of the World Games, I’m not sure I’ve seen a game all year where he wasn’t the best player on the field, often dramatically so. Simply put, he’s the most dominant player in mixed right now, and I don’t think it’s particularly close.
Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): Khalif has long been among the top 5-10 players in the mixed division, and his effort to prepare for the World Games team, make the roster, and become more efficient in his play has clearly elevated him above the rest of the division.
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): Steve said the thing that drove me: sheer dominance. Khalif’s game has grown, he’s playing around the disc better, he’s playing a grown man game, with added resilience and poise. He looks like he’s in the best shape of his career and as confident as he’s ever been.
Let’s extend that conversation. A variety of players got second place votes (or first place votes in place of El-Salaam): Robyn Fennig (NOISE), Tommy Li (BFG), Caleb Denecour (Drag’N Thrust), Jesse Shofner (Shine), Kelly Johnson (Mixtape), Marilyn Reich (Shame), Raha Mozaffari (AMP), Henry Ing (AMP). Who do you think is the best player aside from Khalif and why?
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. ↩
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