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 women’s 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.||E. Stephens||G. Gerhart||K. Raynor||T. Diffendal||S. Sullivan||C. Eisenhood||K. Hayden||B. Murphy||NC Player 1||SE Player 1||NW Player 1||NE Player 1||SE Player 2||SC Player 1||SW Player 1||NW Player 2||MA Player 1||NE Player 2||SW Player 2|
|4||Britt Dos Santos||2047||2||4||9||7||4||6||7||4||2||11||1||2||9||3||2||UR||16||4||UR|
[Editor: There are some sorting issues with the table that cannot be altered at the time. Our apologies for the inconvenience.]
Remarkably, our staff had five different players at #1, with the Players’ ballots adding another four! That list: Claire Trop (Scandal), Claire Chastain (Molly Brown), Sarah Meckstroth (Phoenix), Valeria Cardenas (Molly Brown), Manuela Cardenas (Molly Brown), Kaela Helton (Flipside), Carolyn Finney (Fury), and Yina Cartagena (BENT).
I don’t think we have ever seen, at any level, such an open race for the top spot and such a diverse view on which player that gives you the best chance at a championship. What do you think this means? Why’d you select your number one above the others?
Ben Murphy (Contributor): I considered at least four of these players. I settled on Mecks as #1 because she seems like the best combination of skills. There’s arguments for Trop, Chastain, and Manuela as also having the best combination of skills. I don’t think any of them are the wrong answer, and all of the top seven or eight, at least, were very tough to order; if you asked me again, I may give a different order.
Trop finished at the top overall because of her impressive play at World Games, they definitely had a significant impact on exposure and showcasing many of these players this year.
Edward Stephens (Senior Staff Writer): I considered the top pick for a long time, and given how difficult that decision was for me, it makes sense that so many different choices came up.
In the end I went with Meckstroth because, of all the players in this exercise, she has been the one who in 2022 has taken over games in the most different ways. She’s a lion on defense, a jet in the lanes, a tower going up for a disc, a pacemaker as a thrower. And it’s hard to find anyone showing more intense focus this season.
Graham Gerhart (Senior Staff Writer): A lot of folks here have horse blinders on for US players, if I’m being frank.
Yina Cartagena and her team won WUCC against arguably the best American team we’ve got, and she ran roughshod over the World Games competition. Go back and look at the results. She had two assists and two goals in the semis against Team USA, and then three assists and two goals against Germany in the third place game. Oh, and also balled out against Australia when Colombia beat them. Those were the unquestionable 3 best teams at the tournament and she dunked on them. Colombian players looked to her when the going got tough. Rid yourself of your American biases folks; Yina should be #1.
Stephens: Graham, baby, you have fewer non-US players in your top 10 than anybody else.
Gerhart: We’re talking about the #1 here, not the top 10. Although I gotta give props to Steve Sullivan for including 10 non-American players in his rankings, the most of anyone. That’s a man with true principles.
Kelsey Hayden (Staff Writer): Lol the last thing I — a Canadian — have is a bias for Americans.
If the chips are down and I need someone to get shit done, I’m looking for Meckstroth. Same could be said for Trop and Chastain – the other two I considered – but ultimately what tipped Meckstroth over the edge for me is that she is incredibly skilled and reliable, while also physically much more dominating.
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): So are we not gonna talk about asserting Yina Cartagena is the best player to bring you a club championship when the team that has her couldn’t even make it out of their region?
Gerhart: Don’t put that evil on me, Ricky Bobby! We all know one player can’t carry a team to victory in club, this isn’t college ultimate.
Raynor: I have Cartagena at #3, so I get the hype, but there are legitimate gripes. Sure, she can’t win a title all by herself, but she isn’t actually by herself and the bar here is get to Nationals, kind of a prereq that you can lead a team to qualify.
Without looking to know, I might be the only person in any division with the same #1 overall as I had in 2020: Claire Chastain. I see no reason to have moved my position here. She’s still bringing excellence in every facet, is a proven leader and competitor, and fits with any combination of teammates in a way that makes her easy to utilize.
Curiously, I was the only staff ballot with her first in 2020 and am again in 2022, but she topped the Staff Aggregate Rankings this year, while topping the Players’ Rankings in 2020; she dropped in the Players’ ballot to outside of the top five this time around.
Theresa Diffendal (Associate Editor): Scotti and Pockets just called Meckstroth “the Lebron James of ultimate” on Laying it Out, so I think that settles this matter.
Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): Valeria went #1 from me, but it was an excruciating decision. I really waffled between 6-7 players; the division is deep right now with top talent. Ultimately, Valeria’s throwing ability is unmatched right now, and that was the tiebreaker for me when it came down to it. She was so clutch for Colombia and Revo this summer, and while we haven’t seen that much of her with Molly Brown yet, she will prove to be their most critical piece if they make a run in San Diego.
Steve Sullivan (Executive Editor): As Ben (and Graham) mentioned above, the World Games absolutely was a heavy factor for me in considering these rankings. It’s why I ended up ranking so many international players, but also why Trop landed at #1 for me. Despite changing club teams this year and needing to find her way in a new role, I simply couldn’t look past how dominant Trop was on the sport’s biggest stage. There was nothing that seemed outside her range of possibilities in Birmingham, from outrunning even the best defenders on the planet, to ruthlessly attacking with both her cuts and her throws, to boxing out or skying players much larger than her stature. As Edward wrote in his Top 25 players of the tournament article, “She was mostly acres ahead of her matchup – and when it was close, she made the play every time.” Every. Time.
For all that she has already accomplished — her teams win at every level — Trop is still on the ascendency in her career and and I think we’re one massive performance at Nationals away from people recognizing just how good she is right now.
In the two years since our 2020 rankings, the sentiment on some players has shifted a lot. Kami Groom (Brute Squad) and Carolyn Finney were #1 and #2 then; they are #8 and #9 now. Claire Trop was #18! What changes stand out to you as the most surprising?
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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