Our selections for the seven best performers of the year.
November 3, 2022 by Ultiworld in Awards with 0 comments
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Ultiworld is pleased to announce our annual Club Awards, continuing with our All-Club First Team in each division. 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. The Club Awards are voted on by Ultiworld reporters, contributors, and editors.
Our All-Club teams recognize the top performers across the division. While previously we have closed our Awards with our First Team and Second Team, displaying the top seven and next seven players who had the best seasons, they have been moved up in the schedule. As our voting process is ordered, the top vote-getters for All-Club honors function as the ordered list in our Player of the Year voting — our highest individual award.
Player of the Year Award
All-Club First Team
All-Club Second Team
Offensive Player of the Year Award
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Breakout Player of the Year Award
Coach of the Year Award
Club Awards Voting Breakdown
2022 Women’s All-Club First Team
Valeria Cardenas (Denver Molly Brown) Player of the Year
For years, Molly Brown had been unable to break through a perceived semifinal wall, just coming up short season after season. This year, though, they added a healthy Valeria Cardenas to the mix and what happens? Not only do they smash through that semifinal block with a come-from-behind win in the semifinals against the 6ixers, but they win the program’s first-ever national title. Does that attribute perhaps too much credit to Cardenas’ contributions? Perhaps, but looking at how integral she was to Molly Brown’s success this season it’s easy to convince yourself otherwise.
Start at the end, with the championship final against Fury. Valeria came through with seven assists in the game via an astounding variety of throws, including the last title-winning pass to Claire Chastain on a quickly jabbed forehand up-the-line. That was even as Fury had given Carolyn Finney the initial defensive assignment on Cardenas, only to switch to a poaching look in the second half in an attempt to get the disc out of Valeria’s hands. Her offensive output was oppressive, and over the course of the weekend Cardenas threw a tournament-leading twenty-seven assists as she led Molly Brown’s offense to success with little regard for what defenses tried to throw at her. With such a singular talent as possibly the best thrower on the planet her singular place at the top of the All-Club list is appropriate, and at just 23 years old she may just find herself on this list once again for years to come.
For more on Valeria Cardenas, read her Player of the Year writeup.
Claire Trop (Washington DC Scandal) Player of the Year First Runner-up
Only one player across all divisions at Club Nationals managed to collect a triple-double of goals, assists, and blocks, and that player was Claire Trop. The Scandal star’s all-around game was unmatched in San Diego and her 12G/18A/11B stat line is all the more impressive when you consider that Trop primarily played on DC’s defensive line.
Want someone to take on the toughest matchup on defense? Put Trop on that player and suddenly it’s like they’re not even on the field. Need someone to put it deep to open up your offense? Trop’s power with both her backhand and forehand throws are up there with the best in the division. Looking for someone to cap off a key break point? Trop will go get the disc in the end zone with abandon regardless of who’s trying their best to slow her down.
A common thought experiment in sports is who you would build your team around if you had to start with just one player, or put another way, which player do you think would make the biggest contributions to a team in all facets of the game? In Scandal’s return season after a three-year hiatus, Trop’s performances across the board means the answer in the women’s division this season might just be her.
Levke Walczak (Boston Brute Squad) Player of the Year Second Runner-up
Brute Squad was potentially the most underseeded team at Nationals this year, and that’s largely due to one player: Levke Walczak. It’s not that the rest of Brute Squad wasn’t up to snuff, it’s that she was in a class of her own when it came to operating on an ultimate field. The scientists who are attempting to create a sustainable perpetual motion machine really should just look at Walczak as the blueprint. There wasn’t a point she played where she didn’t look like she was a step ahead of everyone else, and she never tired no matter what was asked of her by Boston.
When she was on the field, Walczak changed how the game was played. Opposing offenses had to reorient to avoid throwing near her, and her world-class teammates often would simply give her the rock when they needed a goal. We often claim that no single player can win a game on their own at the club level. Walczak makes that claim seem dubious in retrospect.
Britt Dos Santos (Toronto 6ixers)
Consistency is an underrated skill in ultimate. There’s more value in steadiness and stability than is often given credit. Of course, when your level of consistency is as high as Britt Dos Santos, it can look a whole lot closer to heroics than steadiness, but that’s just how she plays every point! It doesn’t look like Dos Santos is trying to be the best player on the field when she’s playing a point, it just happens to her naturally. She makes plays because that’s normal for her. She gets blocks because that’s normal for her. She scores buckets because that’s normal for her.
There’s no secret formula or strategic setup that empowers Britt Dos Santos to be one of the best players in the world. She doesn’t need that. If one were to do a breakdown of her game, there wouldn’t be any particular facet of her play style to pick apart that would make her ‘unguardable’ or ‘game-breaking’. She does everything that is expected of an ultimate player, she just happens to be in the 99th percentile for all of it. That’s her special skill: being great.
Kaela Helton (San Diego Flipside)
Every up-and-coming team needs that veteran presence in the proverbial locker room, and Kaela Helton was that for San Diego Flipside this season. Not only did the multi-time national champion and World Games standout bring a wealth of experience to one of the youngest teams in the division, but she also came through time and again on the field for Flipside. Whether it was with a key layout block late in a game, grinding the underneath space to give her handlers a much needed outlet, or firing a pass deep for a clutch goal, Helton was the rock that Flipside hung onto when the going got tough.
During Helton’s years with Fury, it was easy to lose sight of her excellence among the faceless army of stars that the Southwest titans constantly seemed to churn out. However, with Flipside and amidst arguably the best season of her storied career, Helton’s incredible play-making shone through. At Nationals, she was the only player in any division to finish with top-5 numbers of goals and assists, with 14 and 15 respectively, and added seven blocks to her prodigious offensive output as well. It was a stunning display from Helton and one that reaffirms her place as one of the best in the game.
Manuela Cardenas (Denver Molly Brown)
It was only a matter of time for Manu Cardenas to show up on the First team All-Club list. Since joining Molly Brown as a teenager, it was clear that her skill was going to translate to the women’s division. Her ascendancy might have been predictable, but it’s still a joy to watch. Alongside incredible throws and a field IQ most players would kill for, there are few who could claim to be as explosive as the Colombian. Her quick-twitch muscles fire faster than an eye can blink. Whether it’s on offense or defense, Manu can make plays that almost no one else in the world could pull off. Most wouldn’t even be able to attempt it.
Another of Manu’s greatest strengths is that she gains so much joy from playing ultimate. Seriously. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who delights in competing as much as Manu. She’s the player who will start laughing midpoint during a fast break because she knows she’s going to score. How do you contend with that?
That passion for the game has pushed her to the very apex of ultimate, and with how young she is, we’re likely to see her name on this list for years to come.
Claire Chastain (Denver Molly Brown)
In 2013, Claire Chastain moved to Colorado with the express intent of playing with Molly Brown and winning a title with the Mountain West giants. It took nine long years of waiting, but this season Chastain helped lead her team to the mountaintop to close out a never-before accomplished triple peak across WUCC, the World Games, and USAU Nationals. While her stat line at Nationals may not have been the most gaudy, it was Chastain that came up with the biggest plays in the most important moments for Molly Brown as they finally, finally broke through.
Against Brute Squad in a pool-deciding double game point classic, it was Chastain with the layout block that gave Molly Brown a key break chance that led to an 11-10 Denver lead. In a quarterfinal matchup against Scandal, Claire Chastain took on Claire Trop in a World Games player showdown, and once again Chastain came up huge with another layout block out of nowhere as Denver fended off DC to claim a spot in the semifinal. Chastain rallied her team from a halftime deficit against the 6ixers, and threw the last semifinal curse-breaking assist to take her team to the championship final. And, as fate would have it, it was Chastain with the title-winning goal from Valeria Cardenas, and sealed her and her team’s first ever national championship. As fitting an end as any to an absolutely incredible season from one of the world’s outstanding players.