Our staff, elite players, and top coaches rank the best players in Division I ultimate.
May 26, 2023 by Ultiworld in Opinion with 0 comments
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There’s no shortage of talent in the D-I women’s 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 and, new in 2023, coaches, to weigh in on the following prompt:
If you were starting a club team today with the singular goal of winning a theoretical College Championship, 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 2023 USA Ultimate D-I College 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.
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 Participants’ 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
|Rk||Player||Pts.||Staff Rankings||Participant Rankings||Jenna||Keith||Edward||Scott||AC Particpant 1||NW Participant 1||NE Participant 1||SC Participant 1||NC Particpant 1||NW Participant 2||GL Participant 1|
[Editor: There are some sorting issues with the table that cannot be altered at the time. Our apologies for the inconvenience.]
Abby Hecko (Washington) and Dawn Culton (North Carolina) again dueled for #1. They were not unanimous (although they were among staff), but there was no clear #3. Who would you make your case for and why?
Edward Stephens (D-I Men’s Editor): I hate to get too far out over my skis with this one — but why not Abbi Shilts (UC San Diego)? I get that her team hasn’t found the same level of success, especially this season. Still, she has made some of the very best throws, cuts, and catches I have ever seen in D-I women’s. Tremendous talent.
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): It feels like splitting hairs for at least these next four, if not six or seven players, who are all in the same tier to me. None of them are Abbi Shilts, though, Edward.
For me, I started with Alex Barnett (North Carolina). It’s never flashy, and while I think some folks who talk about ultimate a lot can fall a bit in love with picking players who aren’t flashy, Barnett isn’t some “glue” player. This is the most rockiest rock of all of the rocks for the best team in the country and potentially one of the most dominant college teams ever. Like you could eat food directly off her game, you could handle a newborn with her game, you could wear her game on a first date, it is just that damn clean.
Jenna Weiner (D-I Women’s Editor): Barnett is definitely a strong candidate, Keith. My next up though hails from UNC’s 2022 finals opponents, Colorado in the form of Clil Phillips. We’ve seen how good Quandary can be when Phillips is running the show (see: the 2022 final) and we’ve seen how short they can come up when she’s not there to take over games (see: this year’s Stanford Invite final). If we’re talking the best players in the division, you have to include arguably the best player on arguably the second best team in the division and that’s Phillips.
There’s mostly consensus around the top 10, but the placements for Colorado’s Stacy Gaskill and Clil Phillips were interesting compared to 2022. Gaskill was well ahead of Phillips last year, but that’s flipped this year. Gaskill is one of the only big differences between staff and participants. What’s the why behind those things?
Raynor: I wonder how much of it is just the time Gaskill misses. It makes her feel like a smaller part of the season, a less necessary part of Quandary’s success.
I feel like I’ve always been the lowest of our staff on Phillips, but even I’ve come around. Per usual, versatility and wholeness of craft were defining factors between the two. Phillips may not have Gaskill’s size or power — although the latter is closer than it seems — but she blends her hard-charging with great technical ability. Her game doesn’t slow to execute, making it more impressive whenever she gets a delicate throw off.
Stephens: Give me Gaskill all day — no offense to Phillips, whom I place in the top 10. Gaskill is a cheat code.
Weiner: While I did have Phillips ahead of Gaskill, it wasn’t by much (2 vs. 6) because I think they both can play such central roles for Colorado. I do think that Gaskill missing time has hurt her standing somewhat, but if we’re talking players’ ceilings, I find it hard to imagine that Gaskill wouldn’t rise above Phillips in that regard just on sheer athleticism alone.
Is there someone who missed the cut on the top 10 you feel strongly should have made it? If so, over whom?
Weiner: This is not a new take by any means from me, but I am shocked that Mia Beeman-Weber (Carleton) somehow fell all the way to #23. I had them at #10 where their Carleton teammate Tori Gray ended up finishing, but watch nearly any Syzygy game this season and you’ll see Beeman-Weber driving the offense, getting blocks, and just generally just being an absolute nightmare for their opponents. Yes, Tori Gray is amazing and I’m glad Carleton (a top six team!) got at least one player in the top 10, but Beeman-Weber not even cracking the top 20 seems like a huge miss.
Stephens: The whole staff is on the Beeman-Weber hypewagon. Rankings of 10, 13, and 14 attest to that — and yes, they definitely show off a lot of takeover power. I’m just not sure which three or four other players I would shift around to make room in the top 10.
Raynor: Blame the participants for that one!
I had Mika Kurahashi (UBC) at #9, but she fell all the way #15 in the final rankings. I’m kinda preaching to the choir here given that all of the staff ballots have her top 10, but she’s just absolutely explosive. The things we say about Kennedy McCarthy, Abbi Shilts, and the offensive half of Dawn Culton — players who can exert their physicality onto the game is a way that is almost irresistable — those things are true of Kurahashi.
And there are other great athletes with nasty skies and the like, but the completeness to her offensive package is there, too. I feel pretty confident not having her top 10 will look frigid after Nationals; I’m more worried we will look too low on her when it is all said and done. I don’t think Gray’s offensive game or Ostrowski’s athleticism is quite the superpower that Kurahashi has.
The Top 25 and Beyond
Our experience has shown that participants’ 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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