2023 D-I Women’s Player of the Year: North Carolina’s Alex Barnett

Recognizing the top performer of the 2023 season.

Each year, Ultiworld presents our annual College Awards. Our staff evaluates the individual performances of players from throughout the season, talking to folks around college ultimate, watching film, and look at statistics, voting upon the awards to decide those to be honored. The regular season and the college Series are both considered, with extra emphasis for performances in the competitive and high-stakes environment at Nationals.

We begin our awards presentation with Player of the Year, our most prestigious award. Our Player of the Year winner is the best performer of the 2023 college season, and the highest vote-getter for All-American honors. The winner is not eligible for consideration in any of our other individual awards. The runner-ups up will be identified as the second and third vote-getters when the All-American Teams are revealed.

D-I Women’s 2023 Player Of The Year

Alex Barnett (North Carolina)

North Carolina’s Alex Barnett at the 2023 College Championships. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Most often, when we talk about a player being at the heart of a team’s success, we mean it purely metaphorically, substituting words like “central,” “pivotal,” or “critical” for humankind’s most necessary organ. When it comes to Alex Barnett’s role this season for UNC, however, her place at the heart of the Pleiades was more than metaphorical.

After Stanford Superfly gave the UNC Pleiades their closest game of the season in quarters, we wrote this about the UNC offense: “The Pleiades have a particular tempo reminiscent of a heartbeat when they play zone offense, pulsing rhythmically as they pop and weave and dice through the defense.” 

While we were talking more generally about the Pleiades offense, then, Barnett was indeed the beating heart that drove UNC forward. No player was steadier or more incisive than the Pleiades’ Callahan finalist, and Barnett set the pace for UNC whenever she was on the field. 

She was peerless in her ability to slide open throwing windows even against otherwise smothering defenders, and ruthless in her slicing throws that slashed across, through, and over opposing defenses. 

Of the many impressive facets of her game that set Barnett apart, perhaps most notable was the way that she could run an offense as if the defense wasn’t even there. Stanford’s zone? Not a problem for Barnett, a gap-finding wizard. How about a staunch person mark, determined to deny her any upfield throw? Barnett was more than content to pass the disc off and let her off-the-ball movement do the work. And when teams went box-and-one to try and make UNC earn it without Barnett involved? Well, you’re bound to find her following a second defender around as she intelligently and selflessly lets her teammates tear their opponents to shreds.

Together, it makes for a style of play that some (including us here at Ultiworld) have deemed to not be particularly showy. However, the Callahan finalist made sure that we knew she was hearing the chatter even as she was leading her team to a third straight title. “Y’all are Ultiworld, y’all are telling me that I’m not that flashy, not that interesting,” Barnett quipped after the Pleiades final win.

That’s more than fair pushback from the UNC superstar, and she certainly has shown plenty of capacity for highlight plays. Layout blocks and leaping grabs are well within her wheelhouse, but it’s of course her throwing that tends to draw the oohs and ahs out of the crowd. Take the Pleiades’ semifinal game against Vermont, where Barnett led UNC’s offense to a perfect turnover-less game with three goals and two assists, including an arcing bolt of a forehand to Dhara Buebel in the early going. 

There’s always a question of what makes a Player of the Year, and this year the D-I women’s division offered up a plethora of candidates. For Barnett to rise above, then, there had to be something that made her distinctly honorary, though what that was would depend on who you asked. 

Was it her incredible poise and her ability to lead the UNC offense to another outstanding season of success? Perhaps. Or maybe the manner in which she seemed nigh unstoppable at times, or the regularity with which she was able to conjure up spectacular, even showy1, plays? It’s definitely possible. But in this voter’s eyes, what made Barnett so special this season was the heart that she showed in her final season with UNC, as the vibrant heart of the best team in the division, and as the well-deserved 2023 D-I Women’s Player of the Year.

  1. yes, I said it 

  1. Jenna Weiner
    Jenna Weiner

    Jenna Weiner is a Senior Staff Writer, a co-host of Ultiworld's Double Overtime podcast, and considers herself a purveyor of all levels of ultimate. She's played mostly on the west coast but you're likely to find her at the nearest ultimate game available.

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