2023 D-I Men’s Breakout Player of the Year

Highlighting players who took a leap toward stardom in the division this spring.

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.

The Breakout Player of the Year recognizes rising juniors and seniors who made themselves known in a new light this season. While our nebulous definition of “breakout” reflects an evolving set of criteria, rather than celebrating the improvement of those from whom big things were already expected, we aim to use this award to celebrate the emergence of those who previously have not been on the national radar. Whether it be through growth in ability, role, or both, the Breakout Player of the Year and runners-up honor those who rose to the occasion with improved and high-impact performance on a new level this season — putting them squarely in the spotlight moving forward.

D-I Men’s 2023 Breakout Player Of The Year

Jonah Stang-Osborne (Massachusetts)

UMass’ Jonah Stang-Osborne winds up a big forehand at the 2023 College Championships. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Starting most points with a daring flick pull and often ending them with a successful huck to finish off a break opportunity, Jonah Stang-Osbrone was hard to miss on the field in 2023…and he didn’t miss much either. From his first launch at Florida Warm Up all the way to the national final, Stang-Osborne played with a flash and a purpose that propelled UMass Zoodisc to its best season in recent memory.

Before the season, few people not connected to the New England youth ultimate scene had heard of Stang-Osborne. Early in the season, it was clear that the D-line kid with Steph Curry range would be someone to keep an eye on. As Zoodisc earned more and more attention, Stang-Osborne’s play fell more and more into the spotlight.

Lest you think his game is all flash and no substance, Stang-Osborne finished second on the team with five blocks at the College Championships. With Zoodisc chasing UNC in the final, they turned to a person defense rather than the junk looks that had been successful all season long. Even when facing All-Americans and Ultiworld Top 25 players, Stang-Osborne not only stayed tight to his mark, but generated legitimate, potentially game-changing block opportunities. By that final game of the season, he had nothing left to prove. Rising out of relative obscurity with UMass missing out on a trip to the College Championships in 2022, Stang-Osborne is now a cornerstone player on a team with a great chance to win a title in the next few seasons.

First Runner-Up

Caelan McSweeney (Massachusetts)

UMass’ Caelan McSweeney releases a backhand at the 2023 D-I College Championship. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

Virtually every UMass O-line point – and, just in case you forgot, they were one of the most efficient units in the country – started with the disc in sophomore Caelan McSweeney’s hands. Between his more-mature-than-his-years ability to put the disc on a shelf for his receivers anywhere in the lane, impeccable reads of the defense, and slippery reset cuts, he was the perfect facilitator. For a master class in elite-level handling, look no further than McSweeney’s balletic performance against UNC in the final of Smoky Mountain Invite. With McSweeney at the dead center of a brilliant young core, the Zoodisc offense basically remains championship ready for the next two or three years.

Second Runner-Up

Zack Watson-Stevens (Vermont)

Vermont’s Zack Watson-Stevens throws a forehand at the 2023 College Championships. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Zack Watson-Stevens burst into the national picture this season like he was laying out to blow up an under cut on universe point. Which he did (against Brown at Easterns). Or finding a hyperspeed gear to run through a block on the sideline on universe point. Which he did (against Colorado at Smoky Mountain Invite). Or stopping on a dime and bidding for a catchblock to save a goal at the cone. Which he did (against Pittsburgh in quarters at Nationals). You get the idea. The sophomore was clutch, explosive, and vital for a Vermont Chill side that reached new heights in 2023.

  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

  2. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

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