Celebrating the best off-field leaders of the season.
June 23, 2023 by Jenna Weiner and Keith Raynor in Awards with 0 comments
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.
Our final D-I award podium is for the Coaches of the Year. As so many teams have added more and more sideline-savvy consultants to their roster with less asked of a single head coach, this has essentially morphed into “Coaching Staff of the Year.” Coaches can impact the game in so many ways — tactics, motivation, communication, personnel management, program development, skill-building, etc. — and it can be hard to divine what exactly each has contributed to their team. But good coaching is something that we feel that ‘we know it when we see it.’
D-I Women’s 2023 Coaches Of The Year
Jessica Jones, Anne Worth, Mary Rippe, and Elisabeth Parker (North Carolina)
An eternal question in team sports: when you have a roster jam-packed with talent, how much does great coaching actually matter?1 Well, when you build a giant of a program over the span of what feels like only a few short years, the answer is that great coaching matters greatly.
It’s easy to forget, now that UNC has put the wraps on a dominant three-peat, that a mere five years ago this season’s juggernaut was getting wiped in quarters by Stanford. The Pleiades’ growth in the ensuing half-decade is a testament to the work their coaching staff has put in to get a level of buy-in that is perhaps unmatched in the division. This season, that resulted in UNC’s closest game coming in quarters against Stanford2 before the Pleiades cruised to their third straight title.
When we talk about buy-in, it’s often in the context of players finding their place on the field and the belief that the team can be successful if it works collectively. That’s still true, of course, with UNC this year, as Jessi Jones, Anne Worth, Mary Rippe, and Elisabeth Parker maintained the Pleiades’ incredible systemic on-field approach to great success. But with UNC, it goes deeper than that, to the off the field effort that the Pleiades coaches have made central to their work with the team, and that, remarkably, the players even find enjoyable.
“One of the most special parts of Pleiades culture is that pursuit of excellence and we really focus on the process, and the process is fun,” said POTY Alex Barnett. “It’s fun to work this hard, especially when it’s for something so meaningful.”
It’s not a simple thing to make the process fun, even with the exceptional players the UNC coaching staff have been able to work with, and for that, and the phenomenal season they were able to orchestrate, the Pleiades coaches deserve our plaudits.
Robin Davis, Shayla Harris, Jamie Nuwer, and Jennie Lummis (Stanford)
Is anybody surprised by this, at this point? This is the sixth time since 2014 that the Stanford coaching staff has earned our plaudits. Some names have changed, but the excellence has been consistent. There just is no one better. There’s no staff that makes more out of what they have, that creates a team that consistently feels like more than the sum of its parts. These skippers do so through culture-building, through instruction, and through offensive and defensive systems that create intelligent players and emphasize specific roles and skills. Everyone knows to expect a host of different defensive looks from Superfly, but it isn’t even the same set season to season. As the cherry on top, they develop high-quality players every season, even from those with limited ultimate experience.
Danie Proby, Robbie Brennan, and Daisy Lin (British Columbia)
One of the biggest changes for UBC was on the sideline and in the huddles, where a new coaching staff began to implement a new environment for the Thunderbirds. This year’s group gave the players a lot more latitude to explore new concepts, skills, and roles. The end result was a more versatile and flowing team better suited to match up with the myriad opponents that populate the elite ranks. Danie Proby, Robbie Brennan, and Daisy Lin have a pretty talented team to work with, but the program hasn’t always maximized that group. Part of the challenge is managing a team with expectations, with players who feel prepared to step onto the field and have their own established identities. This season’s UBC culture had the players looking both more locked in and joyful, a sign of a fit with minimal friction.
In astounding unscripted symmetry ↩