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

Jack Bassett (Navy)

Navy Poseidon’s Jack Bassett catches a goal at the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Rudy Desort – UltiPhotos.com

With the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, there’s debate every year around what kind of improvement is most valuable. Is it an end-of-bench player turning into a serviceable role player? A role player turning into a star? How about a star turning into a superstar, taking that leap into the stratosphere reserved only for the game’s very best? This year, Jack Bassett created his own category: the role player turned superstar, making a clear case for himself as our Breakout Player of the Year.

In 2022, Bassett was exactly what you’d expect from an athlete playing his first full year of competitive ultimate. He was tall, quick, and springy, but his concept of timing and spacing restricted him from being very productive. Fast forward a year, and Bassett became one of the best all-around cutters in the division. The same tools that made him serviceable in his first year were still there, but complemented by above-average throwing ability and a greater understanding of the sport’s nuances that allowed him to manipulate his defender at will.

In 2022’s heartbreaking prequarters loss to Grace, Bassett’s rawness was in the spotlight, as he struggled in the wind against Grace’s zone en route to 6 turnovers. In 2023, Bassett had 7 turnovers across all six games at Nationals. In addition to this spike in consistency, Bassett led Nationals with 27 goals. The growth in Bassett’s game this year was meteoric; if he can continue this development and keep Poseidon in the national spotlight next year, then this writeup could be for POTY next season.

First Runner-Up

William Norry (Grinnell)

Grinnell Grinnellephants’ William Norry on the pull at the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

While there was plenty of attention given to Grinnell at the beginning of this year, much of it was (deservedly) focused on Jacob Cowan. The Grinnellephants were surprise qualifiers to Nationals in 2022, and if they were to return to the big stage, the entire team would have to elevate their game. No player did so more than Will Norry, earning him our first runner-up spot for BPOTY.

To be clear, Norry was good in 2022 as a freshman; in fact, his solid performance last year is what kept him from winning this award this year, as he was already on the periphery of our radar. But Norry jumped to a whole new level this year, raising his game to be a true second star for Grinnell. Defenses were unable to overload on Cowan because Norry (and, to be fair, several other Grinnellephants) were more than happy to punish them. There were stretches where Cowan was able to step back and let Norry take over, and he was more than capable of doing so.

You don’t spend an entire season ranked as a top 10 team and make Nationals because of one player. Norry was immense for Grinnell this year. Having just completed his sophomore year, the sky’s the limit for Norry; don’t expect the Grinnellephants to go away for quite some time.

Second Runner-Up

Ethan Wagner (Kenyon)

Kenyon SERF’s Ethan Wagner makes a catch at the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Rudy Desort – UltiPhotos.com

One of the games of the tournament, which we’ve mentioned frequently in these write-ups, was the quarterfinals game between the St. Olaf Berzerkers and Kenyon Serf. A standout player from this game, and the whole weekend, was Ethan Wagner. On the weekend, Wagner carded 24 goals, six assists, and seven blocks, all while throwing only six turnovers. In the game against St. Olaf, Wagner had two goals and three blocks which were critical in carrying SERF to the 10-7 lead they took over the Berzerkers. And while we’re talking stats, Wagner was second in goals scored for the entire tournament. SERF were, admittedly, a team that flew under the radar on the first day of some D-III Nationals coverage. But next season, because of players like Wagner, we might pay a little more attention to the Ohio Valley, and expect SERF to make similar trouble for teams if they make it back to Nationals.

  1. Michael Ball
    Michael Ball

    Michael Ball is the Men's D-III College Editor for Ultiworld. You can reach him by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter @mike_ball423

  2. Chris Cassella
    Chris Cassella

    Chris Cassella is from Orange, Connecticut, and started playing pick-up at the age of 11. He is a graduate of the University of Richmond, where he played four years with the Richmond Spidermonkeys. While at Richmond, Chris won a national championship (2017), two High Tide titles (2019, 2020), and the “worst decisions award” four years in a row. He is a current graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he will play his fifth year with TUFF. You can follow him on Twitter (@nerdyboypolis) to see his daily takes about zone defense, political science, and I-35 traffic jams.

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