Who's looking like the best of the best at the midpoint of the 2023 club season
August 18, 2023 by Edward Stephens in Awards with 0 comments
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With a good chunk of the season in the past, now is a good time check in on how the potential awards are shaping up. Some – women’s Player of the Year, see below – have clear frontrunners, while others – say, mixed Breakout Player of the Year – are a complete muddle. Either way, the picture of the 2023 Who’s Who in Club Ultimate is coming into focus. With the caveat that awards are won at Nationals in October (and not Pro-Elite in July), here’s where the current conversations stand:
Player of the Year
Change one letter of “PoNY” to make “PotY” – and that just about sums up what we’ve seen at the top of men’s division so far. The real question is: which player? Jimmy Mickle has had some stupendous moments, Sam Little has been essential, Jeff Babbitt and Ben Jagt have taken turns as unstoppable cutters, and Jack Williams, even on the D-line, can turn on the juice at any moment. But let’s be real, the best player on the team so far has been Chris Kocher.
It isn’t like he’s coming out of nowhere. Kocher’s complete game has earned him five straight selections on our All-Club 1st team. Included in that run are podium spots as both Offensive (2018) AND Defensive Player of the Year (2017). Not to mention overall PotY honors in 2021 and runner-up status in 2019. He has been one of the game’s best for years, and he isn’t showing any sign of slowing yet.
Players from other clubs who also have an argument at the moment include: both Christian Boxley and Jonny Malks of Truck Stop, Johnny Bravo’s Quinn Finer, and maybe, based on some July heroics, Ring of Fire’s Jacob Fairfax.
Lots of the names mentioned above will get consideration here. But let’s add some of the US Open’s assist kings into the mix. Machine’s offensive center of gravity Joe White is a worthy candidate. So is “Edgelord”1 Ryan Osgar of PoNY. Neither of them could hold a candle to DiG slinger Mac Hecht, the most prolific thrower at the US Open in any division with 26 assists. And if we’re getting away from pure assist numbers, it’s worth taking a long look at Malik Auger Semmar of Machine and Ty Barbieri of GOAT. They’ve been spectacular.
As with the PotY conversation, DPotY starts with PoNY, whose defense has brought them back from multi-break deficits a few times now. With apologies to Ben Katz, Jibran Mieser, and Conrad Schloer, the top name on the list has been Antoine Davis, who’s found a new gear on that side of the ball this season. If he can keep it up, he could run away with this award.
Outside of PoNY, both Johnny Bansfield and Jace Bruner of Machine have shown high-level takeaway skills. So have Rhino Slam’s Ben Liu-May and David Sealand and – at least when he played in July – Daniel Lee. Thomas Edmonds had a good debut with Truck Stop at the US Open, and Troy Holland could enter the picture when he makes his 2023 premier. Throw in a pair of names from Johnny Bravo… no, let’s save those names for the Breakout discussion.
We at Ultiworld have moaned about the players Johnny Bravo lost from their 2022 championship team – but maybe we should have been focused on who they gained? Saeed Semrin and Noah Coolman have been tearing it up for the D-line, and Seth Faris was tremendous for the offense. All of them are in the running right now for awards season.
Elsewhere in the division, DiG had three players (Simon Carapella, Turner Allen, Peter Boerth) scoring an awful lot of goals at the US Open. And a trio of major current college talents appear have transitioned easily to club stardom: Rutledge Smith (Ring of Fire, UNC), Mica Glass (Rhino Slam, Oregon), and Anton Orme (Revolver, Cal Poly-SLO)
Mixed is the least clear of all three divisions so far, both at the top and trickling down into the specific awards. That is, of course, a reflection of how wacky the results have been. Without a clear-cut sense of the best teams, it’s hard to have a clear-cut sense of the most impactful players.
That said, all of AMP, shame., and BFG are clearly among the division’s top contenders, and they have definite standouts. Henry Ing has found superb form for AMP as a do-it-all O-liner. Meanwhile BFG’s Cheryl Hsu and shame.’s Jade McLaughlin have been virtually impossible to slow down. If any of those three teams make the national final, you can expect those names to garner some PotY votes.
Will anyone else join the conversation? Divisional mainstays Drag’N Thrust and Mixtape haven’t found the right results yet, but it’s hard to think of Khalif El-Salaam and Caleb Denecour as being out of the picture. And 2022 PotY Robyn Fennig, even playing on NOISE’s D-line, could throw her way into consideration at any time.
With Fennig on the D-line (at least so far) the door is open for other dominant offensive players. Genny De Jesus is playing even better in 2023 than she did in 2022, and she could well bag this award for XIST. Drag’n Thrust’s Danielle Byers continues to dominate in the lanes and end zone. Tommy Li (BFG) and both Paul Owens and Lindsay McKenna (AMP) played extremely well. A little deeper down the team pecking order, both Carolyn Drewry and Mac Taylor were sensational for Polar Bears.
And which players are set to distinguish themselves at Elite-Select Challenge this weekend? We might see big numbers from Caroline Taylor (Dirty Bird), Axel Agami (Crocs), Jesse Shofner (‘shine), Clara Stewart (Sprocket), Eli Jaime (Space Force) – or a huge number of other stars. It’s all completely in the air.
If there’s one sure thing in the mixed division, though, it’s that BFG’s Conor Belfield is an unbelievable defender. It’s evident every time he plays. Of course, his teammates Alissa Soo and Mohammud Tilmo, who each notched multiple blocks at the US Open, could step in ahead of him for the award.
Outside of the Seattle stars: Pieran Robert – who could also get breakout consideration – made a number of good blocks for NOISE at the US Open. Matty Russell’s debut for shame. was as good as could be expected. And both Maddy Simko and Nathan Champoux are enormously capable defenders who could get some major shine for Hybrid.
Mixed sometimes skews a bit older, making it tough to identify breakout candidates. A player who catches your eye for the first time as a major contributor might already be 30 years old!2 For better or worse, we draw the line at age 25.
So who does have breakout potential? Everyone seems to have noticed shame.’s Rory Veldman – she’s on the list. Both Oliver Chartock and Jolie Krebs played really well for XIST, so you can include them, too, as well as the aforementioned Robert (NOISE). And Elite-Select competitors like Matthew McKnight (Toro), Nicki Chan (Sprocket), or Margot Nissen (Rally) could find their way into the discussion with a hot performance this weekend.
The lead story here is Claire Trop. Trop did the unthinkable, leading the women’s division at the US Open in both goals and assists. If she keeps playing at this clip, she will win the award walking away.
That being said,3 there’s plenty of time for other players to step up to the same level, or even for Trop to float back down to Earth. Both Cárdenas sisters for Molly Brown have the potential to take home the hardware, especially if the team can back up its first championship with a second. Kaela Helton of Flipside continues to improve every year and sits at the elite level of the division. Meanwhile, Levke Walczak is in the wings waiting to re-join Brute Squad.
Is there an important team we haven’t mentioned? Oh, right – Fury. Take your pick! Carolyn Finney, Opi Payne, Anna Thompson, and Dena Elimelech all could lay claim to this award by the time the season is finished. Even with the loss to Scandal, they’re not far off the mark.
Alongside a few of the names above, of course, there are a number of other major offensive performances from the season’s early going. Lisa Pitcaithley has been, frankly, monstrous on the Molly Brown offense. It’s hard to say whether her flick hucks or her on-disc playmaking have been more impressive. Meanwhile, all of Kaitlyn Weaver, Alex Diaz, and Maggie O’Connor have taken turns driving the bus for the Flipside offense, and they are doing it with the kind of pizzazz that will get a lot of attention if they keep it up in San Diego in October.
On the East Coast, could BENT’s Yina Cartagena or Phoenix’s Alex Barnett achieve the same high-level results as the players mentioned above? Safe money says yes, but we’ll see how they look at (respectively) Elite-Select and Pro Champs before we make it official. No such need to wait on a few of the bigger Brute Squad names – any of Becky Malinowski, Yuge Xiao, Samiya Ismail, Mangie Forero, and Tulsa Douglas could rise to the top of the list.
It feels necessary to lead with what should go without saying: Kami Groom (Scandal) is still all that as a defender. She will definitely make a strong case for a podium spot or an outright win here. However, she isn’t so far ahead of the field that any number of players couldn’t overtake her – starting with teammate Amanda Murphy, one of the most dogged reset defenders in the game.
If you’re into sheer spectacle, you could do a lot worse than 6ixers’ Alyssa Mason. Dawn Culton of Phoenix is also constantly at risk of setting a highlight reel on fire with a big takeaway. Flipside’s Kristen Pojunis has continued her reign of terror as a one of the premier defensive forces in the game. Laurel Jay has been grinding and playmaking for years as one of Traffic’s best players. Finally – keep an eye out for Lo Guerin, Sharon Lin, and Julianna Werffeli when you watch Fury games. The three of them are defensive clinic material.
It’s honestly a little weird that some of the top PoTY candidates (plus Britt Dos Santos) are still breakout eligible, age-wise. Even beyond the tippy-top, though, the youth movement is in full swing in the women’s division. Brute Squad’s Caroline Tornquist perhaps leads the charge, but she isn’t the only player making huge steps forward. Scandal are getting a lot of mileage out of both Marge Walker and Blaise Sevier. Even Fury – not the world’s youngest team by any stretch – have a solid candidate in Japanese transfer Kanari Imanishi.
Beyond the elite tier of the division there are a number of good choices who, with the right spotlight game at Nationals, could step onto the podium. Cassie Brown looked great for international side Venado Azul and could do big things for Nemesis. 6ixers – who always seem to have a breakout player or two ready for the big time – have three early prospects in Joely Valenciana, Rachel Cooc, and Tiffany Zhang. And finally, can a few of the college division’s biggest contributors match their impact in club? We’ll be watching closely to see what Quincy Booth (Ozone), Ezra Weybright (Schwa), and Theresa Yu (Phoenix) can accomplish over the coming months.
This is what his teammates have been calling him this year as a nod to the shape of his throws, not, as far as I know, because he is an online provocateur. ↩
Shout out to AMP’s Eric Witmer, who is awesome but misses our age eligibility standards. ↩
Which it was ↩