The best players in the game right now.
October 13, 2023 by Ultiworld in Opinion with 0 comments
There’s no shortage of talent in the USA Ultimate Club mixed division. We look a lot at team success, and often see familiar names and faces in those discussions. But who are the best individual players? Who brings the most value to winning a championship? Figuring out which stars shine the brightest is more art than science, but perhaps there’s democratic power in numbers.
So who are the best players in the division right now? To try to clear away as much of the white noise created by circumstance as possible and get to the heart of each individual’s value and contribution, we asked members of our coverage team, as well as an anonymous group of elite players, to weigh in on the following prompt:
If you were starting a club team today with the singular goal of winning a theoretical Club Championship this October, how would you rank the players within the division? You aren’t building a team of all of your selections, so don’t worry about how the players complement each other. Consider each pick the first pick of a team, drafting in order, only you can’t pick the players you’ve already ranked above. All players who were on a 2023 USA Ultimate Club mixed division roster of a team that reached regionals are eligible to be drafted. With regards to injuries an absences, we will include all rostered players unless there is confirmation a player will not be competing, or would not be able to compete, at Nationals.
In order to improve how representative our rankings are of the opinions of our voters, we have iterated until arriving at this process. We each listed out our top 35 players to iron out some of the gradations on the fringes and then combined our lists to create a composite ranking. In addition, we included the ballots of a few anonymous elite players and coaches from different teams and regions. We used a weighted scoring system for votes, with Participants’ Ballots counting as 60% of the value of Staff Ballots.1
We’ll start with our top 10, and discussion about that group. Then we’ll reveal the entire top 25, followed by the complete ballots, and additional conversations about the rankings.
The Top 10
|Rk||Player||Pts.||Staff Rankings||Participant Rankings||Jenna Weiner||Alex Rubin||Theresa Diffendal||Keith Raynor||Scott Dunham||Charlie Eisenhood||GL Particpant 1||NC Participant 1||NW Participant 1||SW Participant 1||NC Participant 2||NW Participant 2||SW Participant 1|
|6||Genny De Jesus||1388||5||7||3||10||4||5||9||10||19||6||14||12||3||21||16|
[Editor: There are some sorting issues with the table that cannot be altered at the time. Our apologies for the inconvenience.]
Khalif El-Salaam (Mixtape) repeated as the #1 ranked player, though not unanimously: Scott went with Henry Ing, as did two participants, while two other participants chose Bryan Vohnoutka and yet another chose Lindsay McKenna.
For those of us with Khalif #1, did you consider anyone else? For our lone staff dissenter, Scott, how close was he?
Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): Not really. I haven’t seen another player reach the level that Khalif has played at in the last two seasons. His two-way ability and consistent play separates him from other contenders.
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): At this point in the season, Leaf is the clear #1. But partially that might be because we haven’t had the big opportunity for someone to supplant him. Mixtape is the reigning champion, the only competition for best player on that team retired, and Nationals hasn’t happened yet.
Now Mixtape doesn’t look like a title favorite, and that could really change this conversation a few weeks from now. Henry Ing has the talent but not the resume. Robyn Fennig could lead NOISE deep into the bracket and make that move — she was the most common #2. Candidates like Shame’s Jade McLaughlin, BFG’s Cheryl Hsu, or either Bryan Vohnoutka or old standby Caleb Denecour from Drag’N could all see jumps with a strong close. Leaf’s gap feels more assailable than post-World Games last season.
Scott Dunham (Staff Writer): I considered all of my top five (Ing, McLaughlin, Fennig, Genny De Jesus, and El-Salaam) for the #1 spot. I settled on Henry Ing (AMP) for the impact he has in transforming his team, from looking shaky at PEC East to top of the pack in much stronger fields at US Open and Pro Champs.
Steve Sullivan (Executive Editor): I’ll be honest, I’m a little surprised Robyn Fennig (NOISE) didn’t get a single first place vote. As much as Khalif deserves all the respect given here — and my Leaf bonafides are secure, having selected him in the second round of our Dynasty draft — I still might have picked Fennig for the top spot, had I submitted a list.
As has often been said in these exercises in the past, dominant women handlers are about as high-value a role as exists in the game, and no one in the division has near the same range, arsenal, and swagger as NOISE’s talisman.
Even beyond that, we’ve seen plenty of evidence of how much value she adds as a team leader — when she joined NOISE, in consecutive seasons they jumped from a non-Nationals qualifier to a semifinalist to a finalist. Now she’s living in Sacramento and practicing all summer with Tower, who just surprised everyone in knocking 2022 quarterfinalists Polar Bears out at Regionals and who speak highly of the impact Robyn has had on their practices and team culture. That collectively speaks volumes about her impact, both on and off the field.
Truthfully, the #3 spot — without a single first place vote — feels pretty low.
Jenna Weiner (Senior Staff Writer): Steve, Robyn was definitely close to getting my #1 overall vote, but as Charlie said, Leaf’s two-way impact put him over the top for me. You already covered the Robyn argument, so I’ll just note that the prominence of dominant women handlers rang true for me with my #3 pick too, with Cheryl Hsu (BFG) just getting past Henry Ing on that value proposition.
We had some players make big leaps. Ing jumped from #15 in 2022 to #2; McKenna from #23 to #5. Genny De Jesus went from unmentioned to #6. Jade McLaughlin jumped from #20 to #7. Conor Belfield from #30 to #10.
Who made a big jump in your rankings? Whose upward trend stood out to you?
Our experience has shown that participants’ ballots trend towards regional concentrations and emphasizing the strength of their teammates, as well as other quirks such as occasionally not ranking themselves, which is why their ballots are weighted in this manner. ↩
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