The Top 25 Club Women’s Players in 2023

The best players in the game right now.

Denver Molly Brown's Valeria Cardenas get a piece of the disc on defense in their semifinal against Toronto 6ixers at the 2022 National Championships.
Denver Molly Brown’s Valeria Cardenas get a piece of the disc on defense in their semifinal against Toronto 6ixers at the 2022 National Championships. Photo: Sam Hotaling —

There’s no shortage of talent in the USA Ultimate Club women’s 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 women’s 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

RkPlayerPts.Staff RankingsParticipant RankingsJenna WeinerEdward StephensTheresa DiffendalKelsey HaydenZack DavisKeith RaynorCharlie EisenhoodSC Participant 1SW Participant 1SE Participant 1
1Claire Trop1527111211211121
2Valeria Cardenas1495233122122314
3Manuela Cardenas1410325543463242
4Sarah Meckstroth127764291269841153
5Kaela Helton12504126635339UR314
6Dena Elimelech124059107595462189
7Britt Dos Santos1236861211748575156
8Kami Groom11361077410111019104198
9Opi Payne1126911486126111496UR
10Claire Chastain1085125918138201086125

[Editor: There are some sorting issues with the table that cannot be altered at the time. Our apologies for the inconvenience.]

Claire Trop (Scandal) reclaimed the top spot, but faced a steady challenge from Valeria Cardenas (Molly Brown) (the only other player to get a first place vote) and Manuela Cardenas (Molly Brown). How do you order these players? How close are they in your mind? What differentiates them?

Keith Raynor (Senior Editor): I had Trop clear #1, I never had a single doubt about it. I’d put Valeria #2 in her own tier, and then things get crowded quickly. There’s five to eight players that make sense as a #3.

Trop is just in full ascension. Dominant athletically, seemingly unshakeable, awesome receiving fundamentals, super efficient but able to operate in a voluminous roll, and as good of a defender as there is in the division. It’s all there.

We know about Valeria’s towering talent as a thrower, but she’s a sharp cutter who manipulates backfield space deftly and can be a turnover generator on the defensive side. That side of her game has been on the rise, in my opinion.

I have Manuela behind the other two because she’s a bit more apt to have low quality turnovers, but like I said, I have her at #6 and think she’s a justifiable #3. But I don’t see how you could put her over Trop right now.

Zack Davis (Staff Writer): I’ve been thinking about this specifically for the last couple days, and I was trying to best articulate why I have Valeria over Claire. Keith’s argument is a great one, and I can totally follow the logic, however, Valeria has a close edge over Claire.

It just comes down to how I think about the game. Claire is an incredible player, and in many facets a better one than Valeria. Certainly Claire’s ability to absolutely take over the game and 1-vs-13 is truly unbelievable. I saw her do as much at Pro Champs and it was like watching those undercover pro videos. She’s elite on defense, nearly unguardable as a cutter, and more than serviceable in the handler spot.

That said, Valeria’s ability to control the field from the handler spot is invaluable. At times, she’s in control of the entire pace of the game. When she’s in form, and it’s not often that she isn’t, she can deliver the disc anywhere at any time. It certainly helps that she has elite cutters to throw to, but she’s scored points of throws that seemed inconceivable as an option. And she made it look like a matter of course. Her throws change the nature of the game. She forces defenses to guard the entire team differently, and approach defense in a different way, which opens up more advantages for her teammates, whereas Trop doesn’t have the quite the same rippling out effect. Sure, she’s going to create an advantage for you, especially in person to person matchups, but is often limited more by zones and bracketing. This leads to her making more highlight plays obviously as she roofs 2-3 defenders or burns someone who had steps on her, but I don’t think it has the same overall impact on the game as Valeria’s control of the disc.

All that to say obviously it’s super close in my eyes.

Edward Stephens (Senior Staff Writer): I also gave Valeria the narrow edge over Trop for essentially theoretical reasons: do I want the best thrower (who can cut and play defense well) or the best cutter (who can throw and play defense well)? And, well, if there is a clear best thrower out there — and there is — then that’s where I push my chips.

Trop’s explosion — not to mention the infectious brimming joyous attitude she brings to the field that I’m convinced has a glow-up effect on everyone around her — made that choice harder for me than in normally would have been. At the end of the day, though, if you give me Valeria’s throwing arsenal, I think I have the easiest path to a championship.

Manu — I had her all the way down at #5. Nothing but love for her game. I experimented with her in the #3 spot, and she would not have looked out of place there. But any serious consideration for the top spot this year, for me, was only between Trop and Valeria.

Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief): Yeah, it was always going to be 1-2 with Trop and Valeria. I have long been a huge fan of Vale’s game but I had to go with Trop because she’s simply been the better player in 2023. Could I imagine a world in which I’d rather build around an ultra-elite thrower? Sure, but I think I would choose to take best available, and getting Trop, whose level of consistency is just crazy, is a no-brained for me in this particular season.

Raynor: The gap between Trop and Valeria’s throwing is smaller than the aggregate gap between Trop and Valeria’s cutting and defense. I think “play defense well,” as Edward put it, sells Trop well short — to me, she has a case as the best defender in the division.

Kelsey Hayden (Staff Writer): Trop and Valeria were the clear #1 and #2 above everyone else for me but I never considered not having Trop at #1. She’s more versatile and relentless, even though Valeria is a beast too. I always refer to players “get shit done” ability as kind of a combination of their skills with their ability to dig deep and succeed no matter what (whether it’s textbook and pretty or wild and messy) and imo Trop gets shit done better than anyone.

Jenna Weiner (Senior Staff Writer): As with everyone else, I had Trop at a clear #1, but I actually ended up with Sarah Meckstroth (Phoenix) at my #2 with Valeria at #3 and Manu at #5. That’s less a slight towards the Cardenas sisters and more of a reflection of seeing Mecks’ impact on Phoenix’s play at Pro Champs in particular. Is that perhaps more reactive than this exercise should be? Probably. But don’t discount Mecks’ game-breaking ability that can rival those other top contenders at her peak.

It really feels like a mostly clear top 10 or so came together; most of us were reorganizing the same names. However, almost every ballot had a unique name or two in that group. Make the case for who you voted top 10 who didn’t get the nod.

  1. 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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    Ultiworld is the premier news media site dedicated to the sport of ultimate. This article includes the work of a number of our staff or contributors that have been identified within the piece.

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