November 7, 2023 by Jenna Weiner, Kelsey Hayden and Graham Gerhart in Awards with 0 comments
Ultiworld is pleased to announce our annual Club Awards, starting with the Club Player of the Year in each division. While we consider both regular season and postseason performance, because of the nature of the Club division, we weight success in the Series and at Nationals above all else. The Club Awards are voted on by Ultiworld reporters, contributors, and editors.
Our All-Club teams recognize the top performers across the division. Our First Team and Second Team display the top seven and next seven players who had the best seasons. As our voting process is ordered, the top vote-getters for All-Club honors function as the ordered list in our Player of the Year voting — our highest individual award.
Player of the Year Award
All-Club First Team
All-Club Second Team
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Offensive Player of the Year Award
Breakout Player of the Year Award
Coach(es) of the Year Award
Club Awards Voting Breakdown
Snubs and Superlatives
2023 Women’s All-Club First Team
Claire Trop (Washington DC Scandal) Player of the Year
Last year Claire Trop finished as the only player at Club Nationals to have a triple double in her statline at Nationals. Somehow, she was even better this year. After running roughshod through the division in the regular season, Trop played through injury and fatigue to get Scandal all the way to the final — a feat the DC team hadn’t accomplished in a decade. If there’s any criticism to level against Trop… well, there just isn’t. She has everything you could want in an elite player, and has proven that on every stage possible. Thanks to this Herculean effort Trop has given to the sport over the last year, she has had almost everyone waxing poetics about her in some form or another, so to cut through the noise and keep it simple this time: Trop is the best player in the world right now. And if you don’t know, now you know.
For more on Claire Trop, check out the Player of the Year writeup.
Valeria Cardenas (Denver Molly Brown) Player of the Year First Runner-up
Even though the 2022 POTY fell a single spot in our All-Club Rankings, there’s an argument to be made that Valeria Cardenas’ level hasn’t dropped — but rather that it’s higher than it’s ever been. Vale’s excellence over the years has been predicated on being one of the best throwers in the division, if not the the entire sport, and that remained true this year. Witness her visionary cross-field passes or her ability to thread throws through miniature windows; it was all there and more. A heightened defensive presence added just one more outstanding element to Vale’s game, and she co-led Molly Brown in recorded blocks at Nationals. Altogether, it’s a profile of one of the best players in the game, and so Vale once again takes her rightful place in the heights of the all-club list.
Kami Groom (Washington DC Scandal) Player of the Year Second Runner-up
Nothing is certain except death and taxes… and that Kami Groom will dominate the club women’s division. It’s hard to find new ways to describe just how effective and relentless Kami Groom is. This year it was Washington DC Scandal who got to enjoy her goal-score inevitability, constant defensive pressure, and unmatched speed, and the result was an appearance in the final against her old Boston crew, Brute Squad. While Scandal came up short in the end, Groom was still magnificent. Her stat line from nationals – 16 goals, seven assists, 10 blocks – somehow still underplays just how effective she was. When Groom was on the field this season, opposing teams did everything they could to stifle her and yet still it was Zoom Zoom Kami Groom show, once again.
Angela Zhu (Boston Brute Squad)
Whatever the defining difference may be between an All-Club player and an ‘all star’, Angela Zhu definitely falls in the latter camp. Even when Zhu doesn’t have the flashiest season of her career, you can always look back and see how game-defining she was at pretty much any point in her tenure on Brute Squad. This year held true to form, except that Zhu got to be a little more flashy early on as some of Boston’s best players only arrived for the postseason. For this reason, the story of Brute Squad in 2023 can’t be written without highlighting what Zhu did for her team. Boston’s success might not have been entirely defined by Zhu, but she definitely punctuated it. Zhu led her team in blocks in the regular season and at Nationals thanks to her ability to read an offense and disrupt it. Being the best defender on a team that won Nationals on the back of their defense has to mean something, which is why Zhu making this list should surprise no one.
Levke Walczak (Boston Brute Squad)
Many of us learned her name after a stand out performance at World Games 2022 for Team Germany, but none of us will forget it1 because it turns out that display was just every day in Levke Walczak’s world. For the second year in a row Walczak suited up with Brute Squad and while she didn’t practice with them through the regular season, given the ocean between her home and their practice field, you’d never be able to tell with the impact she had. Walczak seems to be able to adapt her game to whatever is needed in the moment. You want to do a dominator and take 40 passes to get the disc up the field? No problem. You want to huck it to her deep and have her outrun everyone on the field? Easy. You want to force her under so she can’t burn you deep? She’ll throw a dime. Over the past year and half we have seen Walczak do just about everything, so our only question left is, is there anything she can’t do? (Answer: no).
Kaela Helton (San Diego Flipside)
A barrel of whiskey needs to sit in a dark, controlled environment to age well. Kaela Helton appears to require the exact opposite. Put her on a field with intense heat and pressure and an entire ultimate team trying to shut her down and just watch as she continues to find new ways to win. Flipside ended Nationals with a 5-1 record, losing only to the eventual champions, and a large part of that was due to Helton’s two-way ability. Helton can be the initiating cutter, downfield finisher, or backfield handler for her team when needed, and will also mark the opponent’s best cutter for good measure. The versatility and overall effectiveness alone would net her a spot on this list, but Helton did it all as one of the highest usage players at Nationals. The productivity and efficiency seen from Helton this season is a high point from a player who seems to have a new career best every single year.
Manuela Cardenas (Denver Molly Brown)
Most of the time, players improve their games either slowly or all at once. Either making the fabled leap from good to great or great to all-time in the span of mere months, or honing their craft year after year until it’s razor-sharp. And then there’s Manuela Cardenas in 2023, doing both at the same time like it’s nothing. A world-class superstar for the better part of the last six years, Manu has been hard to miss as a defensive powerhouse and the only two-time Block of the Year winner. And yet, while her offensive talent was never anything to sniff at, there was often a sense that there was more to come, and come it did. At Nationals, Manu led Molly Brown in both goals and assists as the only player to reach double digits with ten apiece, and, alongside her sister, she dictated the Denver offense with aplomb. So if you thought she was good before, well watch out world, because Manu is on a whole ‘nother level now.
Editor: Although our understanding of its pronunciation continues to evolve. ↩