Ultiworld Club Awards 2023: Defensive Player of the Year (Men’s Div.)

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 awards continue with the Defensive Player of the Year, recognizing the individual, and two runners-up, who we felt were the top defensive performers this club season. Whether through generating blocks, shutting down options, helping out teammates, or all of the above, these defenders stood out doing the tough work that too often go unrecognized.

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 Men’s Division Defensive Player of the Year

Troy Holland (Washington DC Truck Stop)

Washington DC Truck Stop’s Troy Holland (#91) covers Chicago Machine’s Joe White (right) at the 2023 Club Championships. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

Any coach in the world will tell you that getting an opponent away from their Option A is one of the keys to a great defensive game. As a goal, it’s a kind of common wisdom. But how, exactly, do you do that? There’s the rub. Except the answer wasn’t so tricky for Truck Stop this season. Exhibit A, when asked after the national final what the team’s plan had been to try to contain Joe White, David Bloodgood answered, simply: “Troy Holland.”

Holland has been one of the master craftsmen of matchup defense for something like the last half decade, and he’s aging like fine wine: his 2023 performance was his best yet.1 Not only did Holland do everything possible to blanket White in the final – and, yes, White got his in that matchup, too, that’s offense for you – but he led Truck’s effort across all of Nationals as the linchpin of the division’s best defense. The way he would lower his body to follow a seven-cut from the lane to the handler space demonstrated all the hard-won agility of a rally car. He was unmatched in his ability to mirror a reset cutter’s dance for three, four, five moves without giving up a throwing window. And no one this year was better at maintaining top speed while making minute route adjustments to thwart deep plays. A player who can do all of that against an opponent’s Option A makes everyone else’s job infinitely easier. Where Troy Holland went in 2023, breaks for the Truck D-line were sure to follow.

It was, in the end, an overwhelming performance, one that gives a player who has long been in the conversation around this award his due laurels.

-Edward Stephens

First Runner-up

AJ Merriman (Washington DC Truck Stop)

Washington DC Truck Stop’s AJ Merriman celebrates at the 2023 Club Championships. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

For those who know ball, it’s no surprise to see Merriman on the podium for DPOTY in his return to the men’s division. His ascendant rise to stardom at such a young age is a testament to his talent, but also the professionalism with which he approaches the game. He’s a true student of the sport, with a mental game that is mature and measured. Just look at how he described his approach to guarding deep cuts: “That’s a page out of football DBs2. That’s DBU. I’ve been watching a lot of film, football and frisbee,” he said. Merriman led the division in blocks at Nationals (8) all while he was tasked with guarding some of the most vaunted offensive superstars in our sport.

-Jake Thorne

Second Runner-up

John Randolph (New York PoNY)

New York PoNY’s John Randolph makes a catch at the 2023 US Open. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

Just when exactly did Johnny Buckets, he of the untouchable jabsteps and untouched clap-catch goals, become Johnny Squalls, the stormiest, peskiest, hand-in-pocket, physical-as-you-like, bid-happy defensive rottweiler? Probably as soon as he got his 2023 assignment to PoNY’s D-line. Though Randolph made his name as a goal-scorer, at bottom he has always been more utilitarian, more protean: he is whatever his team needs him to be. This year, the assignment was simple: get blocks and hassle other teams into turnovers. With his almost lab-developed combination of strength, speed, and concentration, that’s exactly what he did, in the process revealing another fully-fledged facet of his game.

-Edward Stephens

  1. Though there are some, this reporter included, who argued that he should have won this award last year as well. 

  2. DBs = Defensive Backs 

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

  2. Jake Thorne
    Jake Thorne

    Jake Thorne is a staff writer for Ultiworld with a focus on the college division. He is a graduate of Cal Poly SLO, where he played for four years. He now lives and works full-time in sales for a fintech company in San Francisco.

  3. Patrick Stegemoeller

    Patrick Stegemoeller is a Senior Staff Writer for Ultiworld, co-host of the Sin The Fields podcast, and also a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.

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