Widening the scope on club awards
November 27, 2023 by Sean Colfer in Opinion with 0 comments
For a number of years now, Ultiworld has selected the 25 best players in club ultimate for each division. Those players are described as ‘the best in the game’ and it always creates a good amount of discussion about where various stars sit in the galaxy of American club ultimate.
I suppose the end of the last sentence betrayed the point I’m going to be making here. While it’s understandable that people use ‘club’ as a shorthand way to describe the regular season in the USA and differentiate it from international competition, it also has other, unintended consequences. Saying that the players in USAU competition are the best in the game in the club division essentially ignores players in every country other than the two that regularly compete in those competitions.
This much is obvious; the USA is the best country in the world for this sport. When a team, like France mixed at the recent World Beach Ultimate Championships or Germany at the World Games, beats the USA in international competition, it’s immediately the biggest story at the tournament. When a club team, like the reigning world champions Revolution from Medellin, even challenges the best American teams let alone beats them, it’s huge news.
But now, more than ever, there are international teams and players that look like they belong on the same level of the best American and Canadian players. Even more than that, those players are going over to the US to challenge the best in their backyard.
I’m the European editor for Ultiworld so this article is going to focus on Europe but I’d be remiss not to mention Revolution’s achievements at WUCC and in the PUL, and those of Japanese and Australian teams for years in club and international tournaments. All three have shown that they are able to challenge the Americans plenty of times.
A Revolution player did take home the USAU crown this year – German superstar Levke Walczak was central to Brute Squad’s title win, as was her World Games teammate Lena ‘Lilli’ Trautmann. Ben Oort went from leading GRUT to European glory last year to helping Truck Stop win its first USAU title this season. Connor McHale flew from EUCF, where he helped Clapham reclaim the European title, to San Diego and played a significant part in Machine making it back to the final at Nationals. These players all made the final at US Nationals, a huge achievement for them but also a significant step for European ultimate. We spoke to them about what they learned and their thoughts on closing the gap.
It wasn’t just those four, though. Leila Denniston followed up her EUC silver and EUCF gold medals with GB women and Deep Space with a semis run with Xist, and Nasser M’Bae Vogel went from winning European gold with France to playing for NOISE. His France teammate Eva Bornot played for 6ixers alongside fellow EUC champion Charlotte Schall and GB’s Carla Link. Irene Scazzieri played for Fury, while a trio of Irish men played in open – Tadhg Deevy and Robbie Brennan for Furious George1 and Sam Murphy for Doublewide.
These players (and others, like Conrad Schlör who’s played for Germany and Wall City in Berlin for some time now) have shown that the top European players belong in the same conversation with some of the best that America has to offer. Other players who haven’t (yet!) played in America deserve to be in that mix but don’t have the same exposure across the pond.
So, we’ve also got a couple of new top 25 lists coming tomorrow. The three divisions are much more blurred in Europe with players playing in one division for their clubs and another for the national team. Players do that in the USA, but the difference in Europe is that club teams play national teams at tournaments like Tom’s Tourney, Windmill and London Invite. Players played mixed for one part of this season, then switched back to a single gender-matching division for the next, or vice versa. So doing three lists was largely impossible. Instead, we have the top 25 female- and male-matching players in Europe.
Some names will be familiar to American audiences from performances against US teams at world tournaments or from streamed games over in Europe. Some names might be less familiar. Every one of these players could hold their own in any company, though, wherever in the world they decide to play in future.
Admittedly Brennan has been in Canada for some time and played at the World Games for Team Canada, but hey I’m counting him here. ↩