D-I College Awards Watch

The early scoop on who has caught our eye and could be in for some hardware after the season.

UNC's Erica Birdsong gets up for the grab at the college ultimate frisbee tournament, the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling - UltiPhotos.com
UNC’s Erica Birdsong gets up for the grab at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2024 college season is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

Now that we’re entering the final stretches of the regular season, it feels like a good idea to share some of our staff’s ongoing internal college awards dialogue. Here are some of the players currently on our radar. A few disclaimers: first, while this is a pretty good snapshot of now, things can change in a hurry. Second, and as is always the case, awards consideration will be heavily influenced by what we see on the field at Nationals. Finally, these lists are not exhaustive by any means.

Player of the Year

Women’s Division

Colorado's Clil Phillips lets loose a flick at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling - UltiPhotos.com
Colorado’s Clil Phillips lets loose a flick at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com
  • Dawn Culton (North Carolina Pleiades)
  • Esther Filipek (Stanford Superfly)
  • Tori Gray (Carleton Syzygy)
  • Madison Ong (British Columbia Thunderbirds)
  • Clil Phillips (Colorado Quandary)

Men’s Division

Cal Poly-SLO's Calvin Brown during semifinals of the 2023 Ultimate Frisbee D-I College Championships. Photo: William "Brody" Brotman - UltiPhotos.com
Cal Poly-SLO’s Calvin Brown during semifinals of the 2023 D-I College Championships. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman – UltiPhotos.com
  • Calvin Brown (Cal Poly SLO SLOcore)
  • Henry Ing (Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur)
  • Wyatt Kellman (Massachusetts Zoodisc)
  • Adam Miller (Georgia Jojah)
  • Jacques Nissen (Brown Brownian Motion)

Dare I say the Player of the Year race in the women’s division is the *least* defined of all the awards? It might just be my interpretation of the situation1, of course, but it seems as though, at the top, teams are stepping up more than individual players on the top teams. Will one of the above truly start a takeover campaign?

There’s an interesting dichotomy here between the players widely considered defense-first (Gray, Culton), those who are more straw-that-stirs-the-drink types of offensive players (Ong, Filipek), and a true do-it-all type (Phillips). Culton (2022) has won this award before, of course. Even so, it doesn’t seem as though she’s the favorite. No one else is yet, either. Don’t be surprised if any of the above take home the honors – or if someone from the Offensive or Defensive lists moves up the charts here.

One of the easier lists to assemble, on the other hand, was the one for men’s division top honors. Kellman has led Zoodisc to a #1 ranking with the best offense in the division – he’s the current frontrunner. Miller has stepped up his game in a huge way for a resurgent Jojah side, though, and longtime divisional stars Ing, Nissen, and Brown are all right there with him in a crowded second-place field at the moment. You might notice a couple of missing names from players who have been somewhat limited by injury in the early going but could shake things up down the line.

Offensive Player of the Year

Women’s Division

UNC's Theresa Yu readies a flick at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling - UltiPhotos.com
UNC’s Theresa Yu readies a flick at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com
  • Erica Birdsong (UNC Pleiades)
  • Naomi Fina (Carleton Syzygy)
  • Anna Goddu (UBC Thunderbirds)
  • Devin Quinn (UC Santa Barbara Burning Skirts)
  • Theresa Yu (UNC Pleiades)

Men’s Division

North Carolina’s Rutledge Smith lays out to save a deflected disc against Penn State in the men’s final of Queen City Tune Up 2024. Photo: Brian Whittier
  • Daniel Chen (Carleton CUT)
  • Paul Krenik (Minnesota Grey Duck)
  • Rutledge Smith (North Carolina Darkside)
  • Kenni Taylor (Alabama-Huntsville Nightmares)
  • Zack Watson-Stevens (Vermont Team Chill)

Unlike the foggy picture in the PotY race above, the line for who to include in the OPotY conversation in the women’s division is tricky not because there are so few players making a strong case, but because there are so friggin’ many. The list above just scratches the surface.

Still, as hard as it was to leave players unmentioned here, it was incredibly easy to point to the ones above as worthy of a long think. Birdsong and Yu have been electric for Pleiades – even in their recent loss to Carleton. (Could they eventually split votes here as our staff decide which of them carries more of the load?) Devin Quinn remains one of the most difficult to challenge deep cutters in all of college ultimate. Goddu has been essential as the connective tissue for the UBC offense, turning Ong’s reliable distribution into reliable scoring plays. Fina, meanwhile, is simply a menace. Watch your step if she pulls up in your neighborhood.

It’s a similar story in the men’s division: far too many excellent choices. You have the handling prowess of Taylor steering Alabama-Huntsville to a surprise season, Chen, Krenik and Watson-Stevens turning every tournament they play in into a poster factory, and Smith brilliantly using his long-established reputation as a handler to goad the defense into letting him run deep over and over and over again.

Defensive Player of the Year

Women’s Division

British Columbia’s Jamie Jung at the 2024 Stanford Invite. Photo: Rodney Chen – UltiPhotos.com
  • Fiona Cashin (Georgia Athena)
  • Jamie Jung (UBC Thunderbirds)
  • Edi Lam (Tufts EWO)
  • Syris Linkfield (Oregon Fugue)
  • Audrey Parrott (Carleton Syzygy)

Men’s Division

Massachusetts' Isaac Kaplan throws a flick at the 2024 Smoky Mountain Invite. Photo: William "Brody" Brotman - UltiPhotos.com
Massachusetts’ Isaac Kaplan throws a flick at the 2024 Smoky Mountain Invite. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman – UltiPhotos.com
  • Isaac Kaplan (UMass Zoodisc)
  • CJ Kiepert (Vermont Team Chill)
  • Henri Lessard (NC State Alpha)
  • Tony Mounga (Utah State Scotsmen)
  • Calvin Stoughton (Colorado Mamabird)

Defense, historically, has been the most difficult part of the game to evaluate. Between trying to sort offensive mistakes out of blocks or spot hard-to-see shutdown moments, there’s a lot of noise and silence to sift through. Still, this is the easiest race to handicap at this point: it’s Edi Lam’s to lose. They have been the (defensive) talk of the division all season and continue to impress at every outing.

That said, the competition is heating up behind them. Parrott (despite the avian name) is doing her best remora impression: sticking tight to every offensive shark in the game. Cashin and Linkfield have made their names blowing up plays with circus-performer level leaps and layouts. Jung is, somewhat quietly, gaining a major rep as a lockdown genius on the West Coast, as well.

There’s no favorite in sight in the men’s division: the players listed above are just a few of the visible points in a wide open, foggy field. Lessard has shown an ability to make plays on the division’s best in the deep space. Mounga and Kiepert, two of the fiercest defenders in the country, can get a hand on anything. Kaplan could teach a doctorate-level course in guarding the reset space. Stoughton, meanwhile, can flick the jets to turn any gimme of a pass into a catch-block.

Breakout Player of the Year

Women’s Division

BYU's Nicole Merrill gets up over a crowd at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling - UltiPhotos.com
BYU’s Nicole Merrill gets up over a crowd at the 2024 Northwest Challenge. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com
  • Lauren Clayter (Vermont Ruckus)
  • Amelia Hawkins (Stanford Superfly)
  • Nicole Merrill (Brigham Young CHI)
  • Willow Purvis (Colorado State Hell’s Belles)
  • Lucy Tanner (Washington Element)

Men’s Division

Pittsburgh's Roger Zeng is all smiles in the end zone at the 2024 Smoky Mountain Invite. Photo: William "Brody" Brotman - UltiPhotos.com
Pittsburgh’s Roger Zeng is all smiles in the end zone at the 2024 Smoky Mountain Invite. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman – UltiPhotos.com
  • Aaron Kaplan (Oregon Ego)
  • Ethan Pigeon (Penn State Spank)
  • Michael Poe (Alabama-Huntsville Nightmares)
  • Scotty Whitley (Georgia Jojah)
  • Roger Zeng (Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur)

Sorry, did I say defense is hard to evaluate? It’s nothing compared to our own internal definition of what constitutes a “breakout.” Here’s the basic recipe. First, take a solid fact – whether a player is a second- or third-year with eligibility after the current season. Then, run it through the abject fog-of-war of attempting to get reliable information about ultimate frisbee.2 After that decide, based on a certain je ne sais quoi, whether a player already has too much hype. As in – have they already broken out before the current pop-off? We always disagree about this last piece. The most civil discussions on the subject have been known to ruin friendships. Charlie Eisenhood actually spends most of his working days writing treaties that the warring parties inevitably reject. That’s his job now, cosplaying Woodrow Wilson in a two-bit ultimate frisbee Versailles.

That said, you probably can’t go *too* wrong at this point thinking of the above candidates as 2024 BPotY contenders. Purvis continues to be a burner helping Colorado State’s quest for another Nationals berth. Clayter, with a nose for the big play, has been a massive part of Vermont’s extensive depth. Merrill has been a rock in the handler set for BYU and will simply eat you alive with crossfield backhands. Tanner and Hawkins are standing out even on outstanding rosters.

The men’s division isn’t quite as unsettled, if only because Whitley has firmly established himself as the betting favorite by being both one of the top offensive and defensive players for a consensus top-five team as a second-year. He doesn’t have anything sewn up, though. Zeng is now a proven goal-scorer, Kaplan has come out of nowhere to be a rock for Ego’s backfield, and both Pigeon and Poe3 are stunning spectators with feats of one-on-one athleticism.

Rookie of the Year

Women’s Division

Stanford's Harper Baer at the 2024 Stanford Invite. Photo: Rodney Chen - UltiPhotos.com
Stanford’s Harper Baer at the 2024 Stanford Invite. Photo: Rodney Chen – UltiPhotos.com
  • Harper Baer (Stanford Superfly)
  • Rachel Chang (UC Santa Cruz Sol)
  • Chagall Gelfand (Carleton Syzygy)
  • Michiko Magnant (Oregon Fugue)
  • Grace Maroon (UPenn Venus)

Men’s Division

Colorado's Tobias Brooks at the 2024 Smoky Mountain Invite. Photo: William "Brody" Brotman - UltiPhotos.com
Colorado’s Tobias Brooks at the 2024 Smoky Mountain Invite. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman – UltiPhotos.com
  • Raekwon Adkins (Oregon Ego)
  • Tobias Brooks (Colorado Mamabird)
  • Eli Chang (Brown Brownian Motion)
  • Seth Fried (UNC Darkside)
  • Mark Henke (Texas A&M Dozen)

And now we come to the deepest field in the game: the 2024 rookie class. You could make an excellent podium out of players whose names come immediately to mind but *aren’t* included here. Which is to say that if there are seismic shifts between now and the post-Nationals voting, don’t be shocked in the least.

One thing is for certain: Rachel Chang has put UCSC back on the map. In the California tournaments, Chang has consistently looked like one of the best players on the field. Maroon, operating with extreme poise in the handler set, has similarly helped to lift UPenn back into the National picture. Stanford, Oregon, and Carleton aren’t new to the scene – but would they be quite as good as they are this season without their phenoms? Between Gelfand’s handling for Syzygy, Magnant’s dynamic efforts for Fugue, and Baer’s Cool Whip-smooth playmaking fundamentals for Superfly, the first-years are supercharging teams that were already great.

Tobias Brooks came into the men’s division with a rep as one of the best young players in the game – and all he has done for Mamabird so far is back it up. He remains the favorite. Mark Henke has been, arguably, as good as Brooks, but his ability to win this award will be hampered if Dozen don’t make Nationals, and their odds are looking pretty long at the moment. Chang, Fried, and Adkins have been as awesome as advertised: brilliant, if not quite Brooks-ian.


  1. This is an Easter egg for any true musicheads out there 

  2. We have been relying on www.ulti-verse.com as an essential resource in the battle for good information 

  3. “Pigeon and Poe” would make a great TV detective pairing 

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