D-I Women’s 2024 Player of the Year: North Carolina’s Dawn Culton

Recognizing the top performer of the 2024 season.

Each year, Ultiworld presents our annual College Awards. Our staff evaluates the individual performances of players from throughout the season, talking to folks around college ultimate, watching film, and look at statistics, voting upon the awards to decide those to be honored. The regular season and the college Series are both considered, with extra emphasis for performances in the competitive and high-stakes environment at Nationals.

After announcing the finalists in our First-Team All-American, we are proud to present Player of the Year, our most prestigious award. Our Player of the Year winner is the best performer of the 2024 college season, and the highest vote-getter for All-American honors. The winner is not eligible for consideration in any of our other individual awards. The runner-ups are the second and third most vote-getters.


D-I Women’s 2024 Player Of The Year

Dawn Culton (North Carolina)

 

When it comes to writing about standout players and teams, it’s easy to fall back on adjectives like “unique,” “unrivaled,” or “unreal” to try and describe greatness time and again. Every star player has something that makes them unique, some manner in which they stand above the rest unrivaled, or some aspect of their game that feels impossible for mere mortals, unreal. You might see the problem, then, of using those words time and again. And then there’s Dawn Culton, and suddenly “unique,” “unrivaled,” and “unreal” are exactly the right words to use.

There’s never quite been a star player like Culton. She’s earned the highest honor the sport can offer despite predominately playing on UNC’s defensive line. She’s the first two-time Player of the Year in the D-I college divisions1, and has been selected to a rarefied fourth All-American team. And she’s perhaps one of the last great players who were able to extend their collegiate careers with the help of extra pandemic-related eligibility, which has helped keep her at the top of the college division longer than nearly anyone before, or after. It makes her departure from the division after this season feel all the more impactful with how unprecedented a career she’s had.

As for her on-field contributions, few players can hold a candle to Culton’s capabilities. At Nationals, she registered a triple-double in goals (21), assists (16), and blocks (12), something only two other players managed over the course of the weekend2. Not only that, but Culton still managed to stand above even those two as the only player to finish in the top-ten in both goals and assists. Remember, this is as a defense-first player — that is how exceptional Culton is even when compared against the exceptional. All of these statistical notes on top of the plain fact that Culton at times simply seemed to will UNC to wins: that intangible willingness to go the extra distance is what makes Culton without equal.

The best athletes make you question what you thought you knew was possible in a sport, and Culton has stunned and astonished the ultimate world with regularity. There’s a litany of examples, but perhaps none better than that game-winning catch against Colorado as UNC saved themselves from the brink of defeat. Then, in the final, Culton, with an air of casualness that defied the size of the moment, went out in style with a 6G/4A/3B performance, including the game-winning assist. It was an astounding final finishing touch on a stellar season to cap an awe-inspiring career, as if Culton wanted to make sure we all knew that she really, truly, could do it all.

With great players on great teams, it sometimes feels as if the sea of talent around them is what truly buoys them to success. While that’s arguably been true in one way or another for Culton in the past, this year UNC was her team, and even more so when her co-stars Erica Birdsong and Theresa Yu were each unavailable for parts of Pleiades’ frenetic closing run through the bracket. It came down to whether Culton and company could step up to the moment, and in ways unique, unrivaled, and unreal, she made it happen. That’s the magic of Dawn Culton for you, and she’s left the division a better place for it.

 

First Runner-Up:

Macy Vollbrecht (Stanford)

Second Runner-Up:

Jolie Krebs (SUNY-Binghamton)


  1. Middlebury’s Claire Babbott-Bryan was the first to win two POTY’s in a college career in D-III in 2021 and 2022 

  2. those being Colorado’s Abbie Gillach and Faye Burdick 

  1. Jenna Weiner
    Jenna Weiner

    Jenna Weiner is a Senior Staff Writer, a co-host of Ultiworld's Double Overtime podcast, and considers herself a purveyor of all levels of ultimate. She's played mostly on the west coast but you're likely to find her at the nearest ultimate game available.

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