D-I Men’s 2024 Defensive Player of the Year

These three defenders put forth awesome and impactful seasons.

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.

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 spring. 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.

D-I Men’s 2024 Defensive Of The Year

Zeke Thoreson (Colorado)

Colorado’s Zeke Thoreson gets the layout block on the 2024 OPOTY during quarterfinals of the 2024 D-I College Championships. Photo: Rudy DeSort – UltiPhotos.com

Zeke Thoreson had a pretty impressive 2023 season as a rookie who was able to have a positive impact for a top-team. His jump in 2024 to a true lockdown defender helped Colorado finish the season as a top-five team with a legitimate shot to win a championship. It is a bit cliché, but it is true that it is hard to find defenders who can both blanket an opponent’s top option and also get blocks. Thoreson’s intelligence allowed him to play notably excellent individual defense and work together with his teammates to stifle opponents’ offensive plans. It is especially notable that a team comfortable with employing a defensive strategy heavy on switches picked out specific matchups for Thoreson, and the energy, positioning, footspeed, and agility that went into his performance certainly backed up that choice.

Thoreson led Mamabird in blocks at Nationals, and he was not just hunting for easy Ds. He spent most of his time on the field guarding players like Jacques Nissen, Xavier Fuzat, and Alex Nelson – players who are the 1 or 1A options on offense. His ability to shine in a role that does not often get the glory it deserves on a team that won because of the strength of its collective performance rather than the output of any one individual star is worthy of a case study. School’s out for the summer so instead, it earns Thoreson an award.

– Alex Rubin

First Runner-Up

Max Gade (Cal Poly SLO)

Cal Poly SLO’s Max Gade gets a finger on the disc during the semifinal of the 2024 D-I College Championships. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

Starting all the way back in 2022 (Sean Ryan) with Dexter Clyburn, Gade has squared off against the top offensive weapon of each and every team Cal Poly has played. Where some growing pains were evident in his rookie year, Gade’s sophomore season was a thing of beauty. He showed a little bit of everything; riding Ben Dameron’s hip unflinchingly through the slop of semis, tipping away a late deep shot to Rutledge Smith in the same game, gaining yards of separation on Dexter Luecke in a mere instant to catch a game winner against Colorado, and simply leading the SLO defense with his passion and his play. Following in the footsteps of a recent legacy of ‘Core defensive standouts like Sean Liston, Jake Thorne, and KJ Koo, Gade figures to keep himself firmly planted on this podium through his remaining years in college.

– Emmet Holton

Second Runner-Up

Calvin Stoughton (Colorado)

Colorado’s Calvin Stoughton gets the layout block in quarters of the 2024 D-I College Championships. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

There may have been no more singularly energy shifting defensive player this year than Stoughton. Though his move to D-line meant lower statistical totals, it may all have been worth it for the wave of elation that would wash over the Mamabird sideline each time he slid past the shoulder of an opposing team’s best player, tidily snatching an under or swing – which had no doubt looked wide open when the hapless thrower had released the disc – before popping up to get the offense moving like he’d done it a thousand times. Stoughton’s ability to close a gap, find the disc, and cleanly block it, regardless of his initial position, was one of one this season. Add to that his on field leadership and offensive chops and you have one of the most lethal defensive players in the nation.

– Emmet Holton

  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

  2. Emmet Holton
    Emmet Holton

    Emmet grew up playing ultimate in the Bay Area and played 5 years on Cal Poly SLOCORE from 2019 to 2023. He currently lives in Berkeley, CA and works as an architectural designer in San Francisco.

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