Announcing the 2017 True Veteran, Michelle Ng Inspiration, and Robin Davis Coaching awards

For the last two years I’ve been giving out awards to players who I think are doing incredible work in ultimate. This year I’m adding a 3rd award for coaching. All of the award winners receive $1,000 to use to support their work on and off the field.

Introducing the Robin Davis Coaching Award

Several years ago I wrote a response to a Skyd magazine article about influential people in ultimate:

21 people in and around women’s ultimate you should meet

The first person on my list of influential people in ultimate was the coach of Stanford Superfly – Robin Davis.

Although I’ve still not met her, I remain an enormous fan of her work and remain in awe of her as she added another national championship for Stanford last year.

When I was kicking around the idea of starting a coaching award this year, thinking about how to name that award after was a no brainer. Robin sets the bar as high as it can be set and I hope this award brings some recognition not just to the award winners, but also reminds everyone of Robin’s work.

The inaugural winner of the Robin Davis coaching award is Robyn Wiseman.

My introduction to Robyn came from covering 2011 club nationals for Skyd and watching her team, RevoLOUtion get a big upset over Ozone. Since them I’ve followed her rise through the ultimate community – not just as a player, but as a writer and coach. One or her early articles on Skyd was a memorable read for me:

New Year’s Resolutions

Oh, and if you aren’t familiar with Robyn’s work on the field – here’s what it looks like when she *doesn’t* get the block!!

A knee injury early in 2016 meant that Robyn’s contributions for 2016 were going to come from the sideline. But that didn’t mean those contributions were going to diminish at all. She coached Heist and Wisconsin, who both had terrific years. Having grown up in Omaha and spent time playing in Minneapolis I’m extra grateful for Robyn’s work to improve the game in the middle of the country. Madison might not get the same number of ultimate players moving to it as other ultimate hotbeds do, but those other cities don’t have Robyn!

The 2017 “True Veteran” award

The winner of the 2017 “True Veteran” award is Opi Payne.

I first met Opi in 2010 at the first Without Limits tournament in Lancaster PA. She was absolute fearless force of nature at the time – oh how I wish I’d hung on to the footage from the finals of that tournament 😦 I remember talking to here at 2010 club nationals and telling her that she was going to change the game.

And after a couple of national championships, a World Games title, and a world championship with Team USA last summer, I’d say she has 🙂

There’s no shortage of highlights of her play:

Maybe some lesser known ones are in this clip at 0:23 and 1:15 and

But the True Veteran award isn’t about play as much as it is about leadership in the sport. In the last few years I’ve watch Opi expand her role as hugely valuable leader of her teams to hugely valuable leader in the sport.

From her work with the CUT camps:

Announcing Cut Camp Coach Opi Payne

To her advocacy for gender equity:

Going Deep with Aaron’s interview with Opi Payne, Leila Tunnell, and Qxhna Titcomb

For me Opi represents everything that is great about ultimate. Her work on and off the field is a constant reminder to me to work hard to advocate for the things I believe in. What she’s done for the sport since I was introduced to her is basically the definition of a “true veteran.”

The winner of the Michelle Ng Inspiration Award for 2017 is Anraya Palmer of Ozone.

Prior to the 2016 season I was not aware of Anraya Palmer either as a player or as a leader in the ultimate community. That all changed when the All-Star Tour stopped in Atlanta this summer. Here are two plays from that game that stopped me in my tracks:

The D and sneaky cut deep to take half for Ozone:

And the monster cut and huck combination to put Ozone up 15-14:

Following that game I learned of her coaching work in Atanta in conversations with Hannah Leathers and Miranda Roth Knowles. Here’s what Hannah had to say:

“Anyraya Palmer is one of the most humble and underrated players and leaders that I know. We started playing together on for UGA in 2010 (both of our first years) and since that first year there are few people I’ve respected more in the ultimate community. Within three months of playing, she tore her ACL. Regardless, she put her own mental stresses aside and come out to every single practice that year. Such an act of selflessness and perseverance, which accurately describes her growth as a player since then. She played for UGA through 2013, then for Atlanta Outbreak 13-14, and began playing for Ozone in 2015. Her first year on Ozone last year, she contributed like any veteran would. She pushed the pace of our offense with her relentless up-the-line motions, hucks, breaks, and speed, and contributed equally on defense with run through blocks and shut down defense. Something I admire most about Anraya as a player is her swagger—I really look up to the way that she analyzes, plays, and critiques herself and others with swag and intention. Her leadership, cheers, play, and commentary are always through a genuine and powerful place, which I really respect.”

I’ve been very lucky to have had ultimate introduce me to leader after leader after leader. It is always inspiring to me to learn about a new generation of players making both huge contributions on the field one day and then working with younger players to grow and improve the sport the next day. Seeing Anraya’s play on the field and then learning about her coaching work was incredibly inspirational to me last year. I love that ultimate attracts people like her to the sport – her work last year was not just inspirational to me but also a great reminder to me to keep pushing and working for the things I believe in.

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