Photos by Jeff Bell and Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com
Ultimate is a true team sport. No matter how good your best player is, unless the rest of your team includes a good supporting cast, you won’t be on the winning side against a quality team without a star.
But there are players who can impose their will on an ultimate game for all or part of its duration. Alan Kolick of the D.C. Current and Morgan Hibbert, captain of the Vancouver Nighthawks, are two such players, and that is why they are both leading candidates to capture the Major League Ultimate Most Valuable Player award for 2014. They are the two top players to watch during the MLU Championship game this coming Saturday in Philadelphia.
Kolick is the linchpin of the powerful Current O-line that made them the highest scoring team in the league with 216 goals, four more than the Nighthawks’ 212 goals. He is sure-handed — only one drop all season — and very efficient in his handling, completing almost 95% of his throws while leading the league in plus/minus with a +96. He is short for an ultimate player but quick and also gets more than his share of D’s as an O-line player. The Current offensive strategy is built around his throwing ability and smarts.
Hibbert is the linchpin of the powerful Nighthawks D-line that became the best in the league over the final stretch of the season as they sparked Vancouver to the 5-game winning streak that qualified them for the MLU finals. He is a big man but amazingly fast and agile for someone so large, with incredible closing speed when chasing down a huck. His throwing ability is a big reason Vancouver’s D-line is the best in MLU at converting turnovers into goals, and also the reason he threw almost every pull for the Nighthawks this season. The Nighthawks defensive strategy is built around his ability to command the downfield area their opponents are trying to reach.
1. Third in the league in total points with 44
2. Tied for first in the league with teammate Markham Shofner in assists with 30
3. Third in the league in total throws with 392
4. Only one drop all season, good for a drop rate of .29%
5. Nine hucks thrown and 4 hucks caught
6. Led MLU in +/- with +96, 10 better than the next closest player
7. Threw an assist on 16.4% of his points played, good for sixth in the league
8. Third in the league in touches per point with 1.86
9. Completed 94.64% of his throws
10. Fifth in the league in offensive efficiency with 1.18
11. Was responsible for 10.19% of D.C.’s point total
12. Had six total D’s playing primarily on D.C.’s O-line. The league average is 3.47
13. Only player in the league to be in the top five in points, assists, throws, points played, +/-, touches per point, throws per point and offensive efficiency
1. Had 19 assists, most by any D-line player
2. Led the league with 20 D’s, breaking the Western Conference season record
3. Most D-Line points played in MLU with 176, and also played 29 O-line points
4. Led league in defensive efficiency with 19.82
5. Recorded a D 9.8% of his points played
6. Caught 5 hucks, threw 5 hucks
You’ll note that Kolick’s list of achievements is much longer than Hibbert’s, but that is mostly because the league collects a lot more offensive stats than defensive ones.
Kolick twice won the Innova Pulsar Throw of the Week on similar throws.
In Week 5 during a game against New York, he caught the disc near the right sideline about 20 yards from the end zone. He had the vision to look across the field, and ignoring the attempted force, put up a sweet backhand all the way to the far corner of the end zone that was so visionary the only players close to the disc were two of his teammates. Peter Prial easily caught it for a goal.[iframe width=”624″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/4i54dAG8AdA?list=UUxA29gpLZhuv6HdUZPpt2Dw” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]
In Week 9 against Boston, he caught the disc in a similar situation near the right sideline, a little closer to the end zone this time, and immediately released a beautiful high release backhand across the field. He needed a little luck for a teammate to catch the goal after a defender managed to deflect it, but a throw this nice deserved that luck.[iframe width=”624″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/WkEnGH1cVQs” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]
“I got pretty lucky when it fell into Markham [Shofner]’s arms because I was definitely trying to throw it to Paul [Grabowski],” said Kolick. “When I first started playing, [the high release backhand] was one of my favorite throws. Then I kind of got away from it as I developed other throws, but I still enjoy going back to it from time to time.”
You’ll notice that Kolick throws lefty, which can be an advantage as defenders are accustomed to guarding players who throw right-handed. This is an attribute that Hibbert shares, in a sense. Hibbert is a natural right-handed thrower, but a few years ago he injured his right wrist so badly he is now unable to throw a right-handed flick. The solution? Learn to throw left-handed. He has mastered this so well that his left-handed backhand more than makes up for the absence of the right-handed flick.
In Week 8, Hibbert won the Spikeball Defensive Play of the Week for a great D he made against the Seattle Rainmakers. Donnie Clark was at that point tied for the league lead in goals, and Hibbert covered him for the entire point.[iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/o_bUqFQK128″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]
“I knew Chicken [Adam Simon] had the disc,” said Hibbert. “Donnie first cut long, but when no huck came out, he cut under and I shut him down. As he turned to go long again I could see their other handlers were shut down by our defenders. Since I was on Donnie and Chicken had the disc, I knew he was hucking it to my guy. I put my head down and ran to catch up with Donnie, and as he looked like he was about to catch the disc I turned to locate it as I was jumping and the timing all worked out. There was the disc by my hand.”
Hibbert makes it sound like the play just happened, but it took a remarkable combination of speed, athleticism, experience and understanding of the game, plus a willingness to sacrifice his body to pull it off. It was the most eye-catching of the no fewer than six D’s he got in this game on the way to leading the Nighthawks to an important 29-24 victory.
Then, in the Western Conference Final in Portland against the Stags, Hibbert made another beautiful D that showcased his closing speed. It looked like Timmy Perston, who only missed being among the MLU goal scoring leaders because work obligations took him away for part of the season, was about to catch a huck, but then Hibbert sprang into action, quickly catching up to Perston and leaping to decisively knock the disc to the ground for a turnover.[iframe width=”624″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/JsPSLoQSLMk” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen]
Perston had torched the Nighthawks in the past, but in this game Hibbert made it his personal mission to shut him down and in the end Perston managed only two goals in Vancouver’s 14-13 win.
The Hibbert-Kolick matchup will be different from the Perston-Hibbert matchup because of the positions they play; downfield defenders and handlers rarely get close to each other on the field. But rest assured that this Saturday they will be dueling each other at long distance the entire time they are both on the field, as Kolick tries to pass the disc into spaces that Hibbert will try to claim for himself.
To learn more about the game day festivities and purchase tickets to the Championship Game at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., click here.
For fans that will be in Vancouver on game day, come out to Mahony & Sons in downtown Vancouver to watch the game at Nighthawks Live! Even if you can’t travel to Philadelphia or make it out to Mahony & Sons, you’ll still be able to watch a live stream of the game on MLU Live.