Photos by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com

What everyone knew would happen is now official: Vancouver Nighthawks captain Morgan Hibbert has won the Major League Ultimate Western Conference Defensive Player of the Year award. His was the only unanimous selection for any end-of-season award this season.

For several years Hibbert struggled with injuries, most seriously a broken right wrist which made it impossible for him to throw his natural right-handed flick due to surgery requiring the insertion of a plate. For many players that might have meant retirement from top level Ultimate, but it is a measure of Morgatron’s determination and work ethic that instead he taught himself to throw a left-handed backhand. Who needs a flick when you can throw a quality backhand with either hand?

“Bottom line, Morgan is a very hard worker,” says teammate and fellow MLU award winner Brendan Wong. “When it’s not formal practice time, he’s training on his own time to continually improve his strength, speed, and overall skills. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the amount of time and effort that Morgan puts into all things frisbee-related. He puts great pride in his game and it shows.”

This season, free of injury, Hibbert was able to showcase the full range of his skills, anchoring the aggressive Nighthawks defence by commanding the downfield area. His combination of experience, height, and speed make opposing handlers think twice about trying a huck when Morgatron is on the prowl. It’s no surprise he totaled 20 Ds on the season to set the Western Conference single season record.

Here are several examples of what happens when they put up the disc anyway.

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.

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“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 the 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 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.

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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 that qualified them for this Saturday’s MLU Championship game..

There’s a reason the Nighthawks’ coaching staff made Hibbert the captain of this year’s squad. The Nighthawks rebuilt their roster after a disappointing first season in Major League Ultimate, and Hibbert’s leadership was a big part of the continuous improvement they displayed after an unsurprisingly rocky start to the season.

“Morgan is a great leader,” says Wong. “He leads not only by the speeches and advice that he gives, but also by his play on the field. I have played with Morgan on many different teams and he is always able to set a positive example both on and off the field. My thought is that Morgan just wants to be the best at what he does and show people that he can do just that.”

Hibbert’s domination shows up in the statistics he put together this season.

Morgan Hibbert

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 on 9.8 per cent of his points played
6. Caught 5 hucks, threw 5 hucks

 

(For those who might be wondering, here is an explanation of how Defensive Efficiency is calculated: {(Defensive +/-)/Defensive Points Played)} + (Total D’s). It is calculated only for players with more defensive points played than offensive points.)

One of the attributes that makes Vancouver’s D-line so formidable is its ability to convert turnovers into goals; Hibbert’s throwing is a big part of that, as well as the reason he takes almost every pull. It also allows the Nighthawks coaching staff to sometimes use him as part of the O-line. In some games, come crunch time, he plays almost every point, be it on offence or defence. During the regular season he spent more points on the field than any of his teammates.

It’s no surprise that given Hibbert’s imposing size, outstanding play, affable manner, and goofy grin, he has become a fan favourite at the Nighthawks’ home, Thunderbird Stadium. After every game there is always a line-up to get his autograph, especially from star-struck kids.

Morgatron and his fans

Like his teammates, Hibbert is quick to deflect praise and give credit to others when you ask him about his accomplishments.

“Winning this award definitely means a lot personally, as this was something that I made a personal goal of mine at the start of the year. It is also always nice to be recognized for your hard work by your peers.”

“But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support and motivation of my teammates. From not accepting anything less than my best, to letting me know when I wasn’t doing enough, to picking me up and encouraging me when I was down, my teammates push me in every way to be better, and I thank them for all the support I have received from them throughout the year. They are a really special group of guys.”

“And special thanks should go to [Nighthawks physical trainer] Dr. Stephen Mogatas who constantly fixes me up and is the reason I am able to step on the field every week. Without him, I would be an old broken-down wreck.”

His teammates and coaches will be very glad he hasn’t made that transition to “old broken-down wreck” status when he leads them onto the field this Saturday in Philadelphia to play the DC Current for the Major League Ultimate Championship.

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.

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