With contributions by Gabe Price
With the Youth Regional Championships being further divided this year, there are fewer chances for there to be a clear cut national champion. However, the Amherst Invitational this year will most likely be the most competitive tournament on the youth circuit this season. Teams from across the nation will be settling in for an exciting and spirited tournament this weekend featuring top competition. For the purposes of the primer, we will be focusing on the Open A and Girls Division to give you a quick preview for this weekend.
Every year for the past five years Paideia has been able to put out one of the top ten teams in the nation. This year, they will most likely continue the tradition. Despite the fact that three junior worlds players, John Stubbs, Nils Clauson, and Mark Vandenberg, are all a part of Paideia’s roster, this team is deep enough to play several very solid lines. Paideia’s 2nd place finish at their home tournament, and 19-2 record this season currently upholds their reputation as an eastern powerhouse. They are currently one of the favorites to win this tournament.
Amherst is a well-established program that has a wealth of experience and knowledge in both players and coaches. Year after year, no matter the talent they’ve had on their team, they’ve consistently been able to grit their way through tough games and come out on top. Last year they graduated several key players such as Amos Adams, and in general they lost a lot of height. This could explain their 2-3 showing at the Paideia Cup earlier this season. However, we can never count out Amherst due to their sheer mental toughness and consistency as a program so they are also one of the favorites to win this tournament.
Longmeadow is a Massachusetts team, that has played very well against regional opponents and has contended strongly against both Amherst and Needham. However, they will need a very strong showing in order to contend for a spot in the semifinals.
Like Longmeadow, Four Rivers is a regional team from Massachusetts which has played very well against teams in the area, but has failed to notch a signature win. Four Rivers will be hard pressed to make the semifinals.
Westfield is a very young team whose core consists of primarily freshmen and sophomores. In general they do not have much height on their roster, nor do they have many players who would be standouts when compared to the other elite teams in this tournament. However, they are very fundamentally sound and extremely consistent. Their success this weekend will depend entirely on how patient or impatient their opponents will become at the lack of unforced turnovers.
Fryz is a youth club team from Seattle. They are a bit of a mystery in youth ultimate because they generally don’t play too many youth tournaments. However, their victory last year at Paideia Cup was downright impressive. They definitively beat out teams such as Holy Family Catholic, who went on to take second place in Easterns. They also competed in club sectionals last year and while they did not have many victories, they played very tight games in an extremely strong section. Since their roster is composed of only the best of Seattle youth ultimate and has not changed much since the Paideia cup, Seattle is also one of the favorites to take the victory for this tournament.
Columbia is another well-established program that has been around for many years. At last year’s Amherst Invitational, they lost in the finals to Amherst in a very tight game. Going into this past fall season, the team had to deal with some major changes including the graduation of a very large and talented senior class and head coach Anthony Nunez. However, they have had a decent spring season so far. It is hard to tell how they will fare in this tournament because while they placed second to Pennsbury in the Green Eggs & Spam tournament, their results at this year’s Paideia Cup are not inspiring. They are still a very solid team, and they have shown that they are capable of playing some terrific ultimate under the right circumstances, so they cannot be counted out just yet.
Needham is yet another pretty well known and well-established team in the East. Last year, they had a decent showing at Easterns, and tied for 3rd with Watchung Hills at the Amherst Invitational. This year they placed second at the YHB Invite and beat some notable teams such as LC Bird and YHB. Their current record alone isn’t quite enough to predict how they’ll do this weekend, but they certainly have a shot at placing high.
Sharon High School
I am not very familiar with this program or any of the teams they’ve beaten this season, but this means many of the teams at this tournament will not know what to expect from Sharon. If they come out strong, they could definitely take some teams by surprise in pool play and earn themselves a high seed for Sunday.
Amherst JV A
Amherst has such a wide talent pool that they can have two JV teams. This one being the better of the two, it probably still does not have much of a chance in advancing very far in this tournament where the competition is so fierce. However, they will outperform most other JV squads.
The Amherst Girls are coming off of a season where they won last year’s Amherst Invitational as well as sweeping Easterns. As always, they are a powerhouse in the youth circuit. This will be the first time they will have played in the spring, but with two Worlds players Zoe Freedman Coleman and Angela Zhu, they look be strong contenders to win the whole tournament. There are some questions about how the team will adapt to losing star Hannah Yi, but with coach Joshua Nugent at the helm, they look to maintain their status quo.
Paideia is coming off of winning their home tournament, the Paideia Cup with decisive victories over their opponents. Paideia is Coached by Jessica Cofrin, filling in for Coach Kyle Weisbrod. This will be the first and only meeting of Paideia and Amherst for the season and it looks to be an intense competition. Being in a pool with the Seattle Fryz will prove to be a major challenge, but they should make it out of the pools and into the semifinals where it will be anyone’s game.
The Seattle Fryz are definitely a mystery. Being on the east coast, the only thing that we’ve seen is their impressive showing from last year’s Paideia Cup. The Fryz, being a club team from Seattle, have a distinct advantage in that they can recruit the best players from the area and form an all-star team. The disadvantage? Travel time and jet lag. The first game for them will be at 9:30 am EST, which equates to a 6:30 am start time on the west coast. Is this an equalizer? Probably not, but it should definitely be a factor to consider when watching the early games. Look for the Fryz to compete for the outright title. They will most definitely be a team to watch.
Watchung Hills enters the tournament with a 10-0 record in the spring season. After reaching the finals at the Amherst Invitational last year, they look to repeat the same feat this year. However, this year the field at the invitational is much stronger due to the addition of Paideia and Seattle. Watchung Hills is coming off of a win at Green Eggs and Spam and the O’Hara Invite, although in the championship game at the O’Hara Invite they were tested to their utmost by a resilient Haverford team. Being placed in a pool with Amherst will be a definite test early on, but look for this team to make it to the semifinals and get a shot at cracking the final game.
Lower Merion is coming into the tournament with a 5-4 record in the spring with a signature win over YHB. The team reached the finals of the Amherst Invitational two years ago, finally falling to Amherst in the game. Lower Merion will be bolstered at this tournament with the addition of Hannah Henkin of Radnor who will be playing with them. They face a tough road to the semifinals having to either beat Paideia or the Seattle Fryz in order to make it.
Pioneer Valley comes into the Amherst Invitational with a 7-0 record in spring play. They have mostly been playing regional Massachusetts teams with fairly large margins of victory except when facing the Amherst JV team. They haven’t played a top level team as of yet, but they should be competitive within the pool. Look for Pioneer Valley to have an upset in mind against Watchung Hills when they play their first game in the pool to try to nab a spot in the semifinals.
Four Rivers has been just above .500 for the spring season and comes into the tournament with only regional play under its belt. It has posted results of a win against St. Johnsbury Academy and two losses against Pioneer Valley and the Amherst Girls JV, who will be attending the invitational. They look to be in a tough position to make the playoffs with Pioneer Valley, Amherst, and Watchung Hills in their pool.
St. Johnsbury Academy
St. Johnsbury Academy comes into the tourney with a 4-6 record in regional play with no wins over any teams participating in this weekend’s tournament. They are in a pool where they can afford no mistakes if they want to make a run with Lower Merion, Paideia, and Seattle all favored over them. They will have to pull quite a few major upsets in order to reach the playoffs.
Amherst JV A and B
Amherst is the envy of most programs, being able to field not only one, but two JV squads able to compete at this tournament. Look for them to be fundamentally sound and well-coached and capable of an upset or two.
Feature photo by Christina Schmidt (UltiPhotos.com)