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Pioneer Valley Invitational: Northampton girls ultimate coming into its own ahead of home tournament

  • Mary Andrews, right, of Northampton, catches a pass against Amherst’s Sydney Zobel, last month in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lili Lieberman-Bachman, right, Julia Snodgrass and the Northampton girls ultimate team will look to win the Pioneer Valley Invitational this weekend at the Oxbow. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@kylegrbwsk
Friday, May 19, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — The Pioneer Valley Invitational and the Northampton girls ultimate team’s senior class have grown up together.

Both are in their fourth season.

The tournament will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Oxbow Marina. Pool play starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, while Sunday’s seeded bracket play starts at 8:30 a.m. for the girls and 12:20 p.m. for the boys.

The Blue Devils are coming off a tie for third place at the Amherst Invitational.

“We played at a level that I haven’t seen yet this season,” Northampton senior Julia Snodgrass said.

The performance vaulted Northampton into Ultiworld.com’s power rankings at No. 20. The Blue Devils’ program began six years ago, but has graduated beyond just being happy to be competing in high-level tournaments.

“It’s a huge development. The team was so different when we were freshmen,” Northampton senior captain Nell Saunders said. “Now we’re at this point where we could actually win, which is kind of crazy to me.”

They’ve developed a program-wide expectation of success.

“I think the girls expected that of themselves, and I think that made a huge difference,” Northampton co-coach Clarissa Lyons said. “Going to AI (Amherst Invitational) this year, we showed up and we said we could beat any team here, and we could lose to any team here, we get to choose which.”

They’re carrying a similar philosophy to the Pioneer Valley Invitational. This weekend’s tournament will bring 21 girls teams to Northampton, one of the largest high school girls fields in the country. Those teams will come from as close as Amherst and South Hadley and as far as Ottawa.

Four Rivers, the defending champion, is ranked No. 19 in Ultiworld.com’s power rankings.

“One of the things that’s exciting about this is the size of this is more about promoting the growth of high school ultimate in general,” Lyons said.

The Blue Devils are aiming to reclaim their title after finishing second last season.

“Because we are hosts we’re sort of feeling like we have to perform well,” Snodgrass said. “We’re on our home turf, and we have to show what we’re capable of.”

Boys tournament

After losing in the Amherst Invitational final on universe point, Amherst Regional was looking forward to getting back on the field.

“I think the consensus was everyone was eager to be at practice and to get better,” Hurricanes coach Joe Costello said.

This will be the first time Amherst’s boys varsity team has played in the Pioneer Valley Invitational. The date historically fell on the same weekend as the USA Ultimate Northeastern Championship. USA Ultimate has phased out those tournaments, so the Hurricanes had an open weekend before the state championships.

“We’re looking at it as an opportunity,” Costello said. “The PV Invite is a very well-run tournament, and it’s huge, and I think that it adds a lot to our region when it comes to the sport.”

The two-time champion Blue Devils have balanced inexperience and injuries this season, but still want to represent well at their home tournament.

“It’s a little ambitious to set the bar as high as winning,” Northampton senior Ezra Norris said. “There’s a few teams coming that we’ve lost close games to that I want to prove we can beat.”

Norris included Four Rivers and Northfield Mount Hermon on that list. Ottawa, the only team besides Northampton to win the tournament in its four-year history, will also be there among the boys field of 38.

“It’s fun walking around and being like ‘this is our tournament,’” Northampton junior Oscar Fischer said. “These teams are coming from all over, wherever they are, to Northampton.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.