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Amherst Ultimate Invitational set for 27th edition

  • Amherst Regional players including Augusta Fricke, second from left, Sophia Cable and Aviva Weinbaum congratulate each other after scoring against Paideia during the Division 1 girls semifinal game of the 26th annual Amherst Ultimate Invitational Tournament. The 27th version of the tournament starts Saturday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@kylegrbwsk
Friday, May 11, 2018

AMHERST — The Amherst Regional girls ultimate program no longer represents a large fish preying on minnows.

The Hurricanes didn’t shrink, everyone else just got bigger, and better.

“We used to have this legacy of being unbeatable and just dominating girls ultimate in the area, but honestly it’s exciting that’s not where we stand anymore,” Amherst captain Leija Helling said. “There are a lot of teams that are going to challenge us and give us a really good fight. It’s so cool to see that girls ultimate is growing so much and on peoples’ minds.”

Amherst is hosting the 27th annual Amherst Ultimate Invitational this Saturday and Sunday at the fields around Amherst Regional High School. It’s the longest-running high school ultimate tournament and was the first high school ultimate tournament in the country. Pool play begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, and championship bracket play starts at 8 a.m. Sunday. The boys Division 1 title game is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, and the girls Division 1 title match is set for 3:20 p.m.

The Hurricanes’ eight-year girls title streak ended last year. They didn’t reach the title game for just the third time since 1997.

“Last year we struggled with the mentality of ‘we’re Amherst Ultimate, we need to be perfect, we need to win, it would be a tragedy if we lost’, and they’ve totally flipped it around this year,’” Amherst girls coach Hannah Baranes said. “They’re just psyched for the challenge.”

The Hurricanes will face one of the most challenging fields in tournament history to reclaim the throne. The eight-team field features four teams ranked in the top 20 by Ultiworld.com.

Unlike in past seasons, Amherst isn’t one of them.

“We are expecting to face some tough competition and that’s definitely going to bring out the best in us,” Helling said.

Undefeated Four Rivers, which has already beaten Amherst this season, is ranked No. 7. Second-year coach Dovrah Plotkin attributes the program’s growth to the school only offering one spring sport: ultimate. Her players start playing in middle school and are more advanced in the technical aspects of the game by the time they reach the varsity level.

“By the time they’re freshmen they’re as good as most juniors would be,” Plotkin said.

Four Rivers hosted a tournament last weekend and won without allowing a point in its bracket. The team is looking forward to a more robust competition in Amherst.

“They’re sick of being bored. They all know we’re walking into difficult game after difficult game,” Plotkin said. “I’m excited about playing such a prestigious tournament where everyone in the A Division deserves to be in the A Division. Winning this tournament would mean a lot.”

Four Rivers is the bracket’s No. 2 seed behind Virginia’s HB Woodlawn Secondary School, the eighth-ranked team in the country and 2017 Amherst Invite runner-up.

Newton North (No. 19), Lexington (No. 20) and Northampton (receiving votes) are also mentioned in the Ultiworld rankings.

Northampton is the third seed, Lexington is fourth and Amherst fifth. Newton North, Montpelier (Vermont) and Cape Elizabeth (Maine) finish out the A Division.

“I want to go out with a bang,” said Helling, a senior. “I want to see how much we can come together. I want to reach our ceiling.”

Amherst boys recalibrating

Nearly two months have passed since Amherst played in a tournament. The Hurricanes won the Atlanta Flying Disc Club Junior Terminus on March 25 in Georgia and have practiced since.

“It was definitely more of a learning experience then a major victory,” Amherst coach Joe Costello said. “We had to reset our whole season.”

Amherst used the interim to practice and refine a team replacing 12 seniors from last year. Despite many not competing at the varsity level before this year, the Hurricanes understand the significance of hosting the Amherst Invitational and playing on home turf.

“It’s really fun to see how people travel here for it,” Amherst senior Caleb Seamon said. “To watch people from Virginia, Pennsylvania, all over, converge here, the environment is buzzing.”

Amherst is the top seed and second-ranked team by Ultiworld. HB Woodlawn’s boys team is seeded second and ranked 13th in the nation.

Third-seeded Pennbury is 24th in Ultiworld’s rankings.

“I think it’s not as competitive as last year, but it’s so hard to know. High school teams change a lot from year to year and there haven’t been that many results out there because of the late winter to gauge,” Costello said. “We’re gonna try to go into it with no expectations and see how it goes.”

Radnor (Pennsylvania) is the fourth seed, while No. 5 Yorktown (Pennsylvania), No. 6 Cape Elizabeth, No. 7 Northampton and No. 8 Amherst junior varsity round out the Division 1 field.

Amherst lost in the championship game last year on universe point, ultimate’s version of a decisive overtime.

“I think if we think about winning it’s going to distract us, but we’ve stayed so busy we’re hoping it comes to us instead of us seeking it out,” Amherst senior Clay Fosterweber said.

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