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Amherst Ultimate Invitational a true community event

  • Amherst Regional Ultimate girls coach Josh Nugent talks to his team before their game against Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Thursday in Amherst.<br/> Amherst will host the 22nd annual Amherst Invitational this weekend.

    Amherst Regional Ultimate girls coach Josh Nugent talks to his team before their game against Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Thursday in Amherst.
    Amherst will host the 22nd annual Amherst Invitational this weekend. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Regional Ultimate girls coach Josh Nugent talks to his team before their game against Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Thursday in Amherst.<br/> Amherst will host the 22nd annual Amherst Invitational this weekend.

    Amherst Regional Ultimate girls coach Josh Nugent talks to his team before their game against Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Thursday in Amherst.
    Amherst will host the 22nd annual Amherst Invitational this weekend. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amherst Regional Ultimate girls coach Josh Nugent talks to his team before their game against Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Thursday in Amherst.<br/> Amherst will host the 22nd annual Amherst Invitational this weekend.
  • Amherst Regional Ultimate girls coach Josh Nugent talks to his team before their game against Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Thursday in Amherst.<br/> Amherst will host the 22nd annual Amherst Invitational this weekend.

For two-plus decades, the Amherst Ultimate Invitational has long been an established event on the burgeoning sport’s calendar. But this year’s tournament is seeing an infusement of investment and promotion throughout the community.

“This is the first time we’ve worked with the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Improvement District,” Amherst Regional boys coach and tournament founder Tiina Booth said. “They’ve really amped up the promotion, the donations and the marketing. That takes a lot of pressure off coaches and parents. We’ve got posters up all over town, notices all over Facebook. It’s great.”

This is the 22nd Invitational since the inaugural event in 1992, which Booth started in hopes of finding additional high school competition for Amherst.

As part of this weekend’s tournament, various Amherst merchants are offering a 10 percent discount to anyone who brings a disc into the establishment. Twenty restaurants as well as five stores are participating from Friday through Sunday.

Community businesses will also provide food and medical supplies for those set to play or attend, which this year includes girls teams flying in from Denver and Seattle.

“It’s always big when teams fly in from across the country for our tournament,” Booth said. “It continues to be a premier regional event.”

Amherst girls coach Josh Nugent brings the perspective of someone who’s played and coached in the tournament.

“I’m amazed at how the level of play rises each year,” said Nugent, a 1998 Amherst graduate. “I think back to when I played, and all the teams are much better now. And every year more and more schools are playing.”

Booth said at least 50 teams could be accommodated. The visiting squads are put up by host families.

“It’s a tournament but a festival as well,” Booth said. “The quality of competition is essential and makes it that much better, but in the end it’s a fun community event.”

All three tournament divisions — boys Open A, boys Open B and Girls — consist of 10 teams and two pools of five. Pool play will take place throughout Saturday and early Sunday morning.

For the first time, a free trolley will shuttle fans between Amherst Regional and UMass on Saturday when both venues will be used.

The Open A Division will have eight teams (four in each pool) advance to the quarterfinal round with three additional victories needed for the title. The Open B and Girls G Divisions will only take the top two from each pool and move into the semifinals.

The girls championship is scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m. Sunday with the boys final following at 3:30.

Amherst girls seek five straight

The Hurricanes girls squad is the four-time defending champion. Nugent, who began coaching in 2010, said playing at home provides inspiration instead of pressure.

“We certainly want to defend our turf, and we’re amped all weekend,” he said. “This is the premier tournament in terms of competition level, and because it’s our home field, we have huge crowds to cheer us on.”

Senior captains Angela Zhu, Zoe Freedman-Coleman and Mei Reffsin lead an Amherst squad without much experience at the start of the season. But limited numbers have allowed Nugent to provide his entire roster with valuable playing time.

Nugent also noted junior Tulsa Douglas as perhaps his most versatile player, while saying he seeks defensive contributions from his newer players.

“We’re confident and feeling strong,” Nugent said. “But we know there will be some great teams we’ve never seen before, so we’re going to focus on our game and what we can control.”

’Canes look to reclaim boys title

The Amherst boys are the 18-time Massachusetts high school champions, but they lost in the Invitational final last year to Seattle Fryz. However, Seattle will not make the return trip east for the 2013 tournament.

“The Seattle team runs a single high school team in the fall, then has an all-star team in the spring,” Booth said. “We let them come once, which was great and a real challenge, but we want to honor our high school sanctioned teams.”

Coming off a victory at the Paideia Cup last weekend in Atlanta, the Hurricanes look forward to another opportunity to take on top-notch competitors. In 21 years of tournament play, the Amherst boys have won the Open A Division 12 times, including two of the past three years.

Amherst is led by senior captains Tim Bobrowski, Johann Becker and David Julien, whom Booth described as coaches on the field.

“Those three guys are essential to the type of offense and defense we play, and I rely on them to be strong leaders,” Booth said. “I try to give them enough freedom to make the team their own, and I’ve found it’s worked pretty well. That doesn’t work with every team, but this team is very focused.”

Amherst is 14-0 this season against high school competition.

“I feel really good about our chances this year,” Booth said. “We have a big couple weeks with the Invitational then Easterns next week. We’re working through a few injuries, but our offense is really clicking right now. And having 15 seniors gives us a certain advantage.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

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