Ultimate: Northampton girls eyeing strong finish at Pioneer Valley Invitational

  • Northampton's Nola Busansky delivers a pass against Four Rivers in the Amherst Invitational Gx championship game earlier this season at the MacDuffie School in Granby. The Blue Devils will host the Pioneer Valley Invitational Saturday and Sunday at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/12/2023 6:20:51 PM

When Nola Busansky was a sophomore on Northampton’s girls’ ultimate team, her squad did not win a single game. Playing almost entirely against powerhouse schools Amherst and Four Rivers, the Blue Devils were regularly blown out, struggling to score even a single point.

Two years later, that same Northampton ultimate team now ranks No. 12 in the nation, according to Ultiworld.com. It’s been an unexpected but rewarding turnaround for the ultimate-loving Blue Devils. 

“It was really disappointing to try so hard and love a sport so much and to lose like that. But it’s very validating and it feels amazing to now be ranked 12th in the country and to know that we are such an amazing team now,” Busansky said. “Last year was when everything clicked for a lot of people, and we started really playing good frisbee. I think that was in part because we had a new coach, Travis (Norsen), who joined us last year and he introduced this new strategy that made us dominant on the field.” 

The Northampton girls team is one of approximately 72 ultimate teams that will descend on the Oxbow Marina for the eighth annual Pioneer Valley Invitational this weekend, one of the largest ultimate tournaments in the world. There’s a female-matching division with 24 teams and an open division with 48 teams – locals can watch both Northampton and Amherst compete with some of the best of the best. Teams from all over the U.S. and Canada are coming, and numbers are up in the tournament’s second year back since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year only 56 teams were able to compete, and this year approximately 1,700 coaches and players will participate in the event.

“We were really happy to get to 56 (teams) because there was a lot of pent-up excitement to get back to playing (last year), but not everyone was ready or able or supported enough to go,” tournament organizer Josh Seaman-Ingalls said. “There was a lot of excitement last year, now even more this year to be back in full force – we're at max capacity.” 

Amidst the controlled chaos at PVI will be the Northampton girls team, led by Norsen and varsity co-head coach Mary Sheehan. Both are brand new to the Blue Devils; this is just their second year with the team, and neither knew each other before they took the jobs. In the 2021-22 season, their first as coaches, Sheehan led the junior varsity team while Norsen managed the varsity team, but they overlapped quite a bit in practice because of the size of the rosters.

That 2021-22 varsity team was very senior heavy, graduating nine or 10 athletes and leaving some question marks about what the following year would look like. Luckily, they accidentally stumbled into a solution.

“Travis and I both were a little bit apprehensive of what the season was gonna look like, whether it was going to be more of a building a foundation year or if we were gonna go in ranked and be really unstoppable,” Sheehan said. “What I didn't really predict… because we had a lot of mixing last year between the JV and varsity, we had a lot of players get really good, even though they hadn't ever played before last year... So although we lost a lot of seniors, we did a great job building a foundational knowledge of ultimate.” 

As a result, the Northampton girls’ team has been nigh unstoppable this year. Their success was highlighted by a second place finish at the prestigious Amherst Invitational earlier this year. Besides the talent that developed last year, the team’s unusual play style has stymied opponents and been a natural fit. 

Norsen comes from a soccer background, and introduced a lot of concepts from that world into ultimate. Most ultimate teams use something called a vert stack in play, but at times that strategy can feel too stiff and scripted. The Blue Devils have thrived this year with a more fluid offensive style that’s focused on putting decision-making in the players’ hands rather than force them to run set plays. 

“It’s teaching people to be able to read the situation and react to the defense and figure out what's gonna be a useful thing to do next in a unique situation that’s literally never occurred before,” Norsen said. “So it's definitely trying to focus more on developing… sort of a game IQ as opposed to just endlessly rehearsing certain physical skills in a kind of out of context way, which I think is how a lot of teams practice.”

It’s been paying off in a major way for the Blue Devils, which will see if they can find the same success at PVI that they did at the Amherst Invitational. 

Between Northampton and Amherst, seven teams at the JV and varsity level will compete at PVI this weekend. Full schedules and other details can be found online (pvinvite.org). Saturday features pool play contests before championship-style bracket play runs on Sunday.

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.
Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Valley Advocate Newsletter
Daily Hampshire Gazette Dining & Entertainment


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy