Northampton ultimate gears up to host Pioneer Valley Invitational

  • Lili Lieberman-Bachman, left, of Northampton, passes against a Ottawa defender during the Pioneer Valley Ultimate Tournament, Saturday at the Oxbow fields.

  • Claire Babbott-Bryan, right, of Northampton, goes to an incoming pass during the Pioneer Valley Ultimate Tournament, Saturday at the Oxbow fields.

  • Oscar Fischer, right, of Northampton, begins a pass against Sharon during the Pioneer Valley Ultimate Tournament, Saturday at the Oxbow fields.

  • Avery Cirincione-Lynch, left, of Northampton, passes away from a Sharon defender during the Pioneer Valley Ultimate Tournament, Saturday at the Oxbow fields.

Published: 5/17/2018 10:43:53 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Pioneer Valley Invitational crown weighs on the Northampton girls ultimate team.

The Blue Devils captured the title last year, avenging a loss in the 2016 championship match. Only three starters remain from that team.

“I feel like there might be a little bit of pressure to maintain that title with a new team,” Northampton senior Lili Lieberman-Bachman said.

Northampton placed fifth at last weekend’s Amherst Invitational, a respectable showing against an elite field. But the PVI means something different for the Blue Devils.

“There’s a certain element of pride to hosting a tournament. It’s your turf,” senior Claire Babbott-Bryan said. “You’re defending the name of the tournament. We have a history of doing pretty well.”

They’ve won two championships in the tournament’s four-year history. Last year was the largest girls high school ultimate tournament in the country, and even more teams are coming to the Oxbow this weekend for its fifth incarnation. Play begins at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

There are 44 boys teams and 25 girls teams registered for the tournament, hailing from seven states and two Canadian provinces. They are traveling from as close as Amherst and as far as Seattle. It will be the largest girls high school ultimate tournament in history, according to tournament director Josh Seamon.

“It feels good to show off our town, show off our home and host a ton of awesome people who enjoy this sport,” Babbott-Bryan said. “They’re going to be intense, fun games. We’re really looking forward to making a name for ourselves.”

Finishing so strongly at the Amherst Invitational instilled belief in the Blue Devils.

“It gave us confidence that we can actually hold our own against teams that are nationally ranked,” Babbott-Bryan said.

Northampton is one of those nationally ranked teams. has them 23rd. They’re the highest-rated girls team in the field despite their youth.

“The overall spirit of this team is different from any other year. It’s a lot of positive attitudes and working together to create a more cohesive team,” Babbott-Bryan said. “That kind of intention hasn’t really been seen before in the past seasons, and I think that’s exciting for everyone.”

Boys tournament

A PVI championship usually feels attainable for the Northampton boys team. This year it would be a major achievement.

“We certainly have a great team, but I don’t know if we’re in the upper echelon of teams coming,” Northampton coach Lee Feldscher said. “If we do win, I’ll feel like we upset some people.”

Some of those people include defending champion and second-ranked Amherst Regional and No. 11 Westfield (New Jersey). The Hurricanes are coming off a title in their own tournament last weekend where they defeated Northampton in the opening round of bracket play.

“I’d love to play Amherst varsity again,” Northampton senior Oscar Fischer said. “They’re the best team in the area. We strive toward them.”

The Blue Devils went 0-6 at the Amherst Invitational, but excelled in stretches.

“We didn’t have a great finish at the Amherst Invitational, but there were moments where we played incredibly well,” Fischer said. “If we can elevate the whole tournament to that level, we can win.”

Winning, or at least trying to win, is important for Northampton. Avery Cirincione-Lynch has played ultimate since fifth grade and watched the tournament grow over its first four years.

“At other tournaments we’ll play a team and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, are you the team that hosts PVI? It’s a really cool thing,”’ he said. “The PVI is the most fun I’ve had. It’s this huge moment for our community.”

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