In-demand Pioneer Valley Invitational ultimate tournament returns to Oxbow at full capacity

  • Northampton’s Olive Polson-Filas knocks the disc away from Amherst’s Tae Weiss in the end zone at JFK Middle School. The Blue Devils will host the Pioneer Valley Invitational the Oxbow for the first time since 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Northampton’s Meghan O’Connor throws away from Amherst’s Anna Burns at JFK Middle School. The Blue Devils will host the Pioneer Valley Invitational the Oxbow for the first time since 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Northampton’s Rohin Singh  throws deep in a practice drill Thursday at JFK Middle School. The Blue Devils will host the Pioneer Valley Invitational the Oxbow for the first time since 2019. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Northampton senior Evan Yurko throws deep in a practice drill Thursday at JFK Middle School. The Blue Devils will host the Pioneer Valley Invitational the Oxbow for the first time since 2019. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Northampton’s Jake Young catches a deep pass in a practice drill Thursday at JFK Middle School as Joe Brooks-Kahn observes. The Blue Devils will host the Pioneer Valley Invitational the Oxbow for the first time since 2019. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2022 8:37:27 PM
Modified: 5/13/2022 8:35:49 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Pioneer Valley Invitational means everything to the Northampton ultimate program. It’s a chance to bring the ultimate community together. They can show off their town and their sports. It also raises funds to support all of its teams.

“It’s like the highlight of our season. I think we really push ourselves to not only do well in performance there, but I know we have a lot of spirit. We want to be the most spirited team there,” Northampton senior Evan Yurko said. “This is the peak of our season.”

The Blue Devils haven’t experienced it since 2019, the last time the tournament happened. Two years of COVID-19 related cancellations built anticipation and longing. There are 56 teams signed up for the tournament’s seventh edition. It’s the same number of boys teams (37) as in 2019. They’ll contest 167 games over two days Saturday and Sunday at 18 fields at the Oxbow in Northampton. The teams come from seven states and two Canadian provinces.

“It’s bigger than we hoped it would be,” tournament director Josh Seamon said. “What I underestimated was how much pent up demand there was for quality ultimate.”

Play will begin at 8 a.m. both Saturday (pool play) and Sunday (bracket rounds). The championship matches are currently scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday. Four Rivers is the defending boys champion, while Seattle’s Ingraham High School (not attending this year) won the girls title in 2019.

The tournament is drawing teams from as close as Amherst and Northampton to as far as western Canada. Both the Hurricanes and Blue Devils are bringing their junior varsity squads in addition to their top groups.

“The biggest thing the [tournament] tries to do is create a quality ultimate tournament for all teams,” Seamon said. “The ultimate community misses being able to come together full stop. It’s a community oriented sport. We bring together so many different regions that don’t normally play against each other.”

The PVI is the middle jewel in the Pioneer Valley ultimate triple crown, in a way. Amherst ushered in the spring tournament season with the Amherst Invitational last weekend, and the Massachusetts-based teams have the state tournament to look forward to back at the Oxbow on May 28-29.

The Hurricanes boys team won its third straight title at AI, while the Blue Devils soaked in the experience after placing eighth in one of the region’s toughest fields.

“We didn’t do that well last weekend, and I think it was really eye opening,” Yurko said. “Watching the championship game, I was just writing down notes. We really applied that to this week of practices and really setting ourselves up I think to do much better at PVI.”

Northampton’s girls team is coming off a fourth-place showing at AI in challenging wind conditions. The Blue Devils have spent most of the season crafting an identity under new coach Travis Norsen.

“It felt like we were building things up from scratch this season. I’m excited to see it come together this weekend in this national level tournament we’re luck to have in our back yard,” he said. “We scored a lot of tough upwind points with dozens of short, simple passes and it was beautiful to see it come together.”

With excellent weather expected this weekend (outside of potential thunderstorms Sunday afternoon), Northampton boys coach Lee Feldscher hopes the broader community beyond the ultimate world gives the sport a chance. It has easy to follow rules and features regular displays of skill and athleticism.

“We really do take a lot of pride in this tournament. The word has spread. This tournament is well known around the country,” he said. “If they were to pop down the Oxbow at some point this weekend, they get a great show of what a tournament can look like and how interesting the sport is.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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