Chasing Amherst: 2012 HS Northeasterns Girls Preview
Posted: May 10, 2012 03:14 PM
Twelve girls’ Ultimate teams will take the field this weekend for the High School Northeastern Championship at Rogers Field in Devens, Mass. Some schools will travel from as far away as Pennsylvania; others will stay within Massachusetts. However far 11 of those teams will have to travel, they’ll have to get through the defending Eastern champion Amherst Hurricanes to take home the title.
"I think we are as good as last year," says third-year Amherst coach Josh Nugent, an Amherst Ultimate alum himself.
The Hurricanes lost just five players to graduation last spring, and they’ve come back with an offense designed to minimize turnovers and challenge defenses deep. That strategy has resulted in a 24-3 record, including a dominating 6-0 stroll through the Amherst Invitational in which they outscored opponents 90-21.
"We probably have the best arms on the east coast right now in terms of hucks," says Nugent.
Senior captain Amelia Mead leads Amherst’s handlers, with WFDF World Junior Ultimate Championship duo Angela Zhu and Zoe Freedman Coleman providing Mead her biggest targets.
Citing Freedman Coleman’s dance background, Nugent calls her "one of the most agile players that I’ve seen play."
Amherst will face some tough competition from the 2011 New Jersey champion Watchung Hills Lady Warriors. They’ve already won two tournaments in Pennsylvania – Radnor’s Green Eggs and Spam and the O’Hara Invite – and enter the tournament seeded second overall behind Amherst. They mix patient offense with an incredibly athletic defense.
"I've tried to make the team in my own image," writes Watchung Hills coach Mike Porter in an e-mail. "I'm a short guy who used to just run and run and grind my opponent into the ground with my conditioning and stamina."
Junior Olivia Hampton and senior Julie Park lead the Lady Warriors on the field. Hampton will also play in the WJUC this summer, while Park, according to Porter, "provides leadership and is probably responsible for any mischief that occurs." On Park, Porter adds: "She will actually be across town studying in a library when it all goes down, and thus will have an airtight alibi."
The Wild Hogs of Pittsburgh‘s Mt. Lebanon High School pose the biggest dark-horse threat to the Hurricanes and Lady Warriors. They finished second behind Taylor Allderdice in both the Pittsburgh High School Ultimate League and the Pennsylvania State Championship in 2011, and this year they’ve recruited several multi-sport athletes.
"We don't really get any girls that just come off the couch and decide to play," says Mt. Lebanon coach Ellie Shaul.
With a win at the YHB Invite in Virginia already in the books, Shaul says this year’s team could challenge Amherst deep, especially with senior and junior captains Jill Virgi and Teresa Grinko handling.
"She and Jill mesh together really well," says Shaul of Grinko. "She also definitely has the long throw. She has good fakes."
Beyond the tourney’s contenders and would-be upsetters, a second tier sees Northeasterns as a developmental opportunity. Pioneer Valley Performing Arts (South Hadley, Mass.), Pennsbury High School (Fairless Hills, Penn.), St. Johnsbury’s Academy (Vermont) and Amherst’s JVA team all fall into this category.
"Our expectations and hopes are always to surprise someone to up our seed," says Amherst JVA coach John Bechtold. "We like being the underdogs."
The SJA Hilltoppers, meanwhile, run 1-3-3 defense used by very few high school girls’ team. This lets them stay competitive with more experienced teams, but, cautions Coach Jonathan Davis, "Amherst and Watching, we're not going to be able to impact them."
"Our handling core is young," Davis says. "They’re all sophomores, so they’ve got a way to go. There are some people who’re literally starting from scratch."
Puff, the Pennsbury team, is both self-coached and relatively inexperienced. Captain Kathleen Raftery has only been playing for three years, "but that’s a long time for Pennsbury."
Because Puff uses a four-man cup, Raftery says her team prefers man defense. On offense, Raftery handles, often in conjunction with hucking-specialist Kassidy Groves and chief cutter Bethany Tesarck.
"If we can establish a good flow and keep our energy up, I think we'll be able to do pretty well," Raftery says.
And as for the HUDA Women of Haverford High (Havertown, Penn.), Coach Tracy Berg says, "We see Northeasterns as something that’s going to help us get ready for states."
While the Lady Warriors lead the B Pool, the Golden Gophers from Andover (Mass.) and Sparkle Motion from Ultimate-inventing Columbia High (Maplewood, NJ,) fill in its lower seeds.
"We're going to play a lot of tougher teams in closer games than we're used to," says Andover coach Keith Westgate. "It'll be interesting to see the girls respond to a higher level of competition and see how they handle it."
While the Golden Gophers will rely on senior trio Alisa Quin, Melanie Nesteruk and Marianna Heckendorn, Sparkle Motion takes its cues from senior captains Hannah Hart and Gabriela Cincotta.
"They both have strong basic skills, and they’re both possessed of an ability to see the field and not react too quickly under pressure," says Columbia coach Pat Morrissy.
Pittsburgh Allderdice and Stuyvesant High School from New York City round out the field of 12. Neither team’s coaches could be reached for comment.