Amherst Hurricanes Win Fifth-Straight Northeasterns Title
Posted: May 24, 2016 12:02 PM
Lexington Fooligals (3) v. Allderdice Ninja Samurai (7)
Coming into this game, I still had no idea what to expect from Allderdice. They won easily against a depleted Lower Merion team and Watchung Hills JV; they won on double-game-point over 12th-seeded West Windsor-Plainsboro, and they suffered a strange 11-2 defeat to Amherst (strange that they only put up two points but managed to keep Amherst from scoring 13 points).
Allderdice had earned their spot in the championship bracket, just not as decisively as Lexington. The Fooligals’ dominant wins over Radnor and Columbia, along with their amazing double-game-point, come-from-behind victory over fourth-seeded Fox Chapel, in my opinion, gave them the edge over Allderdice heading into the quarterfinal. This opinion was strengthened upon hearing that Miranda Kosowski would be sidelined Sunday due to a potential concussion suffered during pool play.
From the opening pull, the Allderdice plan of attack was to find power positions for their huckers and to time their deep cuts off of it. They received and quickly missed long on a deep shot. I expected the Lexington offense to look a lot like what I had seen on Saturday -- controlling the tempo of the game using lateral swings to find their big, fast cutters in space and then hitting open hucks. Right away, it was Eva McDermott looking for Tess Johnson cutting underneath, but she was denied by Sofia Vidic. Sofia Kosowski picked up and dropped a cross-field flick blade into the steady hands of Carlisle Turner. 1-0 Allderdice.
Lexington’s first offensive point started smoothly with a huck to Mira Anderberg, but turned sour moments later when Anderberg’s attempt to jam it to Johnson in the end zone fell incomplete. Sofia Kosowski and Sara Liang ran the show for Dice, breaking the mark at will, usually finding Peyton Skinker and Carlisle Turner underneath and getting the disc back to quickly find their next target. Eventually, Turner hit Kosowski in stride for backhand power position, and Kosowski hucked to Skinker for the break. 2-0.
Down two, the Fooligans looked to connect deep on a pull play to Johnson, but it was denied once again by Allderdice’s Vidic. After a few quick throws, Sara Liang earned power position for a big lefty flick huck to Kosowski who somehow overcame the height deficit to get up over Anderberg for the goal. 3-0.
This time, it looked like Lexington had put one in on a Tess Johnson backhand huck to Elise Counsell, but the play was negated by a pick call. A quick turnover turned into another Sara Liang flick bomb to Vidic for the third consecutive Ninja Samurai break. 4-0.
Lexington still looked poised and in good spirits, knowing full well that there was plenty of ultimate yet to be played on the windless, sunny morning. Johnson worked the backfield with juniors Maggie Zhang and Lenna Wolffe. The three dinked and dunked their way to midfield where Wolffe found Sarah Nadler on the break side who continued to Johnson on a gorgeous low-release inside flick that sat perfectly for the goal. 4-1.
A few tremendous efforts on D, including a Bonnie Nguyen point block and a Maggie Zhang run-through block, weren’t enough to keep Allderdice from holding as Skinker scored on a give-and-go with Kosowski. 5-1.
Dice went on to take half 7-2, and broke twice out of half for 9-2, but Lexington showed no signs of giving up. Coach Lizzy Cooke made sure the Fooligals’ sideline was active and loud while Allderdice’s Sam Schurer was trying to even out playing time to ensure that the 11 remaining healthy athletes would stay that way.
A brilliant pull play saw Johnson hit Anderberg in stride for an easy hold that made it 9-3. Then a quick transition after Johnson caught a sneaky block from the wing position in the Lexington junk set gave them new hope at 9-4. Lexington ran the same junky defensive set on the next point, but Sara Liang got the disc every other throw and just barely found Vidic in the corner of the end zone past an incredible bidding Anderberg. 10-4.
Another well-run pull play gave Lexington an easy score to make it 10-5 with Anderberg finding Zhang wide open for the score. But then Dice found junior Kathleen Walter on the goal line and something wild occurred – Walter tried to throw a backfield reset, but after her release, the disc was swatted upward by the long reach of Tess Johnson, only to float back down to Walter in the end zone for the goal. 11-5 Ninja Samurai.
With about 10 minutes until hard cap, Lexington still did not quit. They scored three more times before the game ended at 12-8.
Fox Chapel (4) v. Amherst JVA Hurricanes (5)
During the last 10 minutes of the round, I got to check out the tight contest between Fox Chapel and Amherst JVA. At 10-9 in favor of JVA, the horn blew for hard cap. Moments later, JVA’s Dana McGill skillfully timed her bid for a great layout block on a poach off of the open-side handler. A few throws later, she caught the goal from Sydney Zobel for bookends and the game. 11-9 JVA.
Both games were lopsided, but I will comment with just a few notes.
Watchung Hills Lady Warriors (2) v. Allderdice Ninja Samurai (7)
Watchung Hills smartly ran a junk set on defense that requires a lot of skilled throws and/or quick movement from the offense to navigate. The junk set was extremely effective against the exhausted group from Allderdice. But even so, Watchung Hills looked like a more skilled team overall. Their cutters did a tremendous job of spreading the field and giving Kate Stoll and Jessie Sun a ton of space to throw.
Watchung Hills took half 7-1 and opened up their lines a bit, cruising to a 13-6 victory.
Amherst Hurricanes (1) v. Amherst JVA Hurricanes (5)
This game was played in a total mud pit, and both sides relished in it. Every time I looked up, another player was hitting the floor. Either the Amherst coaching staff has a way of teaching all-out defensive intensity, or it is just something that has been ingrained in the storied culture of the program. My guess is both.
The game itself ended at 13-4 Amherst. I didn’t get to see a ton of them this weekend, but a few JVA players who look like locks for next year’s varsity team are freshman Sydney Zobel and sophomores Aviva Weinbaum and Dana McGill.
Amherst Hurricanes (1) v. Watchung Hills Lady Warriors (2)
Storm clouds gathered as the much-anticipated match up was getting set to begin. Both Amherst and Watchung Hills had large, loud sidelines filled with teammates, family and their respective JV squads.
A deep opening pull from Amherst was answered by a decisive four-throw hold from the Watchung offense, working it up the flick side. Amherst’s next line had already trotted onto the field before anyone recognized that a pick had been called. The disc went back to the thrower and was turned over on the following throw. Watchung’s defensive strategy was to gum up the middle of the field by sagging their handler defenders into the throwing lanes. This allowed a lot of free swings for little or no yards, but the defense tightened up when a handler tried to gain up-field position. On their first possession, Amherst threw directly into a force-side lane poach. But after another Watchung turn, Amherst's second possession saw Shira Yeskel-Mednick dribble her way up the field with quick give-and-goes to earn the Amherst defensive line its first break of the game.
The following point had a few more turnovers from the Watchung offense, but the Lady Warriors continued to deploy their junk defense to earn the disc back. Rachel Tigol played particularly well as a handler cover in the defensive scheme, allowing only flat swings and adjusting her mark and positioning to take away some of Amherst’s persistent attempts to dribble past the poaches. To cap off the point, Tigol squeezed an inside backhand between her mark and an Amherst defender to knot the game at 1-1.
Watchung’s sagging defense combined with Amherst’s strict refusal to throw anything over the top or deep created an interesting chess match that continued throughout the game. Outside of specific instances when the coaching staff instructed a certain player to get tight, Watchung never transitioned out of their junk. They kept it all the way down the field, leaving players unguarded on the outsides of the end zone, but they forced the looks to those players to be over or around a lane poach – looks the Amherst throwers were not willing to attempt. I counted five goal-line turnovers from Amherst's D-line offense on a point that resulted in a crucial Watchung hold for 3-3.
Amherst’s defensive scheme was much simpler, and arguably more effective. They played tight – positioning well, running hard and laying out. Even though the Hurricanes’ offense often struggled to score, their defense was incredibly efficient at earning the disc back, if only to once again attempt to dribble the entire length of the field.
With the inescapable pressure placed on them by the true-to-form "Hurricane" Amherst defense in front of them, the Watchung throwers were much more readily shooting upfield. Even when running a clean offensive system – clearing space in front of the disc and isolating one cut at a time into that space – it appeared that each Amherst defender was absolutely comfortable defending a one-on-one match up on an island.
As eluded to in the tournament preview Jessie Sun, Kate Stoll and Chelsea Sempre were the big three on offense for the Lady Warriors. The team’s best possessions were run through Sun handling, with a combination of Stoll and Sempre cutting and continuing to each other, though Stoll’s big-game throwing abilities often drew her out of the cutting space and into the backfield. With the game tied at 3-3, Jessie Sun launched a monster outside-in flick blade between two defenders for a sliding Stoll to put the game back on serve at 4-3 Watchung. The Lady Warriors’ sideline was blowing up!
Meanwhile, Amherst was remaining completely composed, somehow unphased by the first deficit they had seen all weekend, perhaps all season. At this point, both sides seemed confident they would win Northeasterns. But Jo-Z Coppinger and company had been playing nearly flawless ultimate all weekend, no matter who they were competing against, preparing for this challenge so they would not have to change their game plan when it finally arrived. They were not about to let something as small as numbers on a scoreboard deter them from continuing to play their game.
Refining their small-ball strategy, Coppinger and Leija Helling distributed, along with April Weintraub and Elende Connor, to pick apart the Watchung defensive set. Amherst held and then broke to take back the lead at 5-4. On the following point, Watchung turfed the second throw, giving the Hurricanes’ an easy break for 6-4, and they never looked back. Watchung had numerous goal-line chances to get back to 6-5, but were denied each time, and Amherst broke to take half 7-4.
Amherst held out of half, 8-4. Timeout Amherst. The cat-and-mouse game that was the first half left very little time for Watchung to put together a comeback -- the Lady Warriors needed to score quickly. A well-executed pull play put Sun in power position at midfield on the flick side where she hucked beautifully to Sempre for the easiest goal scored against Amherst all weekend. 8-5.
The ensuing point would be the last as Amherst punched in a goal to a leaping cutter just as the first bolt of a lightning storm struck in the distance. With the score at 9-5 and hard cap only minutes away, the lightning was enough for the tournament directors to call the game and crown the Amherst Hurricanes Northeasterns Champions once again. For the fifth straight year, the Amherst girls accomplished what no other girls’ program can now achieve. They won High School Northeasterns.
Notes on teams that I did not get to write much about:
North Allegheny NAGU
Played a very tight game against JVA, had the disc down 5-6 in hard cap before eventually losing 5-7. Julia Buss, Mary Grace Antonich and Emma Phelps are a rock-solid handling core. Buss had big flick pulls in the wet and windy conditions. Phelps made big throws through the cup and around aggressive marks. Dom Ross, Natalie Moul and Cara Schwartz did the bulk of the cutting for the small-rostered squad this weekend. They really came together and played well as team to earn wins against Fieldston, Columbia, Lower Merion and Watchung JV this weekend to place ninth overall.
This is a team that was started in 2014 by the two current captains, Jessie Hamilton and Julia Rosenberg. I wasn’t sure if Rosenberg was playing or not. She is listed as #66 on the roster, but I couldn’t find a #66 on the field. Alexandra Josephson (#19), Flora Villalobos and Jessie Hamilton all netted a ton of Ds and either threw or caught most of their goals. People should watch out for these players entering the college circuit in the coming years. They have done a great job of building the program as the Sheagles are already a premier girls’ ultimate program in the state of New York.
I really only got to watch a few points from the Lady Warriors JV team throughout the weekend. During those points, I saw Sydney Brewster, Rebecca Chang and Brenda Peng all make some really nice plays. It is clear from watching the structured play of Watchung JV that they are learning to play the right way, setting up a group comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores for future success.
Columbia Sparkle Motion
I really have to apologize for not watching Columbia at all during any round of the event. I should have made an effort to get to their field for at least some of a game, but once quarterfinals started and I hadn’t yet seen them, I knew I had screwed up. Throughout the weekend, I heard some high praise of Anna Winters, Olivia Woodruff and Corali Francois from Columbia’s opponents.
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