Amherst Wins the 2016 High School Northeastern Championships
Posted: May 26, 2016 08:23 AM
Columbia (6) vs. Westfield (4)
Westfield High School had an inauspicious start in the most exciting game of quarterfinals. Early drops and miscommunications often gave Columbia a short field, and they took advantage, going up 5-0. Even when Westfield began to clean it up towards the end of the half, Columbia kept the buffer by converting after two massive layout blocks by Alex Rafkin. Columbia took half 7-2.
The second half looked like an entirely different game. Westfield fought back with steady handler movement from Cole Feltman, Connor Russell and Jack Liebing. The trio merely swung the disc to each other until break lanes opened, playing boring but effective ultimate to close the gap to 9-5. Soon after, Cole Feltman skied a much taller Columbia player, causing the sideline to erupt. Westfield carried this energy to earn three straight breaks.
At 9-8, Westfield began to taste a monumental comeback, and Columbia felt the pressure. Columbia’s Jack Kelley connected on a long forehand huck to space. Connor Feltman responded with one of his own.
Columbia threw a pass too high on an in-cut and set a zone at midfield. After a few swings, Connor Feltman appeared to be trapped on the sideline. He but sent a same-third blade over the cup moments before the mark could catch up and got downfield for the score, as his receiver remained unmarked for nearly 10 seconds. Westfield tied the game at 10s with momentum on their side.
Columbia responded with several huge plays to inspire a late-game surge. Alex Rafkin sent a pass to his favorite target, Russell Moy, who caught it over his defender but landed out of bounds. Soon after, Jack Kelly saved the possession by getting a layout D on a swing pass. On that same possession, Rafkin bid on a disc that was thrown behind him, making a great catch, and immediately threw a goal. Westfield made another error on the following point by hucking out of bounds. Columbia quickly worked the disc up-field, with Rafkin sending a trust pass to a covered Russell Moy, who beat his man to the disc and toed the line to stay inbounds for the score.
Columbia wins 13-10.
Montpelier (16) vs Radnor (10)
Montpelier had a great day Saturday to get into the championship bracket. The Vermont squad seemed very relaxed during warm-ups, practicing little dishes in a half-speed drill. Radnor barely outlasted Pine-Richland in a hard cap victory in Saturday’s play-in game and were fired up to be here. Each team had their Cinderella story, beating the top seed in their pool on Saturday on their way to the quarterfinals. For whom was it merely a flash-in-the-plan? Which team was the real deal?
Both teams decided to throw zone nearly the entire game. Montpelier’s zone stopped throws going through the middle by setting a two-man cup with a mark, while three midfield defenders swarmed crashes and sideline strikes. They seemed to overplay the unders, but Radnor simply couldn’t get into the flow of things to get the disc past half-field on the first three points.
On these short-field turnovers, Montpelier’s Reed Browning broke the mark with an arsenal of throws, and it was off to the races down the breakside. At one moment, Browning sent a cross-field blade into the end zone with no one in sight, but Elijah Coolidge scooped it up just before it hit the grass. 3-0 Montpelier, and Radnor called a timeout.
Radnor was able to take advantage of the zone overcommitting underneath at times after discussing it in the timeout. Yet nearly every time Radnor sent something deep, Isaac Avery-Padberg snagged it out of the air. Montpelier’s counterattacks began deeper, but followed a similar pattern. Nearly every player on the field touched the disc to get it up the field, putting the zone on its heels. Avery-Padberg and Browning would crash the cup and send a throw to one of their cutters once the zone weakened. After getting an up-field dump, Browning would detect a small opening in the defense and throw a goal. For one particularly nice assist, he sent a low, curving inside-out flick knifing between two Radnor defenders for a score. He finished the game with 11 assists.
Montpelier 13, Radnor 6.
Amherst (1) vs Montpelier (16)
This semifinal match up was not what anyone would have predicted coming into the tournament. Montpelier Coach Anne Watson commented that her boys were psyched to play a team whose players they admired so much.
Unfortunately, Montpelier’s excellent chemistry met its match in Amherst. They foiled the quick-strike offense quarterbacked by Reed Browning. While he was still effective at times, Amherst was able to keep the disc out of his hands by covering his multitude of dumps cuts. When Amherst threw zone, they had the athleticism to close the lanes opened by the handler weave run by Avery-Padberg and Browning.
Amherst Assistant Coach Leila Tunnell instructed, "dribble, dribble, dribble," from the sideline, and that is exactly what they did to dismantle the Montpelier defense. Amherst’s stable of skilled throwers neutralized the zone with quick disc movement. Montpelier resorted to man at times, which opened up the deep space where cutters could take advantage of mismatches. In the zone, Avery-Padberg was within closing distance of every deep shot, but Amherst could now use its depth to complete shots when Avery-Padberg was not in the vicinity.
Amherst wins 13-6.
Columbia vs. Pennsbury
This was the best game of the tournament. It was characterized by genuinely impressive plays you’d expect to see at a college or club tournament. At times, it was a shootout between Columbia’s Alex Rafkin and Pennsbury’s Tim Clarke, who each completed several full-field hucks for goals.
At other times, dynamic handler duos ruled the field with excellent passes and agile up-line cuts. Mac Rushing of Pennsbury had a great game. He notched several assists, distributed the disc at will, and burned his guy deep when Columbia forced him up-field in an attempt to keep him away from the disc. Columbia handlers Jack Kelly and Harry McNamara complemented Rafkin’s break throws and deep shots with steady handler movement.
Players were laying out whenever necessary on both sides of the disc. Both teams would work it up the field only to face disappointment as a pass would fly just out of reach or a defender would close a gap that looked safe. They traded points and traded breaks, and the score was either tied or one-up for all but one point of the game.
At that point, Columbia led 11-9, and hard cap was only minutes away. On the previous couple of points, Pennsbury had hucked the disc away or had drops just as they were gaining momentum. They got away from what they did best.
But in a gesture that defined the momentum swing to come, Tim Clarke sent 60-yard huck to Mac Rushing, who just barely edged out Columbia speedster Russell Moy to score the goal to make it 11-10.
Columbia was only 10 yards away from going up 12-10. Christian Pilla then flew past a waiting Columbia receiver with a huge layout block to give his team a chance. Columbia used shutdown defensive pressure shortly after the turn and forced Pennsbury to put up a bailout throw. Rushing saw the throw go up and chased the floaty disc 25 yards downfield. He out-read the pack to maintain possession for Pennsbury. He and Drew Ficarotta proceeded to give-and-go up the line, and Pilla caught the bookends goal to tie the game.
Columbia seemed unphased by Rushing’s heroics when receiving at 11-11. Jack Kelly and Henry McNamara were doing their thing – using patience and the threat of the deep throw to move the disc up-field. Russell Moy caught a gainer on the breakside, but uncharacteristically threw the continuation pass just a little too far up-line for his receiver – Pennsbury disc.
The hard cap blew, making it double-game point. Mac Rushing burned a timeout at the reverse brick. He and Drew Ficarotta kicked the disc around after it is tapped back in, not able to gain yardage. Ficarotta then put up a floaty break throw way out to space. Tim Clarke ran onto it out of the stack, bid, and landed on his chest while securing the game winner.
Pennsbury wins in hard cap 12-11.
Amherst (1) vs Pennsbury (2)
Moments after winning their semifinal on double-game point during hard cap, Pennsbury had to refocus and play a rested Amherst squad. Pennsbury still had legs and energy, but Amherst flashed a few defensive looks to get their opponents out of rhythm.
To stifle the Pennsbury offense, Amherst’s defense forced WJUC 2016 team member Mac Rushing up-field. Columbia employed this strategy in the previous game, only to have it backfire by having Rushing burn a multitude of defenders deep for goals. But Amherst’s defenders were able to match Rushing step for step. Their other defensive approach combined cutter defenders fronting their marks (at times even covering the lane instead of their man) with a more straight-up mark from the handler covers.
Without Rushing commanding the backfield and in-cuts ever more difficult to come by, Pennsbury was forced to take deep shots. They elected to throw the disc deep to cutters who were well covered. Oftentimes, the throw went out to a cutter on the same third of the field as the thrower. This game plan was not how Pennsbury reached the finals, and it resulted in turnovers more often than not.
Amherst’s D line took advantage of the turnovers with efficiency. They often worked the disc up-field with creative up-line cuts for huge chunks of yardage. D-line players Lennart Knight and Oliver Fay added to the offense by completing several deep shots. Amherst had too many ways to beat Pennsbury after the turn to be stopped.
In the end, Amherst defeated 2015 Northeasterns champion Pennsbury 13-4.
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