2010 Easterns Sunday Championship Play - Open Division

Posted: May 16, 2010 08:48 PM

The matchup of fifth-seeded Watchung Hills and sixth-seeded Needham was a tight battle from beginning to end and one of the most exciting games of the day.  Senior David Lunetta was one of Needham’s standout players throughout the game and he made his presence known early, with a great deep cut to the end zone out of Needham’s side-stack offense to tie the game at four. Needham came out on the following point running what looked like a tight four-man cup, but Watchung Hills’ handlers showed great patience.  Stephen Silva and Anthony Kwok worked the disc around the Needham zone with accurate swings and scoobers over the top of the cup.  A well-placed hammer to the corner of the end zone then gave Watchung the lead, 5-4.  Watchung Hills’ Scott Hampton laid out in the end zone to break up a score on the following point, and Watchung was able to capitalize on the turn, breaking Needham to take a two-point lead.  While Needham was able to cut the lead back down to one, two points later, Watchung Hills showcased their athletic prowess as Scott Hampton laid out once again for a disc three-quarters of the way up the field before getting up to find a diving Sean Wang for the score and to take half 7-5.

After halftime, Watchung Hills was able to take its biggest lead of the game on an impressive backhand break throw up the line, bringing the score to 10-7. Play began to get sloppy as both teams turned over possession on a few ugly missed catches and impatient deep shots, but Needham used tight dump defense to force a turnover and cut the lead to two points. On the next point, Needham’s Manit Munshi got bookends by getting a hand on an in-cut and reeling in a break throw to bring the score to 10-9 and give Needham some momentum.  Needham was able to keep the momentum, utilizing strong up-line handler cuts to erase the lead.  Sean Wang did his best to stop Needham’s three-point run, tracking down a big huck in the end zone to regain the lead for the Warriors, 11-10.  Matt Bandes, whose disc movement was impressive all day as he led Needham’s offense from the handler position, took advantage of Watchung Hills’ inability to stop to the up-line cut as he tied the game just before soft cap came on.  Needham’s Munshi skillfully toed the end zone sideline with an impressive grab to give Needham the lead, but a sky on the end zone line and a nice follow-up throw by Watchung Hills tied it again.

Needham went on to finish its comeback: David Lunetta capped off an impressive game by finding Andrew Goldstein in the corner of the end zone with a well-put outside-in flick to win 13-12. Needham impressed spectators with their ability to fight to stay close and eventually come back, and both teams put on an athletic performance as players were throwing their bodies through the air on every point to save possession and generate turns.

Haverford’s quarterfinal matchup pit HUDA against the boys from the established and revered Columbia High School.  Both teams favored traditional vertical stack offenses and aggressive man defenses (though CHS did utilize some horizontal stack), which made for an incredibly grinding game.

Evan Walter, Jesse Daugherty, Brian Phillips, and Eric Nelson did an excellent job running CHS’ vertical stack, following their throws to receive dishy dumps and exercising patience when they reached the HUDA red zone.  Haverford countered CHS’ more patient offense with a vertical stack that looked to huck off swings and strike cuts.  HUDA’s Tyler Kunsa was a force on both sides of the disc, but he was most effective when feeding explosive cutter Connor Lynch.  As long as Kunsa’s hucks gave Lynch a chance to come down with the disc (and they almost always did) Lynch would finish the job and sky or outrun any Columbia defender that dared guard him.  Kunsa and Lynch would connect for seven goals before the game was out.

HUDA broke to take half, 7-6, but the Evan Walter-Matt Wright offensive connection kept Columbia in the game.  Columbia stayed within two for most of the second half and then turned up the pressure at 12-10 HUDA.  Columbia tried switching the force more frequently to confuse HUDA handlers and eliminate HUDA cutting threats, and this strategic adjustment helped Columbia earn two breaks as the game went into the soft cap.  Once CHS forced turns, its cutters would get open under, and easy force side offense made for two easy goals.

The soft cap points turned the game into a huckfest.  Both teams turned the disc over several times and looked for quick transition hucks but rarely connected on them.  HUDA was able to score twice in the soft cap, though, and Kunsa’s tenth assist of the game sent the Alliance into the Semifinals.

Middletown looked to continue its Cinderella run against the fourth-seeded Holy Family Revolution, but things didn’t start well in the Firestarters’ quarterfinal game.  Firestarter handlers threw into Revolution poaches on several of the first few points.  What’s more, Daniel Schuster’s excellent deep throws and the deft cuts and grabs of Frank Strasser and Tony Bort combined to create nightmares for the Middletown defenders.  Holy Family was the team that really started the fire, as the Revolution jumped out to a 4-0 lead and cruised into halftime with a 7-3 lead.

In the second half, Middletown stepped up its man defense but struggled to find ways around the Revolution’s poachy, clam-like defense. Firestarter cutters didn’t help the situation by standing still at times and allowing Revolution defenders to sit in the force-side lane.  Middletown’s horizontal stack was able to establish flow in a few points, and when they did, Alex Wetherell ran the show.  He put on a goal-line offense clinic, swinging the disc from sideline to sideline and executing decisive dump cuts while remaining patient.  Wetherell’s efforts and Jonathan Aldieri’s defense helped the Firestarters claw back to 11-10, but cheeky clam defense and smooth horizontal stack offense enabled the Revolution to produce two more points and advance to the semifinals.

Amos Adams threw four assists and caught one goal to help the Amherst Hurricanes take half against West Windsor 7-3.  Amherst’s stifling defense held the Knights to just one point in the second half, and the Hurricanes moved into the semifinal round with a 13-4 victory.

Connor Lynch stayed true to form by opening the scoring for HUDA in the semifinals with a phenomenal leaping grab over a well-positioned Needham defender.  Needham quickly responded with a score of its own, and it became clear that both teams would run aggressive vertical stack offenses that looked to huck off swings and strike cuts.  And even though both teams played man defense against the other’s stack, Needham’s defense appeared just a bit more intense.  At 1-1, Needham Ultimate rattled off two breaks, thanks to the energetic defense and cutting of Manit Munshi, Andrew Goldstein, and John Csaplar.

After a layout grab by HUDA’s Simon Freeman in the Needham end zone, HUDA pulled to within one at 3-2, but Needham’s Andrew Goldstein responded with a score off of a transition string play to give the boys from Massachusetts a two-goal lead once again.  Needham and Haverford would trade points until 6-4, when Haverford proceeded to throw the disc away one too many times.  Needham calmed down offensively by passing up on some of the deep shots they had been taking in favor of a more reliable, calculated offense.  This chilly approach (that featured fierce in- and handler-cuts) helped the sixth seed convert on another break opportunity and take half 7-4.  For the first time in a while, Needham wouldn’t have to dig itself out of a staggering hole after half time.

But Haverford refused to roll over in the second half, and intense man defense, combined with effective handler movement/cutting, brought HUDA to within one at 8-7 and 9-8.  Connor Lynch caught multiple scores while Tyler Kunsa, Eric Shaw, and Simon Freeman provided solid handling and admirable defending on both cutters and handlers.

Needham showed their skill, though, by answering Haverford’s comeback.  Needham’s handlers initiated a quick pull play for another Andrew Goldstein score to put Needham up 10-8.  And once Haverford became more desperate in the game’s later stages, throwing up more questionable hucks and taking riskier shots at the end zone, Needham capitalized on HUDA turns with quick, accurate transition offense led by Goldstein, Munshi, Matt Bandes, Ben Krupp, and David Lunetta.  After a marathon final point with many turns, Needham finally sealed their victory by a score of 13-8.

Amherst came out of the gates flying, jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead behind the defensive play of junior Amos Adams, one of Amherst’s most dominant players throughout the tournament. Holy Family was able to get on the board as Frank Strasser caught a well-thrown huck for a score.  Amherst looked extremely strong on both sides of the disc, but their marks were especially impressive as they got a couple of point blocks and were able to force the Holy Family throwers to put up weak, floaty throws high in the stall count. In an Amherst turnover in which a Hurricane was unable to catch up with a huck (after the ‘Cane defense got a layout block), Holy Family efficiently marched it up the field and looked like it might stay close to Amherst, making the score 4-2. However, Amherst was too strong, and the ‘Canes took half 7-2 behind standout play from Adams and teammates Spencer Diamond and Jonah Herscu; all three have been selected to play for the United States World Junior team.

In the second half, Amherst played excellent defense and showed their offensive skill as they utilized both excellent deep hucks and quick, short, crisp passing to tear through Holy Family’s defense. In one point, Amherst marched it down to the end zone and proceeded to swing it from sideline to sideline three consecutive times without pause until the ‘Canes found the perfect look to score.  Amherst attacked on defense and threw Holy Family off, as the Revolution offensive cogs were unable to connect on their deep game, which had been threatening in previous games. Amherst’s quick transitions to offense never allowed Holy Family’s defense to look comfortable against the speed of Amherst’s cutters or constant disc movement. Amherst rarely made a poor decision or turned the disc over and showed why it has become one of the elite high school programs in the country. After going down 11-2, Holy Family showed some life by finally connecting on a huck and capitalizing on one of Amherst’s rare turnovers for a 3-1 run; but it was too little to late as Amherst closed it out 13-5.

Reaching the finals and breaking seed was a commendable achievement for Needham Ultimate.  But Needham’s impatience in the red zone proved to be its death knell in the Eastern Championships final against Amherst.  On four of the first seven points, after patiently working the disc into the Amherst red zone, Needham handlers forced throws into tight spaces or threw discs away after miscommunication.  After these turns, Amherst’s transition offense was near perfect and arguably better than many college-level D-line offenses.  The transition unit was entirely capable of scoring off quick, big, accurate hucks or through a smooth horizontal stack offense that featured intelligent cutting, accurate swinging, and remarkably fast disc movement.  Rarely did an Amherst handler or cutter hold on to the disc past stall four or five, as ‘Canes knew when to dump and how to go through their progression of looks after catching swings or unders.  Surya Murty, Spencer Diamond, Jonah Herscu, Amos Adams, and Alex Light all generated turns and produced goals for the Hurricanes to help them take half 7-0.

Amherst’s offensive line, which featured many of the same players that stayed on the field for the entire first half, put on a horizontal stack clinic to score its first goal of the second half and go up 8-0.  The disc never stayed in a ‘Cane hand for more than two or three seconds, as Diamond, Herscu, Adams, and others moved the disc up the field with ease via force- and break-side in-cut throws and swings.  After Amherst punched in another break, Ben Krupp, Dave Lunetta, Andrew Goldstein, and Matt Bandes worked patiently (even in the red zone) through the Hurricane zone to get Needham on the board.  Shortly thereafter, Herscu and Light connected for their third consecutive score, and Amherst went up 10-1.  Diamond, Light, Herscu, and Adams worked together to produce the next two scores for Amherst, and the Hurricanes claimed the Eastern Championship once Light reeled in a Charlie Kannel break throw.

With all due respect to the boys of Needham Ultimate, saying Amherst dominated would be an understatement.  Their level of play in the final, while consistent with previous strategy was arguably higher than it had been all weekend—after all, the Hurricanes finished off Needham in just 38 minutes!  Amherst man and zone defenses generated more than a dozen turns with smothering marks and stifling downfield guarding.   And no other team in the tournament had Amherst’s offensive discipline.  The Hurricanes never forced a huck or questionable throw; all of their (incredibly few) turns were the result of cutters slipping or throwers simply missing their mark.  But turns were rarely an issue for this offense that was capable of opening up a deep game and working the disc under and around in its nearly perfect horizontal stack.  Each and every player trusted in the Hurricane offensive system and progression of looks, and worked incredibly hard in both defensive schemes.

Additionally, the Hurricanes played with class and respected all of their opponents, which earned them a perfect Spirit rating and a Tournament Spirit Trophy to complement their Championship.  Tournament Director Kevin Jacobs said it best at the closing award ceremony: “Amherst Ultimate is all that we strive to be – they’re great players and a great team, and they play with incredible spirit even in decisive victory!”