2015 HS Northeasterns - Day Two Recap

Posted: May 18, 2015 12:24 AM


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Pennsbury (boys) and Amherst (girls) claimed this year's titles at the High School Northeasten Championships in South Portland, Maine.

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Sittin’ at the Big Kids’ Table                        

There really is nothing like an ultimate tournament. And on Sunday, things get even better. No more 1 v. 16 blowouts. We know who has a chance to take it all, and we know they’re ready to do just that. This is when things get real, we separate the wheat from the chaff and get down to business. Today was an absolutely glorious spring day in Maine, nothing but sunshine from start to finish, yet not too hot, with just enough breeze to keep things cool and give the disc some action. Game on.

The fields are set up in strips of four, laid out end to end, and today we had the first two strips set up with girls’ quarters on one strip and boys’ quarters on the next. I still need the golf cart but have less distance to travel and fewer games to try and watch.

Come ride shotgun and join me for the action from day two at the 2015 High School Northeastern Championships…


I start out on the boys’ strip of fields, just down from tourney central. The first game I approach is Pennsbury v. Longmeadow. Last year, I was blown away by Pennsbury; I thought they would take it all, but they came up a bit short. After what I saw yesterday, I again thought they were the team to beat, but there are some great teams lined up to try to prove me wrong.

When I showed up, it was already 4-1, with Pennsbury in control. My notes say "playoff intensity." There was a palpable difference in the air – this is Sunday, and these guys seem to know what that means. I realize right off the bat that even though we’re down to the best eight teams, not all teams are created equal. I move on, assuming this one is over. Final score, 13-5 Pennsbury.

The next field down is Amherst v. Middletown, and it’s already 5-1 Amherst. I think to myself, "the semifinals are going to be awesome," as I realize there is still a big gap in the top eight, but probably not the top four. We’re about to find out who are the big boys and girls and who are not. I think to myself:

Who gets to sit at the Big Kids’ Table?

I have a hunch already, but I’ve been wrong before, and there’s a lot of ultimate yet to be played.

I hit the end of the boys’ strip and find Lexington v. Needham. This has potential. Lexington is up 3-1, then 3-2, but they start to pull ahead to 5-2. I feel like I found another big kid and move on, but will be back. It’s still early.

I drive down to field one, featuring Stuyvesant v. Columbia, and Columbia is up 5-4. I finally found a game. Columbia is playing a four-man cup, playing hard, and they take half at 7-4. I think I have found the big boys of these four games. Time to go see which girls will be sitting with them at the table.

First up is Amherst against someone. No offense to whomever Amherst was playing, but they are just that good. Score is 7-1. They already had a place at the head of the table, with a placemat and name tag, no surprises here.

Watchung Hills is already up 8-0 over Greely. Watchung seems ready to sidle up next to Amherst with the big kids.

Next is Cape Elizabeth. They’ve been playing great all weekend and are having a big run. I think this may be the best showing by a Maine team yet at Northeasterns. They’re down 5-7 to Amherst JV, then drop to 5-8. Strong showing for sure, they end the weekend with an impressive tie for fifth place after starting as the 11 seed, but nonetheless, they haven’t quite reached the big kids’ table yet.

Cape Elizabeth coach Matt Bates had been talking up Watchung all day on Saturday and now proclaims that they’ll beat Amherst. I assume he hasn’t seen Amherst, but he says he has. My notes say, "I’m still skeptical." Time to move on.

Our last game on the strip is Lexington v. Pioneer Valley. Lexington is up 7-3, then 8-3. By now, we know the routine: set them a place at the table and keep driving in search of a better game.

Back to the boys’ games, I settle in to watch Stuyvesant v. Columbia. Columbia is up 10-9 – this could be fun. Both teams are sloppy, something I noticed a few times as the intensity started to ratchet up. I often forget these are "kids" because they’re so good. They play like big leaguers so much of the time that it makes it easy to forget they’re just "kids" who can make mistakes. But they do, in-between the ridiculous big-league plays that seem to come so naturally.

Back to the game – my notes say "#18 Jesse Nelson is killing it, big layouts, three goals and three assists already." At this point it’s 11 – 10 Columbia, then it goes to 11s, then 12-11 Columbia. I really love watching ultimate. These kids are amazing.

Both teams just keep cranking it up, huge Ds on both sides, high-intensity ultimate. This is what it’s all about, and this is only the quarterfinals. Both of these teams could claim a seat at the table, but only one will. The scorekeeper tells me Stuyvesant hasn’t had a lead since 2-1. They’re fighting admirably but can’t seem to get the break they need. They throw an unforced error, an easy flick goes into the turf. Columbia capitalizes, shuts the door at 13-11, and sends Stuyvesant to the little kids’ table.

It’s only minutes until hard cap, and I’m at one end of the strip and see people still playing way at the far end. Clearly a big game is still happening, so I put the pedal to the metal and head for field eight. I’d heard rumors that the Lexington v. Needham game had heated up, so I assumed that’s what I was going to see.

I arrive with Lexington up 11-9, and tensions high. Needham’s Bryan Rothenberg gets a huge D to give Needham a chance back, but foul is called; he contests, and it goes back to Lexington. They play patient offense in the red zone and close it out at 12-9. Great game, great spirit, something I saw all weekend long.


Now the table has been set. We have hundreds of amazing ultimate players here, but we now know who the big kids are. This is real life; not everyone gets a trophy anymore, but some of these kids will, for good reason. I’m really fired up. This should be some great ultimate. Really great. Are you sure these are high school kids?

First up on the boys’ strip is Columbia vs. Amherst. Or as Maine Ultimate President Rich Young put it – "the birthplace of ultimate v. the pinnacle of high school ultimate." What a cool concept. This should be a great game.

But Amherst goes up 3-0 early. I make a note that Amherst’s Oliver Fay gets a sick layout D. His team is up 3-1, and now I’m thinking Columbia may be bypassing the table next round rather than sitting at it. Let’s go check out the other boys’ semifinal.

Pennsbury v. Lexington has huge potential. I show up when it’s 4-2 Pennsbury. They seem to be playing more as a team – they have great chemistry and amazing flow. Lexington seems to rely on Tannor Johnson, but this "kid" is amazing, so it make sense to lean on him a bit. After some research, I realize that Pennsbury’s big handler, Mac Rushing, has thrown or caught every goal so far. But somehow, his team still seems like more of a team. He flies under the radar, something Johnson will never do. In a good way.

At 5-3, both teams start to crank up the intensity. As mentioned earlier, this also leads to more mistakes, unforced errors that seem surprising from these guys. As an example, Johnson throws this huge but sloppy cross-field hammer; it should have been a turn, but his teammate makes a crazy layout grab to save it, then turfs his next throw. Emotions and tensions are running high. This is serious ultimate any way you slice it.

I have a note at this point that says "awesome spirit on both sides" – a theme I come back to again and again. To play this well and this hard and still be able to let it go – kudos to every one of them.

Back to the other boys’ game, Amherst is up 6-3, closer than expected based on what I saw early, but still not that close. Let’s hop back in the cart and go watch the girls.

Field one features Amherst v. Amherst JV. The JV team from Amherst is better than almost everyone else. That’s just amazing. But the varsity squad is up 7-1. What a shocker. Keep driving.

The other girls’ semifinal is Lexington v. Watchung Hills. Watchung is up 5-4. This could be fun.

And it is! Next point, Watchung’s Jessie Sun gets a Callahan to put them up 6-4. They are pumped. The Watchung defense is so strong, I just don’t see this one ending close. They make a huge steal with the score still at 6-4, call timeout on the goal line to try to take the half. Which they do. 7-4, this game is over.

Or so I thought.

I head back to what I think is the best of the four games, the Pennsbury v. Lexington boys’ game. Pennsbury is up 8-4, but then Tannor Johnson throws a massive flick to Jack Deschler to start to close the gap. Next is a marathon point which Lexington pulls out to get to 8-6.

Pennsbury then settles down, plays a calm offensive point, showing great teamwork, and Mac Rushing scores again. He has been part of seven of Pennsbury’s goals so far. This kid just may deserve to sit at the head of the table.

I love my next notes: "#93 Lex big layout D to save goal. Bodies flying everywhere." This is great ultimate. Penssbury’s Patrick Ward soon hits Alec Hunziker with a massive huck to put Pennsbury up 10-7. This is a great game, so fun to watch, really the only great game going on at the moment.

Or so I thought.

What are those cheers? I started hearing them a few minutes ago but didn’t really pay attention, didn’t process it. But they’re persistent. What could possibly be so exciting? Being a reporter, I realize I should probably go investigate. So I go in search of the sound and realize it’s coming from the game I’d long given up for dead: the girls’ Watchung Hills v. Lexington semifinal that was 7-4 Watchung at least a half hour ago. What’s all the screaming about?

I finally get close enough to see the scoreboard, and it’s 7-6 Watchung! Wait...what? Two points in 30 minutes? What? But my eyes don’t deceive me, nor do my ears. This is a 7-6 game, and everyone is going nuts. Wow. I watch another marathon point which Watchung finally closes with a big score, Kathryn Stoll to Kelly McKenna.

8-6 Watchung. At the current rate of scoring, this game is over – it’s only 12 minutes to cap.

But NO, Lexington scores in just six minutes to close the gap to 8-7! Everyone is flipping out. This is awesome.

At 8-7, Lexington gets a huge D and the disc on the goal line. They wisely call timeout. The hard cap horn blows.

My notes say "DO OR DIE."

They DO! Quick push pass to the corner, and it’s tied, we’re now at yet another double-game point, the third one I’ve seen this weekend.

Watchung works the disc up-field against the wind, aiming for the win but turns it over. Lexington gets the disc, starts to work it, and then one of the Lexington players gets tackled – tackled – but doesn’t call a foul. I get Spirit and all, but when you get tackled and had a play on the disc, that’s a great time to call a foul. I’m not sure why she didn’t, but she didn’t. Watchung has a chance to close it out but turns it over again. Lexington picks up the disc and rips a huge huck for the score, and they’re going to the finals!

It was an incredibly intense game. Lexington certainly earned a spot at the table, and Watchung played so well they should just grab a cup of coffee and watch the finals – they earned it. Great game!


I have specific notes from the finals, both boys and girls, details of nearly every point in both games, since I could stand in one spot and see them both. But looking back on it, I don’t think it’s necessary. If you were there, you know what went down and don’t need to hear me tell it again. If you weren’t, you just need to picture seriously high-level ultimate being played by kids who seem way too young to be this good.

Instead, I’d like to touch on some highlights and notable moments, the Good and the Bad.

Let’s start with the Good: The boys’ game was incredibly fun to watch from start to finish. Early on, it was an offensive game. I think four of the first six points or so were major hucks from both sides. My notes say "not a lot of D, not much laying out yet." But the offense was impressive.

And on the girls’ side, Lexington came out strong and scored the first goal. I was impressed with the intensity and defense from both teams. From what I’d seen all weekend, I expected Amherst to roll to another easy win, but this was not the case. Lexington seemed strong and fired up. In particular, their up-the-line flow offense was working really well. Both teams were contesting everything on defense, and it was really fun to watch. I was glad to see it be a game, much to my surprise and to Lexington’s credit.

What a great scene. Absolutely beautiful afternoon, perfect weather, big crowd and four great teams battling it out in two great games at a level which most of us old timers can only shake our heads at. My, how far we’ve come. The intensity in both games was high and getting higher by the minute, but the respect and Spirit matched it from start to finish. I loved seeing calls be made when calls should be made and then resolved respectfully, even in the finals, even when emotions were running high. I love this game.

So that is the Good. And, turns out, there wasn’t any bad.

The girls from Lexington should be unbelievably proud. You battled the best in the business and made them sweat. At 3-2, I don’t think I was the only one starting to question the inevitable Amherst victory. You made huge plays, contested everything and never gave up. You most certainly earned a seat at the table.

As for the Amherst girls? They’re just that good. Still. Lexington gave them their smallest margin of victory at Northeasterns in recent memory, but they still won 8-4.

Amherst boys – you put on an awesome show. I can assure you that every player in the crowd who has graduated high school was in awe of you, and any player younger than that – even more so. That was an amazing game, you played hard and with honor and spirit.

And Pennsbury – as I said at the start, I thought you were the best team last year. It’s the first time I’d seen this level of high school ultimate, and I couldn’t even believe it. I was shocked you didn’t win. I think you would beat most of the college teams in my home state. You guys are awesome and play with a flair and intensity that is fun to watch. Congratulations, and thank you for working so hard to put on such a great show. Pennsbury claimed their first Northeasterns title, 13-10.

This is what it’s all about.

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