Amherst Ultimate Invitational: Toughest field ever comes to challenge Amherst

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

@kylegrbwsk

Published: 05-12-2017 9:03 PM

AMHERST — Harry Wolff Landau has played in the Amherst Ultimate Invitational Tournament since he was in seventh grade.

The 26th edition this Saturday and Sunday will be the senior’s last.

He understands it’s a big deal.

“We don’t take any tournament for granted, and this one is definitely special to us,” Wolff Landau said.

Play begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the fields around Amherst Regional, while Sunday’s quarterfinals start at 8 a.m. at the Oxbow in Northampton. The semifinals are also at the Oxbow at 9:40 a.m., while the finals start at 1 p.m. at Amherst Regional.

It’s the longest-running high school ultimate Frisbee tournament in the country. The Hurricanes have recognized that legacy in their preparation for this year.

“It’s a really hard thing to prepare for because it’s right in our backyard. Having it be our tournament means it opens the door to a lot of people being exposed to our team that normally wouldn’t be,” Amherst boys coach Joe Costello said. “I think we’re all really aware that it’s a unique and special experience.”

But that won’t overshadow preparing for one of the most competitive fields in tournament history. Boys teams from as far away as the Paideia School in Georgia and Minnesota’s Edina High School will travel to the Pioneer Valley as well as squads from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

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“This is by far the best Amherst Invite I’ve played at, which is very exciting,” Amherst senior Ryan Dinger said. “The teams are better this year than they’ve ever been before.”

Of the eight teams in the Open A Division, five are ranked in ultiworld.com’s top-25. Amherst leads the pack at No. 3 followed by Edina in 12th, Paideia in 13th, No. 14 Neuqua Valley (Illinois) and No. 16 Westfield (New Jersey).

“I’ve been coaching now for 10 years. I consider the Amherst Invite to be one of the top tournaments in the country,” Neuqua Valley coach Arnoush Javaherian said. “In order to get the competition that we need, we have to travel outside of our state to get it.”

Amherst is the defending champion after beating Colombia (New Jersey), which will be back in 2017, 15-4 in the championship game last year.

“I’d love to come out this year and be pushed,” Amherst senior Ben Goldman said.

The Hurricanes have been fine-tuning their strategy since finishing second in their last major national tournament in late April, the Paideia Cup in Atlanta.

“We’re trying to take the positives, which was some really chill offense and intense defense we got in moments and convert that into our game all the time,” Goldman said. “We’ve been working on throwing quicker and to the break side. That’s what limited us last tournament, we thought about it for a second too long.”

Amherst girls not shying from legacy

Amherst has won the last eight Division 1 girls titles at the Amherst Invitational.

That kind of success can become a burden to a team unprepared to deal with it.

The Hurricanes feature 12 new varsity players this season, and first-year coach Hannah Baranes addressed it up front.

“There is this kind of Amherst ultimate legacy that you’re going to feel burdened with, but we’re a new team this year and that doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s about the progress we make from where we start to where we end the season, not living up to any past years.”

Amherst learned something about itself at the Paideia Cup in Atlanta. The Hurricanes finished fifth at that tournament, which was their first taste of major competition.

“A wake-up call is the best way to describe it, honestly. We were nervous, excited, all of those things,” Amherst senior Shira Yeskel-Mednick said. “The competition was huge. While being beaten is not super fun, it’s an incredibly important learning experience.”

The Hurricanes learned the importance of a solid defense after establishing how they’d run their offense.

“A lot of people are coming on this team with not a lot of experience grinding on D,” Yeskel-Mednick said. “We needed to learn that in a really big way and make that the rock of our team.”

That’s been the team’s focus since the Paideia Cup. Now, the Hurricanes want a measure of redemption.

“We all want to earn back Paideia in a way,” Yeskel-Mednick said. “It’s not about feeling like we failed or we need to redeem ourselves, that just gave us some fire, and we’re really ready to go.”

Amherst, No. 10 in the ultiworld.com top-25 rankings, will face one of the most competitive fields in the country. There are four other nationally ranked teams coming to Amherst: No. 2 Paideia, No. 7 HB Woodlawn (Virginia), No. 23 Watchung Hills (New Jersey) and No. 24 Neuqua Valley (Illinois).

Northampton, which beat Amherst for the first time in program history earlier this year, Lexington and Lower Marion (Pennsylvania) round out the division.

“It’s going to be the highest caliber of play we’ve seen all season,” Northampton coach Sheldon Snodgrass said. “This is going to be much more of a competitive field. I think we’re going to get ourselves stressed. We’re looking forward to it as a way to tune up having played our best competitors all year long – in fact, ever.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.

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