High school ultimate preview: Amherst, Northampton hoping for big seasons

Amherst head coach Joe Costello talks to his team during a game at Kiwanis Field in Amherst last season.

Amherst head coach Joe Costello talks to his team during a game at Kiwanis Field in Amherst last season. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-16-2024 5:43 PM

The defending Division 1 state champions are going to look much different this spring. After capturing the state’s top ultimate Frisbee title in 2023, only six players return from that roster return to the Amherst boys team for head coach Joe Costello’s 11th season.

The good news for the ‘Canes is that of those half dozen returning players, all of them are seniors with plenty of playing experience in high-stakes contests. Aidan Martin-Weinbaum, Declan Sullivan-Flynn, Andrew Leutz, Ben Feeney, Julian Camera and Elliot Phifer are the veterans to be leaned on as six of eight seniors.

Unfortunately, Feeney, who is one of the Hurricanes’ most skilled players, suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the season. From there, Amherst has five juniors with nine combined freshmen and sophomores. All told Costello hasn’t seen youth like he’s faced with in 2024, and being without Feeney doesn’t help.

“[This is] one of the youngest varsity teams in memory,” he said.

Regardless, the Amherst boys are once again expected to be atop the state’s best ultimate teams just as they have over the past several seasons.

On the girls side, the Hurricanes have started off strong with a 5-2 record. Dan Kaplan is in his third year as head coach following up an 18-17 record and fifth-place finish in the Division 1 state tournament last spring.

The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the Amherst girls team’s numbers, as the ‘Canes lost their entire coaching staff and a variety of talented players. Since then, they’ve been starting from scratch after dominating the youth girls division from 1998 to 2018.

Two seasons ago was a terrific stepping stone, and last year they only got better with the aforementioned run into a top five spot in the state. To piggy back off 2023’s success, Amherst has returned all but two (graduation) of its players from the roster.

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Phoebe Young and Annabel Ogden are both seniors and third-year varsity players who have been contributing at rapid clips for Amherst over the years. Emily Feldstein is another senior and veteran option for the ‘Canes, while Addie Mager and Isla Cusick are promising junior talents.

Cusick was invited to Junior Team USA tryouts this year, and despite being only a junior, is expected to be one of the best players in the region this spring.

“We are hoping to continue to grow in 2024, as we only graduated two seniors,” Kaplan said. “We have an influx of new younger players, and a more experienced coaching staff. The local girls youth division continues to be one of the strongest in the country.”

Blue Devils hungry for hardware

The Northampton girls ultimate team has followed one slogan over the past handful of years, and that slogan is, “we’re on a ramp.”

And on a ramp they are.

Two years ago, Northampton finished third in the state and had roughly 30 players come out to play that season. The following campaign (2023), that number increased by 10, and the Blue Devils were runners-up in the state championship and earned an invitation to nationals. Now in 2024, they are looking at over 50 players in the program, and their team is as deep and talented as ever.

“It's extremely early, of course, but we definitely have a strong team and have a great shot at winning one or more of the big tournaments in May,” Northampton head coach Travis Norsen, who is in his third year with the program, said. “Plans are underway for a possible trip to the High School National Tournament in Illinois should we be lucky enough to earn an invitation again.”

Northampton finished second at two major tournaments in 2023, both the Amherst Invitational and state tournament. The Blue Devils earned national recognition to end the season, finishing inside the ultiworld.com top 25 national rankings.

To start this year, they currently sit at No. 15 in the same rankings, and expectations are as high as ever.

Seniors Tatum Hathaway, Lila Nields-Duffy, Olive Polson-Filas, and Fiona Scibelli are just a few of the many standout athletes on the Blue Devils roster this spring. Underclassmen Ava Keller, Clare Kurtzmann and Alysha Parshall-Matylas are high-level contributors as well.

“After really building up the program in terms of both numbers and turnout and success on the field in the years since COVID, we enter this season with high expectations and a target on our backs,” Norsen said. “It'll be an exciting season for the team. Definitely one to keep an eye on in valley youth sports.”

While the girls are looking to win tournaments and dominate the rest of the state, the Northampton boys are trying to reload after losing 14 seniors from last year’s roster.

The Blue Devils went 12-21 in 2023 and grabbed a sixth-place finish in the state tournament. Roan Dunkerley leads a young but hungry Northampton group in 2024, as Dunkerley is a USA under-20 nationally ranked player and co-captains the Blue Devils with Henry Colgan-Racine. Matan Ryan, Max Keller and Calvin Guswa are also players to watch.

Jeff Kelly (seventh season) and Joey Dwork (second season) are the coaches for the Northampton, and both are expecting more of a “reload” than a “rebuild,” and that all starts with Dunkerley and Colgan-Racine’s veteran presences.

“We look to be led by their experience,” Kelly said. “We’re also hoping to reload and progress some of the underclassmen [this season].”