Largest ultimate tournament in New England set for this weekend as Pioneer Valley Invitational returns to the Oxbow

Amherst and Ignite players circle up after their game during the Pioneer Valley Invitational on Saturday at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton.

Amherst and Ignite players circle up after their game during the Pioneer Valley Invitational on Saturday at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-16-2024 5:30 PM

NORTHAMPTON — It’s been a busy month for the local ultimate programs.

Two weekends after the Amherst Invitational, the longest-running annual ultimate tournament in the country, the Pioneer Valley Invitational returns this weekend. The event, hosted by Northampton, is the largest tournament in New England.

The PVI runs Saturday and Sunday, and a whopping 66 total teams (six shy of PVI’s record) will gather at the Oxbow Marina in Northampton – a space that is mapped out to have 19 playing fields. There are 20 girls teams (four shy of PVI’s record, which is also a record for most girls teams ever at a tournament across the country) and 46 boys teams coming from all over New England as well as Canada. Teams from New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec and Ontario are to pack into the Oxbow, with cars lined around the playing fields.

Between the players, coaches, parents, volunteers and fans, there are expected to be about 1,500 people in attendance – an experience that one truly has to see to believe.

“We’re really fortunate that the owner of the Oxbow is willing to let us use the space, he’s been very gracious and that really makes a tournament like this possible,” co-tournament director Lee Feldscher said. “The best thing about ultimate is the tournaments, it’s one of the cooler parts of the sport. So being able to run a big tournament feels like a privilege. I’m glad to be able to do it and glad to be able to bring it to the community. And there is an army of volunteers that make this happen, and without them none of it would be possible. It takes a village, and we’re lucky to have the right ingredients in place to make it work.”

“It’s such a cool experience to have this huge tournament that attracts so many teams in our own backyard,” Northampton girls head coach Travis Norsen, whose team clinched a trip to nationals at the Amherst Invitational earlier this month, added. “It’s also a complete zoo down there. It’s a huge piece of land that’s completely filled up with cars and 20 or whatever fields. It’s an amazing experience to be a part of this.”

Amherst and Northampton are the two local teams competing in the tournament, with Four Rivers in Greenfield also in the mix. This weekend marks the ninth year the event, excluding two COVID-canceled years in 2020 and 2021. Josh Seamon-Ingalls, who joins Feldscher as co-tournament director, worked in St. Johnsbury, Vt. prior to his current gig at Williston Northampton School, and he started a tournament there that gained some serious traction.

When he moved to Northampton, Feldscher – who met him through the St. Johnsbury event – pitched the idea to bring that tournament down to Hampshire County. Seamon-Ingalls had all the contacts to make it work, and Feldscher, being knowledgeable of the area, handled the logistics of where to play and finding volunteers.

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The tandem has worked to perfection through the tournament’s first decade and is still going strong.

“He and I have been doing this together from the start,” Feldscher said. “Because Josh had been doing this for 10-12 years in St. Johnsbury, he already had relationships with a lot of the New England teams. He handles the communication part with all the teams and the scheduling, and I do the back end stuff, organizing the volunteers, maintaining the fields and the relationship with the Oxbow. It’s a good partnership with Josh and I.”

As for game play, it’s a similar set-up to the Amherst Invitational. Both the boys and girls sides are separated into divisions based on skill and competitiveness. Games will be played all day, starting at 8 a.m. and wrapping up around 5 p.m. on both days. Pool play is set for Saturday with bracket play to decide champions on Sunday.

The Blue Devils girls are coming off a win in the Amherst Invitational two weekends ago and are seeded No. 2 in the Pioneer Valley Invitational. As much as another tournament win is a goal, Norsen said his focus is to iron out any kinks and work on some of Northampton’s weaknesses before they head to nationals later this spring.

“Obviously we’re going to try to win games and end up with a high placement, but winning this tournament this weekend is not our highest priority,” Norsen said. “Having won the AI, we’ve earned a ticket to nationals. We’re thinking long-term and approaching this weekend’s tournament as an opportunity to build this team’s depth and give everyone an opportunity to play so they’re ready for the big tournament down the road.”