This coming weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the Southeast’s oldest and most integral high school ultimate tournament, The Paideia Cup.
April 24, 2015 by Gabriel Eisen in Preview with 1 comments
Note to the reader: Born and raised in the south, you can imagine my surprise when one of the first people I talked to for this preview, Hopkins’ head coach Erin Mirocha, told me, “We actually haven’t been outside yet.” Why? Hopkins is in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
“We could play in the snow,” Mirocha said, “but I don’t think we’d get an opponent.” With the subsequent interviews, it quickly became apparent that mother nature has allowed no team north of the Mason Dixon to spend much time outside at all. So for many, Paideia Cup will be the first grass and sun they’ve seen since fall. “There’s always that shock when you come out of winter and then you head down to Atlanta and it’s like eighty-five degrees,” says Mirocha with a laugh.
Known for its high level of competition and tradition of honoring the game, The Paideia Cup has for years been an important tournament for many elite teams from all over the country. Prior to the Paideia Cup’s creation in 2006, elite high school tournaments existed only in the Northeast and Northwest (Amherst, Mudbath, and Spring Reign, to name a few).
“The basic idea,” said Paideia’s Varsity Boys’ coach Michael Bacarinni, “was that we wanted an event akin to the Amherst Invite, but down south. Both to increase top competition without us having to travel for it, and to foster growth in the Atlanta area and beyond.” Paideia alum and current coach for Paideia’s Varsity Girls’ team, Miranda (Roth) Knowles remembers the days when Gruel had to travel out of Georgia for every tournament they competed in. Since its genesis, Knowles said, “the tournament has always served as a place for high-level teams from around the nation (and more recently around the world) to come and compete.”
Here’s a team by team breakdown of the boys’ division field.
Carolina Friends School
The Fighting Quakers (and, oh boy, what a name that is) return for their second Paideia Cup, following last year’s close loss in the finals to Holy Family Catholic, 9-11. Their impressive performance at Pi Cup was no fluke; they ended the season with the astonishing record of 54-3. Coach Augie Kreivenas admits that “it’s not last year’s team; we lost a bunch of seniors,” most notably Sol Yanuck (Carleton), but, despite the turnover in players, the team fights to uphold its reputation, taking first at YULA and tying for third at Queen City Tune-Up, all under the leadership of sophomore superstar Liam Searles-Bohs (who was invited to Worlds tryouts last year as a freshman), sophomore Dillon Lanier, and senior Josh McClain.
The team plays best, Kreivenas says, when they’re aggressive, even to the point of risky; when they become passive and conservative, their game deteriorates. Pi Cup will be the test; can CFS maintain last year’s level of play?
Hopkins Hurt, who have been to the Paideia Cup seven times, won in 2012 but have struggled in recent years, placing sixth in 2013 and 2014. Head Coach Erin Mirocha thinks this year will be different, however, mostly because the team has “a large group of seniors,” and she’s not kidding; they have twelve (it is also worth noting that all of these seniors are missing their prom for the tournament). These guys are the “ultimate player for life” types, she says, most of whom “have been throwing since seventh grade.” And, with this year’s experienced team, Hopkins’ play has been able to change to conservative “small ball.”
“We’re not a huck and run team,” Mirocha says. “We work it, and we swing it and we take what’s given to us.” Led by seniors Sam Kaminsky and Jacob Elias and junior Zach Shear, the team has already begun to prove itself. Although they have not yet been able to go outside, they have attended several 5-on-5 indoor tournaments, placing second in the Martin Luther King college tournament and first in the St. John’s University Indoor college tournament and the University of Minnesota Grey Duck high school tournament. Mirocha thinks this strong senior class has the potential to be the “nameless, faceless, defensive army” of years past. Coming to tropical Atlanta out of harsh winter will indubitably be a challenge; “it will be faster, it will be harder when we get there,” Mirocha admits, yet the team hopes to “shed some rust” in pool play, and show us all what they are made of on Sunday.
Harry D. Jacobs
The Eagles have long wanted to come to Paideia Cup, but coach Anthony J. Miocic says, “I’ve always had a rule where I wouldn’t travel anything more than five hours for a tournament” until, that is, Jacobs could beat the teams within their own state, namely their ongoing friends and rivals Neuqua Valley (more on this later). Over the last few years, they have gotten closer and closer to this goal, coming in second, only to Neuqua, in Illinois’ States tournament in 2011, 2012, 2013, until last year, 2014, when they finally won.
As a result, the coach says, the team “convinced me to do it this year— to allow them to get on a plane and fly somewhere for a tournament.” Much like Hopkins, the Eagles have “a really good group of seniors that have been playing for a long time together,” most notably captains Tyler Barrett, Reno Brinn, Aiden Frank, and James Bongiovanni. “There’s really a great chemistry with the team,” Miocic says, “I’ve always said skill is just part of it— it’s the chemistry and the desire to play for one another and with one another.” This chemistry, he says, is both the team’s strength and weakness, helping them work together but sometimes leading them to be overly critical of one another.
They come to Paideia on a high; this past weekend they took second in the intensely competitive Neuqua Knockout, with some 33 teams in the A division alone.
The Vikings’ program has developed immensely over the past few years (in 2013 and 2014, Lakeside came in second in the Georgia States tournament), but this year’s season proves to be something different altogether; with only two or three losses thus far, the Vikings took second at Deep Freeze and Queen City Tune Up and won their first major tournament in four years (according to their Twitter) with Junior’s Terminus; in short, they are on fire. Coach Fred Perivier is excited to finally come to Paideia Cup.
“I’m tired of watching it from the sideline,” he says. The team has the “ability to work together, trust each other with making the catches, making the throws.” The challenge will be, the coach says, “making better decisions with the disc, so that we maintain possession more consistently.”
Under the leadership of the coach’s son, Jacques Perivier, Conor Browell, and Leo Warren, Lakeside looks to make a name for themselves, for the first time, on a national scale.
Pi Cup X will not only be the Fooligans’ first Paideia Cup but also the first tournament of their season this year. The team has become increasingly competitive in the northeast, running with and beating teams the caliber of Amherst, Columbia, Needham, and others. “We’ve had a run of four really good years,” beams coach Larry David, yet David seems confident that this year will prove even more exceptional, for, much like Hopkins and Jacobs, Lexington has “a really strong senior class this year.”
David says his “biggest stars” are Tannor Johnson, who plays for the MLU’s Boston Whitecaps as a junior, Tim Schoch, and Jack Deschler. David says, “We’re really balanced and we’re really deep,” but the team comes to Pi Cup with a distinct disadvantage; they “haven’t really been tested yet.”
Neuqua joyfully return for their fourth consecutive Paideia Cup. They have consistently been one of the best teams in their home state of Illinois, but unlike many of the teams at the Cup this year, says coach Arnoush Javaherian (known to most as Coach Java), “our weakness is that we’re just a young team”. This youthfulness, however, has not seemed to hinder the team thus far. They took first at Rivertown Throwdown and they come to Atlanta after placing fourth in their own very competitive tournament, the Neuqua Knockout, last weekend.
Parker Alford and Dylan Power, with the assistance of notably talented sophomore Ben Swaitek, lead a team whose strength is in chemistry. “It’s a lot of fun coaching them,” says Java, “because they get along so well with each other.”
It is also worth noting that Neuqua Valley and Harry D. Jacobs, both located in the Chicago area, have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. “Neuqua, they’re our best friends,” says Jacobs’ coach Miocic. “It’s fun to have a group of kids and a coach who you just respect so much and that you feel respect you so much.” The two teams’ players and coaches know each other quite well; Miocic even went to Java’s wedding. A big motivator for Jacobs to come to Pi Cup was Neuqua’s urging.
The Axemen have not been back to a Paideia Cup since their first in 2012, in which they placed fifth. The team most definitely comes into the Cup as an underdog, for not only are they considerably younger than most top level teams, with only one senior, but they have been placing only in the middle of the pack in recent tournaments, finishing fourth of eight in States, thirteenth of sixteen in Westerns last year, and tenth of twenty in the Seattle Invite this past fall.
However, coach Keith Bucher says, with the help of junior captains Aaron Rogers, Michael Martin, and Simon Sjösgrom, the team has put in a lot of work over the winter which they have not yet had a chance to show off. “There’s a great knowledge of the team and a feel for the team,” says Bucher. The question is, will their relative inexperience hold the Axemen back? Bucher says, “a lot of these players were freshman when we won Westerns [in 2013] and they saw what winning winning looked like, they saw what you needed to do to win those big games, but they weren’t the ones doing that.” The team, with a home some 2,640 miles away from Atlanta, certainly wins the award for most mysterious to us all; we will have to see how they play.
Gruel is as excited as anyone for the tenth anniversary of their home tournament. After a difficult start to the season at Deep Freeze, Paideia bounced back, taking second place at Juniors’ Terminus, with an intense battle in the finals with Lakeside (8-9). Gruel is unusually old, with ten seniors and nine juniors; with those players comes a lot of experience and, what’s more, a lot of depth. Under the leadership of senior Jack Smith, Daniel Sperling, and junior Noah Cohen, the team looks to maintain its now twenty-three-year-long tradition of quality play and spirit, and will, of course, be pursuing the Cup itself, which they haven’t got their hands on since 2007.