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AMP Invite 2021: Tournament Recap

Space Heater set themselves apart with a great performance.

Paul Owens pulls for Philadelphia AMP at the 2021 AMP Invite. Photo: Marshall Lian
Paul Owens pulls for Philadelphia AMP at the 2021 AMP Invite. Photo: Marshall Lian

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — With Hurricane Henri bearing down on the Northeast, the threat of inclement weather caused some on-the-fly adjustments to the AMP Invite. The storm brought heat on Saturday and rain on Sunday which pushed back some games and canceled others. A shortened Sunday schedule and semifinal upset turned a standard bracket into more of a round-robin affair, but #2 Washington DC Space Heater walked away from the weekend the de facto tournament champs by dint of an undefeated showing.

After a Saturday marked by competitive games across pool play, a few teams decided that they were satisfied with the number of games played and headed home early to avoid the hurricane — better safe than sorry. We may have missed out on some exciting Sunday matchups that could shed more light on the relative strength of the East’s top teams, but there is still a lot to learn from the results of the weekend and the slightly busted bracket.

Space Heater Comes Out On Top Of Unconventional Final

The Sunday afternoon battle between #1 Philadelphia AMP and #2 Space Heater was the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, yet lacked the expected luster for a couple of reasons. First, this was not a conventional tournament final — while DC earned their way in via a blowout victory over #7 Durham Toro, AMP dropped their semifinal game to #4 Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust, but the teams agreed to rearrange the final matchups to avoid pool play rematches. Second, Space Heater just looked too good.

After a pair of holds to open the game, it was Philadelphia who scored the first break. 2019 Breakout Player of the Year Paul Owens snagged multiple blocks for AMP on the point before Linda Morse hauled in a goal to go up 2-1. But it fell apart quickly from there for the hosts, giving up five straight points to dig a hole from which they’d never recover.

DC’s offense settled, often initiating through their women-matching players. Jenny Fey, Amber Sinicrope, and Kelly Hyland frequently were the ones driving the offense up the field, while Kath Ratcliff marshaled the D-line after the turn. On both sides of the disc, Space Heater worked the break side, taking advantage of lax Philly marks to attack the inside lane. The DC defense was on hand to apply pressure, but just as frequently were gifted possession through poor decisions or execution from AMP. Space Heater took advantage of their opportunities, punching in break after break to build an 8-4 lead at the half.

The efficient, grinding offense that has been AMP’s calling card during two straight national title campaigns was nowhere to be found, as Philly’s offense was clearly not executing up to their normal standard. Against Space Heater, it was the deep game that proved their downfall. While they were able to earn a few quick goals through hucks, they shot a lot more than they completed, the profligacy putting the O-line under a lot of pressure to play defense to stave off breaks. Captain Calvin Trisolini seemed to have a green light in the game and while his aggressiveness and confidence led to some pretty looking goal throws, it also resulted in too many turns.

As energy waned late in the game, the pattern held. AMP kept trying to get back in it through deep shots; Space Heater utilized their movement and talented throwers to carve up the break side. The tournament’s final point played out fittingly, with a Philadelphia execution error in the handler set quickly leading to a quick DC goal through the inside break lane at the front of the end zone. 15-10, Washington.

It was a dominant end to the weekend for Space Heater, in what turned out to be a relatively comfortable tournament victory for the 2018 national semifinalists. The flashy new additions to their roster lived up to their billing. Sinicrope worked well in the backfield next to Fey, a one-two handler punch that few opponents could handle. AJ Merriman made a notable impact for the capitol squad, even while pulling double duty with a Breeze game Saturday night. Space Heater clearly looked like the best team in the East in Norristown — but also showed room for improvement. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the division.

Round two of the season series between the top teams in the Mid-Atlantic went to Space Heater, who avenge their loss to Philadelphia at a July regional round robin — though in both cases, teams were missing key contributors. While #21 Washington DC Rally or West Chester Loco may have something to say about it, it seems likely AMP and Space Heater could get an exciting rubber match in the Regional final next month, hopefully with a full complement of stars to slug it out.

Three Other Semifinalists Trade Wins

While Space Heater was the clear winner of the weekend with an undefeated showing, the three other teams that made the championship bracket took turns beating each other up.

The hosts advanced to the bracket thanks to a convincing 14-9 victory over Toro on Saturday, which was enough to see them top the pool despite a weekend-opening double game point loss to #15 Boston Sprocket. The weekend may not have started or ended the way they hoped, but if anyone is worried about #1 Philadelphia AMP, don’t be. They’re already grooming a talented next-generation core. Liz Hart is a goal-scoring machine. Paul Owens continues to get better and look more confident in the club game. Outstanding talents like Linda Morse and Natalie Bova are just entering their prime. And then there’s 17-year-old Adam Grossberg. The high school senior in his first year with the club was matched up with some of the best players in the division and more than held his own.

“Adam stood out this weekend, played confident, and smart,” said veteran teammate Andrea Desabato. “He still has a lot to learn but he’s just gonna keep getting better,” she said, as Bova nodded in agreement.

Their 2-3 record on the weekend doesn’t look very good on the whole, but Philadelphia were without some key pieces this weekend, among them Nicky Spiva and captain Danielle Walsh. A lot of the mistakes in their losses were self-inflicted and could be cleaned up with a fuller arsenal of weapons and a bit more practice. Even still, this program has a history of successfully navigating its way through tournaments even while taking some losses — they won 2019 Nationals despite going 1-2 in pool play. Count them out at your own peril.

Toro paired their five-point defeat to AMP with a five-point victory over Drag’n Thrust to continue what has been an impressive season for the North Carolinians. Sure they were blown out by Space Heater — most teams were — but their other results very much solidify them as a top 10 team. Captain Tanner Barcus was a stand-out all weekend as Toro bulldozed ‘Shine and Sprocket on Saturday, then cruised past Drag’n in their last game of the weekend.

After pool play, Andrew Li was set in his feelings about where his team ranked in his mind. “We don’t take too much stock into our seeding,” Li said. “We’ve played well, and against some really competitive teams too.”

That competition — across several big tournaments this summer — should position Durham well headed into the Series. They’ve put in the work to get good reps as a team, which they’ll hope pays off in the one-bid Southeast. Nearly doubling up regional threat Nashville ‘Shine in Norristown had to feel good, as did ending with a big win over Minneapolis.

Despite ending on that sour note, Drag’n Thrust still also felt mostly good about their weekend. They crushed a couple long-time Boston foes, played Space Heater closer than any other opponent managed, and beat the #1 ranked team in the land.

After finishing second in their pool, Minneapolis dragged out a big win over the hosts in the semifinals and proved they still have plenty of weapons on their roster regardless of losing a lot of big-name firepower. With only two practices under their belt before their first tournament, Drag’n showed resilience after weathering an early AMP surge in the first half. Coming out of half they trailed 8-3, but quickly got the game back to 9-9 with a series of breaks featuring amazing play from Kat Ritzmann. The former Defensive Player of the Year runner-up got the rally started by absolutely dunking on Raha Mozaffari. Ritzmann was the team’s best player all weekend and her continued ascension up the ranks in the mixed division bodes well for Drag’n.

From then on it was a back and forth battle, with stars Sarah Meckstroth and Caleb Denecour predictably playing well for Minneapolis. Philadelphia’s Paul Owens flew for a superhero block at 12-12, but his team couldn’t finish the break chance. Cap went off as AMP tied it back up at 13s, setting up a universe point game to 14. Tight defense in the final moments led to a Drag’n overthrow to the end zone giving Philadelphia a chance, but they failed to reset on the goal line and Minneapolis capped their weekend with a win.

“Historically, we’ve had a common thread of dropping big leads and with AMP being a great first-half team, I think we were pretty successful,” said Drag’n’s Jaime Glader.

Disappointing Weekend for the Boston Contingent

Sprocket started their weekend with a bang, avenging a double game point loss to AMP at Boston Invite by returning the favor at Philly’s home event. There was unfortunately little else to celebrate for the first-year team. A four-point loss to Toro in the second round was enough to knock them out of the bracket by point differential. After defeating ‘Shine to end their Saturday, Sprocket made the decision to head home early to avoid any issues with the incoming hurricane. Sprocket got good handling from Caitlin Go and Clara Stewart — who also had some fantastic pulls. Ivan Tran did well for the D-line. Tannor Johnson rampaged as usual, doing damage whether around the disc or downfield. It was a long way to go for just three games, but based on the excitement the team showed after their win over AMP, it may well have been worth it.

The same may not be true for Wild Card, who also bounced after Day 1 and just three games, but without picking up a single win for their resume. Instead, they got waxed by a shorthanded Slow, indicating the road to a Nationals bid will be pretty steep over the next month. With such a new, young roster, the loss of Sunday games to get more reps may be just as upsetting as any of the losses. If they’re looking for silver linings, they did stay close with Space Heater, putting up a better score than all but one DC opponent all weekend.

It was more of a mixed bag for Slow, who may look back at AMP Invite and rue missed opportunities. Heading south with just 17 healthy bodies — a teammate’s wedding stole away a big chunk of veterans — Slow was able to jump out to early leads against both Drag’n and Space Heater, but didn’t have the legs or firepower to see those games through. After four more teammates drove home Saturday night for fear of getting stuck via Henri, snagging a one-point Sunday win over #22 Nashville ‘Shine may feel like more of a steely victory than it appears on paper.

COVID Concerns are Here to Stay

In the first weekend of action since USAU updated their COVID-19 protocols, at least half the teams at the tournament were missing players due to the new standards. One hundred percent of registrants for the tournament were vaccinated, but even beyond that, anyone with a close contact of a positive case in the days leading into the tournament stayed home and many teams encouraged a negative test before traveling. While stricter compliance from participants hopefully means we won’t see any additional positive cases at the fields, it’s clear that this will have an ongoing impact on teams for the remainder of the season.

All- Tournament Team

  • Kat Ritzmann (Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust)
  • Jenny Fey (Washington DC Space Heater)
  • Tannor Johnson (Boston Sprocket)
  • Tanner Barcus (Durham Toro)
  • Adam Grossberg (Philadelphia AMP)
  • Kelly Hyland (Washington DC Space Heater)
  • Sarah Meckstroth (Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust)
  1. Olivia Alongi
    Olivia Alongi

    Olivia Alongi is a Temple alumna with a Bachelor's in Journalism. She works at CBS Sports as a news associate, researching college basketball and the NFL. She started playing ultimate in high school and has been for the past 8 years. Throwing hammers at ill-advised times is her specialty. In her spare time, she creates upcycled art with soda/beer cans and bottle caps check it out @Caps.By.Liv & she also tweets on occasion @AlongiSports !

  2. Steve Sullivan
    Steve Sullivan

    Steve Sullivan is the Executive Editor of Ultiworld. He began playing in 2001 at Boston University, helped found and then played 14 seasons with Slow White, and most recently competed with San Francisco Blackbird. He has volunteered as a college Sectional Coordinator, a club Regional Coordinator, served three terms as a player-elected representative for the Mixed division on USAU's Club Working Group, and is currently an At-Large rep on the USAU Board of Directors. He has previously written for the USAU magazine and The Huddle, and was editor of the book "Ultimate: The First Five Decades, Vol II." You can reach him by email (steve@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@sjsully21).

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