HSNI 2023: The Depth & The Stars (Boys Day One Recap)

Every team was competitive and had some standout players, but the deepest teams excelled on Friday.

Photo: Sam Hotaling — UltiPhotos.com

If the young history of the High School National Invite has taught us anything it’s that young stars in ultimate are ready to shine when the spotlight is the brightest. The 2023 iteration of the tournament has been no different. Throughout the boys division, future superstars were percolating around the field complex and pushing their teams to peak performances.

Still, the clear separator between the high quality of play of the field and the elite performance of the top teams in the division was a depth of talent that kept the best teams out of reach all day. The four pool winning teams — Eastside Prep (WA), Lone Peak (UT), South Eugene (OR), and Green Canyon (UT) — were all steered not just by a single superstar but by rosters filled with highlight-creating players backed by role players ready to fill in any gaps necessary.

POOL A

The Depth

The big names on the Eastside Eagles have made themselves known to the youth scene already: Axel Olsen, Filip Icev, and Cyrus Clapp were all over the field today, but three players alone do not lead to a 3-0 day with scores of 15-10, 15-10, and 15-11. The Eagles ground opponents down steadily over the course of the day running through all 25 players and backed by a sideline of 60+ parents, siblings, grandparents, and teachers armed with cowbells and snare drums.

The Eagles gave those fans plenty to cheer about throughout the day and showed clearly how they came about possession of the overall No. 1 seed for the tournament. They put themselves in pole position going into the bracket on Saturday and will see the winner of Nathan Hale and Montclair in quarterfinals.

The Stars

Elsewhere in Pool A, Cleveland (WA) was led by an outstanding performance by Alan Huang. Huang patrolled the skies for Cleveland on defense and kept the field stretched with a monster flick huck that found its receiver in the endzone more often than not. Huang and company gave Eastside its toughest competition of the day, staying within striking distance down two at 12-10 before the Eagles pulled away.

Jackson-Reed (DC) was led by Tamir Hill-Marshall, an athletic player who affects the game from the moment he releases his monster pulls to start a point. Hill-Marshall was able to pick up the disc and huck from a standstill to any number of Jackson-Reed receivers. He was instrumental in Jackson-Reed’s double game point victory over Cleveland, a victory that was the difference maker in Jackson-Reed advancing to prequarters on point differential, as all three teams in Pool A below Eastside tied with a 1-2 record in pool play.

While Summit (OR) came out on the wrong side of the three way tie, it wasn’t for a lack of leadership on the field and on the sideline from senior captain Will Chiapetta. Summit qualified for the HSNI in 2019, but, due to overlapping graduation, was unable to attend. To show up this season, four years later, and earn an invitation and just narrowly miss the bracket was an achievement unto itself.

POOL B

The Depth

If fireworks are your game, then Pool B in the boys division was the place for you on Friday. Lone Peak came out on fire. The defending champs narrowly lost their state championship to Green Canyon just a few weeks ago and were clearly eager to prove that they were more than their No. 7 seed indicated.

While they got all star performances from Nick Whatcott, Mitchell Burt, Braedon Bybee, and Sam Pew, it was the top to bottom synced up playmaking that kept any of the Knights’ opponents from reaching double digits. Whether it was starting their day with a showcase blowout of Columbia High 15-8 or finishing the day by closing out the pool with the same score over No. 2 seed Nathan Hale, Lone Peak looked relatively untouchable all day long.

Lone Peak will start its Saturday in quarterfinals against the winner of Cleveland and Jackson-Reed.

The Stars

Nathan Hale (WA) came into the tournament with high expectations and fell just short in pool play but not for a lack of effort and output by Cedar Hines.

Hines was doing it all for Nathan Hale, hucking, receiving, and defending top matchups, but, at the end of the day, the workload was just a little too much. The case in point would be Hale’s final game of the day against Lone Peak. Hines played nearly every single point, keeping Hale within two goals until the Knights broke to go up 11-8. Hines sat the next point and Lone Peak broke quickly again. Before you could look twice, Nathan Hale lost 15-8. Of all the non-pool-winning teams, Hale looked, at times, like the most dangerous, but their Saturday destiny rides on the Herculean shoulders of Hines.

Edina’s (MN) performance could arguably be considered one of the more encouraging of the day outside of the pool winners. They took Nathan Hale to the brink in a 14-12 loss, showed some spark against Lone Peak (keeping it within one to 6-5 before falling 15-9), and sent Columbia packing with a 12-9 win. That performance was in no small part due to Charlie Teply (who lead the team in assists this season and was the primary disc mover of the day). It was enough to keep Edina in the bracket. Saturday morning will begin with a matchup against another storied high school program in Amherst.

Columbia (NJ) came out slowly against Lone Peak, suffering a 15-8 loss in a showcase game, but recovered as Julius Clyburn came alive as he has all season. The school from the founding location of the sport pushed Nathan Hale to nearly universe point, before losing 13-11. The final game of the day, a 12-9 loss to Edina, put Columbia out of the bracket.

POOL C

The Depth

South Eugene may be better known recently for its school’s dominance in the girls division last season (and potentially this season!), but the boys program is making a splash all its own this year. Led by big names like Theo Schaid-Hefly and Sayric Arias, who combine for a lethal throwing and receiving duo, respectively, but aided by newcomers like Andrew Thoennes and freshman phenom Eli Casper (who earned his fair share of “he’s-a-freshman *clap clap clapclapclap* cheers today), the Axemen were one of the few teams who clearly got better every game on Friday.

Starting with a 13-11 nail biter against Amherst, South Eugene moved quickly on to a significant win over Montclair, 15-7, before trouncing Northwest 15-4 on the showcase field. With momentum building into Saturday, the Axemen look primed to peak. They will start off with a quarterfinal matchup against the winner of the Lincoln/Jackson-Reed game.

The Stars

Pool C finished with another 3-way tie for second in the pool. Montclair, the New Jersey school that didn’t even have an ultimate program five years ago, rode the wings of two sophomore rising stars in Sam McRory and Caoba Nichim-Luta to taking the second spot out of the pool.

Amherst followed suit depending on its own two standouts, Taylor Hanson behind the disc and Tyler Feeney all over the field, to secure the third spot in Pool C.

Northwest ended up on the outside looking in. That is in spite of the heroic efforts of Cal Phinney, a U20 Team USA selection, and Miles Nelson, who both put out outstanding efforts on the day.

POOL D

The Depth

In what is usually considered to be the “Pool of Death,” there was a single storyline: the beginning to end dominance of Green Canyon. The team, located just an hour and a half north of Salt Lake City, is a program whose steady rise over the last several years is culminating in a standout performance this season.

After a close first round against Jordan, a narrow 15-13 win, Green Canyon followed the paths of stars Nathan De Morgan and Isaac Wilcox, to, like South Eugene, steadily improve every game. Next was a 15-10 win over Pennsbury before a 14-8 decisive victory over Lincoln, the No. 5 overall seed.

Emblematic of Green Canyon’s style all day was a play by Seth Wilson in a crucial moment as Green Canyon hung onto a four point lead for much of its game against Lincoln. Wilson, often a role player (albeit a talented and important one for Green Canyon), got a layout block in the endzone to prevent a break before streaking deep and snagging a full extension trailing edge layout goal in the other direction.

Green Canyon trusted the entirety of its roster all day to come up big in moments like those, a trend that will likely continue as they will face the Montclair/Edina winner in quarterfinals Saturday morning.

The Stars

The rest of Pool D finished to seed, with Lincoln taking second after trouncing Jordan and Pennsbury 14-8 and 15-9, respectively, thanks to outstanding defensive play from Max Debroux (the only mark to truly hassle Green Canyon’s Isaac Wilcox) and all-around play from Jak Lin.

Jordan rode star Tobias Brooks’ outstanding play to a close match with Green Canyon and edged out Pennsbury 15-11 to make the bracket.

Pennsbury came in as the lowest seed at the tournament but kept games close against all three opponents largely due to the throwing prowess of Nicky Railey.

  1. Michael Aguilar
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    Michael Aguilar is a reporter for Ultiworld. He began playing ultimate in the summer of 2008 at the urging of a few University of South Carolina players. He played for USC in the spring of 2009 and for LSU in the spring of 2011. In his spare time during those years, he ran one of the first ever ultimate news blogs, Movin' On Up. He was the head coach of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, LA, from 2011-2016 and the assistant coach in 2017. He owes all his success to his loving wife Kendall.

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