Wrapping up the tournament with thoughts on the final, trends, and the All-Tournament line.
June 20, 2023 by Michael Aguilar in Recap with 0 comments
As the sun went down over the Regional Athletic Complex in Salt Lake City, UT on Saturday June 20th and the 2023 High School National Invite wound down on the showcase field, the tournament truly couldn’t have ended any other way: No. 1 overall seed Eastide Prep from Seattle, WA and the reigning champions Lone Peak High School from Alpine, UT were alternatively trying to claw their back into the game or deliver the knockout punch to seal a title victory, respectively.
In the end, it was the Lone Peak Knights who emerged victorious as senior Mitchell Burt ripped down a huck from sophomore Graeson Kerr in the end zone to give the Knights a 15-12 victory.
It was a fitting end to Lone Peak’s run at the title. Throughout the weekend LPHS dominated their opponents (15-8, 15-9, 15-8, 15-9, 15-4) by working through its entire roster of talented players to give a variety of looks and options. Defenses were forced to protect at every position and offenses were forced to work through plans A, B, C, and D as the Knights applied pressure from top to bottom.
Eastside Prep (WA) was the only team at the tournament up to the task of slowing down the Knights offense and patiently working against their defense. As a matter of fact, the Eagles held a one goal lead late in the first half and tied the game up at 11-11. Juniors Axel Olson and Filip Icev did the lion share of the work for Eastside but, as the game wore on, the relentless pressure from Lone Peak proved to be too much.
The Knights went on to score four of the final five goals of the game to secure their back-to-back titles. Lone Peak just barely missed being the first team HSNI history to win repeat as champions as the South Eugene Gender Diverse team won it’s second consecutive title on the same field just hours before.
Depth is the Name of the Game
If any lesson is the takeaway from this year’s HSNI it’s that every great youth team has at least one star but the elite youth teams have a roster of at least 12 players that can be on the field in crunch time against any other great team.
That depth is the exact thing that carried Eastside and Lone Peak to the final. While Olson and Burt might be the headliners, each of these two teams have players that were indispensable to their runs that, outside of this section of this article, might not be getting any press.
Names for the Knights like Braedon Bybee, Daniel Jensen, Nick Whatcott and Ryan Roberts may not catch all the goals or throw all the assists but they were more than just cogs in the machine. Similarly for the Eagles, Cyrus Clapp, Syon Rao, Carter Bayer, and Max Lee made impact plays throughout their run to the championship.
It’s an important reminder to teams that, while elite players sometimes demand a heliocentric offense and elite teams may appear to be equally heliocentric (Olson commanded the vast majority of his teams counted stats in both their semifinal and final), development of depth is the only real avenue to title contention.
There was talk, including content produced on this very website, about Northwest teams having the potential to dominate the tournament, perhaps even an opportunity to claim all four seminfinals spots. What played out, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.
All though both Eastside and South Eugene qualified for semifinals, the quarterfinals paint a much more diverse picture as the “regional” count appears as such:
Mountain West: 2
Atlantic Coast: 1
The semifinals ended up with two Northwest and two Mountain West teams but, it’s worth noting that Edina (MN) pushed Green Canyon (UT) to double game point in the quarterfinals and Jackson-Reed (DC) was a few ball bounces away from eliminating South Eugene (OR), narrowly losing 15-12.
It’s another encouraging sight for fans of the game that, while the hotbeds of youth ultimate are certainly blazing hot, top tier ultimate is being played across the country.
Celebration and Fire
As a final note, this writer would like to shoutout the attitude and intensity of the weekend.
Teams celebrated hard throughout the weekend and teams challenged each other aggressively. Nevertheless, even in the most intense games and moments, players seemed to never take each other’s exuberance personally.
There was a time (that, to this 36 year old, doesn’t seem that long ago) when club benches would clear because of a spike that one team felt was ill-timed or in bad faith.
Meanwhile, the kids are alright. Whether it was Alan Huang (Cleveland) and Tobias Brooks (Jordan) sharing a chuckle late in their prequarterfinal after a Brooks huck sailed (uncharacteristically!) out of bounds or the Lone Peak crowd reacting good naturedly after Harrison Prow (Eastside) gave them a solid shushing following the Eagles’ first goal of the game, the entire division seemed intent on upping the ante and challenging their opponents’ focus but rarely (if ever) pushing the envelope too far and always taking the celebrations for what they were: competitive spirit personified.
Ultiworld Subscribers: read on for the All-Tournament Line and Honorable Mentions!
Bonus Content for HSNI 2023: Lone Peak Wins Second Straight (Boys’ Division Recap) is only available to Ultiworld Subscribers
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