High School National Invite 2024: Tournament Recap (Boys Division)

Powerhouse clashes all over the place!

Wissahickon’s Sam Gross catches a huck at the 2024 High School National Invite. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

Rockford, IL. — This year’s edition of the 2024 High School National Invite just about had something for everyone. 25 mph winds, sideways rain, clear skies, a gorgeous sunset, we went through just about every type of weather except for snow. Throughout all of that though, amazing ultimate was being played in the boys division. Quarters were played in the still morning air where players were able to show off their throwing prowess. The semi finals took place during a rainstorm that forced teams to fall back onto their systems and fundamentals if they wished to reach the final. The final was played under a painted Illonois sky and after much back and forth between the boys of Edina and Green Canyon, it was Green Canyon who hoisted the championship trophy in the end.

Sparkling Offenses Duel in Final

Late on the last day of HSNI, two undefeated teams met under the lights to decide who would win it all. Both Edina and Green Canyon had fantastic seasons, even having to fight through many close games on the first day of HSNI to retain their unbeaten prestige. When it was all said and done, Green Canyon (UT) stayed undefeated, beating Edina (MN) 15-12 to secure the school’s first High School National Invite title.

“It has been a super long season, we put in a ton of work all year and this was it,” said Green Canyon captain Nate De Morgan. “I just love that we got to do this together. It’s a great way to end high school.”

The work that Green Canyon had put in all season was evident in the final. Their offense was efficient, patient, and most importantly consistent. Playing with the perfect balance of structure and creativity, a combination that can only be cultivated through long hours spent together on the practice field. Early in the final however, it showed that Edina had also been preparing for a game like this, just as much as Green Canyon.

“We work hard, we have a long season playing all year. We even have winter practices that start at 6 AM,” said Charlie Teply of Edina. “We came here ready to execute in pool play and in bracket play and just fell short here in the final.”

In the early points of the final, each team’s preparation showed up on the field. Cuts were set up and discs were run through. Intelligent switches happened amongst defenders to give them a leg up on the offense. Players were even experimenting with poaches trying to catch the opposing offense off balance. It was indeed a poach block by Jack Sanda for Edina that led to the first break of the game putting Edina in the lead 3-1.

Edina’s lead was short lived as Green Canyon broke back to knot the score at 4-4. In the points that followed before halftime, the spectators were treated to some of the finest displays of offensive play seen all weekend at HSNI. Green Canyon freshmen Blake Holt, in particular, caught fire. He was persistently open in the reset space and really started to reach into his bag of breakside throws and hucks to spur his team forward towards the finish line. Just after halftime in the final, he threw a tremendous inside flick huck to a diving defender to break and put his team up 9-7, the largest lead Green Canyon had had so far. Holt simply put one finger in the air in celebration as the crowd went wild. For such a young player, his skills are incredibly well polished and his on-field maturity is remarkable; he is sure to be a constant problem for other teams in the division for years to come.

“He is absolutely crazy,” said De Morgan in reference to his teammate, Holt. “I’d be really scared if I was a high schooler in the division right now because this kid is going to dominate for the rest of his career.” Coincidentally in the closing remarks of his interview, Holt had just four words to say, flashing an ominous Cheshire grin as he spoke: “See you next year”.

Holt was not the only player on Green Canyon who was having himself a game. De Morgan, to put it frankly, was balling out. By the end of the final his stat line was as follows: three goals, five assists, three blocks, and just a single turnover. It is safe to say that Green Canyon would not have the gold around their necks if it was not for De Morgan. He flew up and down the field on offense and defense doing it all with an impressive amount of athleticism and fervor. His play helped Green Canyon to stretch their lead by two more breaks and even hauled in the winning goal, securing his team the championship.

Although Edina did not win it all, they left with their heads held high. They were near perfect all season and all weekend right up until the end. Edina also had a sense of togetherness that was easily apparent from the outside looking in , something that has obviously flourished from the time they had spent together.

“I could not pick a better twenty three guys to go into battle with. Family is not even the right word to describe the bond we have. Most of us have played four years together, working our way up from a JV-3 team to an HSNI final,” said Teply of his Edina brotherhood. “In the huddle after the game I said to the guys ‘losing sucks but it sucks that we don’t get to play together anymore.’ These guys are my brothers and life long friends.”

While Green Canyon may be leaving with the trophy, it is apparent that Edina and every team at HSNI left with a prize of their own and that is what is so amazing about HSNI and high school ultimate. It is just a celebration of the game we all love and getting to do it with our family on the field just makes it so much sweeter.

Rainy Semis End Wissahickon, Eastside Prep Runs

Green Canyon’s Dominant

The first semifinal took place during the aforementioned rainstorm, with Green Canyon taking on Wissahickon (PA). Both teams started with a person defensive scheme, with Green Canyon switching to a zone look once the rain really started coming down, a decision that won them the game. Green Canyon implemented a 2-3-2 contain style of zone. They allowed Wissahickon handlers to take the easy resets but stopped anything up the middle. In normal conditions those resets would be simple and routine but the rain caused many an unforced drop by Wissahickon. Green Canyons zone was able to break five times in the first half making it 8-3 at the midpoint.

The second half was more of the same. More rain, more zone defense, and more turnovers from both sides. Green Canyon continued to break though, thanks to Silas Bell and Miles Phillips who played at the front of the Green Canyon zone. Bell hurried from handler to handler as the disc was swung, setting an active mark which allowed Phillips to sit in the openside lane and eat up any incoming throws and stop any crashing cutters. Once the disc was in their possession they let De Morgan and Holt do what they do best and punch in the score. Green Canyon was able to take the game 15-8 and was headed to the final of HSNI for the first time in the program’s history.

It must be mentioned that Wissahickon was able to keep their spirits up the entire game. Even when they were down and out, in the pouring rain they were able to rally. Just after halftime their sideline mustered up the bravery to run down the sideline along with the pull, shirtless, swinging their jerseys above their heads and yelling as loud as they could. It was a good reminder that everyone was still having fun even in such a serious game.

Edina’s Extreme Execution Ends Eastisde’s Event

The second semifinal featured two undefeated teams going head to head: Edina and no.1 seed Eastside Prep (WA). Of the four undefeated teams that entered the tournament, only three remained and this was the first time any of these teams played one another. One team would stay undefeated and go onto the final later that night and the other would have their season cut short in dramatic and honestly very wet fashion. All rain is wet but for some reason this particular storm objectively felt wetter than most. The rain drops weren’t large but they were numerous and they immediately drenched everything.

Edina saw the rain as an opportunity though and implemented their zone defense that allowed them to gain control of the game early. Despite the efforts of stars like Axel Olson and Filip Icev, Eastside Prep seemed to be struggling in the rain more than Edina. The Minnesotans broke three times in the first half, often receiving the disc from Eastside Prep because a catch would slide out of their grasp or a throw would not have enough power on it due to a lack of grip on the disc.

Just before half, Edina had the disc near the Eastside end zone looking to break and further their lead. They received the disc after another dropped swing by Eastside and Walter Hipps wasted no time calling a timeout. The play call was for Alex Carver to clear the open side in front of the disc and for Riley Ballinger to cut into it from the break side. This allowed Hipps the time to put a big blading backhand into the end zone and right into the bread basket of Ballinger, breaking for half and extending their lead 8-5.

Eastside Prep however did not go down without a fight. Eastside was able to bring the game back within reach, knotting the score at 10-10, once again making it anyone’s game. This comeback was largely thanks to Eastside cutter, Jack Edwards, who had six goals of his own in the contest. Those efforts were too little too late as Edina regained control and took the game 15-12, thanks to an openside strike cut by Charlie Teply to secure their berth into the final.

It would be a tragedy not to give light to the throwing ability of Eastside Preps, Axel Olson. All weekend Olson clearly had more control over the disc than any other player at the tournament. The amount of edge control and touch he has on his inside flicks especially is inspiring.

“I have been playing for a long time, since like 3rd grade,” said Olson. “A lot of time throwing with my brother, teammates after practice, of course playing disc golf, just really making sure my form is correct. It’s all I really do as my hobby, it’s just throwing frisbees.”

All that time and effort spent with a disc has no doubt paid off. I would venture to say Olson’s ability is comparable to a high level club player. He’s headed to Carleton, along with Green Canyon’s Nate De Morgan, next year so it’ll be exciting to see where he goes and what he does with his career.

From Around the Complex

  • The future-champs closest Saturday game came against West Jessamine (KY), who might have proven one of the top five teams in calmer conditions. David Diddle and Nick Riffell were both big time contributors and pushed Green Canyon to the brink in quarters, 14-13. West Jess knocked off Jackson-Reed in the morning’s comfortable conditions, using their deep game to stretch the field and overpower the DC squad by a 15-11 count. They settled for seventh after losing to South Eugene in consolation.
  • Speaking of South Eugene (OR), they were quite impressive, especially at the top of the roster. Sam Anderson was a terror in the air, Akira Koeningsberg was a devastating backfield general, and CJ Kaperick provided a long and stalwart defensive presence. Their 3-0 Friday portended well, but then they ran into a scorching hot Sam Grossberg and Wissahickon. Grossberg simply couldn’t miss in the first half, and Wissahickon’s athleticism and physicality proved able to challenge South Eugene’s powerful receivers.
  • After each falling victim to Friday upsets, Lincoln (WA) and Jordan (NC) played the most thrilling prequarter matchup of the weekend. Every time one team seemed like they might get too far behind, they found some scrappy way to stay in it. A lengthy multi-turn point that went to each end zone and back, featuring multiple big blocks, ended with a sky by Lincoln’s Evan Cerne that set up an easy pass to tie it at 12-12. On universe, Lincoln clamped down, forcing a high stall throw to space up the line that Lincoln’s Ben Bolan snared. Jordan’s defense struggled to recover on the ensuing possession and Bolan guided the game-winning possession. Kyler Wieties stood out as the steady handler presence that led Jordan.
  • While Edina earned the title, respect to their Minnesota neighbors, St. Louis Park (MN). They lost two games in Rockford: once to Green Canyon and in quarters to Edina. They were +15 in their four wins, including a pair over Lincoln, the second of which came on universe in the 5th Place semis. Edina was a tough draw for them, as they struggled to find separation from Edina’s constricting matchup defenders, but big plays from star Thomas Shope, big Eliah Fink, and timely goal-scorer Noam Halpern kept them in it. They went down 4-0, but played even the rest of the game, showing they really were one of the tournament’s strongest outfits.

All-Tournament Team

Axel Olson (Eastside Prep)

A skilled thrower without compare, but don’t sleep on his legs, or you’ll find yourself making excuses to your teammates why he was wide open up the line.

Nathan De Morgan (Green Canyon)

An emotional pillar, De Morgan’s high motor carried his team defensively, and he had both the game IQ and physical attributes to back up the bluster.

Charlie Teply (Edina)

Hard to pick a standout from such a deep Edina team, but Teply often felt like the guy his team turned to for a big throw and for unshakeable leadership.

Sam Grossberg (Wissahickon)

The flamethrowing PA handler had everybody talking with his bouts of deep-throwing wizardry. Oh, and he’s fast and has hops, and he plays unafraid? He’s got a bright future.

Cedar Hines (Nathan Hale)

It’ll be a sad end to the recent HSNI tradition of being awed by the high-flying play and arcing pulls of Cedar Hines. Glad we got one last go around to marvel.

Ben Bolan (Lincoln)

The do-it-all Lincoln centerpiece showed he could handle, cut, defend, and do it basically on command.

Sam Anderson (South Eugene)

While he wasn’t the only athletic Axeman who might put you on a poster, his skies were the headliner. He could eat up yards under, too, if his reputation scared defenses too much.

And here’s some bonus lines, excluding players from appearing on multiple lines.

All-Handler Line

Blake Holt (Green Canyon)
David Diddle (West Jessamine)
Akira Koenigsberg (South Eugene)
Vivek Manchala (Lexington)
Marcus Lee (Jackson-Reed)
Jak Lin (Lincoln)
Matt Gunter (Edina)

All-Cutter Line

Zach Morton (Edina)
Filip Icev (Eastside Prep)
CJ Kaperick (South Eugene)
Nick Riffell (West Jessamine)
Kyler Wieties (Jordan)
Thomas Shope (St. Louis Park)
Sam Nichols (Green Canyon)

  1. Matt Fazzalaro
    Matt Fazzalaro

    Matt began playing ultimate in 2017 at Lambert High school in Forsyth County, Georgia. In his college career he played one year with the Samford Dogma and three years with the Georgia Jojah. Matt cites the Athens, GA ultimate community as the best he has ever experienced and also fell in love with goalty there. Matt now lives, works, and plays ultimate in Atlanta, GA.

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