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

The competition, the conditions, and the camaraderie.

Players from Roosevelt and Lincoln vie for a disc at the 2024 High School National Invite. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

Rockford, IL. — As day one of the 2024 High School National Invite comes to a close, it is safe to say that the Windy City lived up to its name. Teams from Washington to Massachusetts to Alabama converged in northern Illinois on a sunny but windy Friday for pool play preceding bracket play and the crowning of the champions tomorrow. All four top seeds remain undefeated at the end of the day despite upsets in the lower seeds.

A Finale for the Ages

Nothing proves two teams more deserving of being in the championship game than a universe point finish. Saturday’s teams were no stranger to national finals – both competed in last year’s championship game, too. South Eugene (OR) and Roosevelt (WA) faced off in 2023, which ended with a dominant 15-8 South Eugene win. The reigning champions took a commanding 3-0 lead to begin the game, exactly like they did the year before. But the teams eventually proved to be separated by a very thin margin in a 15-14 South Eugene victory.

The night of the game was arguably some of the best weather Rockford had seen all weekend. The early afternoon rain had stopped and Friday’s wind had all but disappeared. Highlights from both teams had the packed crowd fully into the game, and the energy remained high. Roosevelt threw a tight cup on the Oregon team’s offense, but their handlers were able to patiently work the disc back and forth between themselves before threading the disc through to Neala Anderson and Lyra Wagner to score. Senior handlers Ollie Bunson (five assists, two blocks, one goal) and Lizzy Nelson (four assists) controlled the field with poise throughout the game, unfazed by the Roosevelt team’s strength and skill.

Roosevelt’s star Chloe Hakimi lived up to the hype, skying players left and right and ripping hucks down the field. Her pulls were textbook. She led the team statistics with seven assists, three blocks, and a goal.

Not to be deterred, Roosevelt regrouped and a diving catch from Nora Snyder gave the team their first lead at 4-3. From there, the game was neck and neck. South Eugene’s creativity in their throws allowed them to maneuver around every Roosevelt defensive strategy, with handlers throwing scoobers and hammers that were more often successful than not. Helen Burruss had the stands alive with excitement, as they took flight at various points, and the whole field seemed to be their springboard. Diving in any direction for the disc, Burruss drew attention to themself with a toe-drag goal and later, an assist to take halftime when the game was tied at 7-7.

After halftime, Roosevelt notched a speedy score to tie the game yet again. Break scores were few and far between, as the points were alternating for the entire game. A highlight-reel huck from Chloe Hakimi found Kelsey Matz for a goal following a block from their teammate, senior Elena Boyle, in the South Eugene end zone. It was clear how accustomed the Roosevelt team was to playing with such a powerful thrower, as there was always a cutter ready to get open in the deep space.

Helen Burruss had the crowd roaring yet again with a scoop of the disc an inch or two off the ground, tying the game back at 11-11. This came after an impressively patient point from Roosevelt, who spent a long time at the front of the end zone, but were content to keep working through their resets before finally scoring on a throw from Hakimi.

The depth of both teams was evident, but Roosevelt’s roster continued to impress. ZsaZsa Gelfand had two goals and launched a massive huck to speedy Kelsey Matz for a score near the end of the game. Matz herself had five goals in the game, a coming out party for the sophomore. Nora Snyder (two goals, one assist) dominated with the disc, finding open players and showing off her accuracy and athleticism.

South Eugene impressed with their craftiness and ability to get around every Roosevelt mark, no matter how tightly defended they were. Their disc movement was smooth and fast, never feeling like the disc sat in one player’s hands for too long. Scoring was very spread out for their team, eight different players having scored goals with Fluffy Jones, Helen Burruss, and Neala Anderson each having three. The South Eugene zone defense moved like a well-oiled machine, constantly filling in the gaps as their teammates shifted and displaying solid field awareness as the disc moved around.

It was a Hakimi huck into traffic that gave South Eugene the chance to earn a break. A Neala Anderson forehand to Samaya Madrone put South Eugene up 14-13 in soft cap. With Roosevelt’s season on the line, the Gelfand to Hakimi connection kept them alive under pressure.

The final point of the game was an unexpectedly fast offensive hold. South Eugene broke through Roosevelt’s cup and hit Madrone again sliding in the end zone to secure their third national championship in a row. The point was clean and smooth, showcasing the star handlers that danced the disc down the field.

Emotions ran high on both sides throughout the game, although it was impressively spirited for a national championship. The opposing teams gave their all for every hard-fought point. Many stars on both teams played nearly every point and continued to give their teams everything they had through their exhaustion. Both teams seemed unaffected by the large crowd and high pressure. If anything, they drew energy from the crowd and used it to build momentum. In the end, it was South Eugene’s ability to break any defense that earned them the title. The champions are no strangers to victory, but it sure was exciting to behold.

Favorites Advance in All-Northwest Semis

It didn’t quite feel like June weather during Saturday’s semifinal games, with thick clouds and a cold rain. Nonetheless, the four teams battled it out with grit and determination. All four final teams were the top seeds for the tournament, and each had gone undefeated until this moment.

Just Two Seattle Neighbors Playing on a Rainy Afternoon

Turnovers were all too common with the wet disc and reduced visibility, not to mention the cold. Team USA player Chloe Hakimi (five blocks, five assists, two goals) was willing to throw hucks to her Roosevelt teammates from the first point to the very last, and Lincoln (WA)’s Ella Widmyer (seven blocks, six assists, one goal) taught a masterclass on versatility and field awareness. The match, ending with a 15-14 Roosevelt victory, was star-studded with Team USA players, three from each team. Madoka Uo, Ella Widmyer and Milo Brown will represent Lincoln at Worlds, joined by Roosevelt’s ZsaZsa Gelfand, Chloe Hakimi, and Vivian Hakimi.

Lincoln opened the game with a score from Uo, followed soon after by a rising inside out backhand from Gelfand to Chloe Hakimi for a Roosevelt point. On defense, Roosevelt’s shifty setup was difficult to break, although Lincoln eventually did because of their quick pace and their cutters’ abilities to find holes. Keeping morale up was a challenge as well, especially with the weather, but both teams were visibly working to stay as hype as possible. Both teams punched in goals with high energy celebrations, spikes, and handshakes. Late in the match, they proved the spirit of the game can still be prominent no matter how intense the situation is. A Roosevelt player experienced cramping in her legs after a physical run against Milo Brown, and two Lincoln players immediately helped her stretch on the field until she was able to walk off. Moments like this were impressive; both teams understood that despite the competition, nothing was more important than each other.

Each team relied on their depth throughout the game to get them through long, tough points. Lincoln kept the disc moving quickly, never allowing Roosevelt’s zones to set up and get control. Good defense gets beat by better offense – Lincoln’s handlers found their cutters in open space and in turn found the end zone. On the flip side, after forcing Lincoln all the way out of bounds in their defensive end zone, Roosevelt hit Zoe Willmer to take halftime up 8-6. Milo Brown had a rather quiet game with no goals or assists, but contributed by positioning themself perfectly downfield to cut off the hucks, a tactic that earned them three blocks. The resilience of Lincoln’s team, even being down three points in the pouring rain and cold, was notable. They always had swings available and continuations off of those, continuing to operate and attack in that continuation space.

With soft cap in place and the game ending at 12 points, Widmyer intercepted a long huck from Hakimi in Roosevelt’s end zone. Play stayed alive with multiple turnovers from each team. After a long while, it was Gelfand who caught the final point, sending Roosevelt to the championship match yet again, fending off a hungry Lincoln team looking to finally upend them in a big game.

South Eugene Outruns Nathan Hale to Final

In the rainy and windy weather, the Nathan Hale versus South Eugene semifinal became a contest of which team could control the frisbee best in the elements. South Eugene ended up coming out on top in the end, beating Nathan Hale (WA) 15-6.

South Eugene had many players that were comfortable as cutters and handlers, which helped bring their team to an early 2-0 lead. On defense, they often played a zone, but experimented with a different number of people in the cup on various occasions to test what would work best in the rain. After intercepting the disc from the other team, South Eugene was always quick to transition and get on offense. Short throws helped the team get through, around, and over Nathan Hale’s cup.

South Eugene’s consistent handlers Helen Buruss and Dana Herrmann were always there for each other and could work together to get the disc down the field. There was a clear connection with teammates Lizzy Nelson and Ollie Bunson, who played mostly in the middle of the field and presented options for small quick throws right through Nathan Hale’s zone.

Although these leaders greatly contributed to South Eugene’s success, they also heavily relied on their star cutters. Knowledgeable, agile, and fast players like Samaya Madrone and Fluffy Jones defined determination by chasing down every single disc. There were multiple instances in which the wind carried the disc in a direction not intended for by the thrower, but Jones was there to run down the frisbee and make sure it stayed with their team, showing persistence and grit.

Nathan Hale’s players also showed persistence and intensity in the rain as well, on both offense and defense. Senior Rowan Lymp really exemplified this by making terrific catches and laying out whenever the disc was just out of reach. Lymp also had multiple blocks and was successful in cutting and handling. Along with Lymp, another player who played for almost the entire game was Isabella Pharr. The experienced handler displayed her strength with consistent long-distance throws and contributed on defense by baiting throws and getting blocks. Defensively, Nathan Hale generally put up a zone with a strong cup, stopping South Eugene from moving down the field and causing them to only be able to swing back and forth. One player in particular was junior Hazel Geiger, who had a great amount of defensive intensity to help her team get turnovers.

Even with great players and great teams, the rain still caused multiple turns during almost every point and created a challenging game mentally and physically for both teams. It was the versatile, well-rounded South Eugene offense that was able to secure the win and send the reigning champions back to the finals.

Quarters and Dimes

It seemed like teams could relax a bit after the intense wind of the day before, but they were instead met with a chilly afternoon rain and the pressure to get to the finals. Quarters and prequarters contained some standout games and players.

  • In the beginning of the second day, Newton North (MA) faced Summit (OR), seeded no.14 and no.15 respectively, in a game to make it into the quarterfinals. Summit’s smooth offense allowed them to beat Newton North’s zone with ease, emphasizing that all of their players knew exactly where to be. This got them to an early lead, led by triplets Maya, Taylor, and Danika Melner. When they were on the defensive side of things, Summit’s tight zone prevented Newton North from being able to move far down the field. Using a person defense, Summit’s players poached the lanes in what was often a successful attempt to block passes by the other team. However, this solid defense did not stop Newton North from making some great plays of their own. With fast moving swings and some shots from the power position, players such as juniors Ellie Lemberg and Eliza Dyett significantly helped Newton North’s offense. Lemberg always seemed to be open and scored a large amount of the points for the team. Dyett was also a consistent handler who played most of the game without showing any exhaustion and made many strong throws with confidence like hammers and full field hucks. In the end, Summit won the game 15-10, taking them to quarterfinals.
  • Summit then went to lose their quarterfinal game against Nathan Hale, who eventually figured out the team’s strategy of throwing high releases and began knocking them down. Even with some great plays from Summit like Sylvia Bodo’s toe drag score, Nathan Hale was able to win the game 14-11. Nathan Hale had a strong offense with senior Isabella Pharr’s fantastic full field throws, relying heavily on cutters instead of handlers. The team generally played person defense, stopping Summit from making continuations downfield and ultimately resulting in their win.
  • Another close game in the quarterfinals was between Green Canyon (UT) and Roosevelt. Roosevelt, who ended up winning the game 13-11 and moving all the way to the final, threw many full field hucks. Throws like these were more easily achieved without the high wind from the day before. Standout cutter Kelsey Matz was able to chase down any throw that was sent deep with the speed of a cheetah. However, Green Canyon put up a strong offense with senior Kylee Cox handling and always being there for the next throw or dump pass from her teammates. Cox was also very quick and never seemed intimidated, no matter how close her defender was, creating a tough matchup for the Roosevelt team.
  • Saturday’s bracket play games experienced a variety of weather, but there was a notable adjustment from many teams as they figured out how to best play in the rain and wind. High energy from all the teams carried them through the difficult games. The tournament was a huge celebration of the youth talent across the country, and that positive energy soaked into the atmosphere of the event. Spirit was high, players were excited, and fans and supporters were noisy. That helped to counteract some of the potential dampening effect of unpleasant conditions.

All-Tournament Team

Chloe Hakimi (Roosevelt)

Even with a team deep with fantastic players, Hakimi was able to shine with her full field hucks and ability to sky anyone in her way.

Helen Burruss (South Eugene)

Showing off their incredible agility, Burruss could snatch any disc out of the air and was a key part of South Eugene’s offensive movement.

Fluffy Jones (South Eugene)

Jones was all over the field, always in the right place, and one of the most versatile players on the South Eugene roster.

Ella Widmyer (Lincoln)

Widmyer’s throws, blocks, cuts, and knowledge of the game helped her team be a force to be reckoned with.

Olive Polson-Filas (Northampton)

Using her height in her favor, Polson-Filas was able to block any disc from reaching the offenders and was a constant threat on offense as a handler as well.

Rowan Lymp (Nathan Hale)

Layout after layout, Lymp was able to catch the frisbee no matter where it was, on offense and defense.

Danika Melner (Summit)

A leader as both a thrower and cutter, Melner was able to guide her team to multiple successes and create an uplifting environment for the whole squad by supporting everyone.

Honorable Mention:

  • Milo Brown (Lincoln)
  • Nor Luloff (Garfield)
  • Alice Rieger (Strath Haven)
  • Kumari Okumura (Washburn)
  • Kaylee Cox (Green Canyon)
  • Katie Sanders (Decatur)
  • ZsaZsa Gelfand (Roosevelt)
  1. Ariana Golemis
    Avatar

    Ariana began playing frisbee in 2019 for Neuqua Valley High School. She captained the NVHS team for two and a half years. She also played on the Illinois Youth Club Championship mixed team Hypnosis for two years, captaining them in her last year on the team. Ariana currently plays as a handler for the University of Minnesota women's team, Matrix. Along with playing frisbee, she enjoys sports photography and writing articles for Ultiworld.

  2. Quinn Kahle
    Avatar

    Quinn Kahle started her ultimate frisbee career playing on the U20 Mixed YCC team, Illinois Hypnosis in 2021, and then again in 2022 and 2023. She currently plays on the University of Florida women's team, Fuel.

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