When both Columbia High School and Westfield High School stepped onto the field last Thursday at Watchung Hills Regional High School, the stage was set for another exciting matchups between the two rivals. CHS ended up taking the tight game, winning 13-12.
After being delayed one week due to inclement weather, the New Jersey Boys Ultimate Frisbee High School State Championship game took place last Thursday night. The game is usually played the week before on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend at Ranger Field at Drew University.
The two teams have split every single state championship since the year 2000, with CHS winning every year until 2014. WHS took home their first title in 2014, and have since won in 2016 and 2017. CHS took the title back in 2015 and 2018, and repeated this year.
Heading into the game this year, the teams had only played each other once before in early April, with CHS taking the game by a score of 15-9.
CHS had arguably their best regular season ever, with second place finishes at illustrious tournaments like the YULA Invitational and the Amherst Invitational, and they won the Paideia Cup in April. They beat nationally ranked opponents like #1 Amherst, #6 Woodrow Wilson, #8 Grady, #9 Neuqua Valley and #11 Paideia. At the end of the season, they were the second ranked high school team in the country. [Editor’s note: The Team achieved the #1 ranking in early May.]
WHS, while no slouch of an opponent, did not have as much regional success as CHS. They also went to the YULA Invitational, but finished in 5th place. They also traveled to Massachusetts to compete in the Pioneer Valley Invitational where they finished in 4th place.
The two teams beat up on the in-state competition though, as both won their quarterfinals 15-1 and their semifinals 15-4 to cement their place in the championship game.
The CHS roster is extremely senior dominated with 18 of them, resulting in fantastic chemistry across the board. WHS is not nearly as senior heavy, as they only had six on their roster. The talent on their roster was much more spread out.
CHS set the tone early, seamlessly working the disc through seniors Zach Singer, Aylen Learned, and sophomore Dexter Clyburn up the field before senior Ben Harris hit sophomore Jordan Bacharach for the first goal of the game.
CHS would then break on the next three points to jump out to a 4-0 lead. WHS looked nervous on offense as dropped the disc and threw it away early on in their possessions, giving CHS the momentum early on. The next point WHS seemed to calm down as sophomore Luke Barry took advantage of his defender poaching and then hit junior Grayson Shovlin for Westfield’s first goal of the game.
CHS responded strongly as Singer threw around his mark to hit Learned, who then ripped a 60-yard backhand huck to Bacharach for the quick hold. WHS would then hold and break on the next two points to bring the game to 5-3. CHS again responded though as Learned and senior Tristan Yarter completed a give-and-go on the endzone line to go back up by three.
By this point in the game it looked like WHS had gotten their feet under them and were confident that they could upset CHS. While CHS had the momentum, WHS was knocking on the door. It showed in the next two points.
At 6-3, WHS senior Matt Pindilli sent a disc into the endzone where CHS senior Alex Giannone made a great play to knock the disc away, but it hung in the air where WHS senior Jacob Singman was able to catch the disc over Giannone for the hold.
On the next point after a missed layout grab by Bacharach, WHS got the disc on CHS’ half of the field and patiently worked it in after junior Jack Cioffi hit sophomore Gerard Bryson on a 35-yard away shot for the goal. All of a sudden, it was a one-goal game.
Singman then hand-blocked Harris on the next point and in just a few minutes it looked like WHS had grabbed the momentum away from CHS. But Learned then played shutdown defense on Shovlin, forcing a throw away and CHS had gotten the disc back. CHS then showed off their chemistry once again and worked the disc before Harris threw to senior Eric Binder for the goal. Junior Ruari McEwen was then able to get a hand block five yards from the goal line, and Yarter hit Harris just two throws later for the goal. CHS had taken half 8-5. They had taken the momentum back.
WHS then held to start the second half and CHS did the same. After another WHS hold to bring the game to 9-7. At this point the momentum wasn’t wavering one way or the other, but CHS decided to do something about that.
After a pull by WHS senior Felix Baur went out at WHS’ own 30-yard line, Learned and Yarter were once again able to complete a give-and-go into the endzone for the goal. On the next point WHS worked the disc up the field before CHS was able to get the disc back after Learned got a skying D in the back of the endzone over Baur. WHS was able to get the disc back one throw later, but then Barry threw it away one throw later. Yarter then completed an around flick all the way to the other side of the field to sophomore Ben Harris. Harris then threw to senior Deven Harris for the break and the 11-7 lead.
Cioffi took over the next point and threw a cross-field hammer to bring the game to 11-8. CHS turned the disc over on the goal line but was able to get it back and worked it downfield again where Learned completed the goal to Singer for the 12-8 lead. With the clock running down and with CHS only needing to score three more times, it looked like the championship was theirs.
WHS junior Jacob LaRue got open downfield where Barry connected with him on a 55-yard forehand huck, but it felt like CHS would just hold again.
But then CHS surprisingly turned it over on the goal line. The crowd didn’t expect it and neither did the players on the field. WHS jumped on that as they worked the disc to Baur on the other side of the field. He then connected with fellow senior Michael Kane on a 70-yard forehand for the huge break. Clyburn seemed to have an easy play on the disc, but he didn’t see Kane behind him, who just ran past him for the goal.
CHS now had more pressure on them to score, but no one felt like WHS would break again. But then Shovlin got the better of Learned and hand blocked him five yards outside the end zone. Shovlin picked up the disc and threw to Jacob LaRue who made a fantastic layout grab. He gave it back to Shovlin, who threw to Cioffi for the goal. Again, it was all of a sudden a one-goal game.
With the clock winding down, the momentum had quickly flipped. Now all the pressure was on CHS, when just a few minutes before it was on WHS.
On the next point, CHS then turned the disc over again after Harris overthrew Binder on a huck attempt. It looked like things were unraveling. CHS, knowing that they needed to get the disc back, played relentless defense. Bodies were flying as they were trying to get layout D’s, bodies were bumping as they attempted to play tight and shutdown defense. But WHS kept getting open.
Baur had beaten Clyburn downfield and Shovlin had the disc in his hands right at midfield. Shovlin saw Baur, threw to him and it felt like everyone was watching in slow motion. The crowd was going crazy, but it felt silent and you could hear a pin drop. Baur ran and ran and laid out for it, but just missed. CHS had gotten the disc back.
Clyburn picked it up, swung it to Learned, who caught it, immediately turned upfield and knew what to do. Yarter, who has caught dozens of hucks from Learned, knew what to do too. He immediately streaked deep and Learned threw one of his signature 70-yard backhand hucks downfield. The WHS defense knew it was coming too as they had two defenders drop back, but Yarter turned on a second gear where he blew by them and no one could catch up. He caught it, emphatically kicked spiked it and in one second, CHS took the momentum back.
Due to hard cap rules, the next point would be the last. Baur ripped a forehand huck to Kane for the goal, but it didn’t matter. CHS had repeated as New Jersey state champions by a score of 13-12.
This game gave us another classic in the rivalry between these two teams, with fans sure to see many more in the future.
Side note: The CHS girls ultimate frisbee team, Sparklemotion, finished in second place in their New Jersey state tournament, which took place on Saturday, May 25. They came into the day as the #4 overall seed. The team went 2-1 on the day with initial wins over Watchung Hills JV 13-0 and then upset the #1 West Windsor North 9-6 to compete in the final, where they were defeated by the Watchung Hills varsity team. It is the first time in six years that Sparklemotion has finished in the top two in the state. They only have two graduating seniors.
You can catch the full game here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsUjAy-COJ4
Photos by Ethan Pidgeon, CHS Class of ’19: