AVON – There is a new state championship team at Avon High School.
The Falcons’ ultimate team won its first state title earlier this month with an 11-5 win over The Forman School from Litchfield at the Connecticut Ultimate Club’s championship meet in Lakeville at the Hotchkiss School. Avon captured the state Division II championship in just its third season as a varsity team.
Ultimate may be better known as ultimate Frisbee but the sport doesn’t use that name since it is trademarked. The game is played on a field that is 70 yards long and 40 yards wide with 25-yard end zones. Each team has seven players and teams score points by getting the disc (Frisbee) into the end zone. You can’t run with the disc and have to pass it to move it down the field. If the disc hits the ground, it’s a turnover to the opposition.
“It’s the type of sport that once you starting playing, you learn to love it,” Avon High coach Jim Murray said. “You want to play more and more.”
Murray was bitten by the ultimate bug when he was in college at the University of Connecticut where he learned the sport and was a captain of the ultimate team.
Connecticut Ultimate Club has sponsored a state championship event since 2007. This was the second year of competition at the Division II level.
“We have a lot of new players who have really progressed this season,” Murray said. “Some of our new players have really risen to the occasion.”
The Falcons (6-8) played extremely well at the state tournament. All eight Division II teams were placed into one of four-team pools with the two winners earning the right to play for the state championship. Division II is for the newer programs. This was just Avon’s second appearance in the state tournament.
Avon rallied from a four-goal halftime deficit to win its first pool match with a 11-9 win over a North Branford team that had beaten the Falcons by a goal just five days earlier. A bit tired from the hard running from the North Branford game, Avon stumbled in its next bout, an 11-7 loss to the Middletown High junior varsity. “They were fresher than we were and they outran us,” Murray said.
But Avon caught a break because its group was so competitive. Middletown JV, now somewhat fatigued after its bout with Avon, had to finish pool play with North Branford and the Thunderbirds beat Middletown, 11-9. That left Avon, North Branford and Middletown with 2-1 records. Avon advanced to the championship game because they beat RHAM by nine goals. Middletown beat RHAM by seven and North Branford won by two.
In the final against Forman, Avon started out very well with a 5-0 lead. But Forman, which swept through its pool with three wins and giving up three goals in three matches, rallied to tie the match at 5-5. Avon scored one last goal to take a 6-5 halftime lead.
The Falcons didn’t let Forman score again. Avon added another five goals in the second half and earned an 11-5 decision. “We played solid defense and caused some significant turnovers to get some opportunities to score,” Murray said.
Once a team turns the disc over in ultimate, the opposing team can attack immediately.
“We were able to anticipate where some of the passes were doing,” Murray said. Freshman Nick Guerrero was able to make several blocks resulting in Forman turnovers. He also led the Falcons with four goals. Senior Johnny Oh had a goal and two assists in the championship game. Senior Jack Young, Avon’s most experienced player, had three assists.
Young, who leads the team with 43 assists this season, has been playing with the team for four years. He was there when Avon was just a club program. “He has the most experience of anyone we have,” Murray said. “He keeps everyone calm and collected in the game.”
Guerrero is Avon’s leading scorer with 27 goals in 14 matches. Senior Jonas Koepke, is a first-year player wiith 20 goals on the year. Each of the team’s 16 players that attended the tournament played but Guerrero, Young, Oh, Dominic Martinez, Michael Rostenberg, Caleb Paul and Logan Edwards got lots of playing time in the tournament. Paul, Young, Edwards and Martinez are the four senior captains.
With three wins at the state tournament, Avon improved to 6-8 on the season. During the regular season, everyone plays although Murray shortened his bench in the state tournament. Avon does have three girls on its roster and is a mixed team. There are girls playing on other ultimate teams across the state.
The season isn’t over. Avon plays at home on Tuesday at Thompson Brook against the Middletown JV at 4 p.m. The Falcons go to North Branford on Thursday for a match and are trying to schedule additional matches with RHAM and North Haven.
NOTES: In the Division I state tournament, Hotchkiss beat the Middletown High varsity, 11-4 to win its first state championship.
Now in its 11th season, Middletown is one of the state’s oldest high school ultimate programs. They have played in seven state championship games and have won twice in 2013 and 2010. In 2010, Middletown finished seventh at the Eastern National Championships. The Dragons have won three New England championships in 2013, 2009 and 2008.