WESTFIELD, NJ — Two weeks before the June 1 championship Ultimate Frisbee game, senior Cole Feltman broke his left arm in a collision with a player from Amherst that required surgery immediately afterwards. And just two days before, Feltman had a splint on with a plate inside of his non-dominant arm.
But with the Westfield Blue Devils up 14-5 in the championship against Watchung Hills Warriors, the team put Feltman on the field, away from the play. When the Warriors suddenly turned it over, he slipped past the defense and made a one-handed catch to capture the game-winning point.
“Coming back to the state championship was not in my original plan for my recovery at all,” Feltman said. “I did not expect to be able to have a new brace that I would be able to run with and have my arm not hurt when doing so. It was awesome to be able to come in on the final point and score the final point of the state championship. It's a game I will never forget.”
The 15-5 win gave Westfield (27-3), ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 6 in the nation, their second straight state championship. The game was played in Ranger Stadium at Drew University in front of about 350 spectators.
“The feeling of winning back-to-back state championships is fantastic,” head coach Ryan Belline said. “The NJ State Championship for Ultimate Frisbee started in 2001 and we are just the second team to win more than one in a row. This year felt particularly great since we have such a strong senior class, many of which have been playing since sixth or seventh grade in our program.”
Winning the Amherst Invite tournament was also something the team worked for.
“We had two major team-performance goals this year which were winning a state championship and winning a major regional tournament in the Amherst Invite,” Belline said. “We were successful at both this year. The Amherst one was huge since there were four defending state champions in that event and we came out on top of all of them. We enter the Amherst tournament every two years — we have entered four times total — and we had never made it past the quarterfinals before.”
This season also had special meaning for the team teammate Ezra Kennedy died suddenly in a hiking accident on July 27.
“Dealing with the tragic loss of a teammate and a friend is the hardest thing a team could go through,” Belline said. “Ezra was an extremely hard working player and we certainly missed having him on the field. The team rallied around him, we had warm-up jerseys dedicated to him and we had cheers dedicated to him that we used through our final game this season.”
The team posed for a picture with the trophy wearing the special jerseys after the championship game.
“Losing Ezra was very tough for the team,” senior Chris Ng said. “It took a while to adjust without him and the team’s mentality seemed low at the time. Yet everyone on the team, especially the seniors, basically dedicated this season to him. Winning the championship was definitely an incredible moment because the Kennedys were with us every step of the way. We know Ezra is with us on and off the field.”
The team used the memory of Kennedy to push themselves even harder.
“After we had heard the news of what happened many of us, including myself, were devastated,” senior Kevin Tsui said. “As corny as it sounds, every tournament we played was for Ezra. We wanted to win every tournament because we wanted to make Ezra proud. That gave us a new hunger and it showed this season. Once we had won the championship, there was nothing left to prove. We had made Westfield Ultimate the best in the state and we had made sure everyone knew that we were playing for Ezra.”
Belline is proud of everything this year’s senior class accomplished.
“Cole Feltman and Jack Liebling stood out as elite handlers this season while Chris Ng, Matt Stravach, and Patrick Chirichella stood out as significant receiving options,” Belline said. “Kevin Tsui was a stout defender often matching up with the other team’s best players. Meanwhile, Chris Kelly was our utility player who could play in just about any position and he brought such a positive energy that helped keep the team moving forward whenever we encountered obstacles.”
The seniors’ friendship off the field also helped escalate their play.
“I can’t say enough about this year’s senior class,” Ng said. “We are one of the larger groups our team has had. Every single senior is one of my closest friends. We’ve played together since middle school and have just grown into amazing teammates. The amount of work the seniors put in really showed during tournaments and I believe inspired the younger players on our roster. Our synergy is great and we work so well together. We all share a special kind of bond that cannot be broken.”
The Westfield Ultimate Frisbee program is run in collaboration with the Westfield Area YMCA. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Eric Storms is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.