Pitt Men’s Ultimate brings “end of days” to opponents


Anna Bongardino | Contributing Editor

Andrew Lehmberg has recently returned to the field after recovering from a knee injury. Pitt men's ultimate team is one of the best in the nation, having qualified for nationals every year since 2005.

By Nick Carlisano, Staff Writer

In Marvel comic book lore, Apocalypse is a mutant supervillain with fantastic abilities whose goal is to remake the world to his liking. He’s since proven to be one of the most powerful and popular villains in Marvel history.

So it’s quite fitting that this year’s best club sport — Pitt men’s Ultimate, one of the most dominant Ultimate Frisbee teams in the nation — also goes by Apocalypse’s true name, En Sabah Nur.

Pitt men’s Ultimate started in the spring of 1998 when a group of first-years began playing pickup games behind the Cost Center. The next fall, the group created an official Ultimate Frisbee club team that would go on to make it to nationals 14 times in a row.

“I think that we are the hardest-working team in the country every year in terms of time we put in,” fifth-year senior and captain Hafeez Shams said.

Members of the Ultimate Frisbee team credit its success to numerous things, including rigorous tryouts and a strong team bond.

The first week of school, the team starts the process of determining which individuals get to join the team by holding open pickup games on the Cathedral Lawn.

The pickup games lead into a 4-vs.-4 tournament for anyone still willing to sign up. From there, the team picks individuals for a narrowed down, invite-only tryout. After several weeks, Pitt men’s Ultimate finds its guys — 22 to 25 competitors hoping to win a championship.

Make no mistake, that title is a possibility every single year.

Following three regular season spring tournaments, Ultimate Frisbee teams will participate in playoffs against local teams. Several of the top local teams head to regionals, hoping to be one of the few squads that earn a bid to nationals. En Sabah Nur doesn’t usually have much to worry about, having qualified for nationals every year since 2005.

Last season, the team fell to North Carolina 14-10 in the championship, its best finish since it won back-to-back titles in 2012-13.

One of the biggest perks for members of Pitt’s Ultimate Frisbee team is getting to join a brotherhood of Frisbee pros and create lasting memories.

Ben Morgenstern, a fifth-year computer science major, joined the team his junior year and has risen to the position of captain, despite tearing his ACL against Stanford last year and sitting out most of the season. One memory from his time playing has truly stood out from all the rest.

Last year at nationals, Pitt was losing to the University of Massachusetts early in the quarterfinals. In order to make something happen, the coach put in the second line, which included Morgenstern.

Morgenstern forced a turnover and Pitt scored.

“The next point, he called the starters back on, but then put me back on the line and I was playing with my brother,” Morgenstern said. “That was my brother’s last year, he was graduating after that, so it was just really great to finally have been able to make the team and play with him in a big-time game.”

Shams, a finance and business information systems major hailing from just outside Chicago, remembers a semifinal game of last year’s nationals against rival Carleton College.

“We were the nine-seed at the tournament and they were the two-seed. Most people thought they were going to win or take second,” Shams said. “There was this moment where they looked shook and were very quiet in their time-out and we were doing a yell because we were up 8-6.”

At that moment, Pitt could tell, just by Carleton’s body language, that it had won.

“At one point, us and the women’s team took over the entire area singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ as loud as we could,” Shams said. “That whole semifinal game experience was my favorite.”

Head coach Nick Kaczmarek, a teacher at Pittsburgh’s Environmental Charter School, has been coaching the men’s team since the 2011-12 season. Kaczmarek has had the opportunity to coach numerous local high school teams at the same time, allowing him to create bonds with high school players who then go on to play for him with En Sabah Nur.

That was the case for one athlete, Trent Dillion, in particular.

“We were down 8-3 and he’s running down the field to catch the goal to tie the game,” Kaczmarek said. “That’s one of the most vivid memories I’ve ever had coaching, just seeing him run down the field and having flashbacks to him as a younger player and then seeing him as a graduate student at Pitt was pretty special.”

Pitt men’s Ultimate went on to win it all that year. And although on-field success is a staple of the program, it’s what goes on off the field that helps it take its play to the next level. En Sabah Nur is nearly inseparable off the field.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by first-year Aiden Landis, a chemical engineering major. Although his time with En Sabah Nur has been brief, the older players have already made him feel welcome.

“We all hang out together and I think that’s great for building relationships,” Landis said. “As soon as you’re on the team it’s super inviting, even during the tryout process. They do a great job of making everyone feel included.”

From playing “Fortnite” together to grabbing lunch to the yearly team Thanksgiving, Pitt men’s Ultimate does everything it can to make sure the team stays connected. Members of the team have even ventured to Pinnacles and Yosemite national parks together.

“Yosemite was one the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Shams said. “We climbed up this mountain and got right next to one of the waterfalls. We stayed at this really cool lake house for the week. Getting to see Yosemite with some of my closest friends is my favorite off-field memory.”

Spending so much time together is one of several factors that separates Pitt men’s Ultimate from the majority of teams in the country. The two captains also ensure focus, preparation and effort contribute to the team’s success.

“Having the mental fortitude to focus and not get nervous help to put us above other teams,” Morgenstern said. “And being so close is a huge part of [our success].”

The players’ hard work does not go unnoticed by Kaczmarek and he agrees it’s part of what separates his team from others.

“It’s a bunch of guys that are really committed to doing everything they can to be ready for big situations,” Kaczmarek said. “More than that, there’s also a lot of trust between everyone on the team. Just to see a bunch of people work so hard to really know and trust each other on and off the field, that’s a beautiful thing that this team does really well.”

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