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Frisbee captains guide team to top national ranking

By Ashley Drwal / Staff Writer

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To the untrained eye, Ultimate Frisbee’s on-field product can look like  a clamor of players shouting and weaving in patterns. Off the field, Pitt men’s Ultimate Frisbee club team functions mainly thanks to an intricate balance of its four captains.

Unlike most club sports, Pitt men’s Ultimate Frisbee club team has four captains: Trent Dillon, Tyler Kunsa, Patrick Earles and Jonah Wisch. Having multiple captains takes the strain off of the coaching staff, according to the four leaders, and helps maintain an easygoing atmosphere in the team.

The many-headed system works, Earles said, as Pitt is currently ranked No. 1 in the country and boasts a 20-2 record this season. While Pitt is in the middle of its season, the captains said they care most about their upcoming  tournaments, including this weekend’s Easterns. Pitt is the top seed of the 20 teams in the Easterns match-up, which Earles said boosts the team’s confidence as the players prepare to spin the competition.

“We are seeking a national championship,” he said, “and look to be on a good path toward achieving that goal.”

The split leadership doesn’t typically lead to disagreements, Dillon, a senior studying mechanical engineering, said. But there are still times during games when they have different ideas about which formations and strategies will work best

“I love watching my teammates encounter success,” he said. “I want to see them do great things and accomplish the individual goals that they set out for themselves in an attempt to help the team.”

Dillon guides the general management of the team. On the field, he plays defense, covering the opposing team’s best throwers and receivers, but off the field, he goes over strategies with head coach Nick Kaczmarek.

Kunsa, a fifth-year student studying mechanical engineering, helps Dillon with strategy and works with treasury and logistics.

After learning about Pitt’s program through his older brother, who also played on the team, Kunsa felt compelled to join himself.

Earles, a senior studying business and supply chain management, joked that his teammates consider him the “angry dad” of the team, constantly trying to get the players to try their best at all times.

Earles started out playing baseball until an arm injury prevented him from continuing. Instead, he chose to give Ultimate a chance. Now, he said, the sport has taken over his life with a strenuous schedule of three to five practices per week and constant travel for weekend tournaments.

Wisch, a sophomore exercise science major, designs the team workouts — focusing on strengthening and conditioning — and manages the rosters. The team often gives one of the captain positions to a younger player so the veteran captains can pass on what they know and provide some stability.

When they leave, Wisch will take their place and teach new captains. But he has been ready for high-caliber Ultimate for years, saying he decided to come to Pitt when he watched the team win the 2012 national championship on his computer while he was a junior in high school.

“A lot of us came here to play Ultimate,” he said. “More and more high school players will start to choose their colleges based on how good their Ultimate program is. Pitt is at the forefront of high school recruitment, and our program will continue to stay at the top for the foreseeable future.”

These guys take their roles seriously. The extended time together helps unify the team, and Earles added that the weekend tournaments give the team plenty of time together to “provide a great outlet for stress relief from school.” This season, the team lost its two-year captain, Aaron Watson.

“Aaron was an integral player on the field but was also a huge leader on our team for his entire career at the University,” Kunsa said.

Still, by keeping a relaxed yet competitive environment around the team, the four captains have more than made up for losing key players, as the team seems poised for another national championship run.

Together, the captains maintain a functioning and successful Ultimate Frisbee team. They hold three two-hour practices and two to three one-hour field workouts every week. In addition, players lift on their own several times a week.

Next up for the top-ranked Panthers is the Easterns tournament on Saturday and Sunday in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Pitt’s pool includes Massachusetts, Georgia, Carleton College and Illinois.

The tournament also includes No. 2 UNC-Wilmington and No. 3 Oregon.

“Playing either of those teams is going to be a battle and a strong test for our program,” Kunsa said.

Dillon added that, besides the possibility of facing those top teams, he looks forward to the tournament atmosphere.

“We’re playing well and working hard,” Dillon said. “[But] this season, we’re trying not to focus on any specific matchups. It isn’t so much about ‘winning games’ for us as it is ‘winning tournaments’ … It’s always a pleasure to take on the best teams the college division has to offer.”

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Frisbee captains guide team to top national ranking