Pitt Men’s Ultimate came up just shy of its first national title since 2013 when it fell to UNC in the championship last year, while the Pitt Women’s Ultimate made its deepest run ever. This year, the stakes are even higher as En Sabah Nur, the men’s team, looks to avenge its defeat and the Danger, the women’s team, aims to beat last season’s team record of third place.
“Every year the goal is to win a national championship. The fact that we haven’t done it is always in the back of our mind,” Hafeez Shams, a recent graduate and En Sabah Nur player, said of his class’s unreached goal of bringing a title back to Oakland.
Despite their failure to bring home a national title in recent years, the men’s and women’s Ultimate Frisbee teams have been two of the most dominant squads in the country since their inceptions. En Sabah Nur has the second longest Nationals appearance streak in the nation since 2005, while the Danger has made the tournament every spring since 2015.
This weekend, both teams will head to Round Rock, Texas, for Nationals in hopes of earning the title of best Ultimate team in the country. The 2019 end-of-year national tournament will pit 20 of the best teams in the nation against each other. Teams are grouped into four pools of five and play each other in round-robin fashion. The top two or three teams in each pool then advance into a single elimination bracket to battle for the trophy. ESPNU and ESPN3 will be broadcasting the event, and more information on live streams can be found here.
The men head into the tournament ranked third, behind UNC and Brown, while the women earned their best rank ever at eight. The success of Pitt Ultimate is quite exceptional, joining the likes of Oregon, North Carolina and Wisconsin as one of a few schools to send both their men’s and women’s teams to Round Rock.
Both Pitt teams will be out for revenge in more ways than one at Nationals. En Sabah Nur will be looking to claim the crown that barely eluded it last spring. The Danger will face two schools that defeated it earlier in the season, UNC and Oregon. And both programs may face a team they were defeated by at Regionals, Ohio State, if they make it out of their respective pools at Nationals.
The loss to Ohio State marked the first time En Sabah Nur had not won Regionals in a few years — something Shams believes will give his team an edge.
“It was a wake up call,” Shams admitted. “I think us losing that game was awesome and a blessing in disguise. Our practices have been a lot more focused. We’d love to see them again.”
The Danger wants to use past defeats to its advantage against its pool-play opponents.
“We have experience against some of those teams and we’re ready to bring it against them,” captain Katie Schreiber, a graduate student studying supply chain management from King of Prussia, said. “We watched film of the game against Oregon and I think we have a really strong chance against them this time.”
Both teams are working hard day in and day out in preparation. The men use a combination of track workouts, weightlifting sessions and practices to hone their skills for their final contests. On top of their normal lifting and track routines, both teams are adding in extra heat preparation — specifically, the Danger are practicing in layers to prepare for the Texas sun as well as working out early in the morning, since the games at Nationals are scheduled early.
Both Schreiber and her teammate Abby Bomberger, a fellow graduate nursing student and team captain from Lancaster, said they’re looking forward to the opportunity to compete in Nationals one last time.
“I’m very excited to lead this team into Nationals. I think our team has great energy and we all work very well together,” Schreiber said. “I’m excited to see the results that we can have because I think we’re capable of a lot. I’m so proud of the team and how hard we’ve been working.”
Bomberger believes that the team’s toughness and diversity will be keys to guiding the Danger to victory.
“We play with a lot of heart and a lot of grit. Last year showed us that we’re capable of getting those big wins against top teams and that we’re strong competitors,” Bomberger said. “We’re both an old team with eight graduating seniors and a young team with nine rookies, and we use all of our roster, which I think gives us a huge advantage.”
The energy around En Sabah Nur is a mixture of both excitement and nerves, varying from player to player. Shams, as a player that has been a member of the program for years, is feeling good, a veteran heading into his final showdown.
“Me personally, I’m not going in nervous and I’m really confident,” Shams said. “I think the mindset that many of us do and should have is ‘We played in the finals last year and that’s the biggest game you can play in so there’s no reason to possibly be nervous.’”
That doesn’t mean that everyone on En Sabah Nur is so sure of themselves.
“If you’re a rookie or freshman and it’s your first Nationals, you’re probably going to be nervous,” Shams said. “I do think it depends on the person.”
Whatever happens this weekend, Schreiber and Bomberger said they’ll keep an abundance of positive memories when remembering their years with the Danger.
“My favorite part of this team will be the friendships I’ve made,” Schreiber said. “Abby is one of my lifelong friends and so are other members of the team. I don’t know how I would have met such amazing people without this team.”
Bomberger echoed her teammate’s sentiments.
“We’re like a family here at Pitt,” she said. “We work together toward the same goals on and off the field. I just can’t imagine my life without this team.”
With both squads in Round Rock, En Sabah Nur and the Danger will have the opportunity to be one another’s support systems, something both squads are eager to do. Bomberger and Schreiber said that the Danger are excited to cheer the men’s team on, and Shams said that the men’s team feels the same way.
“We both want each other to make it as far as we can,” Shams said, speaking on behalf of his team. “We want them to do well and they want us to do well.”