Club hurling provides students with ‘a whole new friend group’

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Image courtesy of Teagan O’Neil

Pitt Club Hurling at the Al O’Leary tournament in Akron, Ohio.

By Zack Gibney, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt students might not have to travel to the British Isles to play hurling, but they do go to South Bend, Indiana.

Pitt’s hurling team took a trip to South Bend last weekend to compete against various teams around the east coast and midwest in a tournament hosted by Notre Dame. For Tyler Augi, a junior psychology major, it was an enjoyable experience to go on the road and play against some of the top teams in the nation — even though Pitt lost to the host team in the finals. 

“It was a really great experience being able to bond with the guys and also get a lot of great hurling against some really good competition,” Augi said.

Augi is part of Pitt’s hurling team, which has 24 men and one woman. Pitt club hurling competes at the highest level of collegiate hurling — the National Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association — and won back-to-back national titles from 2019 to 2020. While many students might not be familiar with Ireland’s national sport, Pitt’s team can be found playing on occasional weeknights at the sports dome on upper campus, and making their mark on the niche sport.

Hurling, which isn’t very popular in the U.S., is played with a baseball-sized ball and a wooden stick that looks like a hybrid between a pingpong paddle and a golf club. Players cannot pick up the ball with their hands — rather, they use the stick to control the ball and can hit it through two goalposts for one point, or into a soccer-type net for three points.

Pitt’s team typically practices two nights per week for two hours. In collegiate hurling, only 11 or 13 players for each team are on the field at a time, as opposed to the game in Ireland where 15 play at a time. The team plays a handful of tournaments on the weekends throughout the year.

Ryan Weinberger, a senior accounting major and the club’s business manager, said he learned about hurling while studying abroad in Ireland in 2019. One of his stops was Croke Park — the largest stadium in Ireland, which hosts numerous hurling events throughout the year. The stadium holds upward of 82,000 spectators — a reminder that what might be an obscure sport in the U.S. is the norm in Ireland.

“It was pretty cool to see the culture they have there,” Weinberger said. “After that, I didn’t actually see myself actually playing hurling or anything … and then I came to the club sports fair.”

Originally looking to join the club track team, Weinberger stumbled upon the club hurling table at the activities fair and started a conversation with two of the players working the booth. Weinberger decided to try it out, and is now entering his fourth year with the team.

“It was just two dudes [at the table],” Weinberger said. “They seemed very authentic, very down to earth … I just really started enjoying it and it took off from there.”

Augi, the team’s social chair, also found out about the team during the club fair. Unlike Weinberger, Augi knew nothing about hurling prior to joining the team, but has grown to really enjoy playing the sport.

“It seemed like a cool group of guys with a weird-looking stick,” Augi said. “I went with a buddy, my buddy never showed up and the rest is history.”

Augi is responsible for recruiting new players for the next season, giving him the distinct role of explaining the sport to those who may not be so familiar. While Augi and other members of the team embrace the obscurity of the game, familiarizing others with hurling can be difficult.

“We have developed a pretty standard answer throughout our time with the team,” Augi said. “We like to say it’s a cross between field hockey, lacrosse, soccer and a little bit of baseball.”

To be successful, teams need the physicality of rugby, precision of baseball and endurance of track and field.

Giaco Gentile, a senior industrial engineering major, said he picked up on some lessons about how to improve Pitt’s team at the South Bend tournament. He said while overall the trip was a good experience, he learned that Pitt needs to work on its on-field play.

“It was fun getting to take a trip with the team and play against other schools for the first time this year, but overall it was a disappointing tournament since we ended up taking second place,” Gentile said. “Now we know what to expect in terms of competition at nationals in the spring, and the work is cut out for us, so hopefully if we work hard these next few months we can still chase our biggest goal of defending that title.”

Gentile, the club’s vice president, played tennis and lacrosse in high school, both of which have helped him in hurling, he said.

“The backhand [in hurling], which is kind of awkward for some people, is the same grip and somewhat the same motion as a tennis backhand,” Gentile said. “And scooping the ball is pretty similar to how you do it in lacrosse, as well.”

When asked about their favorite part of being on the team, Weinberger, Augi and Gentile all echoed the same sentiment — one of camaraderie.

“It’s just a whole new friend group,” Gentile said. “I joined the team just to play sports a couple times a week and go hit some stuff. That’s nice too, but I’ve also got a new friend group from the team.”

On top of meeting an entirely new group of people, the students said the sport’s offbeat nature has added to the experience. Augi said while he never envisioned himself as a hurler, he feels at home on the team and trying something completely new has been a great experience.

“I wasn’t particularly looking for it, but it kind of found me and I fell in love with it really quickly,” Augi said. “The thrill of just learning something new and getting better at it was really fun.”

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