National treasure: Quartet of Pitt Ultimate players headed to London for Championships


Despite all the success that members of Pitt’s Ultimate team — entitled “En Sabah Nur” — have achieved, including winning two consecutive national championships, a quartet of them have their eyes set on something bigger.

Trent Dillon, Tyler Kunsa, Marcus Ranii-Dropcho and Max Thorne are among 23 men who will represent the United States on an Open (all-male) team at the World Under-23 Ultimate Championships next week in London, from July 12-18. In doing so, they make up the largest contingent from any one program on either of the three participating teams that USA Ultimate, the sport’s national governing body, is sending to Europe.

The tournament takes place every two years, and 2013 was the first time America fielded an open team in the event, winning the title over Canada.

To each of the players, their individual selections, while of course a reflection of their own talent and skill, also reflect positively on the work of something else.

“It just speaks to how highly [Pitt’s] program runs, recruits and develops players,” Thorne, a rising fifth-year mechanical engineering major, said.

Five years ago, Dillon, Ranii-Dropcho and Thorne tried out for the U-19 team but didn’t make the cut. Now, undeterred and also encouraged by the experiences of some older college teammates who tried out for the national team in 2013, they, joined by Kunsa this time around, took the opportunity to try again.

“I’d been looking forward to this date for a while. I knew, we all knew, we had a pretty good shot to make it,” Ranii-Dropcho, a fifth-year senior who graduated in April, said. “So really starting in the summer when they announced the tryout application form, we pretty much decided we were going to go for it and do it. “

To make the team, they first had to each submit the application, which included a form about their history playing the sport, along with recommendations from coaches. According to USA Ultimate, more than 500 people applied, including men and women. USA Ultimate then invited 100 men to tryout for the men’s team last November — the Pitt contingent was among this group. Traveling to Orlando, Florida, they played for eight hours a day, according to Kunsa, scrimmaging each other and going through drills such as agility ladders.

Final rosters were announced in December.

In Florida, Open head coach Bob Krier, who coached the 2013 champions, was struck by the shared intangible traits and attributes each Pitt player demonstrated individually, specifically in regard to their leadership capabilities.

He’s counting on the understanding amongst En Sabah Nur teammates, having played with one another for the past four years, winning national titles in 2012 and 2013, to aid the national team in its attempt to repeat.

“Being able to put a couple of them out on the line, we know already they’re going to be coordinated together in their role,” Krier said. “If we can bring others into the mix where they play well with pairs of those players, that just increases the overall cohesion of our team.”

Establishing chemistry quickly will be crucial if the team is going to replicate its past success, as it will not have had more than a week-long training camp to build familiarity as a complete unit before crossing the Atlantic. And with the U.S. having lost to Canada in its last international competition, at the U-19 Worlds last summer, snapping a 54-game win streak spanning four years and multiple age groups, a sense of national pride — Americans created the sport — is serving as something as a motivator.

“There’s kind of like this feeling, or at least this feeling that I have, I don’t want to be on the team that doesn’t win,“ Dillon, a rising fifth-year mechanical engineering student, said. “The expectation when you’re playing for Team USA in Ultimate is that you win. And if you’re not on that team then it’s like you really messed up. I think that it’s safe to say that it would be an embarrassment to lose.”

Currently in the Chicago-area for its week-long training camp, the U.S. begins to play on July 12 against host Great Britain in the first game of the tournament.

“It’s a great opportunity. Not a lot of people get to do it. I’m incredibly excited about being able to wear red, white and blue,” Kunsa said. “Representing your country is something I feel like everyone wanted to do when they were a kid, watching the Olympics.”

U.S. Ultimate games in London will be streamed live, courtesy of Skyd Magazine. While Skyd editor-in-chief Elliot Trotter wrote in an email on Monday that his publication cannot yet release their broadcast schedule, they expect to show the semifinal and final rounds of all three classifications on its Youtube channel.