Pittsburgh will be riding the No. 1 overall seed into Easterns this weekend. Aside from winning a National Championship, this type of seeding and recognition is evidence of the culmination of the rise of an Ultimate program that has been a long time coming.
A glance at En Sabah Nur’s website’s history section reveals a team that has made the trip to UPA Nationals for the last five years but missed going to Metro East Regionals only six years ago. In those five years, Pitt has never ventured past the quarterfinals, while many would consider this a frustrating experience, En Sabah Nur sees it entirely differently.
“I don’t know that I would categorize it as a frustrating experience as much as a growing process,” Pitt coach Josh Suskin wrote us in an e-mail. “Since (2005) we feel we’ve been able to develop a pretty consistent program. The foundation that we’ve spent the past few years building is what is going to take us past quarters and beyond.”
Indeed the last several years have seen Pitt build up a program that has many safeguards in it for developing talent. Perhaps the most entertaining of them all is Pitt’s alter ego club team, Swagger U.
“The U” as it is more informally known, began showing up on RSD in the fall of last year. It didn’t take many viewings on Swagger U’s Vimeo page to realize that The U was merely Pitt players masquerading under a much less serious but equally successful club team name.
While the comedic value of the team is good for the general population, the Pitt players that made up the team got benefits from it that were numerous.
“Swagger was different things to different people,” Suskin wrote. “For some players who were a little burnt out, it gave them an option to play in a more laid back envronment and have a little fun over the summer/fall. For others, they took it a little bit more seriously and used the opportunity to play high level club teams as a chance to improve themselves. I don’t think that one approach was better or worse than the other, and it was nice that a lot of players had the option to use the offseason however they felt it was best suited for themselves.”
With all the upsides, there was a significant downside to Swagger U. During one of the games at Mid-Atlantic Regionals, senior Geoff Zettel’s body tried to go one way and his foot didn’t turn the same way, tearing his ACL. Zettel was immediately sidelined for the majority of the college season.
However, he has remained a positive force on the sideline and in practice for his team. He has been able to do that to such an extent, that Suskin can easily find the silver lining in the cloud that is Zettel’s injury.
“Was it a negative in the aspect that one of our best players has to spend the majority of the season on the sidelines? Sure.” Suskin wrote. “However, he has really served as an inspiration to the rest of his teammates and continued to push them harder than anyone else despite not being able to be on the field. He has more of an uphill climb than anyone on our team, as he’s not supposed to be playing again until the summer. The fact that he is still pushing himself to return for this season has really helped motivate the rest of our players to work harder. I have no doubt that we’ll see him on the field in Madison.”
Zettel is pushing his team from the sideline but the team hardly needs the motivation. Pitt is currently ranked No. 7 overall in the nation and many expect En Sabah Nur to be competing for a National Title come May. Among those with that expectation, are the members of the team themselves.
“We definitely have high expectations for ourselves,” Suskin wrote. “We feel that on any given day we can beat anyone in the country. However, we have had some bumps in the road so far this season and know that we have plenty of work to do if we expect to be in the National Title hunt.”
Suskin and the rest of the team expect most of that work to get done at tournaments like Easterns. Pittsburgh attempts to take advantage of these tournaments as an opportunity to improve on its already impressive talent set. While some teams like to count victories at regular season events, En Sabah Nur measures its success at a tournament by how much better the team is after the tournament than it was before the tournament.
“I know that when we play out best we are capable of beating anyone,” Suskin wrote. “So my personal expectations are to win the tournament. That’s not meant to be bulletin board material for other teams, as much as we like to focus on our own team and playing up to our potential. With that being said, the goal for our regular season tournaments is to ensure we’re as well prepared as we possibly can be for the series, and we have plenty to work on. So, while winning the tournament would be considered a success, it’s just as important that we use this weekend as an opportunity to improve ourselves as a team.”
There’s no doubt that Pitt En Sabah Nur will be doing one or both of those teams this weekend. The team will be battling against some of the premier teams in the nation in order to improve itself because it has been a long road for Pitt since missing Regionals in 2005, but the team isn’t about to stop improving itself now.