Pittsburgh’s rise through the ranks of college Ultimate culminated in a Championship last year. Returning their two stars and a bevy of future names, En Sabah Nur was the unquestioned favorite coming into the ’12-’13 season. However, the fall showed some chinks in the armor – a loss to TAMU at MLC and a loss to Carnegie Mellon at Steel City – that lead to some questions about them. People were talking. With every reason to roll through this year to another title, suddenly there were some doubts.
A Warm Up Affair in the books, the Steel City gang didn’t answer those questions. A surprise 13-7 loss to a Florida team that didn’t make nationals last year opened their weekend. They’d add two losses to Wisconsin (13-11 and 15-9), and the 13-11 game didn’t look as close to me as that score indicated. Tack on four wins by three points or less (over Central Florida, Dartmouth, Carleton, and Florida again) and the picture you’re painting starts to get a bit darker.
Watching them against Wisconsin, they looked slower and even unsure of themselves. Degirolamo was unguardable and Max Thorne was effective, but after that it got a bit dicey. When I look at Pitt’s roster, I see playmaker after playmaker. Having to match up the trio of Tyler, Alex, and Max is difficult, but asking your 4-7 to cover Dillon, Earles, Kauffman, Saul, Bender, Bearsley, Brenner, and Ranii-Dropcho is nightmarish… in theory. Those guys struggled to make plays against the Hodag defense. Dropcho had the unenviable task of guarding Colin Camp – who has developed into a player to match what I originally considered overhype – and struggled in the matchup, including some nasty skies. Wisconsin may be the best team in the country, and holds the top spot in the collective pundit rankings right now, so I don’t want to judge Pitt purely based on this, but it didn’t look like the Pitt we expected to see in south Florida. The Hodags looked like a team that wanted it and Pittsburgh looked like a team that was scared of it.
So why am I not worried?
I’m not entirely sure Pitt did want it. A number of points went without Degirolamo or Thorne(s), Saul seemed to have some spells without playing, among others. There wasn’t an aggressiveness or killer instinct. There wasn’t even too much swagger. I saw some unfamiliar faces, numbers, and names darting around the field, even in a game where the scoreboard never said they were totally out of it, where they were under the lights and being watched, with a chance to make a statement. That statement, to me, was “We’re fine with this.” And why shouldn’t they be?
Pitt has always been a confident team and they have cause to be. Their region has one primary challenger in Ohio, a team that probably has the studs to match up with Pitt but lacking in the depth to hang. Penn State & CMU have improved this year, but Ohio State is rebuilding and Dayton is just getting the hang of being good. There’s little reason to doubt their spot at Nationals, regardless of whether or not Ohio and Co. can wrangle up a second and/or third bid. My bet is that Pittsburgh is playing this whole season thinking only of Madison. Develop your depth, perfect your execution, grow your program, and peak when it counts. Let people worry about you, encourage your opponents to underestimate you, and build a nice “us against the world” narrative if you need to.
I’m not worried about Pitt because I don’t think they are worried at all. My money is still on them to be the last team standing once the dust settles.