In 2004, Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur finished fifth at West Plains Sectionals, failing to qualify for Regionals. At that point, Pitt had only one Regionals appearance to its name, a 2003 showing where it failed to win a game.
Fast forward to 2010, and Pittsburgh finishes in the National Semifinals. The time in between has been filled with steady improvement that includes six straight Nationals appearances with increasingly higher placements nearly every year.
But beyond its Nationals qualifications, Pitt’s rise has been marked with signature wins and tournament victories at pre-Series events, none bigger than 2006’s 17-14 victory over perennial Nationals qualifier Harvard in the finals of College Easterns.
“Pitt Ultimate cut its teeth in North Carolina,” says Sean McComb, a former captain that was there during the team’s darkest points as well as the beginnings of its rise. “A lot of the grit and ability to grind and play tough and not back down that has characterized Pitt Ultimate throughout this past decade came from learning from teams like NC State and North Carolina.”
“Going in we had only ever won two spring tournaments, Clemson’s Joint Summit and Sectionals in 2003.” McComb remembers, “The Harvard game was emotional: we scored a callahan, I dropped a pull, we had to show some poise to hold on for the win. And when we won it really was a huge win for us.”
Noting the confidence gained by winning a tournament with as much history as Easterns, McComb says, “We got to look at that trophy and see the names of programs that we had looked to as models and tried to learn from. We watched ‘I Bleed Black’ and read about Carleton and the old UNC-W teams and to see some of those names on the trophy and knowing ours would go there really made us believe we could have some sticking power and some legitimacy as a program.”
Since winning Easterns in 2006, Pitt has placed in the Finals twice, losing to Wisconsin in both 2007 and 2010. Current captain Geoff Zettel comments that while none of Pitt’s current players were on the roster in 2006, Easterns is still a huge part of the program’s spring routine.
“Easterns has always been a well-run tournament that is a great benchmark for us during the spring season. Making Finals appearances and generally playing well at Easterns always gives us extra confidence before going into the Series.”