Many college teams look to the club season as a way to provide an opportunity to play and improve after the spring season, against a level of competition that is mostly older, experienced and more athletic than what they are used to. While a large portion of teams only get together to play in the club series (since these tournaments occur after the school year has begun), some gather for the whole summer. Like most areas that have solid youth and college programs to pull talent from, Pittsburgh was able to form a competitive open team by the name of Forge, whose strongest performance was a 4th place finish at the 2008 Mid-Atlantic Regionals tournament.
The following year saw the rise of a second team from the Steel City, containing many players from the University of Pittsburgh that did not play or make Forge. This squad, known as Swagger U, was able to take down future 2009 Nationals qualifier, Pike, in the first game of the Founders Club Open Sectionals tournament. As their name suggests, these players had a ton of attitude and were certainly not afraid to show it. If Swagger U’s on-field demeanor of physical play, verbal taunting and excessive celebration did not adequately create a sense of animosity among their opponents (especially Philly), their video recaps of both Sectionals and Regionals certainly did the trick.
Though 2010 saw a lull in Pittsburgh club ultimate, as Forge disbanded and Swagger U had less than stellar results, the Mid-Atlantic Region earned itself four bids to Nationals for the following year behind the strong finishes of Truck Stop (5th), Southpaw (T-7th) and Ring of Fire (T-7th). This fact not only ensured that at least one new team would be making the trek to Sarasota in 2011, but it also most likely influenced the creation of multiple Mid-Atlantic Nationals caliber teams…namely North Carolina’s Cash Crop and Pittsburgh’s Oakland Haiders.
Oakland Ultimate (who is the second team to don a likeness to the Raiders, the first being Brass Monkey) is a conglomeration of current En Sabah Nur (University of Pittsburgh) players as well as their coaches (David Vatz, Josh Suskin & David Lionetti) and recent alumni. I asked the Haiders what the purpose of this new and relatively unknown squad was, to which they replied with:
“…The goal of Oakland Ultimate is to help build the program by giving Pitt players an opportunity to play with Pitt alumni in strong competition in the fall. In a sense, the two teams work together. But in another way, they aren’t the same. We are Oakland, a team that focuses on winning club nationals while also working toward building the program.
As for the team, there is a good mix between current and alumni players. But if you look at our roster, we have to be one of the youngest teams to qualify for club nationals. We see that as monumental step for the program as well as Pittsburgh Ultimate in general. Pitt has been fortunate over the years to be a hotspot for high school kids in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. By having the college team make nationals for so many years and, now, the club team qualify in its first year, Oakland Ultimate has helped build even more interest in the program.”
The Haiders certainly have no plans on setting their sights short, as is evident by their statement above. When I asked specifically about their goal for nationals, Oakland said the following:
“Al Davis said it best: ‘Just win, baby.’ The goal all season was to make Nationals. But after defeating Cash Crop to secure a bid, we had a quick talk and decided that we accomplished our goal with an entire tournament still left in the season. The goal from here is to win it all. Yes, we are a first year club team, but the program has been on the rise for almost 7 years now.”
Whether the goal for Oakland is to win it or just break seed, it will be interesting to see if Oakland’s ruffian attitude will have an effect on the bigger teams in Florida. While a rough and physical style of play will be no stranger to the members of teams like Doublewide and Chain Lightning, you don’t typically see things like extensive end zone celebrations in ultimate frisbee. Over the top showmanship and juvenile taunting could turn the 27 members of Oakland into lightning rods in the eyes of their opponents, and can give them a competitive edge. The Haiders had this to say about their choice in team name and their on field attitude:
“You know it. We know it. Everybody knows it. Pittsburgh gets a bad rep. That’s where the Haiders name came from. In a sense it’s about the swagger, but above all it’s just about ourselves. The name means something different to everybody. But as a team, we see it as way to show our “us against the world” mentality. We aren’t going to cater to any team’s demands. We aren’t going to back down from a difficult matchup. We like rivalries. We want them in this sport. We want to infuse a sense of hatred between club teams. We want teams to be excited and afraid to play us.”
In a sense, it’s funny that this got brought up because a lot of players have set goals of working toward showcasing sportsmanship throughout and after games. We believe some of the best games come from heated rivalries. And if, at the end of a game against a rival opponent, you can shake their hand and demonstrate that sportsmanship, then you’re showing the fans that teams can hate each other but still respect each other.
…The hate didn’t originate with us. It comes from other teams. We aren’t very well liked in the ultimate community. We’re hated. But that’s because we play hard and physical and don’t want to lose. We’re haters, yes, but so is everybody else.”
Oakland certainly has a long road ahead of them, falling in a very tough Pool D with Chain and Doublewide. While first or second in the pool may be out of the question, getting third place and entering with a 1-0 record into Pool H is definitely not. Based on footage from their game against NexGen, Oakland looks to play a possession style horizontal stack offense that is constantly looking to hit the break side. At times, Pittsburgh’s offensive line will open up with a side stack and an isolated cutter, typically Chris Brenenborg or Alex Thorne. Both of these players are fast and athletic enough to either strike deep and make a play or cut under and boost it themselves. While the huck game is often effortless for Pitt, the conditions in Boulder revealed a chink in their armor as they had difficulty hitting their deep shots.
Realistically, whatever damage they do this weekend will be a positive step for the club and placing higher than 13th is definitely not out of reach. So why should Oakland sell themselves short before the first pull in Sarasota? The mental attitude of the Haiders will either make or break their tournament. Sure they may be able to get in the heads of their opponents…but if they get sucked as well, things will spiral quickly. No matter what situation you find Oakland in, prepare to see some gritty, intense and physical play along with a hefty side of #hatehatehate.
If you want to keep track of the Oakland Haiders and their trials over the weekend, follow them at @oaklandultimate on Twitter.