Over the last five years, a rotating cast of teams– Burgh, Forge, Dire Wolf — has staked a claim to being Pittsburgh’s best. All have found limited success at regionals and have made no Club Championships appearances. In 2011, the Oakland Haiders, a club team composed mostly of the University of Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur’s current roster, turned heads when it claimed the third of four bids to the Championships from the Mid-Atlantic Region. Oakland turned in a 12th place finish at Nationals, finishing ahead of perennial attendees Furious George, Condors, Sub Zero, and Tanasi. The experience gained by Alex Thorne, Tyler Degirolamo, and their Pittsburgh teammates helped to sharpen the 2012 Pitt team en route to its dominating College Championships win.
The Oakland Haiders were founded last year by Nick Kaczmarek, Tyler Degirolamo, and David Lionetti, with a main focus on growing the University of Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur Ultimate program. Prior to the USA Ultimate Series, Oakland’s roster is comprised of all past and present members of En Sabah Nur. For 2012, Oakland has dropped the Haiders motif in favor of riffing off Florida as the Oakland Hators.
I recently spoke with Nick Kaczmarek about the founding of the Oakland Haiders, expectations for the 2012 Club Season and what the team has meant to En Sabah Nur and the Pitt community.
Jesse Kummer: Your organization is one of the few that can say they won College Nationals the same year they competed at Club Nationals. That is a huge accomplishment. What differences did the team see between the two nationals experiences?
Nick Kaczmarek: Club Nationals 2011 was an incredibly humbling experience and made us recognize how sheer force (whether it’s based in skill or athleticism) could not get us the success we hoped for. We realized a need to rethink strategy, focal points, and systems. I think that the Pitt Ultimate of 2012 College Nationals would have crushed the Oakland of Club Nationals. We plan to be able to say that Oakland 2012 would crush Pitt Ultimate 2012. And eventually that Pitt Ultimate 2013 would crush this season’s Oakland squad. Constant improvement is really important to us and we’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining improvement in the past.
JK: You have been heavily involved in Pittsburgh Ultimate for almost a decade now and Dave Lionetti had been a longtime coach, but Tyler was only a junior at the time Oakland was founded. How much of a leadership role did he take in forming the Haiders? Did he have to actively convince other Pitt players past and present to buy in or did everyone more or less agree to join from the start?
NK: Tyler was important as our “currently playing” captain. He was a major piece in bridging the gap between currents and alumni. In addition, he is a great leader and was a key to our work ethic on the field.
JK: Do you think it might be more beneficial for Tyler, Alex, and other players to branch out and play on another club team with more established veteran players?
NK: Alex and Tyler will be playing NexGen this summer. I think that will be beneficial for them. A bunch of “other players” will be playing Hators. I think that will be equally beneficial for them. Tyler will return to Hators after NexGen and I guarantee he will also benefit from his time with us during the fall series. Alex will be in London.
JK: A huge reason why many college players play club at all is for the opportunity to be taught by someone from outside of the bubble they play in during the college season. Many of these guys have spent their lives in the Pittsburgh area and never got to experience what it’s like to be taught by anyone outside of Pitt Ultimate. Do you think these players are hurt by the lack of outside perspective and learning?
NK: I think that it is great if the rest of the country thinks we learn in a bubble and don’t learn from outside sources.
We do everything we can to simulate experiences from outside our “bubble.” We have a number of guys who play for club teams outside the city, but I also think we have a lot of guys who simply love playing for Pittsburgh. We built this thing together. It is our team. There is a sense of pride in a Pittsburgh or Oakland uniform that I don’t think any Pitt player could have in another jersey. We certainly recognize the risk insularity creates, but if we see a good strategy from another team, we aren’t going to just wave it off because it wasn’t ours first.
JK: Could you expand on how you guys grow from non-Pitt sources? How do you simulate experiences from sources outside of Pittsburgh?
NK: We watch a lot of tape of other teams and, like most everyone else, we are pretty shameless about stealing good ideas. It is nothing revolutionary: we are really committed to understanding our opponents and their strategies at a really high level.
JK: Have many non-Pitt players inquired about playing for the Hators? Is there a “Pitt Only” policy?
NK: A few other players have asked to play Hators. For now, we simply are not at a place where we can open up spots to players from outside of Pitt.
JK: Aside from the Series, what tournaments does Oakland have on the schedule for the 2012 club season?
NK: We plan to attend New York Invite and Chesapeake Invite. We are also trying to host a round robin with Madcow, Truck Stop, Southpaw, and other regional teams.
JK: Do you think Oakland can be the team to lock down a second bid for the Mid-Atlantic or will it be a dogfight at the top for that one bid?
NK: No matter how many bids we get, it will be a dogfight. We are going to prepare for each and every team in the Mid-Atlantic with the same level of diligence and respect. As I am sure every other team in the region is doing, we are absolutely playing the regular season to earn an additional bid for our region.
The Oakland website can be found here, and you can find a lot of very in-depth information on every current and past Pitt player here. You will need to wait until the Series to see who makes the final cut for the Hators as they try to make a repeat trip to Sarasota in 2012.
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