As we enter our third week of youth profile previews, we take a closer look at a region that has been making some waves in the youth world, Pittsburgh. Max Sheppard celebrated his first state championship last year with his high school team, Fox Chapel. Shortly after that celebration he lead the Pittsburgh YCC team to a 7th place finish with 11 goals, 4 assists. In addition, Max spent the remainder of that summer and fall playing with Pittsburgh’s premier open team, Oakland. We met up with Max to learn more about him and his future in ultimate.
High School: Fox Chapel High School, PA
Graduation Year: 2013
Preferred Position: D-Line Cutter
Years playing: 10
Tony Miocic: How did you get involved with ultimate?
Max Sheppard: I started playing ultimate when I was seven when I attended a church pickup game. It expanded from there going to more pick up ultimate games. These pickup games consisted of players that were competitive, experienced and had played at a higher level before. The pickup games I was attending were 3 days a week for about two hours and after the first hour we took a 5-minute break. Then in eighth grade I had enough connections were I attended varsity practices in the Fox Chapel program. The next year being a freshman at Fox Chapel gave me a jump-start on my game.
What were your first thoughts when you started playing?
I didn’t really think much of ultimate at that age because to me at the time it came down to just having fun playing a great game. My first thoughts of the game were me wishing I could throw better and how to understand the game more. I never thought I’d be this involved in this sport because I was so into other sports up until freshmen year.
What other sports did you play before you decided to focus more on ultimate?
Before I seriously became fully dedicated to ultimate my freshmen year in high school I had currently played 6 years of soccer, basketball, and 11 years of baseball. Those three types of sports all helped me develop skills before I started fully committing to Frisbee. The past years of soccer and basketball helped me develop better footwork and shuffling. Baseball into ultimate was a weird change but helped me the most because I had been a pitcher my whole career. Devolving a strong arm through baseball helped me learn how to throw a flick and backhand early in my ultimate career. These three sports gave me all aspects of ultimate Frisbee and helped me excel into becoming a better ultimate player.
So you’ve been playing for a while! During that time, who do you think has influenced you the most in regards to your ultimate ability?
The person who has made the biggest impact in my game is currently my youth club coach Nick Kaczmarek. I joined the impulse team my sophomore year. He made practices and workouts very simple by challenging the team and pushing everyone to their limit every single practice no matter what the situation. The motivation and hard work ethic he brings in practices is what impacts me the most by giving me a perspective on becoming a more dedicated player.
Nick is also one of the Captains for Pittsburgh’s club team, Oakland, who you had a chance to play with this summer. Tell us a little more about that experience.
Playing for Impulse the past two years gave me more opportunities to look at the Club team and decide what I want to do. I knew a lot of the people on the Oakland team and my youth club coach being the captain of the team was really a plus for me in the end. When I was invited on to Oakland I was very happy and proud and couldn’t wait to learn new things. I was the youngest person on the team but that didn’t stop me from trying at practices and playing my absolute hardest whenever I played in games. When I made the team I was very excited but also nervous because I had never competed at such a high level before and being the youngest didn’t bring any advantages with it. I was also very interested in learning new strategies and learning more about the game.
There are huge differences between club and high school. High school is a very slower paced game because club players are a lot more experienced and have been playing for longer. Club is also more physically and mentally demanding because the level of play style is more complex then high school ultimate. The atmosphere of playing in a club game is intense and electrifying because the players and coaches are just more driven and cutthroat about ultimate. High school ultimate is a lot less aggressive and simpler when it comes to playing in a game but can be very intense is some situations.
So now that you had a chance to play at both levels, what do you hope to do with your High School team this Spring and what tournaments do you plan on attending?
Heading back to fox Chapel in the spring of my senior year I will take many new drills and the experience I’ve gotten over the summer to try and teach other’s on the team what I’ve learned.
Fox chapel will be attending a new tournament, hopefully, if we get the bid to Eastern this year. We always host a tournament in the spring with the other schools in our area. The state championship is another tournament we will attend. The team is considering a few other tournaments but nothing is final.
So the big question. You live in Pittsburgh, you have played club with many of the Pitt College kids, are you heading to Pitt to add to their already impressive heard of youth players?
Next year I will not be attending the University of Pittsburgh. I won’t be joining that impressive Freshmen class but I wish them the best of luck in this upcoming season. I will be attending Edinboro University which is North of Pittsburgh.
On Max –
Former teammate turned Assistant Coach, Nick Slapikas: Everything is easier with Shep on the field. He’s one of those people with unfair athleticism but he also has great knowledge of the game. Max has always been athletic, but over the years he’s added to his game in all of the important ways. When he started, he had absurd speed and an anti-gravity vertical. Now, he still has those things, but he also has beautiful throws and a leader’s attitude on the field. Max is a superb handler, in-cutter, deep threat, mark, and cutter defender. Whatever you need him to do, he can do it. He’s also a vocal presence both on and off the field, always willing to share his insights and improve the skills of the people he’s playing with.
USAU Triple Crown, NexGen, MLU, or AUDL: MLU
Spike or No Spike: Not Spike
Favorite College Program: PITT
Five, VC, Breakmark, Pata, other: Five
O line or D line: D line
Refs or Observes: Observers
Favorite Sideline Chant: Defense wins Championships
Classic Jersey or Sub Jersey: Sublimated
Best transition sport to Ultimate: Baseball
Favorite College Player: Tyler Degirolamo
Favorite Club Player: Tyler Degirolamo
Favorite Pro Player: Trent Dillon
Photos by Donna and David Danko