Pittsburgh v Carleton College (2012 USAU College Championships- Open Semi) #watchitwednesday

WATCH THE GAME HERE– the review has been written chronologically so you can watch and read simultaneously if you wish. I would encourage you to read up to ‘Game Time’ at least as this will give you some helpful background on the game.

“Momentum is a cruel mistress, she can turn on a dime with a single mistake.”

No game supports the statement above better than this one.  A fantastic match up between two talented teams with contrasting offensive philosophies in changeable conditions. Defending champions  Carleton CUT representing a liberal arts college with only 2000 undergraduates has a rich history of College success. Promising an established program for developing players and producing quality teams, CUT attracts junior players, particularly from Seattle. Pittsburgh ‘En Sabah Nur’ were looking to progress to their first final. Pitt only established their Ultimate program in 1998 and spent the first 7 years failing to qualify in the West Penn Sectionals and Metro East Regionals. The induction of rookie Nick Kaczmerak (now the club coach) coincided with an upturn in results and in recent years Pittsburgh had threatened to make the Championship final, most notably in 2010 when they lost to Carleton in their semi.



KEY PLAYERS (Carleton)

Simon Montague- A very talented handler who runs the show early in the game. He also has the versatility to move downfield and cut and Pittsburgh found it hard to keep him off the disc throughout. (Taken 19th Overall in the Skyd Mock Draft 2014)

Justin Norden- Another talented handler that proved very difficult to keep away from the disc. His inside backhand break was deadly early on (forcing a change of strategy from Pittsburgh). A player who liked to receiver every other pass and preferred to remain in a handler role where he could reset the disc with intelligent dump cuts (as Bears 1 found at Outdoor Regionals when we faced him and Cambridge in the final).

KEY PLAYERS (Pittsburgh)

Tyler Degirolamo- He’s big, fast, has an incredible poise and physicality which makes him a very safe bet to take down a disc deep. The most dominant player in College Ultimate in recent years and a player who started playing at College. As a freshman he made the squad and was told ‘to just run deep as fast you can’. You can see why although he has now become a very rounded player with nice throws and the ability to dominate the play near the endzone with his quickness. (Taken 8th Overall in Skyd Mock Draft 2014)

Tyler Degirolamo has mad hops. Very mad hops.

Tyler Degirolamo has mad hops. Very mad hops.

Alex Thorne- The primary creator for Pittsburgh offence with a variety of unpredictable throws and agility around the disc that makes him very difficult to mark. (Taken 74th Overall in Skyd Mock Draft 2014)

Trent Dillon- Pittsburgh best dump defender, a crucial role in a game against Carleton. Interestingly Dillon is rarely asked to mark out Montague or Norden, instead marking out the third handler. He does this very effectively forcing the pair to reset the disc only between themselves. (Taken 118th Overall in Skyd Mock Draft 2014)


When the Carleton offence is working it’s very pretty. It depends entirely upon it’s handlers to retain the disc through early dump cuts and to move the disc up field by breaking the mark and through their own movement off the disc. The downfield cutters often stand still waiting for the opportunity to cut and receive the disc as a continuation to a handler cut or waiting for the right moment to test their defender with a deep cut. The philosophy is admirable, “if we have the disc, you can’t score and we can”. Carleton are patient, conservative and clinical.  The first point is a great example of this.

Pittsburgh offence is very different. They look to utilize their most talented players through an aggressive deep game. When they move the disc underneath it’s primarily through creating separation by attacking the deep space and coming under. Their handler movement is less fluid than Carleton’s. Carleton often cut very  close to the disc to attack space they know they can reach before their defender whereas Pittsburgh look to hit more conventional spaces and rely on their agility to allow them to get to those spaces and reset the disc.

Early on Carleton start very strongly, with lots of very easy resets. It’s unclear why Pittsburgh struggle to produce any pressure on the resets but it’s clearly an issue against the Carleton offence. Pittsburgh struggle to convert their offensive points early on. Carleton start with a conservative zone which stops the Pittsburgh deep game and earn some unforced throwing errors. Montague’s presence on almost every point early in the game helps Carleton convert early break opportunities. He’s a calming influence and his ability to reset the disc with difficult throws and good cuts means the d-line players aren’t forced into high stall throws.

At 5-2 it’s been one way traffic but this is the first sign that the momentum begins to shift. Carleton eventually convert for a 6-2 lead but only after two turnovers created by excellent dump defence. Note how Pitt switch to a flick force to prevent the I/O backhands and force I/O flick resets by sitting around on the force.

Josh Reynolds gets a big D  on Max Throne as Carleton dominate early.

Josh Reynolds gets a big D on Max Throne as Carleton dominate early.

The commentators claim that the wind was high in the first half and settles in the second which may explain why Pitt start with so many unforced throwing errors. From 5-2 until Carleton take half at 8-3, Pitt exert plenty of defensive pressure but fail to convert break opportunities and can’t convert on offence. Multiple misplaced hucks, especially Thorne to a wide open Degirolamo at 7-3  demonstrate that Carleton’s conservative system is far better suited to windy conditions than Pitts high risk high reward game plan.

The second half starts in spectacular style and introduces the Degirolamo v Montague match up that would dominate the second half. Faced with another Carleton zone, Thorne simply punts it deep and backs his receiver. You have to admire Pittsburgh for sticking to their plan in adversity, something which is never easy to do. Unfortunately a huge moment in the game, when Pittsburgh mount a goal line stand and then take the disc the other way for a break is missing from film.

Pittsburgh break again for 8-6 after unforced drop from Carleton this time. Then Pittsburgh put Degirolamo on Montague to prevent Montague’s break throws (Degirolamo is a big guy) and hopefully keep him away from the disc. This is an astute move from Pitt since taking your best deep defender away from deep space sounds like a bad idea but the main goal of defence is to prevent the offence doing what they want. Carleton want to reset the disc to Montague and throw under passes. They do not want to throw 50/50s deep.

At 10-10 a big turnover is ruled by the observers (correctly in my opinion) and then Pittsburgh convert with a pinpoint deep shot to take the lead for the first time. The commentators credit Julian Hausman for his second half performance and this is notable since he had been run ragged by Norden in the first half. At 12-10 we experienced another messy point with turnover’s on deep shots by Montague and Norden but sloppy errors from Pittsburgh. Carleton would eventually convert and it felt like this might be another turning point. With the score 12-11 you would be forgiven for predicting some nerves from Pitt and those unforced mistake to return. However, Pittsburgh always have an out under pressure and Alex Thorne unleashes an incredible flick huck for another 50/50 to make it 13-11. That point really sealed the game. Credit to Carleton for holding at 13-12 and making Pittsburgh ‘serve it out’ on offence but they did so confidence and conviction for 14-12 win.

Pittsburgh would control the final against Wisconsin for a 15-10 victory and their first National Championship. They would then repeat the following year with a decisive victory over Central Florida who had knocked out Carleton in their semi in a similar game to this. Going into this season Pittsburgh are #2 seeds Nationally whilst Carleton are not even certain of making Nationals in a rebuilding year and after losing three players in a car accident in February.

I find this game really interesting because one team always seems in control. What can we learn about momentum from this game? Firstly it appears that momentum is more susceptible to defensive pressure. Early on Pittsburgh steal the momentum despite still struggling to score. We can also note that the defensive pressure doesn’t force too many turnovers, especially late on. The pressure affects the Carleton players and just like for Pittsburgh early on, the turnovers are primarily the result of unforced errors. So as defenders we must realise that there is a middle ground between getting a layout block and letting our man jog under. We can exert pressure as Pittsburgh do and although it might take a few possessions, it will induce errors from the opposite team.

You can also see that the momentum for Pittsburgh begins with the defence and builds to the offence too. To think that the two parts of the game are unrelated would be foolish but I think it’s hard to overestimate just how closely linked they are. Having been on the good and bad ends of a team high on momentum I can assure you it’s incredibly hard to stop. This game is the best evidence I’ve seen of something intangible but nevertheless very important.


Andrew Hillman

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