Pittsburgh Shows New Looks, Old Connections In Win Against Oregon

Tyler Degirolamo and Pitt celebrate after earning a spot in the finals of the 2013 USA Ultimate D-I College Championships.
Photo by Alex Fraser — UltiPhotos.com

When Pittsburgh and Oregon took the field it was the same old story. It was just another semifinal between two of the elite programs in college Ultimate. It was just Callahan award winner Dylan Freechild against Callahan finalists Alex Thorne and Tyler Degirolamo. It was just Jay Janin against Nick Kaczmarek. It was just every storyline that every Ultimate fan had heard before.

If you watched the game, though, you know that wasn’t the case. Pittsburgh took home a 14-11 victory that was anything but conventional for the En Sabah Nur team that has been atop the college Ultimate scene since last Memorial Day weekend.

For starters, Degirolamo, a feared cutter, spent a lot of time behind the disc against Oregon. It seemed that every point that Degirolamo was on the field and Pitt found itself within 15 yards of the endzone, he moved into a handler role and spent the remainder of the possession distributing the disc as opposed to his regularly scheduled receiving.

A receiver of Degirolamo’s caliber behind the disc may seem counterintuitive, but for Pittsburgh it’s an intentional move to place one of its most dangerous players in a position to do a lot of damage.

“We run a very handler heavy endzone set and there’s just no one that can guard Tyler in a 15 yard box, he’s too quick,” Thorne said. “If we can get Tyler back there, he doesn’t necessarily have the best throws on our team, but his around breaks are great and there’s no one that can stay with him in a little box like that.”

In addition to Degirolamo’s role behind the disc, Thorne spent time in different spots in his own right. At several crucial points, Thorne, a player known for his offensive capabilities, was inserted on defensive points. Thorne has been critiqued multiple times, most specifically during his Callahan campaign, for being a weak defensive player. However, Kaczmarek continued to place Thorne in the game when his team needed a break.

“In my opinion [comments about Thorne being poor defensive player] are foolish comments,” Kaczmarek said. “Alex is an incredible defender, he’s one of the best defenders on our team. He doesn’t make highlight reel plays, he just plays positional, correct, man-to-man defense. That’s what we want on this team.”

Thorne is modest about his contribution to the game but optimistic about his ability to affect the game nonetheless.

“I’m not the best defensive player on the team but I do okay on handlers a lot of the time,” Thorne said. “But, if we get the turn it’s just a little more offensive weaponry for us. They know that I can huck it and they have to play a little more honest on that first cut which is a problem sometimes when we have some of our defensive handlers pick up, they don’t think we’ll huck it and they front our cutters a little bit. I think it opens up our flow a little bit more.”

According to Kaczmarek, that modesty is misplaced.

“If you watch that game, he’s doing a lot right defensively and he adds a huge boost for us on offense,” Kaczmarek said. “And he’s a big game player and it showed up here.”

From an opposite perspective, Thorne’s counterparts on the defensive line — senior Marcus Ranii-Dropcho and sophomore Aaron Watson — are occasionally brought in from the D-line to the O-line when Pittsburgh is in need of a score. Several times, the two of them, specifically Ranii-Dropcho, played huge roles in the offense moving the disc effectively.

“They’re incredible players, they’re great athletes as well,” Kaczmarek said. “We’re looking for them to add a boost, add some speed to our offense. They’re also incredibly gritty players.”

Finally, though En Sabah Nur made some adjustments during the game, they stayed true to their roots. With the game tied at 7-7, the next three Pitt possessions led to one simple thing: Thorne hucking the disc to a wide open Degirolamo.

Kaczmarek said the decision to go to that connection for three straight points was neither conscious nor forced.

“We take what comes from our system,” Kaczmarek said. “Those guys have designed the system mostly themselves. They’re brilliant players and they take what is given to them. If you give us Ty deep and he’s got a step and you have the best thrower in the country throwing to him, what are we going to do?”

That being said, the tone that Thorne addressed those points indicated that, though he was not locked into a hucking situation but there was a part of him that knew that Pitt could use he and Degirolamo stepping up to the plate.

“It’s not like I’m going into that throw thinking, ‘I’m throwing this deep to Tyler no matter what,'” Thorne said. “But, if he has steps and I can get it out there, no one is catching him. We set up the plays so that it’s a possibility and if it’s there I’m going to take it.”

So, on one hand, this wasn’t just the same old semifinal with the same old teams and the same old stars that the college Ultimate scene has come to expect. On the other hand, Pitt showed that, even though it has made changes to its strategy to adjust to Pitt 2013 as opposed to the defending champs of Pitt 2012, there are still shades of that Pittsburgh team that are more than willing to flex their muscles when the moment calls for it.

See more photos from the College Championships on UltiPhotos.

  1. Michael Aguilar
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    Michael Aguilar is a reporter for Ultiworld. He began playing ultimate in the summer of 2008 at the urging of a few University of South Carolina players. He played for USC in the spring of 2009 and for LSU in the spring of 2011. In his spare time during those years, he ran one of the first ever ultimate news blogs, Movin' On Up. He was the head coach of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, LA, from 2011-2016 and the assistant coach in 2017. He owes all his success to his loving wife Kendall.

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