Preview: 2011 College Open D-I Regionals (Ohio Valley)

Posted: April 28, 2011 09:41 PM

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Our Ohio Valley article is a bit different from the rest. Rather than previewing the entire region, Pittsburgh-B coach Ari Weitzman gives us a detailed look at his team’s road to Division 1 Regionals.

It’s Tuesday of finals week, it is raining, and nearly everyone has obligations.  I coach Pittsburgh-B, so you’d expect a lot of my players to have a relaxed commitment and slack off.  At least that’s what I had expected.  But since the beginning I’ve been very pleased by how much this turned out not to be a problem. 

The players keep coming because they made a commitment to their teammates, and motivations rarely transcend that.  Eric Johnson is reading over his notebook to cram a little bit before a final he has in two hours—two hours filled up by practice—and several others are cleating up as the rain comes down.  It’s becoming clear that Jesse is not coming with the disc bag, and those of us whose cleats are on are entertaining ourselves with how much higher Nick Slapikas can jump than us.

Ohio Valley D-I Regionals is this weekend in Manheim, PA, and Pittsburgh-B will be there, hopefully with a 12 or 13 seed. It is the first time in this program’s history that we’ll even have a right to be on those fields, a goal that comes up every year but has never before been realized.

We really started to not only believe it but expect it in the fall, with the simultaneity of several events: first, Allen Rakers, a very small and even more talented handler from the Pitt A team was going to be playing for Pitt B because of a lack of funds to travel and a lack of playing time due to his height.  He has a perfect attitude and the team was thrilled to have him join veteran captain Asher Finkel at the helm.  Second, Pitt A was losing a total of four players and in conjunction with a very large and rich freshman class would see a lot of real talent landing on the B-team.  Third, I had decided to come on as coach, a position that the team drastically needed to have filled in order to have a real shot at making Regionals.  And fourth, I actually understood the college restructuring and after cuts, told the team that "Sectionals" wasn’t our focus anymore.  We were now playing to win games during the regular season to earn our developmental conference a bid to Regionals. I knew that if we did that, we could make it, and while I understand that it’s hard to imagine a B team having any real aspirations of greatness, this is no average B team.

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At Pitt, cuts leave a lot of skilled players out of the running.  Pitt has handlers.  If you’re coming in as a good handler but can’t really break the mark, you can’t do anything for the team and are relegated to Pitt-Beta to work on your skills.  Handler who can’t huck?  Beta.  Fast cutter, good hands, but a little short and too timid—those players go to B every time, and believe me, we have a lot of fast, medium-to-short sized players whose skills have been getting better and better. 

As a result, when cuts came down the line, we ended up with some very good players left unwanted in addition to the players we already had.  I was thrilled to get D-line handler Steve Rubin and O-line ringer Ryan Earles on my roster.  Over the course of the fall and winter, several of our quiet players (I’m talking here mostly about #14 Ryan Moore and #42 Eric Johnson) made incredible improvements to their game, and the team’s attitude towards track workouts and plyometrics was nearly ideal.  When 2nd semester started in January, a legitimate all-region caliber cutter in the form of a Lewis & Clark transfer student named Trent Binford-Walsh fell into our team’s collective laps and our already high energy picked up some more.  With the Pitt basketball team’s early exit in the NCAA tournament, we also picked up one Nick Rivers, a walk-on player with the basketball team and former ultimate player his freshman year.  When I look at the roster, I get amazed at the talent pool we have. 

When February came around, I was thrilled.  In the spring we had ourselves a real team, and I was anxious to get my boys out playing against some real competition.

As you can imagine, life happened.  Our first two tournaments had a maximum of 18 players able to come, and a minimum of 25 mile per hour winds.  Of our handling corps, we only ever got about two-thirds out to a tournament at a time. 

At Nut Buster, Nick Rivers was out preventing frostbite on his under-protected feet, Steve Rubin had too much homework, and Ryan Earles was vomiting by the parking lot.  But that Sunday, in a game against Edinboro, we got the win that likely earned our conference a bid to Regionals.

We had managed to be up by two when soft cap came on, 10-8 in our favor, but we let them back in it to 10s with us receiving.  Our guys were crouching on the sideline, heads down.  Our players on the O-line were furiously rubbing their hands and not saying a word.  I remember looking at the sideline and sternly saying, “No.  No. Absolutely not.  We are not letting this happen.”  And that was really all I had to say.  The sideline stood up, the captains got that look in their eyes, our all-region candidate Charles Wei stayed on for the last point as if his injured leg weren't bothering him, and the team took the two biggest points to date in the program’s history.  It was an awful game; players were being injured on both sides and the field conditions made running almost impossible, but winning it was monumental.

I know little about the Regionals field, I don’t even know how many of our players can make it out to Manheim. Trent’s still nursing his hamstring, many of our players will be on their way back home, and the status of any one player is still unsure.  All I know is that we aren’t done, and we’re ready to surprise some people when we get there.  There’s an assumption that B-teams are less hungry, that they have no talent, that they fold when they’re under pressure. 

Well, I can assure you Pitt-B is hungry and Pitt-B has talent.  Pressure?  Check out these numbers from our second halves at the UOA B-Team National Invite on elimination Sunday.  Prequarters verse ECU-B (plus A-teamers): 8-2 2nd half to win 13-10.  Quarters verse UNC-B: 5-2 2nd half to win 13-8.  Semis verse Georgia-B: 7-1 2nd half to win 15-7.  Finals verse Florida-B: 9-8 2nd half to lose 17-10. 

Every team has their fight, and we certainly have ours.  We have had lots of gut check moments that have revealed the true character of our team.  I know that if I were coaching another team in this region, I would not want Pitt-B in my pool.

The B is for Battle.


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