Feature photo of Carl Morgenstern by William Brotman of UltiPhotos.com.
Article by Trent Dillon
I have no idea how he made the team.
Carl Morgenstern wandered onto the Cathedral Lawn for pickup in the fall of 2012; three months after the Pitt Ultimate men’s team had won its first ever National Championship. Three months after a bacchanalian celebration at a steakhouse in Boulder, Colorado; where the team elected (in hindsight, wisely) three players that weren’t me into the 2012-13 leadership. So quite literally, I have no idea how Carl made the team; and I’d wager that the captains who selected him—Zach Kauffman, Isaac Saul and Aaron Watson—don’t either.
At 5’8”, with about a year of organized ultimate under his belt, a lefty backhand in lieu of a flick, no noteworthy athletic talents or attributes and what I would call a wider than average frame, Carl put on his floppy trucker hat and tried out for the best college ultimate team in the country. Somehow, he did just enough, and the leadership decided to give the scrappy redhead a roster spot. Miracle number one.
Feeling chagrined about my exclusion from the leadership, I took Carl under my wing. Multiple times a month, he’d wander alone into the cold depths of South Oakland to study film at my apartment. We’d analyze the 4-5 points he’d get per tournament repeatedly—breaking down what we could of his footwork and positioning.
We’d spend nights after practice visualizing defensive schemes and talking in hypotheticals. Many endeavors were unsuccessful. We would attempt to run agility ladder exercises (I don’t think you could call what Carl did to my ladder “agility”). Fruitlessly, we’d spend hours constructing and reconstructing his flick.
The amount of work Carl dedicated in his freshman year was hall of fame worthy. But sadly, it just didn’t pay off. Carl’s freshmen year highlights included snacking on Dalton Smith’s dust in garbage time at the Stanford Invite, acting as Mischa Freystaetter’s step stool in the 2013 National Championship game,
and maybe scoring a goal or two at Sectionals. Carl was giving it his all, never peeping a word of discontent or frustration, but my mentorship had clearly let him down.
As the 2014 season approached, I knew that the responsibilities of leadership beckoned, which meant I would no longer be able to help my newfound mentee. Being the worst player on the 2013 National Championship-winning team may very well have been the pinnacle of Carl’s career.
If not for miracle number two.
Photo by David Wisch.
Carl exploded in his sophomore year. He handled on d line, cut on o line, threw dagger upwind flick hucks, bid huge and stuffed up other team’s resets tighter than the lint in his belly button. He earned the nickname “the Crimson Streak” from his knack for getting streaking blocks on floaty deep passes—and yes, also because he refused to cut his flowing red hair as his good graces continued.
The next thing I knew, Carl and I were going 2v2 against Matt Bennett and Dalton Smith in close games
Photo by William Brotman of UltiPhotos.com
Then, Carl blew up at club nationals in 2014, catching three critical breaks that vaulted Temper into unfathomable upsets over GOAT and Machine.
Eventually, I started competing with Carl for big time matchups like Xavier Maxstadt, Avery Johnson, Bobby Ley, Ryan Landry and Jonathan Nethercutt. Nethercutt routinely approached me after UNC/Pitt battles to ask what I was feeding the kid, calling him my protégé.
I’d laugh, because although I’d like to think it, Carl was no protégé. His transformation was self-earned. Carl’s “Madden 99” or “superpower” is his attitude. A combination of simplicity, an understanding of limitation and an unwavering predisposition to saying the word “yes” when faced with any task or opportunity, makes him unstoppable.
Any Pitt player or alum will tell you that—despite his initial blunders—they’ve never seen a prettier icky shuffle than Carl Morgenstern chowing down at the Fitzgerald Field House on a Thursday night.
Carl is now a captain of Pitt Ultimate, a Callahan nominee and will represent Pittsburgh at tryouts for the U24 National Team. But, unlike so many of his peers, in a world rabid with high release flicks, dudes who throw 10 assists per game and college freshmen who are given a silver spoon when they set foot on campus, Carl got there with dirt in his fingernails, blood on his knees and a conviction that teams ride and die on the backs of their nameless defenders.
I still have no idea how he made the team, but I’d like to tip my hat to Isaac, Aaron and Zach for somehow knowing to take a chance. Against all the odds, Carl has won over the hearts of the Pitt Ultimate family. As he graces the national stage in his final chapter, he’ll soon win over the hearts of a few outsiders, too.
Here’s to hoping that there’s a miracle number three.
Editor's Note: You can find Carl's Callahan hype video on YouTube and follow his 2017 season via the @PittUltimateM Twitter account. Trent now lives in Seattle and his pro-Pitt tweets can be found at @touchdowndillon.