Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Brawlers Fight For Win, Advance to Semis

From our friends at the DC Brawlers...

The underdog winless Los Angeles Reign stood tall against the unbeaten DC Brawlers Tuesday at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C. In a quarterfinal match with 11 races, the Reign lost the first three, but answered back with three straights wins of their own, and traded wins for the rest of the match until advancement to the semifinals hinged on a victory in the final Race 11. Ultimately, the Brawlers kept their record perfect with a 21-15 win and will play Miami in the semifinals at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday.

“It was a fight. L.A. was game. They are very, very good and we had to go to battle with them. I think you saw the heart and the character of these athletes today, especially in Race 11,” said Brawlers Head Coach Justin Cotler.

In true Brawlers fashion, the men and women of D.C. swept the first three races in a dominating opening performance. Amy Dracup made her debut performance on the grid Tuesday, sharing the work in the first two quadrants of Race 1 with Marcus Hendren. Despite two consecutive faults on the 35-pound weighted pistols, Dracup and Hendren had created enough of a lead for heavy lifters Christian Harris and Taylar Stallings to close out the race.

D.C. completed Race 2 in a blistering 1:23 and were almost a full quadrant ahead of the Reign throughout the entire race. Thanks to the likes of Stallings, Hendren and Harris, even L.A.’s known power athletes Lindsey Valenzuela, Chris Dozois and Wayne Willette could not keep up and finished a full 26 seconds behind.

“As soon as I started picking up weights when I was 6 years old, hang power cleans have always been something I was good at. Whenever I see them in any type of workout, I start to salivate because I know it’s right in my wheelhouse,” Hendren said.

In Races 3 and 4, the Women’s Echo, fans saw the first woman to ever truly match the speed of Stallings in Quadrant 4. Alicia McKenzie went rep for rep with Stallings on the 95-pound snatches. D.C. took the win in Race 3, but McKenzie looked tireless in Race 4 and helped get L.A. a small lead and give give teammate Kristan Clever, who closed out the race, enough room to edge out D.C.’s Abby Graham.

“I just saw her out of the corner of my eye and I was like, ‘She’s not going to get ahead of me, put all self preservation out the window and just go,” McKenzie said. “I was put on this team to move weight and I better be damn good at it to keep up with her.”

L.A. turned on the heat and answered D.C.’s challenge by winning Races 4 through 6. The strength and speed of the Reign’s Noah Ohlsen, Kenny Leverich and Wayne Willette were unsurpassable in Races 5 and 6. In both races, L.A. had at least a 10-repetition lead over D.C. by the time both teams were in Quadrant 4. L.A.’s newfound fire helped them tie the match at 9 heading into Race 7, the deadlift ladder.

Race 7 was a virtual non-contest for the Reign who simply could not match the strength of D.C.’s men and women. Despite an impressive 525-pound lift by Chris Dozois, and a 345-pound barbell pulled by McKenzie and Valenzuela, D.C. won both the overall 2 points and the women’s point, plus the bonus flag point on the women’s race. The Brawlers out-lifted the Reign by 4,005 pounds for the overall total and 1,650 pounds for the women’s total. The highlight of the race was unsurprisingly an outstanding run by Stallings, who lifted a total of 3,600 pounds by herself, topping it off with a 465-pound deadlift.

“It was the easiest 465 of my life. I had the adrenaline pumping, I knew my team needed it, I didn’t even know which side was winning, I just knew I had 20 seconds to get it done,” Stallings said.

Despite receiving zero points for Race 7, L.A. was not about to go down without a fight and won the next two races after coming from behind in both. Ohlsen closed out Race 8 for his team with 19 muscle-ups unbroken, erasing the gap after the Reign trailed when Kristan Clever got faulted on her final bar muscle-up.

In Race 9, Women’s Triad, L.A. was trailing after the rope climbs but Valenzuela, McKenzie and Conzelman came out of nowhere and overtook the Brawlers women in the final quadrant.

“I love our group of women. They came out and just crushed this race,” said Los Angeles Head Coach Dusty Hyland. “We got behind a little bit early and then Lindsey [Valenzuela], Kris [Clever], Becky [Conzelman] and Alicia [McKenzie] just did what they do best, which is be amazing athletes. They really came out with a left hook.”

It would all come down to a spectacular finish in Race 11. Athletes went rep for rep on element after element, often sprinting to the finish line at the same time to clear the grid for their teammates. Michael Hernandez of L.A. overtook the Brawler’s Hendren on the final rope climb, and then Kenny Leverich of the Reign stepped up to the bar to try and complete the two 335-pound clean and jerks.

Rising Grid star Ken Battiston of D.C. reached the barbell shortly after Leverich had already squat cleaned the bar, and proceeded to power clean it—a much quicker movement than going into a full squat—and then he jerked it overhead. Leverich completed the first rep just after Battiston, but then failed on his second jerk. Battiston once again power cleaned the bar, and lifted his team to victory.

“The entire day I had that phrase by Michael Jordan running through my mind:‘Limits like fears are often an illusion’” Battiston said. “Even when I was hurting or wanted to quit, I just knew it was an illusion, and kept on pushing.”

The DC Brawlers will take on the Miami Surge in the first semifinal match of two to be played Thursday. The match will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network at 8 p.m. ET on October 1.

By Katie Martin