Thursday, October 2, 2014

DC Brawlers Crowned First Grid Champions

From our friends at the DC Brawlers...

After a pre-season tournament, three regular-season matches and two playoffs matches, the San Francisco Fire and D.C. Brawlers met on the grid with only one of them able to walk away undefeated. Fans at Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif. witnessed history as the Brawlers hoisted the Pinnacle Trophy as the first ever Grid League champions, edging out the Fire in the final race and taking the match, 20-16.

“I am just so proud of my team. We lost the momentum after Race 3, so winning Race 8 was huge and then we won 9, 10 and 11,” said Brawlers Head Coach Justin Cotler. “We finished incredibly strong and I love every one of them. They are true Brawlers tonight.”

The men and women of the D.C. Brawlers came out strong, easily winning the first three races, and once again demonstrating that they are a force. Marcus Hendren and Abby Graham teamed up for the first two quadrants of Race 1, which included a couplet of power cleans and dumbbell thrusters in ascending weight but descending reps. Jeremy Jones, head coach of the Fire, employed a surprising strategy, subbing out the first two players early, after the first quadrant. This slowed them down considerably and DC’s Taylar Stallings and Ken Battiston finished well ahead of Fire’s Sam Dancer and Alessandra Pichelli.

“By cycling them in after each quadrant, my intention was to keep them as fresh as possible. Unfortunately, the constant switching was just a bit too slow,” Jones said.

D.C. continued their momentum with a runaway Race 2 and gained a bonus point after Cotler made a key decision to throw the bonus flag. Stallings, Battiston and Hendren led their teammates through the 28 hang snatches - 205 pounds for the men and 140 for the women - much faster than San Francisco. The Fire struggled from the get-go, even dropping the bar after just a few reps in Quadrant 1. The Fire finished the race almost 2 full minutes after the Brawlers.

Race 3 highlighted the power of the D.C. women, who led their team to a third consecutive race win, but Race 4 went San Francisco, who capitalized on a D.C. strategic error. Lindsey Bourdon Menerey, who completed the 20 weighted pull-ups unbroken in Race 3, struggled with her final two reps in Race 4. That gave the Fire’s Cheryl Brost enough room to overtake her and put Whitney Heuser on the muscle-ups first. Amy Dracup of the Brawlers was not far behind, but it was all over when Stallings jumped for the rings on her turn, hitting them and sending them swinging. She was left trying to gain control of the rings while San Francisco took over and easily won the race.

“I knew that was our chance. We only lost by a few reps in the previous race, so that marginal few seconds was key and as soon as I saw that, I knew it was go time,” Heuser said.

The Brawlers men were sorely missing their bodyweight specialist Jerry Hill, who suffered an injury in a practice Tuesday, as they fell behind the Fire in Races 5 and 6, almost from the get-go. With butterfly weighted pull-ups by Chad Augustin and Buddy Hitchcock of the Fire, the Brawlers simply could not keep up. After an impressive performance in Race 5, Jones was confident his men would take Race 6, as well, and threw the bonus flag. The strength and speed of Dancer and Ger Sasser left D.C.’s Hendren and Battiston struggling in Quadrant 4 in both races.

“We’re fortunate enough to have a sandbag at practice and we drilled those over and over again,” Hitchcock said.

Going into Race 7, the ground-to-overhead ladder, the score was tied at 10. In this race, players could select either snatch or the clean and jerk, as long as the bar ended in a fully locked-out position overhead. Through most of the race, the Brawlers were ahead in both the overall total and women’s total. Most men lifted between 240-255 pounds, and most women topped out at about 165. Some of the more notable lifts were a 285-pound clean and jerk by Dancer, a 210-clean and jerk by Stallings and a 270 clean and jerk by Canavero. With just seconds left in the ladder and the Fire trailing by less than 100 pounds, Christy Lee, who replaced Alessandra Pichelli after a mid-match back injury, lifted her team to win the overall total by a mere 75 pounds.

“All I had to do was sprint. I totally blacked out and just went as fast as I could, hitting as many bars as possible. I was so happy I was able to hit 165,” Lee said.

Having just lost the two points in the overall ladder, Cotler and his team charged back onto the grid with a newfound determination, despite facing San Francisco’s well-known bodyweight specialists Courtney Walker, Augustin and Hitchcock in Race 8. D.C.’s Menerey, Dracup, Battiston and Carroll managed to overtake their opponents on the handstand-pushup focused race and swing the momentum in the favor of the Brawlers.

Races 9 and 10 were almost mirror images of each other, the teams trading leads, missing reps and committing faults on the clean and jerks. D.C. edged out the Fire and widened the lead to put the Fire at a 2-point deficit going into the final race. In both races, the Fire made it to the clean and jerks first, but the men and women of the Brawlers lived up to their name and came from behind to take both races. After Candice Wagner of the Fire faulted on her final rep, and Dancer also faulted on his final rep, the Brawlers took advantage of the slight misstep and crossed the finish line first.

“We had a couple of bad reps and we did too many reps but we just stuck to the plan and kept moving like we always do,” Stallings said.

With D.C. leading San Francisco 17-15, the first ever gridlock was possible. Emotions were running high and the crowd was humming with energy as they watched Race 11. D.C. gained an initial lead over San Francisco with Hendren getting to the legless rope-climbs first. The sub out for Ron Ortiz, however, cost D.C. the lead after he faulted on his final rope climb. The Brawlers were forced to play catch-up on the suicide runs and overhead pistols, but managed to overtake the Fire on the burpee-to-ring touches after several faults by Hitchcock sent the rings swinging out of reach.

D.C.’s Menerey was several reps into her deficit freestanding handstand push-ups by the time Walker got to her station, but with Menerey’s speed, Walker simply could not catch up. Menerey’s performance put Battiston on the barbell just ahead of Dancer. Battiston power cleaned the first two of three reps touch-and-go, while Dancer did full squat cleans, which slowed him considerably. Battiston finished out his final clean, sprinted back to the start line and slid across the finish line to a cacophony of cheers coming from the packed stands and his teammates.

“I knew I had no choice. It was just time to put up or shut up, really,” Battiston said. “Those are the moments that every athlete lives for.”

By Katie Martin