Early in 2015 there was a “meeting of the minds” between prominent club figures in Fort Collins. Myself, David Chan, Brianna Quigley (coach of the CSU women's team and ex-Rare Air player) and Jake "Jacuzzi" Juszak (ex-Bravo) all met up and hashed out some team planning for 2015.
Brie wanted to work with Chan and I to form a new mixed team with the Hops men. Jacuzzi wanted to put together some form of a mixed team, but I don't believe he had fully decided on exactly what he wanted to do. He seemed lukewarm on partnering with Hops, and Chan and I were pretty set in sticking with another season of Hops as it was constructed.
In the end, Brie and Jacuzzi connected and began planning out what would become "shame." and Chan and I began working on the framework for the 3rd season of Hops.
After much deliberation, Hops leadership decided to push a bit more towards the 'ringer' roots of the team, in that we eliminated the two per week mandatory practices, electing rather to go with a once a week optional "reps" practice and once a month mandatory extended weekend practice. The idea was that the practice flexibility would allow us to recruit more players from outside Fort Collins, expanding our skill-base. We had CSU alums Michael Lin and Stephen Gross commuting up from the Springs and Denver, as well as NAU alum John Marcy making the trip up. We were going to sacrifice chemistry for talent.
As an organizer and tournament director of the Fort Collins Summer Solstice tournament, I pushed to add a men's division to what had traditionally only been a mixed tournament. This was in large part to offer up a mid-tier men's playing option to teams in the central(ish) part of the country where there were (and are) very few options.
At that point, Hops' only tournament options to play men's at a non-elite level were to travel significantly (Colorado Cups non-elite division dissolved when the Cup was absorbed as a TCT event). I hoped that adding a men's division at Solstice would help Hops with its regular season requirements as well as encouraging other men's teams to form within the area where there were lots of mixed playing opportunities but very few men's and women's (again, outside of the elite sector).
We started our season with a strong performance at Solstice, finishing third behind a stacked Johnny Encore team (preparing for nationals and worlds) and Inception. At our next tournament, the Ski Town Classic in Provo, we struggled with a small attending roster and finished fourth. At sectionals we finished second behind Inception, easily securing a regionals bid.
Regionals was again in Tulsa and we were excited to improve on our 8th place finish from 2014. We struggled in pool play, losing tight games to HIP (Houston), Plex (Dallas), Dreadnought (Arkansas), and getting blown out by Doublewide. Our lone win came against Tune Squad, the third tier team out of Austin.
The 1-4 finish in pool play dropped us into the 7th place bracket, which still allowed us to achieve our goal of improving our final placement, but it would require winning out.
|Choice City Hops and Fénix Ultimate|
In quarters, we beat Riverside (Austin's tier 2 team behind Doublwide). Semis matched us up against Fénix Ultimate from Mexico City. This was by far my (and the team's) favorite game of the tournament. The Mexico group played extremely spirited and with a very cool, very different style (SO many short passes). However, our height and the stiff breeze played more in our favor and we finished out the game 15-11. Again, they were just a great group to play against and I was thrilled to meet our south of the border friends.
The 7th place finals were a rematch between us and Dreadnought. Technically, this game didn't mean anything. The select-flight cut-off this year was 6th place, but by the end of the round, it was pretty clear that this game meant a lot to both teams.
It was the 8th game of the tournament for us. We were tired, dusty (Tulsa!) and the wind was blowing heavily. We shuffled around personnel to compensate for injuries and played with as much energy as we could muster after a full weekend of games. This game came down to universe point, with us receiving going downwind. It was the only game still being played in the entire complex in any division. We worked it meticulously down the field and finally scored on a big layout grab from Garrett Idler.
It may seem odd to celebrate a 7th place finish, but we were thrilled. The team was exhausted but proud. We had made good on our season goals, played a strong tournament start to finish and had improved. I texted the score over to the TD and got a "Well done," response. I very much appreciated that they clearly understood that while the game had no meaning in the context of nationals qualification or even flight status, both teams involved were playing for their seasons.
Since the redrawing of the regional boundaries in 2012, Cosa Nostra, from Austin, had been the only mixed nationals qualifier from the south central region (taking the lone bid in 2012, 2013 and 2014). Jacuzzi and Brie were going to put Fort Collins mixed back into the nationals conversation with shame..
They recruited quality players from Fort Collins and beyond. The team was made up of a group of people that enjoyed playing together on the field and very much enjoyed their time off the field as well. After years of elite women's and men's, I think both captains wanted to stay competitive, but not put their minds, bodies and finances through the strain of playing Bravo or Molly Brown.
The team didn't practice much (to my knowledge). I know they had weekly stuff set up, but they were much closer to 'ringer' status than Hops had ever been.
They won Solstice handily, beating Mesteño (2011 nationals qualifier) in the finals. This would be the only tournament they would play in the regular season, which meant not only did they not earn a nationals bid for the region (they would have been near or in the top 20 if they had similar results at another tournament), they didn't earn the section a regionals bid either.
I can't fault them for their season plans. They were laid-back. They traveled as much as they desired and the team, as far as I could tell from the outside, thoroughly enjoyed their time together.
At sectionals they stumbled a little bit, losing to Love Tractor in the finals 5-15 and then to Mesteño in the second place game. This would set them up with the five seed heading into regionals and a pool play rematch with Mesteño.
At regionals in Tulsa, shame. didn't bring a full squad and fell victim to the injury bug, losing in quarters to RUA out of Arkansas then punting the placement games for an 8th place finish overall. Love Tractor would win the region over RUA and be the first Colorado mixed team to qualify for nationals from the south central region.
Force, unfortunately, is the team I know the least about. This season they had added a couple of newcomers into their leadership core in Chris Dorich and Jason Laxague. Beyond that, I know little about their team structure and goals.
They played Solstice and the Rocky Mountain State Games, completing the 10 game requirement for having their ranking count towards a regionals bid allocation, but did not rank high enough to earn the Rocky Mountain section the bid. They lost in the quarters of the sixth place bracket at sectionals to Spring Loaded from Colorado Springs and ended tied for 9th, not qualifying for regionals.It's hard for me to say how shame. and Force felt about their seasons but all three teams were in for some big changes in 2016. Some for the better and some for the worse...