Johnny Bravo’s 2012 roster has two Callahan winners, two Junior Worlds Gold Medalists, a NexGen stud, four College Champions, a High School Easterns Gold Medalist, and a Beach Worlds Gold Medalist. The only hardware missing from this extremely talented team is a Club Championship Gold. Only five players remain on the roster from their 2007 second place finish, but the memory of coming so close still drives Bravo in its 16th Club season.
“Personally, I feel every loss I’ve ever been a part of. I took different things away from every one of my three championship game losses,” Captain Josh ‘Richter’ Ackley says of the ’07 Finals and his college losses.
“That year changed the way I prepare for a season. I know I didn’t do enough to help us win, and I want to make sure I don’t have that feeling again.”
Bravo’s performance has been on the decline since that 2007 loss. The team has finished lower than it was seeded in each subsequent Club Championships, most recently coming in a disheartening 11th place in 2011. After needing the play-in game to make quarters in ’08 and ’09 they lost to the eventual champs Chain Lighting and Revolver. In the following two seasons, Bravo didn’t even make it to the play-in game.
The Bravo roster has also undergone big changes in the last five seasons. Gone are one-name studs Beau, Chicken, Mac and Jolian, but much like the Colorado Mamabird program Bravo draws a lot of talent from, they replenish year after year.
William and Mary graduate Ryan Farrell, in his third year as a Bravo captain, explained that almost all of the players from this year’s roster are returners. Handler Parker Krug and cutter Hylke Sneider return to Bravo after a one year hiatus and a season with Sockeye, respectively. The continuity of having the majority of teammates who have played together before has Richter feeling good about this season.
“I’ve never experienced anything like the level of chemistry this team has developed even at this early point in the season. The buy-in is incredible, and I think the relationships developed in college and previous club seasons have certainly helped foster that. We know our identity “
The culmination of Bravo’s rebuilding was on full display as their season got off to an outstanding start with a first place finish in the inaugural U.S. Open in Colorado Springs. With the tournament close to home, Bravo had most of their roster suited up while other teams were missing significant contributors. Personnel questions aside however, Bravo finished the tournament 9-0 with a 15-12 win over Chain Lightning in the Finals.
But this is merely the beginning.
The U.S. Open win has stoked the fire of a team known for on-field bravado. Not many teams claim excitement when staring down matchups with Revolver or Doublewide, but this year’s Bravo team is confident and ambitious.
“[We’re] definitely looking forward to playing Revolver, having played some close games with them in the last couple years, and playing them closest out of anyone last year at Nationals, ” explains third year handler Jimmy Mickle.
“I’m also excited that Doublewide is in our Region, matching up with them is always good”
On offense, Richter, Mickle, Jack McShane and Krug have a talented host of cutters to throw to. Hylke, Craig ‘Polar Bear’ Forshee, Clark Bishop and Andrew Mangan are just a few of Bravo’s fast, athletic corps of downfield players. Bravo plays a physical brand of defense that can keep even the best of teams on their heels. In the U.S. Open finals they broke Chain Lightning five times and Arizona grad Austin Gregersen led the tournament in blocks with seven. Three other Bravo players were also in the top ten in Ds.
“We pride ourselves on our ability to keep our defensive intensity consistently high,” says Farrell. “We strive for game-like intensity at practice, and I believe we have gotten better and better at achieving this over the last few years.” As a group, we are more fit, more focused and more in sync with each other than at this time last year.”
“The majority of the team was in the gym shortly after Nationals, preparing for this season,” says Richter. “What we saw at the U.S. Open helps validate all that work. I think it makes people hungry for more. We’ll continue to improve until we play our last point in Sarasota.”
With a successful start to the season, there’s no doubt that Bravo is dialed in and focused. Seeing the rewards of their hard work has whet the team’s appetite for more. Richter’s dominant play at the U.S. Open backs up his talk of never again wanting to feel a Finals loss. Now the key will be to carry that success through Colorado Cup, Labor Day, Regionals and towards the ultimate prize: a National Championship.
(Feature Photo by Brandon Wu – UltiPhotos.com)