No stat encapsulates the importance of big game experience and building championship pedigree more than the following statistic: since 1995 only three teams have lost in the finals and failed to subsequently win a championship. They are Ironside (‘08, ‘10, ‘11) Ring of Fire (2002) and Johnny Bravo (2007). Ironside and Bravo, the top and fifth seeds respectively, are a combined 25-4 against other Championships qualifiers this season. More impressively they’re 7-3 against the top six seeds. All squads are looking to remove their names from that dubious list in 2012. Bravo captain Josh ‘Richter’ Ackley, one of five players remaining from the 2007 finals loss to Sockeye, wants it to be his team.
“It was always our goal to continue to improve right through our final game at Nationals.,” explains Ackley. “Our last few practices have been spent putting the finishing touches on things.”
Finishing touches seems like a phrase that could aptly describe what a Club Championship would mean to a man who’s won the Callahan, a college championship, beach worlds gold and competed for his hometown team for a decade. Ackley bleeds Rockies purple, Broncos orange and Colorado gold. Wearing the Rocket on his chest however, is the source of his greatest pride. With that pride comes the agony of wanting to win so badly for himself, his teammates and ten seasons worth of Bravo alumni who never got to taste the ultimate prize.
The 2012 campaign has arguably been Denver/Boulder’s best season since that 2007 season. They’ve lost to only three seed Sockeye and four seed Doublewide during the regular season, while running up an 11-0 record against all other Championships qualifiers and winning the inaugural U.S. Open back in July. If you were building a team to play various styles in different conditions, you might come up with something similar to this squad.
They can play for short gains with Ackley’s devastating cutting, or unleash Hylke Sneider deep. They have the patient experience of handler Parker Krug, and the youthful explosiveness of Jimmy Mickle and ‘Air’ Tim Morrissy. They aren’t afraid to be one of the more physical teams in the game, often to the frustrations of their opponents. They have the depth to survive a four day tournament and inevitable injuries. Lastly they have the benefit of the team’s history and experience to keep them grounded and focused.
“In the past we’ve been burned by looking ahead at future games. We’ve been given a tough challenge with our pool and we can’t afford to look ahead of anyone,” says Ackley.
Bravo may not be looking ahead, but spectators and media have already circled power pool F on Friday where Bravo will probably play two time defending club champions Revolver. Thursday’s pool play game against Doublewide will likely be the difference between playing Revolver first thing on Friday after a night of rest, or getting them after they’ve played that morning against Austin. If Bravo loses to Doublewide Thursday, they could be the team wearing out Revolver Friday morning to Texas’s delight.
Bravo hasn’t played Revolver or top seeded Ironside this season, and a championship could require beating both. Richter spoke earlier this season about the importance of facing top teams in the regular season. Adjustments, strategy and familiarity all become easier when having already played a team that same season. With former Colorado Mamabird teammates occupying key spots on Revolver and players from Brown and Wisconsin that tortured CU in national finals on Ironside however, familiarity doesn’t seem to be an issue.
With the tools, talent and will in place for Bravo, all that remains is to go out and compete. “We know that we are a contender, at our best we can beat anyone,” say Ritcher. “At the same time, we can lose to anyone in this field if we make the mistake of underestimating them.”
Feature photo by Jeff Bell – Ultiphotos.com