Pre Vegas Thoughts
More info: It’s been a long; cold off season wait but the winter is finally over. Just kidding…we live in Florida. I can’t say enough how excited we all are that the season is finally upon us! Most of us have been continuing to play since shortly after World Cup to keep the sword sharp, because there is no off season when your chasing excellence. But I have to say there is no other feeling like the beginning of the NXL season, and serious layout practices. Everyone’s back together and there is a new fresh start feeling of motivation, inspiration and revived priority of really committing to the pursuit of excellence.
Last season was not necessarily a bad one considering it being a little bit of a rebuilding and molding season, with some factors that were tough for the team to deal with. Damage still finished 5th overall, with some Sunday finishes and a solid world cup performance that showed total improvement from the beginning of the year. However its still not a successful season by the Damage standard, and a little disappointing compared to the potential that this legendary squad has proven capable of for a long time. But I can feel the difference in the group environment this year and it’s a refreshing new attitude of confidence, positivity and belief that we do finally have all the necessary tools, talent, experience, structure and resources to really go for another streak of greatness.
Off-season changes included a change over to DLX for the Luxe Ice as our marker, and I have to say, this seems to be a big part of it. A lot of these guys have shot Luxes for seasons in the past on teams like Philly Americans, and as odd as it seems, I’ve never seen a marker have such an impact on making guys want to play and shoot even more. A marker that seems to almost shoot people for you sometimes can surely make the game more fun! We are also shooting APX paint, and we’ve been more then pleased at the quality and accuracy of our practice paint so far! Beyond that we retained all other sponsors and we’re still proud to use the best soft goods and hard accessories in the game. The team also kept the entire roster that played world cup, as well as added 3 more players for a full 12 this season, including the return of long time Damage veteran Rumzi El-yusef, the acquisition of 187 starter Matt Darula, and myself. These pick ups not only add to the depth and versatility of the roster, but we also bring in a new fire as guys who have a hunger from never winning in pro and as competition to nip at the heels of the vets and keep them constantly sharp. The rookies Ceelos and Mikey are now entering their junior year as pros, and they are developing into solid assets and honing their crafts more with the experience of every match. And the constant long time vets of Damage, Jason, Jacob, Dan, Tim, Timmy, LP and Chad have had a resurgence of effort and the want to elevate the work and commitment level that’s super charging the team and forcing more out of everyone and should help the team to break the plateau. It’s truly humbling playing along side these legendary champions of the sport, and a constant 403 level learning experience every single weekend. Their physical skill sets are at the highest caliber in the game and still continue to shock people every match. They force you remove mistakes, bad habits, do your job and then some just to hang at their level. But more impressive is the ridiculous amount of field IQ and the mental game from a combined 75+ years of pro experience. I can’t go 5 points without learning a crafty new secret, or a different perspective on how to problem solve through a situation, and the team has become a lot more open and constructive, which leads to conversation and critical breakdowns of solutions and counter solutions that lead to the constant elevation of everyone’s mental game. Being part of the team that invented and perfected slowing a field down and playing methodical zone paintball with the ability to switch gears and attack, I sometimes feel like I’m part of the most athletic chess team of all time.
Getting to the good stuff, event 1 in Las Vegas is quickly coming up and we just had our first practice on the layout! We decided to host a grind at CFP in Lakeland Florida, and invite Chicago Aftershock and PC Katana as practice partners. This was possibly the best practice we’ve had in a year! We know players from both of these teams, and those team relationships lead to a smooth, productive, challenging practice that could not have went better. Not only was there plenty of feedback and sharing of knowledge throughout the weekend, but also both days were completely drama free. No crybabies, questionable moves, arguments or anything! Big thanks again to Mike Bruno, and Matt Sossoman for making the long trip down to play with us. These guys are doing a good job making their teams play aggressive, tough paintball that really challenged us and helped us learn the layout well.
Saturday started off early and mostly consisted of sets with 2 teams at a time, and an even rotation that had us play each team and then sit one set. We begin by playing the layout with basic breakouts and just getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t. As the day continues, we set goals that we must work on such as playing a set in the pocket, playing a set short on one side or the other, and playing with full field aggression. This layout seems to suit the team very well, as it has nice open lanes for our shooters to do what they do best on, but also offers a variety of routes for creative aggression out of our agile front players. Both sides appear to be pretty open and can allow you to close and win the game, and the center is dangerous enough that it has to be expected most of the time. By the end of the day we had played over 40 points and right up until the field closed!
Satisfied and heads filled with points played, mistakes made, ideas of easy fixes and creative alternatives, we left the field and went for a team night to get more off field bonding time and solidify the team cohesion and chemistry. Communication is key, on and off the field, and so crucial toward success at events. Even if everyone knows how to win, we may have different ideas, so it’s important to talk out ideas and add to the collective consciousness to assure we are all on the same page. So we got the whole team and even some of the girlfriends to go out for team cosmic bowling in Clearwater! We had a great time, eating, talking, hanging out and struggling to break the 100 clubs. I guess thank god we are not a professional bowling team. Stick to your day jobs. Eventually it became an entire set of only bowling backwards, and laughs were shared as we got gutter balls, accidental strikes, and sometimes almost fell and slid down the lane! It was nice to have some extra social time off the field with our out of state players Darula and Montressor, who are ridiculously cool dudes that we’ve all known for a while, but are limited on actual time they can hang out with us. Matt is as easy going as they come, and Tim “same same” is about the funniest sarcastic character most will ever meet! After that most of the squad heads to Jason’s house to crash, after some battlefield and hanging out with his household wolf pack of big dogs, including a man sized akita/polar bear!
Day 2 starts off a little earlier at the field because a lot of players have flights home to catch. We decide to play our points this day like a real match. Playing to win every point, and deciding the next breakout depending on the situation like what the score is, or how much time is left. This made us practice real match situations like needing fast points, or burning clock because we are well up in the lead. Player combos on each side are becoming more comfortable and apparent and plays are starting to get thrown out or solidified. By the end of the weekend we had played over 70 points and shot the better half of a skid of the new APX practice paint. We tried a lot of different lines, pairs, and plays including crazy ones that shouldn’t work, and still had a pretty solid showing, winning 70% of the total points played. Not that we care if we win or lose at practice, because it’s about learning, but it was a nice confidence boost and reassurance that the drills in the off season had been paying off and it was good to see where we stand with other pro teams since we do not get to play them accept at events. This was only the first week on the layout, but all in all we are feeling pretty good about Vegas so far, and really looking forward to next weekend where we will have our own private practice to lock in plays, lines and tweak the little things. I am beyond hyped for this event, this season, and the future as a whole! The comradery is there, and the priority and accountability to each other is driving us toward a brand new era of climbing to a higher caliber that this team has more then enough potential to reach. We are tough on each other because we want to bring out the best and see each other succeed. We should hold ourselves at nothing less. We have all worked hard on ourselves to become the proper pieces to make the machine function fluidly. Now if we can just play for the name on the front of the jersey and be whatever it needs to win, we will be capable of excellence. There is still a ton of work and learning to be done, and all of that is still far off on the horizon. But the future is bright non the less.