2020 was a pooch. But there was one thing that came out of that season that I remember with great affection. The New Orleans Hurricanes won the coveted World Cup of paintball in the Semi Pro division. I call it the “covid cup” because we were neck deep in the pandemic and only had 2 events that year. 19 teams showed up in the semi pro division for that event, down 6 teams from the Vegas event, including Camp Factory (TonTons). The team went 4-0 in the prelims outscoring our opponents 22-7 which included Annapolis A team (4-2) and the New England Hurricanes (5-0). On Sunday, we would outscore our next 3 opponents 17-8 winning against TCP machine (5-4 in quarters) Indianapolis Mutiny (6-3 in Semis) and the finals match against the New Jersey Jesters (6-1).
I was aware of the legacy I had joined. The history of the N.O. Canes (Formerly the Gulf Coast Hurricanes) is quite storied. Believe it or not, the team is 5 years old. There is a pedigree there that some may not be familiar with. Players from Rock-It-Kids, Warped Army, Chicago Aftershock, Birmingham PRIME, and St. Louis Avalanche.
They began their career by entering the semi pro division in 2016. With most of the core players having Division 1 and some Professional experience, they believed they would be competitive. However, they would be served a big slice of humble pie. They were quickly shown to be unprepared finishing in the back of the pack the first few events. When the 2016 NXL World Cup came around, the team decided (appropriately) to play Division 2. Once again, they received another rude awakening. They were beaten in their first match Sunday morning finishing the event in 11th place (I know as my team Birmingham Prime took 2nd at the event in D2). It became painfully obvious they had a lot of work to do. This was hands down THE BEST THING that could have happened to the organization at the time. Sometimes in life, you have to fail in order to learn how to succeed.
After that first season, they re-evaluated their goals, swallowed their pride, and began the 2017 season in Division 2 of the NXL. They put in the work and we were rewarded with their first win on the national stage. They took 1st Place in the 2017 NXL Chicago Open. Interesting fact, this was my official introduction to the ‘Canes as I was invited down for a 2 day clinic prior to the event. I will never forget it because team members Matt Hamilton and Drew Bell showed me a great time. BTW – at Chicago – the ‘Canes would knock my team out in the Ochos! Some “thank you”…
Once again, they decided to stay in Division 2 for the 2018 season and ended up taking 2nd at Las Vegas, 5th at the Texas Open and rounded out the season with a 1st Place finish at World Cup.
The team would rebrand themselves as the New Orleans Hurricanes for future marketing and set their sights on the NXL’s Pro Division. They made the bump up to Semi-Pro in 2019. They would finish the season in 3rd place for the series. The year consisted of a 3rd place in Vegas, 5th Place in Texas, 3rd place in Philadelphia, an 11th place stumble in Chicago, and 6th place at World Cup. Not how they envisioned the season, but they knew if they wanted to win they would have to work even harder. And maybe add a little something extra (hint hint wink wink zen something or another).
When they first asked me to coach, I remember thinking, “Why?” These guys already had a winning program. But the more I talked and became familiar with this team, the more I realized we were very similar in approach and philosophy. Compatible systems you might say.
The team knows that, in order to be successful, you must have a culture that emphasizes several positive components. Components such as motivation, persistence, and determination. However, in the New Orleans Hurricane camp, those components are tempered with even more important aspects such as integrity, honor, sacrifice, and generosity. It isn’t just about winning. It is also about the pursuit of bettering ourselves and those around us, on and off the field and achieving the results in a way we can be proud of. Benjamin Franklin said that “Well done is better than well said.” In other words, don’t tell us, show us. We couldn’t agree more. Every member is held to a standard and there is no deviation. Steel sharpens steel and we lift each other up and hold one another accountable. Each member brings strengths that will ultimately lead us to our organizational objectives. Those objectives will be met with hard work, resilience, and faith in one another. And that is our mission – to succeed. But not just in the traditional understanding with wins on the field. We want to have a positive impact on our sport and in our communities. To represent our friends, families, and our sponsors in a positive,meaningful way and to make them proud.
“WINNING” is a mindset and a process. Not a RESULT. Not achieving a result is no excuse to abandon the PROCESS of getting better. Achieving a goal is not an excuse to become complacent and abandon the mindset that helped you get there. We expect all members to want to excel all the time. There is never an END to this process.
And that is why I coach the New Orleans Hurricanes. I love these guys and this program. You will not find a more blue collar, hard working team. And I am proud to be a part of such a program. You don’t find a group of guys like this often. It’s quite rare really. I’ve succeeded in doing it twice now. I know I am blessed.
With that said, let’s take a look at this season so far. We already talked about World Cup 2020… lets start with 2021.
Sunshine State Major
We went 4-0 in the prelims outscoring our opponents 24-6 (mercy ruling 3 of our 4 opponents). We won our quarter final match with a controlled game and then stumbled in the semis and finals. We lost both matches in overtime to Crisis and Mutiny. A 4th place finish but a top 4 finish none the less. Goal 1 secured. I guess I should mention we set the goal of finishing within the top 4 of every event at the beginning of the season.
Mid Atlantic Major
This event was tough but not because of the team. This was failed leadership on my part. I take full responsibility for the teams performance at this event. Whether it was my play calling, personnel calling, my scouting, whatever, no excuses, I messed up on a few fronts and I own that. However, this event is what would ultimately set the table for Chicago… but I digress. The team went 3-1 during the prelims dropping a match to a pretty dominant looking Annapolis A-team (6-3). 20 points scored by us versus 15 points scored by our opponents is not the stat a coach wants to wake up to on Sunday. But there we were, another Sunday (our 12th straight). We would pull the New England Hurricanes for the Ochos match first thing that morning. The matches in Semi pro are 15 minutes long… We won by mercy rule 10-5. That’s approximately a minute per point. A Helluva match. We would go on to mercy the Noobies in quarters 6-1. We were feeling confident as we had finally (or so we thought) found our groove on this layout. We would get mercy ruled for the first time 7-2 by Annapolis A-team who would go on to win the event. We would then turn around and, once again, lose by 1 point to the great off the break shooting of Arsenal taking our second 4th place for the season.
The Windy City Major
The table was now set. The 3rd event of the season was a make or break moment for us. And we were determined to put in the work. The first issue came when three of my players had life events that could not be avoided. Work, family, and health all come first in our program. These three players all had a life occurrence that would keep them from participating in this event. I wasn’t too concerned since the team does have depth and had no doubt they would step up. We would still need a little help snake way though, just to be safe. So I called an old friend from my past to help us out (shout out to Aaron Barnes). We were in a good spot.
Then Hurricane Ida decided to make land fall on August 29th… the Sunday before the layout drop. $95 billion in damages, homes and businesses destroyed, flooding, power outages… The New Orleans Hurricanes are based out of Slidell, LA just 30 miles north of New Orleans. As you can imagine, the team was adversely affected. We couldn’t reach some of our teammates for a few days due to phones being down. Talk about nerve-racking. The following weekend, we had to move practice north and into Alabama. Unfortunately, but certainly understandably, only 5 players would make that practice. And on top of that, the new pick up for the event, Aaron Barnes, contracted Covid keeping him from practice as well. So we did what we could to make the best out of the weekend and up the learning curve. I pushed those guys hard. The second layout weekend we had all the roster we would have for the event. So we got after it, playing a tremendous amount of points.
Day 1 (Friday)
We would meet our old friends the New Jersey Jesters in the first match winning by mercy rule 5-0. We hadn’t had a chance to scout them so it was a matter of doing our thing. We were hitting our shots, executing well, slow steady pressure, and finishing strong with good communication mid game. A good start.
The next match would be against a familiar team. I coached CEP to their Division 2 series win in 2019. I am close friends with those cats and now they were being coached by a good friend who knows my process pretty well. Shout out to I-75 Alex Hicks. Something no one knew outside of our team was that player Jacob Searight, one of our two D-side attackers for this layout, couldn’t play this match. He is getting his PHD/Doctorate or whatever brainy smart stuff he does and had to be on a zoom call for a peer review! Crazy… I know. We would win the match 4-2 but not after another catastrophe… my other 1/attacker on the D-side, Britt Simpson, would dislocate his knee during the 3rd point and had to be carried off the field. *Zen note – even though he was in excruciating pain, he would not let the ref pull him. Instead, he communicated with his 2 (Drew Bell) and they worked together to get Drew down the field to finish and win the point. Shout out to my player and friend Justin Bailey for stepping up and playing the spot like a boss.
Hurricane Ida… Covid…work/family obligations… and now this injury. It appeared the world was against us. But all it did was stiffen our resolve. We got Britt taken care of and had a pretty serious team meeting that night. (Searight’s zoom call went well BTW!) Truth be told, I didn’t sleep. I just kept playing the next day’s games in my head. We had a good plan and we would have one more opportunity to scout our next two opponents to see if/how they adjusted.
Day 2 (Saturday)
We would play Utah Bro Army the next morning. We had paid attention to their approach to the field and after watching their first match that morning, we were confident our previous scouting was sound and our game plan would prevail. And it did. Another mercy rule win (7-2). Shout out to those cats. Great group of guys.
And there they were… standing in front of us for the last prelim match. The team that gave us a 4th place finish at the first event of the season. We had beat them at World Cup, they had beat us at the Sunshine State Major. This was going to be epic to say the least. We knew we could win the break but we needed to connect cross field to win this match. We did both. We ended up beating Indianapolis Mutiny via mercy rule 5-0.
After day 2 we were sitting at 4-0 in the 1st seed with a 4.25 point margin. As luck would have it, by beating Mutiny 5-0, it knocked our friends the Jesters into the 8th seed. So they would be our first match Sunday morning. They would be prepared this time. But so would we. Anyone who thought differently would be considered, at least by me, daft.
Day 3 (Sunday)
Headed into Sunday morning and preparing for the match against the Jesters, we knew they were going to adapt. Unfortunately, there is only so many ways you could adapt on this layout. Being familiar with their squad and using statistical analysis, we called it. Those guys don’t quit, they are tenacious and I think that is what I love about them. We would mercy them 6-1.
We knew we would get the winner of the Noobies (4th place in series at this time) and the NE Hurricanes (3rd place in series at this time) match (I believe they were the 4th and 5th seed respectively). We watched the match intently. It was back and forth with the Noobies prevailing 4-3.
This was it. We were not walking away playing for 3rd and 4th again. And it was a knife fight. Back and forth, point for point. Headed into the final point of regulation time, the score is 3-3 with a little over a minute left. We make a last 20 second push, get the last kill, and hit the buzzer. I saw it, the team saw it, several people in the crowd saw it… we hit the buzzer with 1 second left. The ref gives our player a check and the thumbs up. YEAH! WE DID IT! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! SEMI FINAL SLUMP ENDED! WOO-HOO!
But wait… I get called over to the scorekeepers booth. The scorekeeper is overruling the call saying that no, by his clock, time had expired just as my player hit the buzzer. I didn’t even bother arguing or wasting any energy, Suit up boys, overtime. The call is the call and I respected it.
You’re not going to believe this but that point went all 5 minutes. But in the last 20 seconds it became a 3-1 advantage for the Noobies! It looked like the slump wasn’t over after all! But Jacob Searight got crafty and scored two quick kills, protected the buzzer, and traded with the last player. Wow! I picked a bad time to quite sniffin’ glue… (that’s a joke. Go watch the movie Airplane!)
So now it comes down to a 1v1 first blood win with 1 minute on the clock. Drew Bell steps up for the team, rolled his gun, got dominance, and even with refs following/chasing him the entire time bird-dogging (in their defense, they thought they saw some spray but he was clean) kept his opponent in the home bunker and on the defensive (in that players defense, I think he was exhausted), marched down the field, onto his opponents side of the field, and scored the elimination. Finals bound.
Never doubted it.
We are now headed to the finals. I think we finished the semi final match at 1:20pm? We were scheduled to play the finals against Blast Camp at 3:40 but they were running behind. We had scouted Blast Camp early knowing we may very well meet them and with good reason. That team has shown tremendous growth over the past two seasons. They took 7th place last year at World Cup losing to Crisis in the quarters. At the Sunshine State Major, they didn’t make it out of prelims placing 13th. They would turn around and right the ship at the Mid Atlantic NXL event taking 2nd place losing to Annapolis A team by 1. But then the Astra event happened. And they showed a new vigor that has propelled them to the forefront of a lot of paintball discussions about up and comers. And rightly so. Their strength is in their communication. It is top notch.
We knew going in we would have to be perfect. And we weren’t. We weren’t hitting our on the break shots (they were). We hadn’t drawn a penalty all weekend but got 3 in this match. And, just like Philly, our gas tanks ran out. We dug a hole we couldn’t get out of. But we never quit.
And we won’t.
World Cup is looming large. God willing, we will be back to full strength for that event. Preparation for the New Orleans Hurricanes started immediately after the loss to Blastcamp (By the way, congratulations to them, they played almost flawlessly).
Regardless of what came before or of what is yet to come, what matters most is how we choose to respond to what is in front of us…World Cup. There is no way this team lays down. You can most assuredly bet we will fight and finish strong. After all, starting strong is great… but finishing strong is epic. There will be those who say we don’t deserve it for this reason or that. I don’t care what they say. What they think is arbitrary. We are the only team that has been in the top 4 all three events. We have beat the top teams consistently. And we have done it against a lot of adversity. So, love us or hate us, I promise you this, we are here to play, we are here to win. John Dresser came into the pit just before the finals match. He looked at me and my old face and Britt on Crutches… then looked over our shoulders at the rest of the team and said, “Ya’ll aren’t spring chickens.” No, we are not. And that’s why you should respect us and our game. “Beware an old man in a young man’s game, he is there for a reason.” And if you pull us at Cup… you damn well better bring your best game because we hit above our weight class.
Be water my friends