2023 NXL Lone Star Open Event recap

Perseverance isn’t always about winning and losing. I believe it’s about showing up, saying “I am”, rising to the occasion, and doing well. As my friend and coach of Austin Notorious Ryan Gray said, “Don’t worry about being better, just be good.” But this is professional paintball… and to stay on the map you’ve got to keep showing up and being consistent. Our draw for this event would be what I deemed, “Crucible, The Sequel”. When you are facing a determined Tampa Bay who has pulled two seconds the last two events against Dynasty, the super star line up of AC Diesel, an intelligent and chip on their shoulder Baltimore Revo and your tier 5 team is the Russian Legion, it’s going to be a tough event.

But I think this team strives on “tough”, we live for that pressure. That’s why we are here, to see where we stand. And there is nothing more exciting than standing in front of those odds and saying “We’re right here. Come and get it.” We are showing up at every practice, putting in the work, pushing each other, enjoying the process and the journey. I know this because of the HUGE problem I had headed into this event. And quite frankly, I hope to have it EVERY event… Every one of my guys were playing well at practice. So well in fact, I had no idea who I was starting. I was getting production out of everyone and as a coach, this makes it difficult to call line positioning. In other words, it is a good problem to have.

We scrimmaged Blast Camp and the Latin Saints the weekend before so we felt we had seen a good amount of looks. We were about to find out in our first match.

VS Baltimore Revo

It’s rare to have an opportunity to scout your first opponent. But that’s what happened leading up to our first match. We were able to scout the Revo vs Russians match. Matty Marshall had asked me to commentate that set actually and, at first, I thought no, I need to scout with my guys and stay on the same page. But then a conversation between some of us helped me decide, what better vantage point to scout from! Of course, we had the team scouting the game as well. When I got in the booth, I saw that I would be commentating with the legend himself, Colt Roberts. I decided right then and there, just let these two legends talk and I’ll throw some color in here and there. Colt is a solid guy and I have enjoyed getting to know him more. Oh, and for the record, you can’t see the 50 from up in that booth.

*Zen Noteone of my personal goals this season was that if I ever got invited into the booth to commentate, I would not embarrass myself or sound stupid. Not sure if I can mark that goal off just yet.

Even though we were allowed to scout Revo, they lost. This meant they would have to adjust in some way unless they told themselves it wasn’t the game plan, it was the individual play. But we felt very good about our game plan based off what we saw.

We wanted to apply pressure the first point. We knew Revo used some of the bunkers similar to us so we thought, let’s be first. Our scouting appeared to show a hole with Revo’s approach. They seemed to know what bunkers to leverage but not necessarily how to use them, what job was what and when. So I knew there would be opportunity. We made our spots, quickly pressed our secondaries, kept up the pressure and played what I would consider the best point of our event. Not a bad way to start. We struck first with 5 alive.

Next point, our guns off break were solid. We shot the snake side “can” who in turn got a minor. Revo’s snake player either left early or wasn’t touched up. Either way, kill 3 on the break. However, Revo’s two remaining players made a good read. One made it wide dorito side and the other took the snake side “brick”. In doing so, they peeled off 2 of my guys making it a 3 on 2 (advantage still Canes). Jacob Searight clocked in and countered dorito way. The snake “brick” player had to fight too many fronts, eats one, leaving it a 3 on 1. We know where the last player is, it’s a matter of time, and Revo quickly conceded.

We felt they would want to spread the field a bit but the question was which route. We shot their first D side attacker on the break (we chose wisely) but allowed Revo to get in the snake and get to dorito corner. We gave them a body of our own dorito side when we didn’t check off and then we lost a gun fight snake side. But as the scramble starts, Justin Bailey saw an opportunity and took full advantage. He shot the snake insert bunker which was acting as over watch on snake and then traded in spectacular fashion with Revo’s D side “two” leaving just Revo’s snake player. My guys stayed disciplined knowing the situation. We were up points and up bodies. No need to go get this guy. They kept him contained and let the clock be our friend. We shot their last player as he tried a tactical retreat out of the snake and Revo conceded the point.

Revo had great guns off the break shooting two of us on the snake side at the beginning of the 4th point. We tapped their first snake player but Revo did a good job of containment and winning guns fights. It was a 4 on 2 and we were going to make them hit the buzzer. Revo did hit it to put a point on the board.

We returned the favor the next point with our own guns on the break and flooded the snake the moment the yellow flag went up on Revo. Nic traded with Revo’s snake making it a 4 on 2 advantage Canes. Justin Bailey once again makes a great read in knowing the situation and took over snake duties in front of Daniel Camp. However, Mr. Camp said, “Can’t have you taking all the kills this point Bailey” and scalped his friend and teammate. We let Revo get through the monster truck gap D side. However, Mike Brown said, “Not today – please exit the field” and got the kill leaving only Revo’s snake player yet again. Revo’s coach obviously wanted to give his player some time to make something happen. When he retreated, I remember thinking, “Good. Play defense and let the time go.” Their ears must have been burning because they conceded the point.

We were in X-ball now with a little over 4 minutes on the clock. We each traded bodies on the break but Revo got into that D side “brick” on the break. We had a communication mix up here with a code being called that was not accurate. This caused one of us to be peeled off looking into what he thought was a safe zone and we were lucky that same call didn’t get Nic popped as he took the snake insert. Nic loses a gunfight, followed shortly by another mistake by us. Not to take anything away from Revo but they didn’t really win that point as much as we just simply shot ourselves in the foot. Sloppy.

We shot one off the break in what would be the last point of the match. We knew where we wanted to be and each player knew their role. We successfully set up when we got Drew Bell into the snake side wedge and Mike Brown into Dorito one. I loved how my guys maintained zone control, let Revo kill themselves, then recognized the opportunity to go get the additional point for spread. We won the match but there were some obvious small issues that we would need to improve if we wanted to do well this event.

We had a team discussion after the match and felt prepared for Diesel. But it was not to be. A severe lightning and hail storm came in. The NXL made the right call to shut it down and make an adjustment to the schedule for the next day. The Canes would have to play 3 matches Saturday with one set between each. First Legions, then Damage, and finally AC. We would have to be on top of our scouting/adjustment game.

VS Red Legion

I felt Legion was going to try and slow it down a bit and suck us into gunfights. We also knew they gunned heavy for the snake side. You have to respect the Legion’s guns off the break. But I’m still going to test them. Low and behold, they shot our snake runner on the break. However, we were in this situation a lot at practice and we stuck to the game plan with my guys making the appropriate adjustment. Mike Brown got wide D side, Drew Bell filtered up to snake side “wedge”, Daniel Camp filtered into the snake insert allowing Stu the freedom to play a little. From there, it became a game of communication and zone control. We took the body advantage somewhere around 5 minutes in (4 on 3). Stu got caught probing but Legions D side launched to trade with Mike Brown. I watched as my snake side starts eating that player up before he got to MB. Sure enough, flag in the air which pulls the remaining Legion players. We go up one after an almost 7 minute point. Unfortunately, that would be our last point scored for the match.

We went short and planned on working our way into the snake after our initial set up. The Legion made it into the snake on the break though. Normally, not an issue as that player can be somewhat contained with our set up. However, the wind kicked up and created an opening (bunker blows to the side) that allowed a ball through on one of my snake side guys followed by another death from our “god” a few moments later. 5 on 3 advantage to the Legion who also had the snake presence. Now we have a problem as this is not… how should we say?… optimum. Drew actually bounced the Legion player in the snake if I recall correctly which would have relieved tremendous pressure (woulda coulda shoulda). Shortly after, Stu got a shot on Khiril. He got shot as well though. Then disaster struck with Jacob Searight catching a ball too after having taken ground D side. Now its a 4 on 1 advantage Legion. Drew made a valiant effort but got caught. Even match now with just under 5 minutes left.

I thought we would get crafty and have Nic line up as normal but send him to snake wedge instead. The plan was to establish that gun early, work Daniel out snake way and let Bailey’s gun filter behind Daniel. Unfortunately, Legion went heavy pocket, getting all guns up and shot Nic on the break. Like I said, you have to respect their guns. Just didn’t see that one coming (statistics aren’t perfect). We were able to get out of the pocket… just not all of us. Daniel mirrored up the snake and Bailey got behind him. Stu had an untimely death. As soon as we lost Mike Brown, I felt it best to preserve the time. There was 3:30 or so left and I felt that was plenty of time for us to get that point back.

We had the game plan. We know the line to take. We know Legion will go for our normal set up. But if I am Legion, I would risk the body to the Dside corner to control inside while having my snake insert on the cross keep the mac truck gap full of paint. Because we know this, we know the hole and we exploited it. We got wide on both sides and Stu made the center to start the line. He shot the D side corner. The next step was crucial. He had to trade with the snake insert. He went to make the shot, and just missed it. Now… he should have stayed posted and let his teammates take the advantage created by his presence there. That snake insert had to call for help or fight him. Either way, this should mean that Mike Brown will only have one gun to beat in order to turn the field on the D side. Instead, Stu pulled back to the snake brick and tried to get creative inside. He ended up getting eliminated. I’m telling you, had he landed that shot on the snake insert who was cross, the probability of the Canes tying the match would have gone up exponentially. But I don’t and can’t blame Stu. It was a solid effort. There are four other players out there who are just as capable, too. We lost Mike Brown shortly after but got one back. We were now tied on bodies with both teams having 3. Once we hit the 1:30 mark, it was ride or die. The margin was imperative. Drew Bell made a huge play but made one small mistake. He cruises down the D side and shoots two of the three Legion players in the back but continues to get Malloy. If Drew shot the first two then stopped in his bunker before engaging Malloy, Nic would have shot Malloy in the back with enough time to get the buzzer. However, Drew got caught and Malloy had the wherewithal to put the home “aztec” between him and the snake side attack he knows is coming to get a ball on Nic. Then he hit the afterburners to increase their spread. So close. Not upset with my guys at all. We definitely learned some important lessons in that match.

VS Tampa Bay Damage

Before I get into this next one, I want to say that Joey Blute was one of the first big names in paintball to give the Canes some respect. I personally will always be grateful for that. Someone forwarded me a podcast he was on and he had some kind things to say about our program. And we appreciated it. With that, I have been looking forward to this match up for some time. I knew it would be a great test for us to see where we were on our journey. How can you not respect what Damage has accomplished? They are a talented program that plays great paintball. Not to be presumptive but both teams have a similar style and it was never more apparent than at this event. We were approaching the layout in a very similar fashion. But once we settle into an approach, we always ask ourselves, how do you beat it? We had scouted them and felt we had a good grasp on their tendencies. We had also discussed what went wrong in the Legion match… we weren’t moving and closing together as one. What I like to call the “scramble” was off timing wise. That was going to change and we were about to find out if our counter worked.

Damage came out with the double home/pocket break getting those solid guns of theirs up the first point. They ended up shooting our snake “one” off the rip… but we learned something there. We would change that route now since we had shown only two so far. During this point, Damage’s snake side “can” took one to the pack… no ref was in position but the one by the start box eventually saw it. The yellow flag went up on Damage. We stopped the bleeding with a reposition snake side and settled in now that we had the advantage… or so we thought. Two sloppy deaths by the Canes caused Drew and Daniel to have to force the issue. Daniel got picked off leaving Drew in a 1 vs 3 situation. I always give my guys a chance to pull something off but I didn’t like the set up. I conceded the point and Damage struck first.

After a polite request of my guys to play a little tighter, we returned to the box. This time we shot their dorito one attacker. He drew a minor penalty but we followed up with another kill giving us a 5 on 2 advantage. I heard the code for Chill Out Find the Last Two Bodies…good, very good. Once my guys identified that the last two Damage players are in the snake “tower” and the snake insert, they knew just how to turn the field. This is what situational drills gets you boys and girls. My guys perform it flawlessly. Stu pulled back with the data and began the quarterbacking. The guys provided a quick clinic on working together with repositioning to close the point out. We re-positioned to pressure the tower while the two others bully the snake insert to get a body through the gap. Then bully again, all while our snake presence kept them honest. Stu launched and johnny is your uncle. Tie match.

The next point was an interesting one. Stu looked into a ball and Damage took that 50 D side “brick”. But Damage doesn’t have a gun protecting the D side gap which was surprising (missed assignment is my only guess). This allowed Jacob Searight to land undetected just shy of the dorito 50 and he began peeling bodies. He got four of the 5 with the 4th being the last Damage player trying to run him down. Searight stood his ground and took the Damage player with him. The remaining Canes on the field made the decision to let time click and force the concession.

We decided to switch Stu off his role and gave him a little freedom to play. We placed Drew Bell on containment. We shot Damage’s D side once again on the break. Then we immediately took a center presence, quickly followed up with a shift to the snake side brick. With our presence there, we could shut down D side with one gun (you concede the 100 but that’s about it) at least long enough to get some action going snake way. We were somewhat foiled when our D side corner took a ball (he was contingency). No matter, we fed the snake and went for another set up with two in the snake (the “two” spot can hold the cross now while the snake “brick” is over-watch allowing snake one to go to work). We matched them D side to keep them honest. We were now in position and I was feeling confident. Damage would have to press the issue eventually. That or they would try to suck us into gun fights (a lesson learned in the previous match). Survey said they press but over-watch worked (Hope Agent Smith’s Testicles are okay). The slow steady squeeze paid off and Damage conceded the point. Up by 2

We went with a base play to get guns up off the break. They shot one of ours off snake side but we shot two of theirs off the snake side as well. We shoot a third and then spread. We knew the situation and closed together. I told the guys prior to the point, when we win the point, make them concede. As the clock ticked away, I thought to myself, they are doing the math and thinking margin, this is why they are letting the clock roll. They finally conceded with about 1:30 left.

Because of the score, we decided we wanted to go aggressive and try something. Like I said earlier, we train scenarios. We knew Damage wanted to get wide. So we snuck Stu into the snake side “brick” to look D side (back up is Searight in the Snake insert on the cross). It paid off with Damage’s two D side attackers going into the meat grinder. Stu heard the gun on the other side of his bunker as he had company and decided on the trade. The rest broke down with Damage throwing their last two bodies down the snake side. Searight traded with Lackey to leave Justin Bailey and Aaron Pate on the field with one of the Edward brothers. Bailey saw the opportunity since Edwards had to contend with Pate right in front of him. While Bailey drew the gun, Pate snuck a ball in and turned on his own afterburners to get us a slightly bigger margin. I felt like the reverse Ryan Brand as I was holding my hand up to say “wait until 5 seconds” lol. Pate waits until under 5 seconds to hit the buzzer. Great match against a great team.

So now our fate is in our own hands. The goal we set for ourselves was to make Sunday. The top 20 teams in paintball would not make this easy. We were about to face off against AC Diesel who had just beat Red Legion. But we had a chance to scout them 3 times. Interesting fact: I was asked what I thought their adjustment would be and I said, “If I’m coaching, I’m not necessarily changing the game plan as much as I am moving Mouse back to the snake and putting Rabackoff behind him.” It appeared that they did this… I think. Anyway, based off the three previous matches, that would be the only real offensive push they would have or so it felt. That, and they didn’t seem to be connecting cross field either. Sometimes you have to listen to that gut. So we decided to play a patient game, get the key spots, get the key eliminations, and press…slowly. Margin didn’t matter to us at this point. We really just needed the win.

The first point we matched up with identical break outs but each with a different emphasis. We wanted to fill the Snake wedge again but first stopped off in the tower to try a bounce shot. Their D side “can” was playing inside and the bounce was meant to kill that. It didn’t pay dividends though so we got back into main purpose mode. With Mouse on the field and in the snake, we had several contingencies if he made the snake 50. We weren’t going to give him a shot and, while difficult, you can make life miserable for the snake on this layout while continuing zone control. When Mouse came to our side of the field during that first long point, we went with one of the contingencies. Stu launches on the inside from the snake “wedge”. He actually hit mouse with his first ball through the gap as he launched (drills people… this is why we do drills). This also put Stu in an improved position in order to address Rabackoff who had fed the snake. Stu then scalped JRab. Now that we were up bodies and we had burned plenty of time off the clock, Stu tactically retreated back to snake “wedge” to communicate the situation and close the point out with his teammates all next to him. I think after that, we landed a shot on the god bunker and Diesel was forced to concede after an almost 6 minute point.

The next point we risked Nic on the deep route to snake insert and he made it. Diesel got in the snake fast to slow our roll D side but it began playing out like I suspected. Their only real attack was snake. They didn’t appear confident in a center or D side risk. So we kept assets on it. But then something incredible happened. JRab pulls a Daniel and shot his own snake player… right when he got on our side of the field. This made it a 5 on 3 advantage for the Canes with about 4 minutes on the clock. Some one on the Canes is living right or maybe all that praying I do for the guys is paying off. At this point, I was not upset with our positioning (I was concerned about it and wanted us to take at least one, maybe two secondaries sooner). About a minute later, Diesel had seen enough and conceded the point leaving them just under 3 minutes to score one for the tie or two for the win.

The last point was chaos. Nic took a relatively early walk when Mouse got in the snake fast and early. Mouse then snagged himself another Cane from snake “tower” and someone shot our back center “home” (if I had to guess it was Jrab who secondaried behind Mouse into the snake). But no one on Diesel accounted for Daniel “Danimal” Camp who stomped out that fire with a fury by clapping Mouse. But Danimal wasn’t done nor content. It was a 5 on 2 advantage Diesel but Daniel shot not one, not two, but THREE MORE Diesel players after he clapped Mouse. Mike Brown got taken out and it came down to a 1 on 1. I thought FOR SURE Daniel was going to get his fourth 1v1 coin and maybe even win play of the prelims. He knows to protect the buzzer. I am pretty sure he put a ball on Mark Johnson but I guess it didn’t break or maybe it did. Either way, he isn’t eliminated. Mark ends up slipping a ball onto Daniels foot and Diesel was on the board with under 10 seconds.

Diesel wants to play it so we play. They get one of us, we get all five of them. The sequel to the “Crucible” was over… and we were top of our bracket.

So there we were… Our second Sunday in a row at the second event of the year of our second season as a professional team. It has been said that, discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. I feel my guys showed that this event. The discipline and composure (our culture) continues to be our strength.

We understood that we would be playing the winner of the wild card match between Dynasty and ML Kings. We went home and did our homework on both teams. Then we showed up early to the field to see what adjustments, if any, the two teams had made. The match started out rather fast paced. But that second point would be the determining factor. Kings were in position but when they lost their snake attacker and the remaining Kings failed to produce or show urgency, they concede the point with a little under 2 minutes. On this layout, on Sunday, against Dynasty, two points in two minutes would prove to be a herculean task. And that would, in fact, be the case. We would be playing Dynasty.

This would be our first time playing Dynasty. But we were all genuinely looking forward to it. If you want to be a contender, you have to beat the best and they have certainly proven to be one of, if not the greatest team to play the game. We felt it would be a good match up. And for the most part, it was.

The first point was a great give and take. We ended up with the body advantage (4 on 3). We made one small tactical blunder I feel. We were in the snake, the snake “wedge” and the snake side can (dorito one as well). My snake side “can” saw that our “tower” was eliminated. We had been using this to slow D side progression. Dynasty had gotten a body wide d side, so he felt it may be more important to fill that role instead of backing up our snake one and getting in there with him. Understandable, but I feel we should have pressed the body advantage here. Dynasty did get two in the snake which made things difficult for our snake “wedge” who, eventually caught a ball. At the same time, I think Dynasty got through our defense on dorito side which now created additional pressure in this 3 on 3 situation. Our snake finally lost a gun fight and just like that Dynasty turned the table to a one body advantage (3 on 2). I let it go a little longer than I should have. My D side player was showing body language that he was going to do something. But when I realized he wasn’t going to try and make something happen, I concede the point.

Next point, we executed the set up well. We positioned well on our secondaries and we knew the line. Stu does NOT miss his first shot this time and took that super important snake insert out of the game. Unfortunately, he looked into a ball from the snake can as he wrapped the inside to try and get the drop on the D side. Our snake got shot shortly after giving the body advantage to Dynasty again. But Jacob Searight and Drew Bell pieced together an offensive push to even it up again on the D side. Excellent execution there. With the chaos that Searight created by advancing onto Dynasty’s side, Aaron Pate made the RIGHT DECISION to run down Ryan Greenspan in the snake. Greenspan’s over watch was looking D side. Pate recognized this and launched. But Greenspan somehow understands the distraction and that he doesn’t have his over watch. He popped the top and put one ball on Pate’s hopper. Pate obviously doesn’t feel it and finished his run to shoot Greenspan. Major penalty drawn on Pate. This pulled our remaining players and we had to concede the point. And THAT is the chess game. Chess with guns. Greenspan’s processing speed. And that is the small difference that makes a big difference. If Pate got him clean or perhaps sits another second, it may have been a different point. Either way, we are now down by 2 with 3 minutes left. Not much different than the Kings save for an additional minute…

We had to go aggressive and we always have a few tricks up our sleeve. We CAN play fast. We got to where we are today partially by doing that. We took the 50s and Ridgel knew he had to get that snake insert off the field. He traded his body to do it. Bodies everywhere. We missed their D side but Daniel Camp once again knew the score and got to the buzzer beating Dynasty’s D side runner trying to do the same. We were on the board.

We went aggressive again because, well, we are down 1 with a little over a minute and a half. We had to take ground EARLY because of the way the field plays and where we knew Dynasty wanted to be. We lost Nic at snake 1 but we snuck Mike Brown up the D side to dorito 4 as well as established the center presence with Stu. Stu lost a gun fight which was essentially the first domino to fall on this come back. We had to press with under a minute. Daniel, Mike Brown, and Drew Bell all made valiant efforts at the 50s to make something happen.

There appeared to be a little tomfoolery that point with two dynasty players. I say this based off what several VIP watchers told me but hey… it is what it is. 6 seconds left down 3-1.

We decided to play the point. At first we told ourselves, no penalties, go have fun but then it became… you know what? I don’t care if you get a penalty. You make sure you put paint on as many of them as you can. Our way of a last hurrah, charge of the light brigade kind of thing to say, “we are not afraid”. We of course draw the penalties and they get another point but… it sure was cool. My guys still showed sportsmanship after the point because we are well raised southern boys.

After we lost to Dynasty, Daniel Camp put it all into perspective and I can’t thank him enough for laying it on the guys. He said, “We are climbing Mt. Everest. What we are trying to do as a team in the pro division is supposed to be hard. We are going to have some “cold dark nights on the side of Everest” as we try to get to the top and we should expect that and not be disappointed or deterred by it. We are on the right track and have to just take the wins and losses in stride. It’s what we signed up for and success only is going to come after failure.” Love that dude…. so very true. Couldn’t have said it better.

He’s right. Mindset is key. We are always working to improve, and we’re always going to be critiqued on our next performance. In this sport, it isn’t necessarily about what you’ve done but what you do next. There is always room to grow. Here’s the thing, we will always have a goal every event and we will always have a plan (or three) to meet that goal. We have to be willing to take risks and make mistakes but also do what we can to mitigate them. And we have to do it as a team. That’s where we have seen our greatest successes, when we have done it together.

We are stronger together… and that includes all the Hurricane family, not just the guys in the jerseys. Our pit crew, our scouting crew, our family, our friends, our fans and our sponsors. We couldn’t and wouldn’t be where we are now without them. And we can’t thank you all enough. It’s coming… we just have to keep up the perseverance.

Be Water My Friends.

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