May 2008

Texas Heats Up Nationals 

Spokes Ableman and the USQRA National Championships

Louisville, KY – April 11-13, 2008

The Good, The Bad, and The Rugby.

    by Ed Hooper 

“Pass the Jack Daniels, Helmet Head, these Nationals Championships had more drama than a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western,” said my smart-aleck buddy Spokes Ableman.  “We should call this baby ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Rugby.”

“Helmet Head, Spokes?  I thought you were done calling me that.”

“Aaaahaaahh… nope were back to Helmet Head.  Hey, I didn’t wear the thing all those years, you did.

“Anyway, let’s start with the Good.  The Texas Stampede and Portland Pounders battled into overtime for the Division I National Championship.  Texas had lost to Portland a day earlier in pool play by 11.  Eleven!  The Stampede must have been feeling a little like Texans did after the Alamo.  One might say they were ticked.     3.0 Mark Zupan and 1.0 Norm Lyduch were ready to turn up the heat.  So, enter the heat. Well, the ex-Heat anyway – former Phoenix Heat players 3.0 Best of Class Japanese speedster Shinichi Shimakawa and 1.0 Scott Hogsett from that 2006 Championship team who both now play for Texas. 

“How does Gumbie do it, HH?  That’s a rhetorical question.”

Spokes continued, “On the other side of the ball Portland lined up 3.0 tournament MVP Ian Chan from Canada, 2.0 Will Groulx, 2.0 Seth McBride, and 1.0 Best of Class Max Woodbury.  This group had to feel pretty confident after dismantling the longhorns on Saturday.  They looked like they had the high/low of Texas figured out.”

“Spokes, every player who was on the court represents their respective National Teams.  No shortage of speed, talent or guns in this game.”

“Zupan looked like a man on a mission,” Spokes said.  “Of course Zupan looks like he’s on a mission going up the elevator to his room.  Shimakawa was, well, Shimakawa:  Blazingly fast, slippery, smart, hard hitting.

“Portland seemed jittery at the start, throwing their second possession out of bounds.  After a few hits, they settled down and got their composure.”

“Adrenaline Spokes.  That’s normal.”

“Nothing about you guys is normal, HH, but that’s another story.

“Where was I? The Stampede had figured some things out themselves overnight because they traded punches with the Pounders for 4 quarters, which fittingly ended in a 47-47 tie.  In a curious decision Portland put Woodbury – instead of Chan or Groulx – as their jump man to start the overtime.  They lost the jump, traded goals, and lost the game on a last-second ‘no-goal’ call as Groulx crossed the goal line a half second late.  And Portland came up short, losing 51-50. 

“And for the second time in USQRA history a hi/low lineup won the National Championship (Tennessee did in 1994), testament to all 4 Texas players, especially their two lowpointers, Hogsett and Lyduch.  Lyduch played like a man possessed. And the Hog wasn’t snortin’ too far behind.  It’s the best game I’ve ever seen Lyduch play, HH. 

“Me too, Spokes.  Norm is a humble guy with talent big enough to match his heart.”

“After the game, Lyduch said, ‘It was hard work.  They (Portland) really took it to us in that pool-play game, and we just wanted to compete harder.  We didn’t want to get blown away.  We played as hard as we could; they played as hard as they could.  You couldn’t ask for a better final.  It was awesome!’”

“Portland did play their hearts out too, HH, but they had a few unforced errors that really cost them.”

“Yeah, Spokes, but the game was, as Norm said, awesome!” 

The Call 

“Well, HH, now the Bad.  The Call, a.k.a., The Horn.  Wasn’t it Descartes who asked, ‘If a horn blows unheard in a gym, does it really make a sound?’

“The action: Lakeshore Demolition and the Texas Stampede battling in the semis to play for the title on Sunday.  The clock is winding down in a tie game with Lakeshore’s axle-bending 3.5 Joel Wilmoth with the ball just at the goal line ready to score for a 1-point Lakeshore lead.  Texas’s Shimakawa is in the penalty box and Zupan, Lyduch and Hogsett are defending. 9, 8, 7… .  Lakeshore’s 2.0 Bryan Kirkland and .5 Eddie Crouch are screening defenders.  5, 4, 3, ‘Score it,’ yells Lakeshore coach Kevin Orr, and Wilmoth scores.

“With 2-plus seconds left, Zupan alertly and quickly gets the ball from the referee and fires a perfect pass to Shimakawa in stride just out of the penalty box with 2.0 Bobby Lujano the only defender back.  Shimakawa  scrapes by Lujano and crosses the goal line and ties the game.  Or did he?”

“Yes, he did Spokes.”

“Oh, contraire, oh great Helmeted One.  I watched xAble’s video and Shimakawa was 2 or 3 feet away when the horn sounded – or should I say when the horn tweeted.  Some say less than 2 feet some say more.  Haven’t heard anyone say he actually crossed the line.  And that’s totally discarding the fact the Lyduch was unsuccessfully calling for a time out just behind the play.”

“Ableman, the official made the call on a bang-bang play.”

“It was bang-bang alright: Bang-bang, Lakeshore dead – ending 10 straight years of them playing in the Championship.”

“Whoa, Spokes, Lakeshore’s execution wasn’t what it could have been at the end.  First, Texas was helpless because if they forced a penalty goal, Shimakawa would have had to stay in the box.  Lakeshore scored with 2+ seconds left – it could have been 1.0 or even less with another tick or so.  Second, they didn’t transition quickly enough.  Only Lujano got back to match up with the fastest man playing quad rugby.  Finally, there was an overtime that eventually decided the contest.”

“Yeah, but if Shimakawa didn’t really get there, it’s game over.”

“The officials determined that it was a goal and an official’s decision cannot be protested.  There is nothing in the rules for instant reply.”

“I get it. Lakeshore got, how do you say it nicely, the shaft,” Spokes chided. 

“No, the officials had a call to make.  They huddled and made the call.”

“So, it’s the refs fault?”

“No, they had no benefit of looking at video. There was so much noise with every person in the building watching and cheering that they couldn’t hear the horn.”

“So, it’s the horns fault?”

“Stop, Ableman, it’s nobody’s fault.  It happened.  It happens in sport.  Lakeshore accepted the outcome and moved on.” 

“Yeah, they moved on alright,” Spokes shot back.  “They left the gym on Sunday right after the 3-4 game and they moved on down south I-65, not staying for their 3rd place trophy and awards ceremony.”

“I’m sorry the whole team – except Chris Rathje – decided to do that.  It’s a choice they made.  I’m sure they were frustrated.” 

“No doubt, HH.”

“There was another semi-final game, Spokes.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot you Hoverhounders were playing.  What’s with showing up with just four guys?”

“Spokes, we’re a team that fought injury and illness all year long.  We lost stalwart .5 Joel Post to a shoulder injury and 3.0 Pat O’Connor to a fractured skull.  2.0 Nick Springer was just back from a serious infection and hadn’t pushed his rugby chair for a month until our first game here.  Our other 2.0 Dave Jenkins was just back in time for post season from a broken finger.  These guys pushed their butts off, and made no excuses.”

“Unlike you, eh?  Let me get my fake Stradivarius out and play a few bars.  You had enough guys to play.  What are you whining about?”

“Just facts, Ableman, not whining.”

“Whatever.  Well, here’s what I say, HH.  The 6-seed Hoveround Gunners led by 3.0 Mike Whitehead and the grunt-work play of .5 Rick Marshall (Best of Class) along with Springer and Jenkins took on defending Champs and 3-seed Denver Harlequins on Friday.  Hoveround prevailed by 5, and eventually made it to the semis against a fast, talented, and balanced Portland team.

“The four Gunners in their fourth game had a bad first quarter against Portland, but managed by shear will to keep it close most of the game. 

“By the by, Helmet Head, do you know you lost a possession arrow in that 2nd quarter?  The Pounders inbounded to start the quarter and the arrow wasn’t changed.  Later in that quarter, Jenkins got a held ball and the Pounders kept possession, going up by 2 instead of potentially it being a tie game.  Big difference.  Isn’t that your responsibility to double check that stuff, HH”

“It is.  I missed it. Regardless of that, with less than 2 minutes to play, I truly thought we were going to win that game,” I replied.  “But we didn’t execute down the stretch, Spokes.  That’s what got us in the end.”   

“The other didn’t help any though did it, HH?  Games change on such things,” Spokes said. 

“Yeah, I know, Spokes, but it was a far better game than what the final score shows.  And I was sure we had them, but hats off to the Pounders.  They are a great team.”

“The rugby played in D-I was solid across the board, notably the U of A Wildcats who had enough travel problems to kill the most hardy of globetrotters, but they still managed a key win in the 5/6 game against Denver who clearly miss that big-ole Brit Ross Morrison. 

“Finally Tampa and Michigan squared off for 7-8 in the battle to finish 7th.  The Generals won out as Michigan time after time tried to force passes into a solid key defense.”

“Thanks, Spokes, I said. 

Division II 

“What I’d like to know, HH, is where do these overachievers from Minnesota get off coming in here and knocking off Sharp Edge 51-49 in their very first game?  Sharp was a team many thought belonged in D1.  Who are those North Star guys?”

“First off, Minnesota has been around a long time.  They won the USQRA title in 1991.  I don’t know much about them right now, Spokes.  But they ended up playing a rematch with Sharp for the Championship so they must have some guns.”

“See, HH, that’s where you and I differ.  I took time to go to xAble.com to watch some games.  Remember xAble, Helmet Head, your partner in webcasting for these championships?  They filmed these so you and fans everywhere can watch them later.  Hello.  Anyway, #7 seed Minnesota surprised #2 seed Sharp their pool game.  These Land of 10,000 Lake boys, with the addition of 3.5 Chuck Aoki, have really cranked it up.  Are there really ten thousand lakes up there?  What, do they count puddles too?”

“Spokes, I looked it up.  There are 11,842 lakes.”

“Why not round it up to Land of 12,000 Lakes then?”


“I’m just sayin…

“Ok, two words for Sharp’s success: Andy Cohn (2.0).  Yes, he had solid support and it was a great team win in their 55-39 Championship victory, but Cohn was the man, HH.   Does Gumbie know about this guy?”  Spokes grinned.

“Shut up, Spokes.  You know Cohn plays on Team USA.”

“I do?

“Really, though, virtually the whole Sharp team played in that win with Cohn, 2.0 Sam Gloor, 2.0 old-timer (+45) Dan McCauley and 2.5 Delmon Dunston starting against the up and coming North Stars Aoki, 2.0 Joe Delagrave, 2.0 Eddie Brosnan, .5 Dan Lehmann.  But it’s Aoki people need to watch.  This guy is a rookie, and in many ways he already plays like a veteran. Go to xAble.com if you want to see him play, HH.  When Aoki gets more experience and continued good coaching, Team USA has a fantastic prospect for 2010 and 2012. 

“I watched it Spokes.  The experience and depth of Sharp really paid off in their win, but I have a hunch we’re going to see Aoki and the North Stars again next season, maybe in D-I.”

“You know Helmet Head, we can’t talk about these D-II Championships without talking about the Garcias.  They’re baaaack!  Best of Class 2.5 Gil and Best of Class 3.0 Juan.  Add ex-Stampeder 1.5 Robert Boothby and you have enough energy to power a small Texas town.  That San Antonio Ruff Ryders team lost a 48-47 nail-biter to Sharp in the semis, or it would have been them playing for the title. 

“Gil Garcia told me, ‘We just didn’t execute at the end of the game.’  Sound familiar, HH? 

“Sorry to say, xAble didn’t catch any Ruff Ryder games.  Boothby alone is worth the price of admission.  Hats off to this great program, or in your case, HH, Helmets off.

Spokes went on, “#8 seed Kentucky TNT had a solid tournament.  They started out by shocking the #1 seed Northridge Kings from California 50-44, and then nipped the Arizona Outcasts 46-48 to get into the semi-finals.  Between Minnesota and TNT, they turned D-II upside-down.  I’m sure Northridge, Magee (Philadelphia), Shepherd (Atlanta) and Arizona were all disappointed in their results. 

“You know, Spokes, D-II often feels they don’t get the respect they deserve.”

“Yeah, you mean like you not giving them as much ink as D-I or video?”  Spokes retorted.

“Spokes, D-I is the best rugby being played.  Every player worth his salt looks to get better.  The Kirklands and Chans and Hogsetts set the bar pretty high, and players want to get to that level.  And getting better in rugby means playing as well as you can every time you can.”

“Cohn is a good example, HH.  He has played on a D-I National championship team and a world championship team in 2006, and he came in here with leadership and pride and led Sharp to a D-II title.  He and his team and all of D-II got a ton of respect because they made it about the rugby.  Am I right, HH?”

“Right Spokes – The good, the bad, and the rugby.  God, Ableman, are you about done?”

“Yeah, HH, we had better wrap it up before this gets longer than Ed Suhr’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech.  Seriously, congrats to Ed and Wayne Romero for their inductions.  Well deserved. 

"Kudos also to Athlete of the Year .5 Jason Regier of Denver.  Robert Murray of Las Vegas was awarded the Spirit of Achievement.  Great job by all.

“And finally, special thanks to all of our sponsors and to Frazier Rehab for their continued support of our great sport and these championships.”

“Just remember, Helmet Head, the games are on xable.com.  DVDs are available of your favorite teams.  Get those ‘pause’ and ‘slow forward’ buttons working, and enjoy the show.

“See you next year.” 


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