The Phoenix Rise got the redemption they so badly wanted coming into the 2016 NPGL Final on Wednesday night. They knew defeat, having lost in this same match last year, but history would not repeat itself. The Rise powered past the Boston Iron, 21-14, before spraying champagne, celebrating Blaine McConnell as the MVP and hosting the Pinnacle Trophy.
Phoenix took a straight line from their first match against the Miami Surge directly to the Western Conference Final and past the San Francisco Fire, picking off every team that stood before them.
Boston, on the other hand, had a bumpier road. After losing a heartbreaking match to the New York Rhinos in the opener, then getting handily beaten by the DC Brawlers, they powered their way back in their match against the Baltimore Anthem. By the time they met DC again in the Eastern Conference FInal, the Iron had transformed into a new Goliath, having beaten the unbeaten giant that was the Brawlers. Although unlikely, their presence in the championship match was no fluke.
Race 1, Partner Forward, was a heavy, messy combination of deck press and weighted double-unders. Both teams moved literally neck-and-neck down the GRID through three quadrants, but a late substitution in Quadrant 4 put Boston just a hair behind. Boston’s Whitney Gelin was a few seconds behind Phoenix’s Jessica Phillips, who took an edge in the deck press, and Phillips moved through the heavy weighted double-unders and bolted past the finish line first. It was one of the longest Partner Forward races seen to date and Phoenix took the first win for a 2-1 lead.
“It was a fantastic team effort. It’s something we pride ourselves on, no individual, it’s always a team, and tonight we showed it,” said Phoenix Rise Heach Coach Mike Lee.
The Mirror was another example of the pristine execution we have seen from Phoenix all season long. Phoenix was ahead of Boston on the Mirror for almost the entire race. Ryan Rapenport opened with a set of 10 back squats and kept pace with Boston’s Chris Zardas. Phoenix moved solidly and smoothly down the GRID and by the time Danny Nichols and Phillips started the final 10 reps, the lead was insurmountable. Zardas, who opened with 10, finished with 10 but the final two reps had him clearly fatigued as his remaining reps slowed considerably. The Iron beat the cap, but the score was now 4-2.
In the first Women’s Echo, Phoenix moved through all of the reps steadfastly. They hit the bar muscle-ups first, the handstand push-ups first, and the snatches first. It was textbook play.
In the second Women’s Echo, Boston came out a little hotter on the barbell complex, which got them to the bar muscle-ups a rep ahead of Phoenix. The Iron capitalized on that lead and got into the handstand push-ups with a four-rep advantage. Phoenix closed the gap with Val Calhoun knocking out the handstand push-ups, however once Quiana Welch started the hang snatches, she was on a mission. While Phillips caught up, with two reps left, she seemed to fatigue and handed the bar back to Laura Poling for the final two reps, which cost them the race.
“I had a great feeling going into both [Races] 3 and 4,” said Whitney Gelin, co-captain of the Iron. “We worked hard to get the right amount of reps going, we focused back up for Race number 4 and we took it, like we knew we could.”
The first Men’s Echo belonged to Braden Rubey. He did his work alongside Marcus Filly on the bar muscle-ups then proceeded to bang out the handstand push-ups easily, setting up Nichols, and McConnell to work through Quadrant 4 quickly and efficiently.
In the second Men’s Echo, Craig Kenny got the Rise off to a lead, but Nichols seemed fatigued, and the lead slipped away. The Iron started the bar muscle-ups first and with a 1-1 rep tradeoff, Boston kept the lead. Alec Smith started the handstand push-ups first and got Boston a sizable lead heading into the snatches. Rubey was struggling a bit and by the time Phoenix got through the handstand push-ups, Boston had a 10-rep lead.
Although Tola Morakinyo was a bit sluggish, and Anthony DiFrancesco was not as fast as Boston would have hoped, McConnell could not erase that lead, try though he did. McConnell was smashing through the reps but could not close the gap. Boston took Race 6, and the score becomes Phoenix 10, Boston 8. It was, as many expected, a blow-for-blow match up to this point.
The Ladder, which was ground-to-overhead, was a close race. Boston led the overall weight total for most of the race and Phoenix held the women’s total. Emily Loeffler hit an admirable 210 lb for Phoenix and after a slow grind out of the hole, a lesser athlete would have lost the jerk. Not Loeffler. She nailed the jerk and moved on. Kenney and Zardas went pound-for-pound maxing out at 255 lb.
Welch failed to snatch 180 lb, when she could have clean and jerked it, and then a misstep resulted in some time being burned off the clock as she ran past then turned back toward the 195, and clean and jerked that bar. Nichols faced down Morakinyo but Nichols was far enough ahead on the bars that he brought home the overall total for Phoenix, who swept the Ladder, 3-0.
With Phoenix having taken all 3 points in the Ladder, it was necessary for Boston to throw the bonus flag in Race 8 to try to bring the score back. They did, and the litany of rope climbs, from regular rope climbs to legless, to L-sit legless were a methodical grinds for the Iron, with substitutions happening every other rep. The turning point was a fault for Morakinyo on the L-sits, as he attempted two in a row and was faulted on one, a leg falling below parallel. Braden Rubey on the other side also did two reps, and was successful, yielding to Bjork Odinsdottir, who flew up the rope and back. Filly took the final rep and he and Odinsdottir raced across the finish line, taking the race, the bonus point, and, at that moment, the match.
“That was a pretty special feeling,” said Filly. “I have only gotten to run across the finish line once on a Race 8 before, so that was pretty special.”
Filly earned it. He had done a tremendous amount of work up to that point and with grip fatigue setting in, the final rep was a fight. He won the fight, and the race.
One of the unsung heros of Race 8 was Bryan Miller, who flew up and down the rope ninja style, keeping Phoenix in the race in the face of Boston’s Smith, Morakinyo and Brandan Jones, who was fresh. Those three athletes represent an apocalypse of power with regard to rope climbs and Miller stood his ground, as did Jamie Hagiya, who has some of the fastest climbs among women in the league.
“We brought someone in fresh,” Lee said. “We brought Jamie (Hagiya) and Bryan, they were fairly fresh, and they’re our best rope climbers. We actually felt really confident going into that race and for (Boston) throwing the bonus flag, I was really chomping at the bit. We had a really good plan, and we executed so well.”
After that, the match was won. Although both teams worked their way through the races with solid effort, Phoenix won Races 9 and 10, and Boston won the Relay.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Josh Plosker, head coach of the Iron. “But at the same time, what an amazing season for us, given the hurdles we’ve been dealing with, starting with the draft, and all the way up to the regular season. We played our hearts out. We played our hearts out sick and injured, and these guys did a tremendous job. I couldn't be more proud of the mental fortitude that we showed as a team.”
Phoenix showed the league and fans their dominance. And while they celebrate and relax, the Rise, and all teams in the NPGL are already looking forward to Season 4 of GRID.
GRID is a sport featuring two teams racing head-to-head to complete a series of weightlifting, body-weight and other athletic elements. GRID teams must possess intense speed, explosive strength, deep strategy and precise teamwork to complete the races in the fastest possible time.
The National Pro GRID League (NPGL) is the world’s first professional co-ed team sports league. Each two-hour match features two 14-person teams (7 women, 7 men) going head-to-head in 11 races. The NPGL teams: Los Angeles Reign, New York Rhinos, Boston Iron, DC Brawlers, Phoenix Rise, Miami Surge, San Francisco Fire and Baltimore Anthem. Visit NPGL.com for more information and follow National Pro GRID League on Facebook, @TheGridLeague on Twitter, @GridLeague on Instagram.