For the second year in a row, a member of the Phoenix Rise has been named MVP of the National Pro GRID League. Blaine McConnell, the Rise’s top utility man, has earned the distinction after a season of consistently solid, race-winning performances that stretched from the opening moments of Quadrant 1 to the closing moments of Quadrant 4.
McConnell was signed by Phoenix as they opened their second season. He quickly became the Yin to Danny Nichols’ Yang, with the duo often being described as the most dynamic, powerful closing pair in the league. Nichols went on to win MVP after a string of highlight reel performances in 2015, many of which McConnell was instrumental in helping to set up.
In 2016, the power duo was back. Only this time, it was Nichols who was setting up McConnell. As Nichols continued to recover from offseason knee surgery, McConnell grabbed the yoke and delivered the locomotive that is the Phoenix Rise straight into the station, time and time again.
From the Rise’s opener against the Miami Surge where he methodically walked from bar to bar clinching the overall Race 7 weight total by 300 lb with a clutch deadlift of 525 lb to cycling though hang snatches in Quadrant 4 in the championship match to bring home the win for the Rise in Race 5, or anything in between, McConnell was a consistent and immensely outstanding player in every single race. In a season of near-perfection for the Rise, McConnell was perfect.
“Blaine has stepped up big for us this year,” said Rise Head Coach Mike Lee. “Last year, we really only saw a limited number of his capabilities. This year, he was trained and went into the season with a larger skill set and better capacity. He became someone we relied on to counterbalance Danny and finish races.”
And finish he did. One only needs to watch any of the matches to see the ubiquitous presence of McConnell in Quadrant 4 — but not just there. He was in Quadrant 1, handling overhead squats. Quadrant 2, doing handstand push-ups or muscle-ups. Quadrant 3 doing burpees-over-box or weighted double-unders. And of course, Quadrant 4. He cleaned up reps for other athletes in the Triads. He did it all. “If you watched our matches, you could see that we used him in all portions of the races,” Lee said. “His diversity helped us fill some gaps in which we would usually have to use a specialist. When you have someone that has these specific advanced skills and then can move a barbell like Blaine, it's almost unmatched.”
For his part, McConnell is understated about being named the league’s Most Valuable Player. His focus is outward.
“It feels amazing to have won the championship.” he said. “That was the goal ever since the end of last season. My training for the whole offseason was focused on just becoming a better athlete to help the team accomplish that goal. Winning the MVP is like icing on the cake. It was never the focus.”His teammate and 2015 MVP Danny Nichols was thrilled for his friend. “No one deserves it more than him,” Nichols said. “He's a great guy. He came into this season on another level [and he is] unstoppable. I couldn't be more happy for him.”
One of the highlights of McConnell’s GRID season, coincidentally, didn’t happen on the GRID at all. He has been dating teammate Bjork Odinsdottir for well over a year, and during the season in Provo, they got engaged. “One highlight for the season has to be my engagement,” he said. “It made this season and this trip something that I will never forget. And sharing that moment with the rest of our team was amazing.”
Odinsdottir asked him the question at Bridal Veil Falls, with the whole team in tow. And he said yes.
As a partnership, McConnell names his fiancee as his biggest influence and motivator this year. “My success can be attributed a lot to Bjork,” he said. “We trained together every day and she pushed me harder and harder to become a better athlete. She would always tell me, ‘This will make you better for GRID,’ whenever some conditioning or training came up that I didn't like.”
Coach Lee sums it up best: humble, focused outwardly and hardworking to the last rep.
“Blaine is also a teammate,” Lee said. “Something that we pride ourselves on as a organization. That our family is bigger than any individual. He exemplifies that, dedicating his MVP trophy to his teammates which shows his true character.”
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.