The Phoenix Heat began played in their opening tournament last weekend, heading to the sunny beaches of San Diego to valiantly defend two back to back ‘Best of the West’ championships. The tournament featured some top teams from around the country, as well as a skillful team from the great white north, coming from outside of Toronto looking to upset the raining champs, your Phoenix Heat.
Day one began with a match up against the Northridge Knights, who were a team of a few old vets enjoying recreational ball these days, accompanied by a couple eager young rookies. A great chance to get our newbies some good minutes, we went in looking to improve as a team. Phoenix immediately took a strong lead and never looked back. With the veterans working with the rookies, the Heat cruised to a powerful 62-24 win. The second game Friday was played in similar fashion, against a NorCal team that could do some damage in division-2 ball this season, but couldn’t make a dent in the Phoenix arsenal. The Heat prevailed 64-39.
“It was great to get some good playing time. The older guys really helps us new guys out in these games. It was a huge confidence booster!” Said sophomore player Jake Zunich, 2.0. “To work with guys who can teach so much is invaluable.”
The second day began against the teem from the great white north, the London (CA) Annihilators. The team featured 5 players from the Canadian national squad, looking to prove that they weren’t here simply to escape the cold. The game was fought hard all the way through, with both teams running deep into their bench, knowing that the big games would come next in the semi finals later that day. The Heat once again melted the competition, edging out the Canucks 56-53.
Saturday afternoon was the crossover game, pitting the Heat against a determined Texas Stampede team, looking for an upset against the reigning champs. Lead by Paralympic gold medalist Australian Chris Bond, and coached by US national team skipper James Gumbert, Texas was out to show that they could a challenge for the best in the world. Texas sent out their dogs, barking and biting, however the setting defense of the Heat quickly muzzled the beast. By halftime, the Heat had took a commanding lead, sending in some newbies off the bench to run with the big boys. Texas scampered off with a 65-46 loss, though gaining knowledge of the champs in the process. The Heat knows that they may present a bigger challenge farther down the line.
“This was a game we were eager to play, knowing that they would be looking to make a early statement in the season. We looked to bring the intensity and keep it turned up the entire game,” states import from GB James Roberts.
While a outing downtown Saturday night for an Italian dinner was filled with smiles and laughs, the team will knew the task at hand for the next day would be no easy job. With the Canadians dominating the Tucson team in the other semi game, Phoenix knew that they would be looking to take out the champs the following day.
Sunday morning began the same as the previous two, with coffee and some lighthearted joking. When it was time for the boys to prepare, however, the jokes ceased and the focus began. You could tell during warm ups that, while these two teams liked each other just fine off the court, there would be no mercy for the opponent in it. The game started with Phoenix and London trading goals for the first quarter. The entire game, no team would take more than a few goal lead. Both teams came out on fire, knowing that this would be a battle through and through. When the whistle blew for halftime, both teams retreated to their respective benches, looking for some much needed rest. The halftime score was even, 27-27. The second half would be a battle of which team had more left in the tank.
The Phoenix body blows paid off, as the Canadians began to show signs of wear and tear. The Heat slowly began to crawl ahead. In the 4th quarter, the London boys made a rally, but it proved to late. At the final buzzer, the Heat came out on top, again winning by three, 54-51.
“I’m proud of our boys,” said head coach Scott Hogsett. “The boys are really out to prove they are the best in the country, and they are making a pretty solid argument for themselves. This was a team win, with our new players being done great experience and gaining good confidence. I look forward to the future of this program.”
Next, the boys will travel to St. Louis November 14-16 to continue their quest for second national championship. Stay tuned!
Story written by Nick Springer