Ok – onto the singles.
I was very much looking forward to this tourney. I’ve been steadily moving up in the rankings since I started playing this sport, and here I am – another chance to prove myself. I had just finished 12th, in a weaker field… if I could come close to that in this tourney – it would be a success in my book, I believe. Just want to keep making progress.
I wish I had all of my matches on video – but we decided that setting up cameras for all of our matches is tedious and a distraction. So, we just set up our two cameras to record the main two tables pretty much nonstop. This was pretty cool because we get to film everyone – so if a great game happens, we’ll have it recorded.
Now that we have some videos up on the ‘ol vimeo page, I figured I’d start writing about the last big tourney.
Let’s start with my first set against Nathan Gibson. Nathan is at most 10. I do pretty well against the youngsters. I won this set pretty handily even though I had that moment of “here we go… ugh” after the very first shot Nathan hit went in with a perfect right wall over. After the set, I chatted with Travis, and he told me that Nathan had scouted me and thought he’d take me without problem noting that I “couldn’t block a right wall under”. Oh kids. Also, it should be noted that I didn’t let up on Nathan at all. There was going to be some odd spinoff system where the lower brackets were going to be split in two based on how many points you scored against people. It was understood to me that you should try to win every point even if you were playing a kid… but I’m not sure if everyone went out there and tried to destroy their opponent… even if they’re 10 years old.
After that set, I went right into the teeth of a champion… Albert Ortiz. I did what I normally don’t do, and that’s start out slow. Albert’s got a fancy style and takes most of his shots from the back half of his side. His shots vary in speed… blistering unders or off-speed overs. Very hard to tell where they’re coming from. My defense really couldn’t stop him… and my offense faltered enough. I caught a spark in game 3 with my cross that I hoped would be enough to get me going… but all great players are very good at adapting. I just couldn’t keep up with him. My inexperience against great and unique players is highlighted below.
I got sent to the loser’s bracket right off the bat.
After a long time waiting… I got to play in another set against Kevlyn Lunos. Kevlyn moves the puck with great control and likes to hit crosses, which I tend to defend reasonably well unless the person has a great left wall under. I just felt too confident against him. After Albert, I felt like I could defend anyone better. I worked my standard pump fake right wall under/cut attack, and even mixed in some cross/left wall shots. Everything was working and humming along, and the scores proved it. Kevlyn never got more than 3 points on me in any game.
Like I said, Kevlyn has great puck control, but I think he needs to work on hitting the puck harder. He’s got the fundamentals in spades – but just doesn’t have the zip. I felt like I could sit on any straight and know I had enough time to get back to block any banks… that and I could snag pucks much easier. Adding more zip puts pressure on the defense – I’d much rather face someone who really knows how to play, but doesn’t have velocity than someone who just swings like a Wildman.
My next set was against Fernando Guillen. It looks like he’s been playing a long time (going on 8 years), and still has his youth. Steadily marching up the ranks, as it were. I always have a goal of just trying to mow over anyone who gets in my way.. striking early and never letting up. Fernando played well and seemed to adapt to my offense by the 4th game – which he won 7-6. The last game, I managed to put him out 7-6. Had he won this game… it could have been a different story. I managed to take him out – and Fernando absolutely destroyed his spinoffs… with his only close set with Hernandez. It’s only one spot higher than where he finished last year, but I could tell he was much improved. Usually when you win your spinoff, it means that you were taken out of the tourney too early.
Ok.. so I had won both of my loser’s bracket rounds… from here – all of my sets get very difficult.
My next match was against Goran Mitic. I’d only beaten Goran once out of I think a million sets… and it was a 4-0 rout in his basement… and he was experimenting with some low-top mallet he’d glued finger inserts onto. It was still enough for me to have at least a tiny bit of confidence. I came out swinging. Two things really helped me – I was getting Goran moving with my pump fakes, and then he’d instinctually cover his cut side if he felt a straight coming – but I was hitting a “power cross”… which is basically a cut motion straight, but to the right (or “cross”) side. The other is that I could actually play defense against him. Goran is a streaky player. He can get behind by missing shots or by chasing the puck and committing an unforced turnover. And then he can take such wild shots in transition that you can’t hope to block them – everything happens so quick, that you’re going to be out of position at least some of the time – or you’re just going to let Goran chase and not take advantage of potential turnovers.
So.. how did I do? Well.. I started off incredibly well. I won the first three games, 7-2, 7-3, and 7-3… completely on fire. I had this set in the bag, right? Goran starts tightening up his defense and starts getting just absolutely sick accurate with his shots.. and then *he* goes on a run. 7-5, 7-5, and 7-6… ugh.. close ones… and then heading into the final game – I managed to block nearly everything my way and win 7-2 (total points an impressive 44-31). Goran went on to fight (and ultimately lose to) perennial master, Travis Luscombe in the spinoffs, even though Goran sent Travis initially to the loser’s bracket in the main draw… each set went the full 7 games.
Of course.. playing one IL player is one thing… going down to Houston to play your doubles partner is another. This time, Q. This tourney was to be Q’s coming out party. A mere 20 months ago – this guy came to our IL state tourney and got destroyed… he just couldn’t compete with the game he had. Now.. he was facing me after very nearly beating a member of the “new guard” – Davis Lee… which would have been the biggest upset I’ve ever witnessed.. and possibly ever. Q was on fire, and just because I faced him… he wasn’t going to let up. I played sloppy, and Q was sharp. It was not pretty. Big congrats to Q, because after he beat me – he got tossed from the tourney by Tim Weissman, and then won his bracket beating a murderer’s row of tough players (August and Nick x3). I know Q wanted to face Syed just to play everyone in the spins… but it wasn’t to be… anyway – Q finished 9th, his first Master level finish. 20 months… and a master – his velocity up the ranks is undeniable… I have no idea where he’s going to top out.
So.. out of the tourney I go. I’m guaranteed at least 16th place, which isn’t too bad.. and I can finish as high as 13th. I have, what I think, is a pretty good draw for my spinoffs. I don’t have to face Goran or Travis – and I think they really should be in this bracket instead of just below me. My first opponent in the spins is Evan Seigworth. I did *not* want to take him lightly. I saw this guy beat Anthony Marino last year, which is something I would have a very hard time doing. Evan is just a straight up solid player. He’s got every shot, a good defense, nothing that he really relies on – he will shoot any shot at any time and does not make many mistakes at all. I feel like I’m very streaky compared to him. Our first game came down to the final point… and from there – I settled down and started to roll. He never got more than 3 points after that. I was playing at a *very* high level. I was reading his shots, blocking well.. and my offense was still working well. Felt good with a 4-0 win. Actually.. it was the second day of the tournament and I felt great. I’d been losing weight since the beginning of the year and I’ve been playing a lot. My body was in great shape and even though I played a ton the day before… I was still feeling great.
So.. Evan, Tad Gibson, and Joe Cain were in my bracket. I was worried most about Joe since he’d beaten me up pretty good in Vegas recently. I never ran into him – a very surprising set happened when Tad beat him. I remember reffing this match and it was really odd. First off, Joe was complaining about hurting his finger… but beyond that – Tad plays by charging and trying to time when the offense is going to take a shot. He takes chances that can work out well for him… and Joe made it easy for him. Joe didn’t alter his cadence for his shot at all, and Tad was guessing correctly more times than not. So.. I got to watch very closely what works and doesn’t work against Tad, and Tad took out what I thought would be my toughest competitor.
So.. since Tad and I both won our first round, I would face Tad. My entire offense is based on the defense not being able to guess when my shot is coming. My pump fakes either get the defense moving (which gives me information on what shot to take), or they stay still a little too long and I can pop quick unders. I learned by watching the previous game to stay put on defense and not get too involved in trying to snag pucks because Tad is always trying to score the transition goal. I played very well. The most Tad got was 5 points against me, and I outscored him exactly 2-1. Another 4-0 rout.
Joe faced Evan in the loser’s bracket… and after my 4-0 win against Evan.. I was really hoping he’d take care of Joe for me. Evan didn’t disappoint – and came out to a 3-0 lead. Joe was getting extremely frustrated… I think this is when Joe made a grip adjustment to allow his hurt finger a chance to breathe… and he pulled out some impressive wins, 7-5 followed by two 7-2 wins. It came down to the final game, and Joe had completely turned things around… and I recall Evan getting an early lead and causing Joe to lose his cool. Evan ended up winning 7-4. I couldn’t have been happier.
My rematch with Evan was similar to our first set. One game came down to the final point, and the rest I ran away with… another 4-0 win. I was very happy with my spinoff performance. I didn’t lose a single game… going 12-0 in my spinoffs. So… recap of the IL guys:
Billy finishes 3rd after losing to Ehab in a 6-6 game 7 nail biter when Billy blocks a shot very well.. only for the puck to flub in. Q finishing master while winning his spinoff. I winning my spinoff, Goran nearly winning his spinoff, and “Evil” John Song finishing 38th (much better than my first Houston tourney). Very, very good turnout by IL.
Highlights: Q nearly beating Davis Lee and ending up finishing master, Billy absolutely picking apart Tim Weissman, and myself beating Goran for the 2nd time ever.
Q also had confidence that even if I had beaten him in our set, that I would have gone on to win out in the bracket he won… thanks for the vote of confidence.
One more thing that needs to be said. There was a mentorship award that was given out at the awards ceremony. I thought, for sure, it would go to Billy. I think there are a number of reasons for this… and the most glaring is just the success of the people who play with him, who are new to the sport. Exhibit A: Q… finishing master after 20 months of playing seriously. Everything Q learned came from Billy. I, myself, owe my entire game to Billy… and here I am knocking on the door to Masterhood. One more reason is that we put up a video of Billy giving his lesson for the cross/left wall attack – one that Billy is particularly known for. Since we put it up, we’ve had the video loaded 535 times (according to our vimeo stats, and has 987 views according to ahw.com). We’re planning on adding more tutorial videos. Billy has always been one to give advice… build us up when we’re feeling low and tearing us down when we develop bad habits. My and Q’s success are directly related to his mentorship. This is not a dig at Danny – who may be the best and most passionate air hockey player of all time. I think Danny is great at talking about the mindset it takes to be a champion – and he’s an absolutely astounding competitor. It could be that I haven’t seen all the work that Danny has done, but I think Billy’s contributions in developing talent are palpable and significant.