Atlantic Sectionals Report
By Matt Gypin, Denver Harlequins
When I first heard that the 2013 Atlantic Sectionals would be held in Anderson, S.C., my first thought was, where the hell is Anderson, S.C.? While the town was not easy to get to from Denver – no direct flights meant a 10-hour travel day – they did welcome us with open arms. We even had a police escort getting out of the airport, like we were an SEC football team. Talk about Southern hospitality!
The truth is, we didn’t really care too much where we had to play; we just wanted to win enough games to qualify for Nationals. And we knew the very first game on our schedule, against the hometown Carolina Crash, could potentially be the game that would decide our fate. We also came in with a chip on our shoulders because we were seeded sixth, which we felt slighted by, so, needless to say, we were ready to play.
So was the Crash. Led by Ron Frederick and Dave Jenkins, Carolina kept it close the whole contest, much to the delight of the crowd. It’s always a little intimidating (and infuriating) when the crowd cheers for your mistakes. I think their fans helped give them some momentum at times, but we knew from the start that we were going to win this game, and we did, 53-47.
Our excitement didn’t last long, however, because we knew we faced an uphill battle in our next game against the Tampa Generals. We had already been blown out by Tampa, 63-44, a month earlier at our own tournament, and none of us were exactly looking forward to chasing Leevi Ylonen around again. We knew if we lost this game, it wouldn’t matter too much, but instead of playing loose with nothing to lose, we played like we expected to lose, which we did, 57-32. Still, we left the gym on Friday feeling like we had taken care of business.
We showed up on Saturday excited about our prospects of going to Nationals, and we knew that the NRH Capitol Punishers from Washington, D.C., were an up and coming team, but again we were confident and fully expected to win. On defense, I seemed to be chasing around Paul Hopkins (whom I later befriended on our flight home) on every play and he sure made me work. The Punishers’ low-pointer, Robby Beckman, also seemed to always be in the right place at the right time, and was definitely a nuisance. However, they just didn’t have the overall team speed to hang with us and we pulled away, 54-37.
Our next game would be the biggest game for us, and probably the best overall game of the entire weekend. We were facing the Shepherd Smash from Atlanta, who beat us, 53-37, in January down in Tampa. This time, we had Adam Scaturro back in our lineup and knew we had a shot to knock them off, but we knew it would be tough. And it was.
We fell behind early by a few goals, and used up all of our timeouts by the middle of the second quarter. But we hung in there and kept fighting on every play. Somebody said afterward that when Shepherd scored a goal, it looked easy, while whenever we scored, it looked like work. And that’s how it felt, but before we knew it, it was halftime and we were only down one, 29-28. Our player/coach, Jason Regier, said before the game and repeated at halftime that he believed we could beat these guys if we just played hard, smart, and took care of the ball. That’s exactly what we did, and in the third quarter, Shepherd’s frustration showed.
As Regier stretched his arms up in the air to receive a pass just across half court, Shepherd’s Robert Deller smashed full speed into Regier’s back wheel, spinning him and slamming him to the ground. Our bench was incredulous, yelling that it was a dirty hit and calling Deller a few choice names. I don’t know the game well enough to know if it was a dirty hit or not, but I do know Deller got a 3-minute penalty for it, which I had never seen before. I was just concerned about my teammate, because Regier hit his head pretty hard when he fell.
I don’t think Deller meant to hurt Regier by any means, but that play definitely fired up our team. Regier shook off the hit, and we took advantage of the penalty, scoring three times. We seized control after that and didn’t let go. A few minutes later, Scaturro got spun to the ground after scoring a goal; another penalty, another goal for us. All of a sudden we found ourselves in the lead by 5 or 6 goals in the fourth quarter. The final few minutes were frantic, as we were out of gas, desperately trying to hold our lead, and they were flying around trying to get it back.
We had just enough in the tank to pull it out, 58-53, assuring ourselves of a spot in Nationals, and earning some respect and another shot at Tampa in the championship game. I played the entire game, and I have never been so exhausted after a game, but it felt great to be a part of such a big win. Our whole team was pumped up and excited. My favorite play of the game was when someone stripped the ball from me in the backcourt, and as it was bouncing on the court with the 12-second clock ticking down, no timeouts, I reached out with my left hand and bumped it as far as I could into the frontcourt, where somehow Garrett Osborne chased it down in the corner and scored. I turned a turnover into a goal, and it was gritty plays like that, by all of us, that won us the game.
We were excited to have a rematch with Tampa in the championship game, and we wanted to prove our win over Shepherd wasn’t a fluke, that we were a team to be reckoned with. We came out aggressive and played as hard as we could, and we were able to keep the score closer than our previous matchups. Regier and I started locking down Ylonen on defense, but his teammates stepped up and didn’t make the mistakes we hoped they might. We played Tampa tougher than we had all season, but it wasn’t enough and we lost, 59-46.
It was my first postseason experience, and it was exciting to say the least. I heard a rumor floating around that there was speculation Shepherd threw the game so they wouldn’t have to go to DI. I want to put that rumor to rest right now, because that’s ridiculous; those guys wanted to win as badly as we did, and they played hard until the very end. I guess it’s shocking to some that we beat them, but to suggest they lost on purpose is a slap in our faces. There’s nothing wrong with giving credit where it is due, people.
Anyway, it was a fun tournament to be a part of, and despite some transportation issues and being so hard to get to, Anderson was a great host. I would like to thank everyone involved for putting it on, especially the cute Clemson coeds who volunteered. I would also like to extend an extra special thank you to Shannon Marks of United Airlines, who personally escorted us through the Greenville airport and took the time on her day off to make sure all of our rugby chairs and equipment were safely and successfully shipped home via FedEx. All of us, and our chairs, made it back to Denver in one piece. Next stop, Louisville!
The Life and Times of a Rookie Quad Rugby Player: Denver’s Drew Hoffman
By Matt Gypin
Seven months after breaking his neck in a diving accident, Drew Hoffman sat in a rugby chair for the first time last June. Seven months later, he traveled to Tampa, Fla., to compete in his first tournament with the Denver Harlequins.
“Basically, I got out of the hospital in April, and in June, I started going to practice in the summer like every other week,” said Hoffman, 23, of Golden, Colo. “And I just loved it. I never missed a practice after that and I’ve just kept coming back.
“When I started playing, I had nothing. Ryan (Walters) gave me his chair, someone gave me a seat cushion, someone else gave me a hip strap. Everyone on our team just kind of pitched in so I could play, and that was really big. I mean I couldn’t have done it without the Denver team.”
The Harlequins’ longtime player/coach, Jason Regier, said during a recent tournament that Hoffman has improved as much in his first year as any player he’s seen.
“He’s come a long way this year,” Regier said. “He’s going to be great for us.”
Hoffman grew up in Boston but moved to Colorado, where he attended Regis High School, graduating in 2008. After high school, he enrolled in Gonzaga University and moved to Spokane, Wash. A huge basketball fan, Hoffman traveled to Seattle in December of his senior year to see his beloved Bulldogs compete in a tournament. He would not return to Spokane again until graduation, just one semester away.
On Dec. 17, 2011, Hoffman broke his neck diving into a Seattle hotel swimming pool.
“We were drinking, and just messing around in the pool. I dove in headfirst and broke my C6,” Hoffman said. “I spent like two months up there in Seattle in the ICU and the rehab center there, and then I flew down to Craig (Hospital). I was from Golden, so we knew about Craig, and I was there for two months.”
While he was still at Craig Hospital, Hoffman continued his classes over the phone and completed his degree in biology with environmental concentration. In May 2012, Hoffman returned to Spokane and “walked” with his classmates at Gonzaga’s commencement.
“At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal, but looking back on it, that was pretty tough to do,” said Hoffman of returning to Spokane in a wheelchair and attending the ceremony. “It was good because I got to see all my friends that I hadn’t seen since the accident. It was good being there for my graduation.”
One month later, Hoffman started practicing with the Harlequins and fell in love with quad rugby. He said the sport provides a different aspect of being in a wheelchair, and the spirit of competition he missed from playing basketball.
“It was like going from sitting in the hospital all day to competition and trash talk and having some fun,” he said. “That was huge to be able to go out there and compete in a sport again. It felt really good.
“And it’s a great workout: if I hadn’t played rugby, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am physically right now.”
Hoffman has competed in two tournaments this season with the Harlequins, although he has yet to win a game and is not postseason eligible this year. Still, he said he has had a blast this season.
“I’ve gotten tons of playing time, and it was really sweet being able to travel to Tampa, and just seeing the level of competition there, and all those really good players in one place. It was fun,” Hoffman said. “In practice, you don’t really get a feel for the flow of the game. So when you see top DI and DII teams playing, you really get a sense of the flow and where you should be. When you see that caliber of playing, it was super fun to watch and play along.”
Hoffman has been working out three times a week at the SCI Recovery Project in Denver, and said it’s helped him become stronger and faster, and get more power out of his push. He said he still has a lot to learn about the strategy of the game.
“There’s the physical side of the sport that you can work on by pushing and getting stronger and faster, and there’s also the mental side of the sport, where you have to just play and be there every week in order to learn,” Hoffman said. “So that’s probably one of the things I am working on, just knowing where I should be on certain plays.”
Off the court, Hoffman said he loves to watch college basketball games on television, and attend pro sporting events in Denver. He said he is still in the process of regaining his independence, and one of his goals is to go to law school.
“I would like to get back to living on my own and having my own life and identity, and I think with that comes work,” Hoffman said. “Before I got hurt, I was going to go to law school for environmental law. So that’s kind of still one of my goals, to get back to school.
“This injury has taught me that you can’t look that far into the future, because you don’t know what the hell is going to happen.”
One thing we know: Drew Hoffman will be an even better rugby player next season.
February 17, 2013
Mile High Mayhem 2013
By Matt Gypin
We had been excited for months to be hosting a tournament again after several years, and the 2013 Mile High Mayhem, held Feb. 9-10 at Englewood High School in Englewood, Colo., did not disappoint. From the courts to the sponsors, food vendors to crowd support, everything was excellent. And even though we split our team into two squads, the Denver Harlequins managed to do pretty well on the court, too, winning four of five games and taking home second place. (The ‘Quins “B” team did not do as well, unfortunately, but many players who do not normally play got valuable experience, and they all played hard).
Our first game of the tournament was against our own team, the ‘Quins “B” team, who badly wanted to beat us for bragging rights in practice. It was fun playing against our friends and it felt like more of an official scrimmage, but it turned out to be the perfect tune-up game for our team. Unlike the last couple of tournaments where we felt like big underdogs going in, this time we had Adam Scaturro back in our lineup and we knew we had a chance to win.
The ‘Quins B team gave a valiant effort, led by Josh Stapen, Nick Pearce and Ryan Walters, but our team held a steady lead and they could never quite catch up. We stayed calm and confident, and we pulled away in the second half, winning 60-39. It was great to see “Big Rob” get to play for the B team; he is a paraplegic with quick hands who helps us a lot in practice. Problem was, he couldn’t stay upright in his chair – I think he got knocked over three times. I’ve never seen anyone come into a game pushing with bare hands while holding their gloves in their mouth, but Big Rob did it with style.
We were looking for a little payback in our second game, against the University of Arizona Wildcats, who beat us 52-31 in December down in Tucson, and we got it. It wasn’t easy, however, and it was a back and forth game throughout much of the first half. The Wildcats were led by Cory Harrower and Chelsea Falnes, two fast females who were extremely tough to slow down. We kept up the pressure though and eventually started to wear them down and create some turnovers, before again pulling away in the second half, winning 57-43.
Our third game of a very long Saturday was against the Las Vegas Renegades, a scrappy team led by Eric Chase and Mike Schacherbauer, who fought us tooth and nail on every possession. The Renegades led by one point going into the fourth quarter, but we turned up the pressure in the final period and escaped with a 57-52 victory. Schacherbauer twice trapped me in the penalty box, creating a leaving-the-court penalty on me after I had just been sentenced to the sin bin for four in the key. This mistake definitely gave them momentum, but luckily for us it wasn’t enough to turn the tide.
On Sunday, our team showed up to the gym a little sluggish, and it didn’t help that our first opponent early in the morning happened to be the Tampa Generals. The Generals were led by Leevi Ylonen, who took home the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, and who might be the fastest player I have yet to play against. We tried the best we could to slow him down, but he raced circles around us as they jumped out to a 19-10 first quarter lead, from which we never recovered, losing 63-44.
We shook off the loss and came out on fire in our final game of the weekend against the Northridge Knights. Both teams were tired but the Knights’ turnovers came early in the game and we led 17-10 after the first quarter. Northridge battled hard, but just couldn’t quite catch up as we won, 59-53. I thought we might blow the lead late in the fourth quarter when my hands turned to stone and I could not catch the ball, creating three or four turnovers in a row, but our key defense was able to deny them and hold them off. There were some pretty big hits in this game as well: I went flying out of my chair in the first half after a hit from Dave Nicholls near center court, and the Knights’ Weasel Luxembourger twice got spun from behind and knocked to the ground, once by me. It’s always scary when that happens, and I’m glad he was alright.
All in all, I thought the tournament was a great success, one of the better ones I have been to. It was really nice to get to play in front of friends and family, who don’t normally get to see the game. Everyone I talked to who attended loved it and had a great time. It was also exciting to see some photographers and 9News getting coverage of all of us. The gym and its two courts worked out great – there was plenty of room for the fans and teams. And the food was fantastic: we had Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs, Jimmy John’s, and a spread of sandwiches and bagels. Also, it was really nice to win some games after struggling at the last two tournaments, and we are looking forward to facing Tampa again at Sectionals next week, hopefully with a different result.
I would like to thank Englewood High School, all of our generous sponsors and donors, all of the teams who attended, and all of the amazing people who volunteered and worked hard to help us put on a great tournament – I hope we can do it again next year!
United States Quad Rugby Association’s Denver Harlequins Quad Rugby page:
Denver Harlequins Roster & Contact Info:
Mile High Mayhem:
Harlequins at the London Paralympics:
September 2008 the US wheelchair rugby team had just won a gold medal in Beijing. An hour after we had won everyone started talking about London. It’s been another 4 years to get to this point to have the opportunity to play for the United States in the Paralympic games. I leave tomorrow for London and we will start the wheelchair rugby tournament on September 5 and will finish as the last event of the games with the gold medal match on Sunday, September 9.
A lot of people have asked how can they watch. Below I have included a press release from United States Olympic Committee. NBC will do some highlights and we think there will be a recap of our opening game against Great Britain on September 6.
I will be posting on my Facebook site. http://www.facebook.com/jasonregier I am going to open it up to the public so even if you’re not a Facebook member you can see the postings and pictures of the games that I put up there.
I will also be posting to my twitter account https://twitter.com/jregier7
I’m also supposed to be doing some video blogging for Samsung and the International Paralympic Committee. Videos will be posted here.http://www.youtube.com/paralympicsporttv I will find out more about the video blog posting when I get in London.
Thanks for your support along this journey!