Divisional Paintball Stands Tall, the Race for a Pro Spot.
Written by Quinn Nadu, Iconic PB | NXLPaintball.com
Photo Credit: Photos by JonathanGreggo
The 2021 NXL season has seen a battle in the semi-pro division that has come down to the wire. With multiple teams all in contention to win the coveted season title, and with it, an invitation to join the professional division for the 2022 NXL season, the division is the most competitive it has ever been. It is a rare occurrence for so many teams to be in contention, and something we haven’t seen since the 2018 season when San Diego Aftermath edged out Mutiny by just half a point to win the season title.
Through three major events, there are four teams left standing with a chance to win the pro spot, the NO Hurricanes, Blastcamp, Noobies, and the NE Hurricanes. All four teams have different paths to how they got here, but all their roads have converged on the final destination of NXL World Cup 2021. With such a close points race, just 20 points separating the four teams, it will truly be a fight to the end that has been a battle of consistency and endurance all season long.
Four Teams, One Spot...
New ORLEANS Hurricanes
Current Season Rank: 1st | Season Points: 276
The NO Hurricanes have been consistently excellent all season long. While they have yet to win a semi-pro event this season, they have been a top four team in every event thus far. Their style is incredibly balanced and their ability to apply constant pressure through the snake side with Matt Hamilton and Daniel Camp while also maintaining a strong guard on the backline with Stuart Ridgel and Andrew Bell has made this team dangerous all season. Their style of play is probably the closest to what we see in the pro league currently, and their ability to know when to attack and when to defend has benefitted them all year long when they have come head to head with the other semi-pro division leaders.
Of any team currently in the race for the season title, the NO Hurricanes are truly in control of their own destiny. In any scenario that could occur for the remaining three teams in the race, New Orleans simply needs to place 6th or higher in the World Cup event to guarantee the season title. For many teams, that would be difficult enough, but with how consistent they have played all year, it may be too little too late for the remaining three teams without a poor showing from NO. In the event they do place below 6th, that would open the door for any of the remaining three teams to win the World Cup, and with it, the season title. The question is, can they stay consistent in one of the best divisions in all of paintball, or will the pressure be too much?
Photo Credit: Enrique Gonzalez Photography
New England Hurricanes
Current Season Rank: 2nd | Season Points: 257.25
When it comes to pro-ready teams in the semi-pro division, the NE Hurricanes certainly fit the bill. With a roster of multiple ex-pro players in Keith Devit and Benny Carroll, and a stable of seasoned players like Steven Scloss, Kyle Nicholau, this team is about as pro-ready as it gets. They understand what it takes to play in the best league on Earth and have been showing all season long that they belong there. Trent Nitta has been one of the best young attackers we have seen in the last few seasons in divisional paintball, and he is surely on the road to becoming a professional player at just age 18. They are also working at proving they are the “real” Hurricanes and the true owners of the name by finishing the season in the top spot.
With only 19 points separating the Hurricanes from first place, they just barely edge out the remaining two teams in the season points race. They have already shown us this season that they have what it takes to win an event, after they opened the season with a first place trophy at the Sunshine State Major; but a poor finish at the Mid-Atlantic Major derailed them from the top position in the division and may haunt them come season’s end. Their path to winning the pro spot is clear, they need to place five spots higher than the NO Hurricanes at World Cup to edge them out, while also placing above the Noobies and Blastcamp to secure the title. Will the grizzled team of ex-pros be able to once again launch the original Hurricanes into the pro spotlight?
Photo Credit: Michael Candelaria, MCPhotography19 | NXL Media
Current Season Rank: 3rd | Season Points: 256.56
Very rarely do we see a team as young as Blastcamp on the verge of winning a pro spot. They have all the makings of what you want to see in a pro team; a solid and effective core of young players, a strong organizational backing from Virgil Frey, and mostly importantly, a unified goal to revitalize Midwest paintball as a regional power. Their level of communication and synergy is one of the best in divisional paintball, and the defensive posture they normally take has helped them grind down every team in the division, and even some pro teams this season as well. Jackson Frey is the unquestioned leader of this roster and he looks to have all the tools to be an effective pro player alongside Zach Hoeg and Andrew Geraghty, who have both shown great timing as the main attackers for Blastcamp.
Blastcamp may look back on the 2021 season with a bit of regret because of their slow start at the Sunshine State Open. Historically, Midwest teams have always had poor season openers due to the cold weather and the inability to consistently practice in the late winter and early spring. However, they followed up a 13th place opener with two finals appearances to vault themselves right into the thick of the season title race. Like the Hurricanes and Noobies, they will need a little help to win the title; New Orleans will need to finish 7th or worse, while Blastcamp pulls off a World Cup victory in order for them to win the season title. Can this young team have another deep finals run and maintain the elite level of poise they have shown all season or will their youthful inexperience cause them to crumble?
Current Season Rank: 4th | Season Points: 255.11
The Noobies have been here before; for years they have been a dangerous team in the semi-pro division and their incredibly slow and methodical style has been the bane of many young and aggressive challengers. They play a style of paintball that is hard to beat consistently, and their ability to communicate at an elite level, with the best lane control in divisional paintball has made them a force this season. Rarely can teams find a gap against this strong core of veteran players. Andy Schoemaker is the leader of this team, and maybe the best backline player in all of divisional paintball and when combined with Ryan Rodriguez and Weston Kurtz, they have a guard that is rarely broken. They have also evolved a bit this season and added a stronger attack to their arsenal with the breakout seasons of Damien Vazquez and Dominic DeVivo. If there is one thing every other semi-pro team should fear, it is a Noobies roster with elite offensive players in the mix.
Consistency and growth has been the key to the Noobies success this season, and although they lack an event win, they have placed higher and higher in each event and that could be a sign that a World Cup win is inevitable for them. Like the Hurricanes and Blastcamp, who have just two points separating them, they will need the NO Hurricanes to place 7th or worse, while also winning the last event. Maybe the best scenario for the Noobies would be a 3-1 or 2-2 prelims where they draw New Orleans in the ocho-finals, and knock them out on the way to an event win. Can this veteran team of elite defensive players find a way to generate a consistent attack and win the title?
An incredible battle ahead
One factor that is very clear in this otherwise blurry race for the season title, is that any of these four teams look to be ready to play in the professional division. It is very rare that so many teams in semi-pro are this clearly prepared for the pro spotlight and it should provide an incredibly exciting finish to the season for divisional paintball fans.
With the recent rise of younger teams becoming competitive in the professional division, and the increasingly aging rosters of the elite pro organizations, any one of these teams has a chance to cement their spot in the pro division and take the reins to the future of professional paintball. Will New Orleans be able to fight off the rest of the division and seal their destiny, or will they collapse under the pressure and cede the season title to a veteran team such as the Noobies or NE Hurricanes? Find out on November 11th at the NXL World Cup in Kissimmee, Florida and follow along Sunday on the GoSports.com webcast to see the semi-pro finals take place live!