SPBL Mikkeli – the final round revisited

After finishing third at the Kirkkonummi event, we knew we had to step it up a notch before the last leg – less than a month away. Luckily we were not the only ones having difficulties at the event, as our finals opponent from the previous rounds Urho Musta also struggled and finished out of the final four. That left us with a few points worth of margin in the series with Urho Musta, Dream Team Turku and Helsinki Trivoga also in the run for the big cup.

Well, can’t say that a third place finish is crappy per se, but it definitely was not what we were aiming for. We knew full well if we don’t get our head in the game we can easily suffer a similar collapse than Urho did on this leg. If that was to happen, the championship would slip out of our reach. We wanted this win so bad we could taste it, and everyone on the team knew exactly what had to be done to improve our game for the final round. And that was to get down and dirty – grinding every aspect of the game until we had nothing left.

Even though we were somewhat pressed for time with less than four weeks between the two rounds, many of the players had been training and playing hard with minor injuries and thus we decided that we needed to have some recovery time to get everyone back to 100% – so no training on the weekdays for the week to come. Having trained a couple of nights a week, the players were somewhat baffled not being able to do so – and were also met by raised eyebrows on the home front for being constantly on the way of things. After a long week, we were back on track the following Sunday, setting the field up to the Grand Tour Austria layout as the Millennium had not released the Paris layout yet. During the following week we got a few sessions on the field and then, finally, the Paris layout came out and we got back to measuring again, as it was confirmed to be the final SPBL layout as well. All in all we managed to squeeze 10 training sessions into the few weeks we had at our disposal, and three of them were full long days of play.  We felt quite confident heading to Mikkeli, everyone knew nothing more could possibly have been done.

We have developed a bit of a tradition with the final rounds, we try to get as many of the players’ girlfriends and spouses to join us as possible, and this year was no different. Almost all of us arrived already on Friday and we headed out to enjoy an extended team dinner with the entire Cyclone tribe. Mikkeli is quite a small town, and the local tex-mex restaurant, Fernando, was somewhat surprised by 16 of us arriving unannounced.. Surprised they were, but not overwhelmed. We enjoyed a fantastic dinner with great service, a few drinks and a ton of laughs before tucking in early to be ready for the games.

The weather for the event had been forecasted to be drab, cold and muggy with temperatures below 10 degrees and occasional heavy downpour as well, so we knew the equipment side would be key, and especially the paint would play a crucial role. We decided that the league team needed to hunt off-the break kills with the laners using the most brittle paint possible even with the risk of having a few more barrel breaks, and have a bit less sensitive ball for the others. Even though we were a bit worried about the hassle this might cause our pit, we felt that on this ultra-aggressive field, the advantages of an additional early kill would be worth the gamble. We were ready.

The divisional team started the day in the morning, and luckily even though the clouds were hanging low, it wasn’t raining and the weather actually seemed to be changing for the better. Cyclone VDO had the third game of the day, facing PPW Croc. The scores, btw, you can find point-by-point here. Our team was having a bit of trouble getting their act together and PPW Croc took the game 3-2. After the loss, we needed a victory from the following match, and the guys needed to find the rhythm quickly. The opponent was Game Over who we knew to be the toughest in the group. This time, it wasn’t even tough – we were run over. Game over, 3-0 for Game Over who played an astonishingly strong game. With two losses, there was little to do and we knew that the semis had slipped. The last opponent for us was Coitus. We decided that we should play our best game and finish on a good note. That we did, and from the sidelines the game looked totally different from the two earlier ones, as everyone had seemingly found tons of confidence and bold moves were successfully taken, the team played with controlled aggression throughout. Great game, too bad that the 3-1 win was too little too late to get us through. Finishing out of the semis was naturally disappointing considering the amount of training put in, but then again the season overall was a success with two second places and the third position in the overall standings. A good starting point for next season!

The league games followed immediately after the divisional preliminary games, so the misfortune of Cyclone VDO ensured that the league team would enjoy the full attention of our fantastic pit crew, who had excelled throughout the entire season. With our conscious gamble with Ultra Evil as the back-line weapon of choice, the additional focus from the pit-side was reassuring. Our group consisted of Urho Musta, Ruma Q and Takeover, and we knew every team in the group was dangerously capable of surprisingly strong play, as Takeover proved the previous round by taking a clean 4-0 victory of Urho Musta – who we saw the strongest opponent in the group by having faced them in the finals on the first two rounds.

Our first game was against Urho Musta, and as usual the game was tight, the first four points were neck and neck us taking the lead and Urho taking the next point to tie the game up. Urho took the fifth point to take the lead, but we pulled off the two last two points and the match 4-3. The team relaxed quite a bit, as we felt that we took the biggest scalp in good time, and even a fifth place finish would secure the championship.

The following game was against RumaQ, great guys all the way from Oulu and Kemi way up north of Finland, who also came to pit for us at Millennium Basildon. RumaQ played their hearts out and we suffered the price of losing focus after the first win. They capitalized from every mistake we made, and deserved the 4-3 victory fully. Now we needed to get our head straight to be in the running for the cup, as a loss to Takeover could result in us finishing worse than the required 5th place.

We took a nice long huddle before the last preliminary game and forced the focus from the championship to taking the win from this tournament. We knew Takeover to be a super-aggressive team that would take up space on the field from every opening we gave them, and we decided to pay close attention in keeping control of the zones on the field and being first to the key bunkers. With a few penalties to them working for us, we pulled off a 4-1 win. RumaQ and Urho played a tough game deciding our pass to the semis by only 1 point that RumaQ missed. Urho and us through from our group and Dream Team & Trivoga Silver continuing through from the other group.

In our semifinal game we met Dream Team Turku, who have undergone significant roster changes for this season with a lot of raw young talent on the team, but the reduced overall experience have kept them just missing the finals in the semis. For the semis, we had just secured the overall championship and found the missing confidence and rhythm to our game, taking a 4-1 victory and a spot in the finals. Considering the completely new roster on the Turku team, they played a great season and will definitely be a super-tough contender in a few seasons time.

And so it would be once more, that we met Urho Musta in the final for the third time this season. We took the first point, but Urho turned the game by taking two consecutive points. We took a quick re-focus to play the relaxed and liberated game we knew we could afford. Taking three points in a row, we took the victory 4-2, and only then did we actually allow ourselves to truly enjoy the championship as well.

Overall, all of Cyclone had a great, and most importantly, a very enjoyable tournament season on the domestic circuit. We want to extend our thanks to all the opponents for many tight and fun games in a great atmosphere, and for that we owe much to the excellent EuroRef crew! The marshals left no room for complaint, offering a fair and consistent level of officiating throughout the season. It’s just great to play under those circumstances. Also, the SPBL officials are doing fantastic job pro bono for us all to enjoy great tournaments at affordable prices, and with the number of teams continuously growing, it’s easy to see they’re doing a good job. My hat’s off for all of them!

We have also had great support from a lot of companies and the great people working in them. Thanks are in order for all of them: The great shoes from GoldHammer, DYE’s ultimate equipment, Virtue for the soul in our markers and hoppers, Maxs for the great selection of paint to be used, PBG for taking care of our everyday needs, The Tiger for allowing us to entertain our friends and guests, and Mikko, Pete and Devon for the ProSchool, hopefully we get to have you over in the future as well!

We still have Paris to attend to, so more news to come, but in the meantime – if you’re going to Paris, Check us out on facebook, we still have two more pairs of GoldHammer Shoes to hand out!

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