Drama and many surprises turned the 2019 International FXC Championship, held in Boca del Rio, Veracruz (Mexico) last Nov. 23 - 24, into a memorable sport event.
Organized by the Internatinal FXC Federation in association with the Mexican FXC Federation, the Italian AICS - Associazione Italiana Cultura e Sport and the Mexican INDET - Instituto Nacional Deportes de los Trabajadores, the event’s two competing categories (“Open” and “International”) and the double elimination system meant plenty of spectacle, with 18 one-hour-matches played in 2 days!
The event was a massive commitment of time, energy, and money for half of the 13 teams that had to travel to Veracruz from the Mexican states of Queretaro, Mexico and Michoacan and from 6 different cities in the United States. 140 athletes willing to prove themselves in the explosive, inclusive and coed sport of FXC - Fireball Extreme Challenge™, willing to compete for two days, playing up to 5 matches in a row to win the FXC trophies.
The tournament kicked off on Saturday, November 23rd under the dome of the Unidad Deportiva Hugo Sanchez, in Boca del Rio with an opening match between SNTE’s Las Panteras (The Panthers) from Queretaro and the Michoacan-based team of “Los Bravos” and the latter prevailing with a decisive score of 136 to 25.
In the second match of the day, the Capitanes de Xalapa, the best team in the International FXC ranking, confirmed they were still at the top of their game, defeating the Eagles of Queretaro with a devastating 309 to 29.
The third match was one the most anticipated of the day: the local heroes of Los Toros vs the DC Falcons, at their first participation in a FXC competition. Everyone knew the US joining FXC - Fireball Extreme Challenge™ would mean troubles for the other teams, but - thanks to Romone F. Penny’s strategy to keep all US training sessions under wrap - no one had ever seen the DC Falcons or the USA team in action. Nobody knew what to expect. The home supporters cheered their team until the final whistle, but it was not enough to stop the Falcons’ avalanche. The American athletes impressed everyone with their incredible athletic abilities, arial superiority and imposed their rhythm since the first ball possession, winning the match 111 to 34. The USA seemed unbeatable and people started to worry.
The fourth match between the SNTE’s Leones Blancos (White Lions) and the Capitanes de Boca del Rio took place in an electric atmosphere.. After the US team, the Leones Blancos proved to be the second big surprise of the tournament. The public witnessed some fast actions in a nail-biting contest between the Queretaro’s rookies and the Vice-Champions. With the first and second games of the match ending up respectively 41 to 45 and 51 to 55, the athletes from Boca del Rio did not have a dull moment. It was only after a couple of strategic changes and in the third game, that they managed to secure a win with a score of 115 to 98. Galvanized by their first match, the White Lions got ready to get back into the competition: the only thing they had to do now was winning all the matches of the Group B (created by the double elimination system).
The last match of the morning between the newly formed Los Capitanes de Orizaba and the Krakens produced the last big surprise of the day, with the green rookies from Orizaba, at their first appearance, beating 107 to 56 the more experience Krakens. Los Capitanes de Orizaba was the third team formed by Jaime Gotoo and Teresa Martinez, already owners of the champion and vice-champion teams of Xalapa and Boca del Rio. A third winning team produced by this power-couple is a way to consolidate their position in the overall FXC ranking both a national and international level and to send out a strong message: is there anyone willing to take up their challenge out there?
In the afternoon, the teams who had lost their first match competed in Group B to win the right to come back into the competition, playing in the first semi-final. All matches lasted only half an hour (one game: 10 ball possessions per team).
The SNTE’s Panteras defeated Queretaro’s Eagles 46 to 10. The Krakens’s fight back into the competition started well as they hold off the spirited Los Toros’ charges for a 27-25 victory after a thrilling match. They defeated their following adversary, the SNTE’s Panteras 66 to 12 but they were eventually stopped by the Queretaro’s Leones Blancos 44 to 22.
The second day of the championship began with the 3 matches of the International category.
The mighty USA, Mexico and the International (a team made by Mexicans and foreigners and promoting the topic of #inclusion) would face off to win the category’s trophy.
In the first match, USA vs International, the Americans once again amazed the audience with their acrobatic and athletic abilities but their advantage over their opponent looked smaller if compared to the previous day. Under 6 points in the first game (24 to 30), they took back the lead of the match in the second game (37 - 28), stealing the ball several times and showing great attacking strategies. The US fireballers consolidated their advantage in the last 3 ball possessions, winning 68 to 61.
The USA squad - at the helm of Romone F. Penny - had so far fared well in the Championship. Debuting in a new extreme sport, with a team made of super athletes but from 6 different cities, and with very limited opportunities to play and train together was not an easy task and winning two matches back to back was already a great achievement. The US athletes were able to jump over 2 meters high, seemed to catch every ball in mid air, they were fast and explosive… but the first signs of fatigue had started to show in the match vs International. Would they be able to keep it up for 4 more hours?
The answer to this question arrived during the match against Mexico. The first Mexican ball possession set up the tone of the entire match. 18 points made in 26 seconds! The Mexican representative was on a different planet! The Americans did everything right and they were always clean, but the Mexicans seemed able to find spaces in between players that nobody saw. The Mexicans did not know what to expect from the US, but they guessed the Americans would have an “arial” superiority, so they kept the ball constantly moving, and very low. The first game ended 63 to 18 for Mexico. To keep it up the USA had to push harder, much harder.
Some thought the game was already over, but they were wrong. Never underestimate your opponent, especially when you are playing against the USA! In the second game the Romone Penny’s US Team came back. They changed their tactics and they managed to contain Mexico, reducing the game’s disadvantage. In the last three ball possessions both teams scored 11 points. One more game could have changed the result, but would have the Americans been able to keep pushing for another 30 minutes?
At the end of a pulsating contest - won by Mexico 117 to 60 - the USA had demonstrated to be a formidable adversary (the US team had a chance to train together only twice and only in Mexico!) but they were now running on fumes.
In the last match of the International category, Mexico vs Inter, Mexico confirmed its superiority winning 110 to 84. After a very balanced fight, with just 2 ball possessions left, the 15 points scored by Mexico and two big mistakes of the Inter’s players, sank the Inter’s hopes for victory.
Many of the best players of the Mexican National team and of the International were also playing in the Open category as the Capitanes from Xalapa and from Boca del Rio. The entire USA team had been playing as the DC Falcons as well. This meant that when the championship resumed after the lunch break, with the quarters of finals in the “Open category”, the Fireballers of these teams had already played for 2 hours!
To preserve the health of the athletes, the FXC Judges decided (after consulting the coaches of the quarter finalists) to have quarter-finals and semi-finals in a reduced form (2 shorter games) and a final of 3 regular games. Everyone agreed.
The first quarter of finals saw Los Bravos against Los Capitanes de Xalapa. Jaime Gotoo, Xalapa’s coach, began the match deploying the fresher athletes to give more time to the more experienced to recharge their batteries. Winning the first game only by 1 point (18 - 19) against the very competitive and aggressive team trained by Lic. Felix Reyes Posadas, forced her to change strategy even if that meant potentially jeopardizing the team’s performance in the semifinal. The match ended with Xalapa winning a suffered match 39 to 30. A great result for Los Bravos who demonstrated big improvements and to get, for the second time, very close to a victory against the champions.
The second quarter of finals saw the DC Falcons take on the Capitanes de Boca del Rio in another thrilling match. Fatigue, and stress, led to the first overuse injuries, dyspnoea on both sides. After another excellent start of the Falcons, the Mexicans caught up and adjudicated the first game 38 to 15. The Washington-based team, now without their captain, Romone F. Penny, and Morgan Janice Dickson, fought back with everything they had in the second and final game. 15 y.o. Evan List and 21 y.o. Nate Hochberg stepped up to the plate pushing the team and orchestrating great actions. Unfortunately that was not enough and the DC Falcons were eliminated by the Vice-Champions with the score of 69 to 39.
The Capitanes de Boca del Rio had just gained access to a semi-final against their “brothers”, the champions from Xalapa, but both teams now had injured athletes and were showing clear signs of fatigue.
The first semi-final took place at 5pm. Being fresher than any other team, the Capitanes de Orizaba and the Leones Blancos were able to engage and entertain the audience with fast, explosive and well orchestrated actions. The Leones from Queretaro used all the tricks in their bag to stop the Capitanes led by Teresa Martinez and Jaime Gotoo, but at the end lost 81 to 49 against a clean and superior team.
At 5.58 pm the Capitanes de Orizaba became the first finalist, while the Leones Blancos knew they would bring home a surprising Bronze (the International FXC Federation rewards two 3rd places).
The Fireballers of the Capitanes de Boca del Rio and of Xalapa lined up for the opening salute at 6pm. This match had the flavor of a final, and felt to many like a déjà vu. These two teams had already played against each other in two previous occasions - the 2019 FXC Tournament of Veracruz in March and the 2019 FXC Torneo Playero in July - and always with the same result: the Capitanes de Xalapa prevailing. In one case, just for one point. But this was not a final, which meant that only one of them could make it to the end. Both teams were already showing signs of extreme fatigue. Fireballers are used to train and play for hours with a temperature of over 30°C (86°F), but training does not have the stress level that comes with an international competition. These athletes learn how to manage their energies, how to be always vigilant, to maintain their mind fresh, because on a court decision to whom to pass the ball and/or in which direction to develop the action, must be taken in fractions of a second. After 4 hours of intense playing though, their minds and bodies were being pushed to the limit.
Both teams tightened their markings. Their coaches got louder and began substituting players at each ball possession in the attempt to keep the performance ‘fresher’ and more effective. The first game was won 15 to 12 by the Fireballers of Xalapa. During the second game something happened to the champions though. For the first time since their creation as a team, they lost their focus and found themselves behind in the second game by 8 points (13 to 21). Xalapa had never lost one single game… until now! The Captains of Boca del Rio were exhausted but galvanized by their advantage and intended to keep it until the end. The last 3 ball possessions per team proved to be crucial. Xalapa scored 8 points, Boca del Rio only 5… but with 38 points against 36, those 5 points had been enough to secure their win!
The Capitanes de Xalapa saw their 15-month, unbeaten record crashed. And after two gold medals they had to settle for a bronze.
The finalist were the Capitanes de Boca del Rio vs the Capitanes de Orizaba. Once again, the two finalists were teams from the same club: Jaime Gotoo’s and Teresa Martinez’s the Capitanes del Puerto.
Before the final match began, the referees summoned the two coaches to make sure their players were in the conditions to play. The paramedics and the ambulances had been pretty busy the second day, being called 9 times and bringing 3 people to the hospital for minor injuries. The judges wanted to avoid further accidents and had given order to verify the conditions of the athletes before the start. Carmen Montalvo, coach of Boca del Rio, and Jaime Gotoo coach of the Orizaba team, reassured the referees, and - after an agonizing wait, the Judges proceeded green-lighting the final.
At 7pm the 2019 FXC Championship final began. Orizaba’s freshness and lucidity translated immediately in more effective actions. The Fireballers of Boca del Rio, at their fifth match (the fourth of the day), did not want to give up though. They kept fighting and fighting. Game #1 ended with a score of 17 to 8 for Orizaba.
Game #2 was interrupted for 10 minutes after Clio Zamudio accidentally was hit on the side of the neck by one of her teammates in the attempt to double mark an unstoppable Teresa Martinez. Referees and paramedics reacted immediately and, fortunately, after the initial scare, the young athlete was declared out of danger and carried off the court. When offered to be brought to the hospital, Clio refused profusely. She needed to stay with her team. She sat on the her bench until the match was over.
With one person less to deploy on the court, Boca del Rio continued to push, trying to contain their ‘brothers’ from Orizaba. Game #2 ended 35 to 18 for Orizaba, who had also won the match 52 to 26.
As the two teams lined up for the final salute, the paramedics were called again on the court to assist Jorge Aquino, Boca del Rio’s fireballer, on the ground, unable to stand up due to exhaustion. Aquino, one of the fastest runner of the whole tournament, had refused twice to be substituted and had kept pushing until the final whistle. Five minutes and two bottles of electrolytes later he was back on his feet ready to be part of the award ceremony.
At the end of 2 days of intense, extreme competition, Mexico was declared winner of the international category and confirmed to be the nation to beat in FXC. In the “Open Category”, teams from the Capitanes del Puerto were once again occupying the three steps of the podium. The athletes from Xalapa had to share their 3rd place with the surprising Leones Blancos from Queretaro, a team formed by P.E. teachers of the SNTE (the largest union of teachers in Mexico) that impressed for their attitude and level of performance.
4th place in the overall chart, for number of points scored the DC Falcons at their excellent debut.