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NPPL LA Open
The 2002 NPPL season officially got off to a start at SC Arenas in Corona, California. The game site, part of the SC Village paintball complex has become the West Coast anchor of the annual 5 tournament series. When first designed by Ironmen player Brahim Estephan 3 years ago it was cutting edge, with fully netted walkways surrounding concept fields located in basins. The walkways, raised above the fields offered goggles-off viewing of the games from an excellent vantage point. In 2001, both the NPPL and the company which insures its events began setting standards for field netting, and goggles were required in the walkways that didn't adhere to the new standard.
For 2002 SC Village revamped the walk ways. In areas where netting strength was a concern netting was double layered to provide additional strength. An additional concern with netted game fields has been the ability of spectators to place their face up against the netting, which greatly defeats its ability to protect. SC Village took another innovative approach to this, and several of the fields have had expansion made to their welded metal walkway frames. A second layer of netting approximately 3 feet from the interior netting at its base angles up to the ceiling of the walkway. Not only does this provide double netting and a primary netting layer that is away from the spectators, the angle has a greater chance of deflecting balls rather than breaking them and spraying paint and shell fragments in on the waiting teams and fans.
A number of teams have had to adjust to the 2002 rule changes. The color orange is prohibited from jerseys as it is a common paint fill color. While most teams had adapted to the change, some which did not and had small spots of orange in their jersey designs were allowed to play in the 5 man with a warning that it would not be tolerated at future tournaments. The new sticker regulations have been enforced in full effect with hoppers being limited to one sticker per side that is 2"x4" maximum in size and only uses the colors white, red and black, which are not likely to be confused with paint hits.
The tournament started with additional rule confusion. The Saturday and Sunday prior to the tournament, SC Arenas allowed players from Avalanche, Dynasty, Ground Zero Gold, Element, and Warped Kidz to practice on some of the fields that had been built in the Arenas by Paintball Sports Promotions (producers of the NPPL events). While the NPPL did not have a rule against this, it had become accepted policy for the promoters not to allow teams to practice on a field before an event. LA is the one location in the series that is normally used as a paintball field, and SC Village allowed the practice. Some changes were made to the fields after the practice to minimize any advantages, but there were still strong similarities to the layout. The NPPL rules committee decided that even though the practice was not in violation of the rules, it was in direct contradiction to what has been the operating policy of the league. The league levied fines of $2,000 each to the pro teams involved, $500 to the Amateur teams and created a new rule that any player who plays an NPPL field prior to an event will not be allowed to play in that tournament.
New team classifications were in effect. Prior to LA it had been debated whether to place the new classes before or after LA, and before was decided to create a smoother 2002 season. Professional teams are still known as Pro. Amateur A teams are now known as Amateur. Amateur B teams are called Novice, and teams formerly listed as Novice are called Rookie. Some of the AmB teams expressed dislike over the "Novice" label, but as Jeff Stein of the NE Hurricanes said, "Compared to the pros, we are Novice." The change in classification names is a move toward standardizing player classes with other tournament series around the world.
Rosters were checked in the 5 man - Marcus Neilson of Ground Zero was set to play with a 5 man Novice team (In 5 man a Novice team can have on Am, and an Am team can have one Pro) but was pulled from the roster before any games were played.
Many vendors and exhibitors were set up on site for the 5 man, or still in the process of setting up. New to the mix was one of Smart Parts two new show semis, and Worr Games Product's new semi.
Five man games were refereed by Ground Zero Silver and referees from PRO. There had been a mix-up in arrangement for refs and the small number of refs meant that prelim games were played on only two fields.
GZ Silver agreed at the last minute to fill in, without them, the first day of 5 man would have had only a couple of PRO refs. The low number fields in use caused a slow move through the schedules. The games were met with excellent weather in the morning - overcast skies blocked the direct sun and the air temperatures made t-shirts and shorts perfectly comfortable. By mid-afternoon winds picked up dropping the temperature and carrying dust.
On Thursday games continued where they left off the night before when night descended. Games ran apace. The morning started with a cold light rain, which soon subsided to heavy clouds with patches of occasional sunlight. The players for the 10 man competition began arriving on site to walk fields. With the 5 man tournament running behind schedule fields had to be vacated for the last of the 5 man prelim games, and the semis and finals.
The Amateur 5 man players - most of which would be playing 10 man elected not to play semis and finals, but to choose winners based the total scores from their preliminary games. This put Shocktech Factory Team in first, Brimstone Smoke in second, Nasty JT in third, Nasty Smart Parts in fourth, Camp Tiger in fifth and Element in 6th.
Far East Dragons 2 had a major surprise. They were reviewing their 10 man game schedule when their captain was told they would need to get to the field soon. "We already played our eight games." he said. "No you have to go for the semi-finals," said Sue Cookston at the score table. The entire team erupted in a sound of surprise and happiness, then quickly ran off to prepare to their first semifinal game. Of the Novice 5 man teams Tropical Illusion lead the pack into the semis. They were followed by RIP, Storm and Team Enigma. With eight semifinalists, only one team was cut out of the Novice pack.
Ground Zero Silver needed to walk fields for 10 man, and wasn't available to ref the end of the 5 man, but PRO was able to fly in refs who arrived in time to completely staff the two fields for the semis and finals.
The Rookie classification, the largest of the 5 man with 16 teams, was topped by Splat Factory. Next was Wicked Junkies and then Team Ambush. 8 teams advanced, leaving 8 behind.
Being played on only two fields, the 5 man tournament running late caused problems for 10 man teams wanting to walk the fields. The league rules require that teams be able to inspect the fields for 4 daylight hours prior to the tournament, but not all of the fields were available for that full time period. Some teams, like The Family who were scheduled for three of their toughest games on one of the fields being used were very frustrated by the situation. As the sun sank lower in the sky it was decided that the Novice and Rookie divisions would be ended and take their final rankings from their semi-final games rather than playing finals due to the lack of remaining time available. The Novice and Rookie teams which would have gone to finals were ranked by their semifinal scores, and those which didn't make the finals cut were ranked the same as if finals had actually been played.
For the Novice teams this put Storm in first, Tropical Illusion in second, Shadowmen in third and RIP in fourth. Crush finished first in Rookie, Team Ambush in second, N-Control in third and ICU in fourth. Some of the teams didn't understand that the top four finishers were chosen out of the top two teams in the semifinals divisions. This meant that members of G&C Electric who thought they would be the fourth ranked finishers took home 5th place, much to their displeasure.
10 man competition started on Friday with bright partly clouded skies, and games that ran much differently than the 5 man. The 8 fields were reffed by All Americans, All Americans 2, Strange, Shockwave Canada, and 12 PRO refs. Games not only ran on time, but on several fields they were ahead of schedule much of the day.
While Mardi Gras and Skyball are pre-season, LA is the start of the 2002 year for the NPPL. That means new faces for a lot of teams. Frank Connel, who had left the All Americans at world cup 2001 took his time deciding where to go for 2002. Even though he'd vowed to decide by Christmas he put the choice off until the new year. Connel is now playing for Jacksonville Warriors. This is a natural fit as the Warriors often practice at his field in Titusville, FL. Another major change for the Warriors is the move to Worr Games Products as their gun sponsor. The long time Automag shooting team switched negotiated a new gun sponsorship at World Cup with the blessing of Airgun Designs president Tom Kaye. The pervasive internet rumor that Rocky Cagnoni was off of Avalanche was proven false, the team has the same line-up as at the end of the 2001 season. Mike Ravenel and Mike Foss moved up to the pros from the Naughty Dogs to join the Ironmen. The old school core of the Ironmen retired at the end of 2002, except for Bryon Benini, who is now playing for Aftershock. The second generation Ironmen remain, with Rich Telford captaining. Also on board with the Ironmen is former Image player Andy Copcok, and the team was shooting both WDP Angels and the Airtech Matrix.
Due to a registration error the Turtles which were playing as Novice got placed into the schedule as Pros. This meant they played two Pro teams during the prelims. It made a tougher row for them to hoe as they would be competing in total scores against novice teams that played only one pro and less Amateurs.
Zyzek Barro of La Mesa, CA had his Ronin gear bag stolen with a 2002 black stock LCD Angel with a Dye lowrise. Hopper has two WDP logos, the marker has a Check-It Unidrop drop forward. The tank is a 4500 PMI Pure Energy screw-in tank. If you have any information, please contact him at 619-462-3341.
The preliminary games of the 10 man saw some interesting action. One notable game was played between Hurricanes and Full Breech. Full Breech started the game with 11 players, played a good portion of the game with the Hurricanes keeping an accurate count of eliminated players - yet with an extra body. When it was made apparent to the referees, they pulled the man without the armband and 2 of his teammates. Hurricanes have really pulled it out in the prelims for this event. They beat their Pro team - Avalanche as well as prevailing against the Bushwackers International team.
The schedule lead on Friday dropped off and with night fall, the day was called a few games short of the schedule. The missing games were bumped to Saturday morning, shifting games a little later in the day. By the middle of the day on Saturday, fields were jumping games ahead of schedule to catch up, throwing off the rest of the schedule, creating a problem of games being delayed and pushed off kilter. On Saturday, some referees were assigned to different fields to compensate where there had been reffing problems. By mid day Emilly Mood, radioed all fields and stopped game play until games caught up to a fixed point in the schedule, then restarted things. This stopped the further delays caused by teams being in the wrong place at the wrong time when fields skipped ahead, and prevented the tournament from getting yet further behind schedule.
In the afternoon, during the Jax Warriors and Avalanche game Frank Connell was suspended for 6 games after physical contact with a ref and firing his marker after the game had ended. Rumors abounded that Connel was cut from the team, and had even gone to other teams under the threat of sponsors dropping the team. Team co-owner Paul Bolenbach confirmed that Frank was still with Jax Warriors.
By sundown Saturday night the prelims had not been completed so it was decided that games would begin a half hour earlier Sunday morning to give time to wrap up the prelims and then move on to the semifinals. Many of the teams had finished their preliminary games, and SC Ironmen, Lockout and The Family all completed their preliminary games undefeated. For the Ironmen, this was impressive considering change-ups to their roster. It has been a while since Lockout made the semifinals, so not only playing on Sunday, but tearing up their competition on Saturday turned a lot of heads - a powerful performance that wasn't expected. For The Family, those 8 wins made an excellent start to their debut as an Amateur team.
The preliminary rounds finished up Sunday morning. SC Ironmen with their undefeated streak led the 8 pro teams which were going into the semifinals. Lockout followed only 5 points behind the Men. Bob Long's Ironmen were ranked third. The Family topped the Amateur prelims with an 89 point leas over Warped Kids. Check It trailed only 8 points further down while 5 more teams advanced. The Novice bracket was very close - the top team, KAPP Factory scored in at 691 out of a possible 800 with the cut being 456 with TKO.
Dynasty rocked straight through the pro semifinals with no losses. Lockout didn't make it out of the semifinals, but their appearance there is a good sign for a them to make a resurgence in the 2002 season. In the finals Dynasty kept their momentum. Against SC Ironmen each team lost players and were holding their own until the men's right tape went down and Oliver Lang went straight up the middle clearing out five opposing players before being eliminated. In their last game, against Bob Long's Ironmen loses were pretty even on both sides and it all came down to a one on one, with Bob Long taking the last hit while Dynasty came in first place for the tournament. Aftershock and Bob Long's Ironmen were close in scores, so the loss to Dynasty was important to Aftershock's second place finish. Bob's men took third and SC Ironmen fourth.
Like Lockout ,The Family went from perfect prelims to getting pulled out of the running in the semifinals. Naughty Dogs put the pedal to the metal and topped the Amateurs as they went into the finals where Trauma took first place. They were followed by Warped Kids, Naughty Dogs and Check It.
In the Novice semis there were four divisions so the competition was tougher - only the top team in each division got to advance. KAPP Factory Team came into the finals in the third seat, but ended out on top which was especially good considering that the team was recently rebuilt. Second place went to Gridlock who led Strange B by a mere 3 points. Full Breach took fourth place.
In years past, due both short daylight hours and or running past schedule, the first NPPL event of the season has often seen awards ceremonies run under the light of headlights. This year the ceremony took place on SC Arena's portable awards stage with an industrial light trailer providing floodlights on a tower.
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