Favorites & Dark Horses In The Granite Games Team Competition

While the past few weeks have given us a look at the individual field for the 2019 Granite Games, a stacked team competition has flown under the radar. The penultimate chance to qualify for the 2019 Reebok CrossFit Games will feature several loaded teams making a late push to earn a spot in Madison.

There is one team that is ready to compete but may not actually need to; the team of Alexis Johnson, Jen Smith, Travis Williams, and Roy Gamboa (cleverly also known as: “Alexis, Jen, Travis, and Roy”). They, due to their performance at the Mid-Atlantic CrossFit Championship, would be the beneficiary of the pending drug test result for Invictus athlete Chantelle Loehner should her “B-Sample” come back with a consistent result of the primary. The length of time on that process is still up in the air (as are most drug test timelines), so by the time the week of Granite Games arrives, the team may be competing without knowing if they’ve earned an invite to the CrossFit Games yet or not. 

Another team that’s competing in Minnesota but already locked in are the Central Beasts: Emma Chapman, Nicole Holcomb, Joseph Tortora, and Zach Sowder. Holcomb is the lone individual Games athlete on roster, but her three teammates all have years of experience at Regionals and other large events on teams and as individuals and have a similar blend of skill sets. Looking at the team from the high level there may not be an actual weakness, and they should be a great litmus test for the rest of the field to measure against.

With those two teams either in, or likely in, who are the contenders to join them in Madison?

The Well-Known Contenders

Perhaps the first name that jumps off the page is that of CrossFit 417. One of the dominant teams from the Central Regional and always a threat at the Games level for the past few years, the team continues to be led by Jared Stevens. The bearded strongman will be joined by Christine Kolenbrander (59th place in the CrossFit Games Open), Tyler Christophel (36th), and Baylee Rayl (56th). This is a legitimate and well-rounded team that could see themselves back at the highest stage to defend a fifth-place finish in Madison last season.

No stranger to team competition is Rachel Garibay, who last season partnered up with Travis Wililams, Jordan Cook, and Sheila Barden on “Don’t Stop.” This season she finds herself in a new alliance with the team “Training to Fight Thanos.” (Don’t worry, despite my natural instinct and love of all things nerdy, no Avengers puns upcoming.) Garibay will team with Taylor Streid (who is Games-bound as an individual through the Wodapalooza invite), Jacob Pfaff (incomplete Open), and Stephen Wallace (571st). The team will be led by a strong pair of female athletes but with limited information on the two men, the ultimate success of this team is hard to predict.

A team that won’t be hard to predict is a new-look OPT Brutes; a formation far from the Brute squad that pulled off the Games championship win over Mayhem a couple of years ago. This iteration will include three individual Games athletes (Alex Parker, Meredith Root, and George Sanchez), along with Zach Watts (two-time Central Regional athlete). This is a team of solid competitors, pooling together a great blend of skills and talent that could make for a dangerous team in Minnesota.

Similarly designed in the mix of quality and quietness in the buildup to the competition is RPM Basecamp (Steph Chung, Kaitlyn Kassis, Jake Marconi, and Raphael Durand). Chung will be the headliner as the only individual Games athlete in the bunch. Last year, her rookie campaign, featured what is arguably the most impressive comeback in Regional history. Chung won’t be the only Games veteran, however, as both Kassis (2016 and 2018) and Durand (2017) are former team competitors. Marconi has spent his time mostly as an individual athlete, leading to a top20 performance in the East Regional last season. 

If there was ever a team (really a one-person element of a team) that defines the wild card role, it’s Team Precision. Chelsea Grigsby, Kristin Seckar, and Dane McLaughlin all have Games and Regional experience in spades; where the unknown element comes into play is through the fourth member of the team: Hunter McIntyre, obstacle course racing’s biggest star. “The Sheriff” is known for his dominance in Tough Mudder events, as well as being the long-time champion of “Broken Skull Challenge,” but has recently been rather successful trying his hand in CrossFit (finishing just outside the top-1000 in the Open). Give him a lower weight and/or high-endurance event, and he can be a massive boost to the team; however, on the flip side, a high-end strength event could be a limiting factor. With the field in Minnesota I don’t see Team Precision being the one advancing to Madison, but they could be close and will definitely be a fun team to keep an eye on all weekend.

Don’t Count Them Out

There are a couple teams also in the mix that are threats but, on paper, just don’t have the same firepower as the top teams coming into the weekend. Could they make the charge and put together a perfect weekend? Absolutely. But they may have a harder time catching the teams in front of them.

“Forging the Warrior” is a team that has that big-weekend potential with Brooke Haas, Colleen Lehane, Thomas Scott, and Lucas Herdliska. The team will be led by Haas, who finished 18th in the CrossFit Games Open, but the next best finishing teammate was Lehane in 257th. The team has potential to be a legitimate threat, but the numbers have them just behind the lead pack.

Similarly structured is “Victory Grips.” Built by the Training Think Tank, this team is comprised of several competitors with experience at Regionals and similar large events: Alye DeRoma, Ashley Shaeffer, Mitch Beaver, and Logan Southard. It’s a solid team that is an unknown in the present as none of the four completed the Open with verified scores. On past evidence, all four are legitimate competitors, but where they stand at the moment is the question.

The added intrigue of an event like Granite Games comes from the mixture of “super teams” and traditional affiliate teams. Yes, talent-wise the majority of the time the prior will usually have a significant advantage in terms of full-team depth. However the question could come from communication and teamwork as we reach a new era in team competition and perhaps an affiliate-based squad could have an advantage over a team spread over an entire country. The programming and the elements included could be the difference in having a “super team” continue the trend seen at past sanctioned events this season or perhaps seeing a traditional affiliate team show that the old school feel of the team competition is still alive and well.

All this being said, while the individual lineup on it’s own makes Granite Games a must-see sanctioned event this season, don’t make the mistake of sleeping on what should be a fantastic team competition to lock up one of the few remaining spots in Madison.

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