February 25, 2014
Beasts of the South East
By Dawn South

"The South East is a very strong region that has a lot of male athletes contending for those top three spots," Julian Serna said.


With the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games season just days away, the competition amongst the men of the South East Region looks to be fierce once again.

“What I took out of last year’s regionals was that the South East is a very strong region that has a lot of male athletes contending for those top three spots,” Julian Serna said.

The South East’s top males in 2013—ZA Anderson, Daniel Petro and Travis Mayer—gave the South East its best showing ever at the Games. Anderson finished in 10th place overall with an impressive third-place finish on the Sprint Chipper. Petro finished the Burden Run in third place and 13th place overall. Mayer’s best performance came during Cinco 2, which he finished in seventh place. He ended the Games in 18th place overall.  

All three men have been preparing for another season since returning home from the Games. 

ZA Anderson

Anderson seems unimpressed with some recent PRs he set, including a 300-lb. snatch, 385-lb. power jerk and 500-m row time of 1:19.

“I hate stats,” Anderson said. “Training numbers are just that—training.”

He said he knows the Games season comes down to his performance on unknown workouts.

“I am very aware ... that some (workouts) play better into my abilities than others,” he said. “I just do my best to not let it faze me, trust my offseason training and attack every (workout) that is released.”

Daniel Petro

Daniel Petro said he is a more well-rounded athlete in 2014.

“Since the 2013 Games, I have made a few changes to how I train, but my volume has pretty much stayed the same,” he said. “I basically push as much volume as I can and try my best to listen to my body when it tells me I need to back off a bit.”

Petro said in the past he did not spend a lot of time working on specific movements because he had to “get so much better at everything.” This year, he has been able to focus more on his weaknesses.

With his success at the Games, Petro spent the year traveling to competitions and meeting people around the world. His travels to South Africa, Dubai and Spain, as well as all over the United States have given him a newfound appreciation for CrossFit’s worldwide reach.  “The best part (about traveling) has been meeting and developing friendships with other Games athletes and CrossFit enthusiasts around the world,” Petro said.

Petro, owner of CrossFit West Cobb, has had a busy and exciting year.

“Balancing between coaching, training and being a gym owner has been so much fun over the last year,” Petro said. “I have an amazing group of coaches that help when I travel, and my wife Mary is incredible at managing all the things for the gym that I can’t handle. If anything, I would say it has been a better environment than before to prepare for this season.”

Petro, who got married in January, is expecting his first child in July.

“The interesting thing is going to be becoming a father,” Petro said. “I am extremely excited, and I know I will want to be with my little girl as often as possible and may not want to spend as much time training. We will just have to see how that goes.”

Travis Mayer

Mayer, the owner of CrossFit Passion, has been working on his weaknesses ever since returning home from last year’s Games. He and his coach, Max El-Hag, put a plan together in anticipation of the 2014 season.

“We are targeting a ton of overhead work to work on my weaknesses,” Mayer said. “Since the beginning of the Games season last year to now, I have been able to add 35 lb. on my split jerk, which I am very excited about.”

Mayer’s split jerk PR is 370 lb. With a recent PR of 175 lb. on a muscle snatch, Mayer’s hard work is paying off.

In January, Mayer competed at the OC Throwdown in California alongside Games athletes Kenneth Leverich and Garret Fisher. He said he likes to do one unsanctioned competition right before the Open.

“I want to get a feel on how training has been going, and if there are some major weaknesses exposed,” Mayer said.  

“Going into (the OC Throwdown), I was very excited until about three days before,” he continued. “I came down with a cold. My sinuses and breathing felt off and just didn’t feel 100 percent. So for the way I felt, I am very happy with how I performed.” After a 10th-place finish among some of the best, Mayer appears ready to take on the Open.

The South East has plenty of men ready to challenge Anderson, Petro and Mayer for a spot on the podium.

Noah Ohlsen

Noah Ohlsen said he learned a lesson after a disappointing 40th-place finish in 2013 South East Regional Event 5. Ohlsen finished the couplet of deadlifts and box jumps in 7:53, more than 4 minutes behind Chris Harris, who placed first in the event with a time of 3:34.

After maintaining his first-place position throughout the first four events, Ohlsen dropped to fourth place after Event 5 and finished the South East Regional in seventh place overall.

“The deadlift workout kept me from the podium last year, but I don't think it was a simple matter of my deadlift,” he said. “I have certainly gotten stronger there, but I think it's been more about learning lessons and paying attention to the little things. Recovery was probably what made those deads so hard. After the 100 pistols and dumbbell snatches, my lower back was shot, and I didn't wear a belt or do much to fix that.”  

“Wearing a belt just to help stabilize and support my spine under a lot of tension for high duration has become a new and useful concept to me,” he added. “Now, I can focus more on positioning and keeping my body 100 percent for every workout.”

This year, he is on a mission to make it to the Games. A few local competitions with Games competitors in attendance have given him more confidence in his abilities.

“I just finished a few big competitions, going head-to-head with some of the best in our sport: (Chris Spealler), (Rich) Froning, (Kenneth) Leverich, (Austin) Malleolo, (Nate) Schrader,” Ohlsen said. “I have a little more confidence that I can hang at the next level.”

Joel Dizona

Joel Dizona was deployed to Afghanistan from July to mid-December of 2013, which has set him back in his training. He admits he has some work to do.

Dizona finished fourth at the 2013 South East Regional. With a recent 11th-place finish in the elite division at Wodapalooza, Dizona continues to be someone to keep an eye out for.

Jeff Evans

Jeff Evans also appears to be a contender in the South East. After only eight months of CrossFit, Evans finished eighth at the 2013 South East Regional. He said he has been turning a lot of weaknesses into strengths this past year, such as his conditioning and gymnastics skills.

“My coach, CJ Martin, has been pushing me as hard as I can go to make giant gains at both,” Evans said. “Last year, my handstand push-up max-rep was 17 before regionals. About four months ago, I PR’d in a training session at 36 unbroken handstand push-ups. I think I’m around 50 based on how I’ve been performing the last two months.”

Evans said he recently retested the 30 burpee muscle-ups for time from regionals and finished in 5:20, improving his time of 6:49.

When it comes to working on his conditioning, Evans said he has been doing “almost everything out there.”

“Strict cardio, short back-to-back AMRAPs, long, high-rep (metabolic-conditioning workouts) and so on,” he said.  

With the focus on his gymnastics and conditioning, his lifts have also improved, with a recent 10-lb. PR on his snatch at 295 lb.

“The plan is to definitely get that No. 1 spot,” he said.

Elijah Muhammad

Elijah Muhammad said last year’s fifth-place finish at the 2013 South East Regional was a “humbling experience.” This year, he worked on increasing the numbers on his lifts, adding a 565-lb. deadlift and 295-lb. snatch to his list of PRs.

“I feel that I am definitely ready for this upcoming Games season,” he said. “As far as the podium, if it’s in God’s plans for me then I’ll definitely be up there. Only time will tell.”

Julian Serna

Julian Serna (11th at the 2013 South East Regional) decided he needed to find a coach to help him take it to the next level. For the last few months, he has followed the programming and remote coaching of CJ Martin of CrossFit Invictus in San Diego, Calif.

“He has helped me make huge strides, and I think my chances for podium have improved,” Serna said. “But like I said, our region is stacked, so I’m training harder than ever to put myself in that podium position.”

With a first-place finish at both the Crush Games and the OC Throwdown, Serna’s chances for the podium look favorable.

Brandon Phillips

One fan favorite who is likely out of the men’s individual competition is four-time Games veteran, Brandon Phillips. With the opening of his own affiliate, as well as becoming a new father to baby boy, Carson, Phillips said training is “far down my list of priorities.” Instead, Phillips is focusing on qualifying a team from his gym, CrossFit Bound.

“I will be going team, and we will have a solid group together so the Games may be in sight. Who knows?” he said. “I have to admit though: I respect those athletes that train with having a baby. I can’t get my mind focused on anything but him. That kind of takes away from me being 100 percent dedicated to the grind.”

Matt Baird and Dominick Maurici

Dominating the 2013 Open Leaderboard last year were Matt Baird and Dominick Maurici. Both went on to regionals with first-place finishes in separate events and finished in the top 10, proving they are definitely athletes to look for at the top of the South East Leaderboard this season.

The list is long, and incomplete. Starting this Thursday, unknown athletes from the South East will be able to prove themselves in the 2014 Open.