"We're all conditioned very well, but what truly sets us apart ... is how damn strong we are," Sam Dancer said.
When the 2014 regional events were announced, some said the programming favored those with gymnastics backgrounds. Handstand walks and strict handstand push-ups proved challenging for those who assumed the regional would be all about heavy weight.
Known for their strength, team CrossFit Conjugate Black could have lamented the turn of events. With CrossFit Powerlifting Seminar Staff members Shane and Laura Sweatt for coaches, the team’s women deadlift 372 lb. on average, while the men average 580 lb.
Instead, the Cincinnati team proved it could handle body weight and heavy weight, dominating the Central East Regional with four first-place and three top-three finishes across eight events. Over the weekend, the team accumulated just 21 points, taking first place over team CrossFit NapTown Blue by a mammoth margin of 25 points.
“We’re super excited to go to Carson,” said team member Melissa Doss. “Sharing a podium with (Julie) Foucher and (Rich) Froning was crazy.”
Storming the Regional
According to Sam Dancer, the team triumphed not despite its strength, but because of it.
“We’re all conditioned very well, but what truly sets us apart ... is how damn strong we are,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to teach someone who’s strong to do a new skill.”
Clad in matching black and neon green, CrossFit Conjugate Black claimed the lead from Day 1, taking first place in the first three events.
After volleying the lead with SPC CrossFit and CrossFit NapTown Blue throughout Event 1, Jennifer Nobis-Dancer secured the win by breaking her set of 9 muscle-ups into two chunks, while the women around her went to singles. Hitting the mat at 7:11, she stopped the clock for CrossFit Conjugate Black a full minute and 24 seconds before second-place finishers CrossFit NapTown Blue.
Fans of CrossFit Conjugate Black expected a spectacle in Event 2, and the team did not disappoint. Despite missed openers by two women, the team lifted a total of 1,170 lb. in the hang squat snatch event—80 lb. more than second-place team SPC CrossFit.
When Dancer took the platform, he made the crowd howl with a 295-lb. hang squat snatch. Had he been competing as an individual, the lift would have set an event record, to be matched only by Neal Maddox from the Northern California Regional two weeks later. Still, Dancer was quick to share the credit, celebrating his teammate’s 10-lb. PR more than his own performance.
“If I had to pick an MVP for that event, it’d be Hunter Britt,” Dancer said of his 19-year-old teammate. “For being the youngest athlete on our team, and it being the first time for him competing at that level, he hit 235 lb., which was a big jump for him.”
Two minutes later, the team complemented its strength with balance and coordination, handstand walking 540 feet for its third consecutive event win. At the end of Day 1, the team had just 3 points and a 20-point lead over CrossFit Murfreesboro in second.
Before the regional, CrossFit Conjugate Black’s top priority was building trust and communication skills. The preparation helped minimize the damage in what would be its worst performance of the weekend—a ninth-place finish in Event 4, the women-only couplet of thrusters and rope climbs.
Dubbed the best climber, Nobis-Dancer had planned to tackle the majority of the ascents. But when she struggled with grip and fatigue earlier than expected, the women changed their strategy on the fly, trading work and rest rep for rep.
“It’s very difficult to replicate the scenario or feeling you’re going to endure at regionals,” Nobis-Dancer said. “Those ropes were slippery, and higher than we expected.”
Though the event didn’t go according to plan, the team was satisfied with its ability to adapt under pressure.“It makes you feel good that you can read your body and read your team,” Nobis-Dancer said.
Third-place finishes in Events 5 and 6 kept the team in first overall with 18 points at the end of Day 2. CrossFit NapTown Blue followed with 32 points. Still, team members were careful not to get cocky.
“Having that second day to humble us gave us that kick and fire to kick it into third gear in the third day,” Nobis-Dancer said.
Doing exactly that, CrossFit Conjugate Black tied team Jacked and Tan for first place with a time of 15:09 in Event 7. They followed the performance with a second-place finish in the weekend’s final event, securing the top podium spot and earning the team’s first trip to Carson, California.
“It went way better than we ever expected,” Nobis-Dancer said. “We all honed in and were really focused and supportive of each other. We came out of that weekend really close and happy as a team.”
The Strong Get Stronger
Rather than try to read the mind of CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro, CrossFit Conjugate Black will spend the remaining weeks before the Games continuing to build strength, both physically as well as between the ears.
“It’s hard to imagine what’s going to be at the Games,” Dancer said. “I think the stronger we are, the better we’re going to adapt to whatever new movement or piece of equipment or modality that Dave throws at us.”
Continuing its pre-regional pattern of training in pairs during the week and as a team on the weekend, CrossFit Conjugate Black gets stronger by making tough movements tougher, adding weighted vests to strict muscle-ups and practicing deficit strict handstand push-ups.
“We’re seeing a theme of strict movements, so we’re tapping into making things more difficult,” Dancer said.
Building mental toughness is equally important.
“We’re going to do some tough things, things that are impossible,” Nobis-Dancer said. “It’s about how we are going to deal with failure and adapt as a team to build each other up to finish a task.”
Recently, the team took turns pushing a prowler loaded with two 45-lb. plates across a gravel road for 1 mile, with non-working athletes carrying 75- or 110-lb. sandbags. The single mile took the team 45 minutes to traverse.
“I could not even physically push the prowler,” Doss said. “We’re six strong-willed individuals and sometimes it’s hard to let go of not being the best at something, so it was a cool example of us coming together as a team to solve the problem.”
And according to Dancer, that’s the whole point.
“It’s so amazing the awesome things people can do when they’re with other people and they work together as a community,” he said. “I hope that whatever we do at the Games just inspires people to open their hearts up to one another, to work together, to communicate and be humble.”