Get to know some of the new and returning men of the South Central Region.
San Antonio, Texas is home to the iconic Alamo, the Riverwalk and, for the past three years, the South Central Regional.
As long as you’re sightseeing, you’ll want to take note of 18-year-old Sam Jett, one of the youngest athletes to compete at regionals this year. He’ll be up against veteran Paul Smith and a host of stalwarts in the region.
There’s been an outpouring of love in the CrossFit community for Smith who’s making 2014 his last run at the Games. He’ll be a fan favorite, but many of the athletes will be rooting for him, as well.
Aja Barto, a three-time Games qualifier, chose Olympic weightlifting over CrossFit in 2014, but even with his absence it won’t be easy getting to Carson, California. The field contains a mixture of veterans and newcomers, and in a region traditionally dominated by Texans, a number of athletes from Louisiana and Mississippi will be competing for a podium spot.
Chase “Captain America” Ingraham, a 2010 Games competitor, is out of individual contention after opting to go team with CrossFit Big D.
In 2013, Roy Gamboa was a relative newcomer to the sport, but the former college football player was hardly intimidated as he secured a podium spot in his first crack at the Games. After finishing first in the South Central in this year’s Open, he’s now a seasoned veteran and a leading candidate for the CrossFit Games.
Jason Hoggan, a 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games competitor, narrowly missed out last year, and after earning second place in the Open, this affable attorney by day is hungry for a second trip to the Games.
Last year, Mike McGoldrick turned heads by topping the podium in South Central. His performances in this year’s Open were quiet and consistent, and he finished under the radar in 12th place. His experience and all-around game, however, make him an obvious threat in San Antonio.
Likewise, the bright lights of the competition floor shouldn’t faze athletes such as Jeff Germond, Ryan Bielefeldt and Richard Bohlken. They’ve competed on this stage before and have both the talent and experience to vie for a podium spot.
Games veteran Bryan Diaz never fell out of the top 50 in any of the Open workouts, finishing seventh overall. After studying this year’s regionals events, he sounded a note of caution, especially in light of all the gymnastics movements.
“This competition can be a slippery slope if you don’t have ideal mechanics,” Diaz said. “It’ll bleed into each (event) for the weekend.”
For Diaz, regional preparation always follows a similar pattern: movement and strength development, then as the competition gets closer he ramps up the competitive aspect. He’s been competing at regionals for so many years, “it’s hard to remember what it was like to be a newbie.”
As he attempts to return to California, he will bring a Samson-esque secret weapon: “The beard allows for faster recovery and assists in a few reps here and there.”
Hoggan, who shared the podium with Diaz in 2012, has faith his coaches’ programming will have him ready come regionals.
“Luckily, I don't have to think about it much because my coaches are on top of the programming, but I’m sure we'll focus on weaknesses so I'll be confident on (May) 23,” he said.
Both Hoggan and Diaz feel they have a mental edge due to their repeated trips to regionals. Hoggan describes it as a family event.
“It does get easier to manage when you have a familiar routine, a support network and a strategy to execute on each (event),” he said.
No matter the comfort level, the pressure remains, as well as an unending process Diaz describes as “closing past holes in my game as we (Diaz and his coaches) continue to seek out/find new ones to fix.”
Both athletes have learned their weaknesses the hard way: on the floor of the Freeman Coliseum.
“I faltered last year when I didn't have a solid game plan going into one (event), and it cost me a trip to the Games,” Hoggan said. “The risk of making an error is even higher this year, so I'll make sure not to do that again.”
Mississippi will be well represented in San Antonio. Finishing sixth and fourth respectively in the Open, regionals debutants Dex Hopkins and Cam Willson of Mississippi CrossFit are training partners, as well as devoted followers of the programming offered by MisFit Athletics.
“I recently got into contact with Drew Crandall and Seth Page with MisFit Athletics and have been doing their regional prep programming with my training partner Cam Willson,” Hopkins said. “So I'll be chipping away at whatever they throw at me. I like having a coach and a program I didn’t think of for myself so I can just put my head down and attack it 100 percent without bias towards my strengths.”
Regionals veteran Hunter Owen and talented newcomer Seth Hayden round out the crew from the Magnolia state.
Stephano Tsaganis, a top-five finisher in the 2014 Open, was happy to see an early release of all the events. In his mind, “there is no more guessing game” and he’s spent the past few weeks “fine tuning the movements.”
“I think it's important to try the (event) beforehand to see where the pain cave kicks in or see how you need to pace,” Tsaganis said. “There's no telling how many legless rope climbs I will be doing for the next three weeks.”
Tsaganis said he learned a lot on his first trip in 2013.
“You learn about recovery, nutrition, how to warm up and cool down properly, what to expect during the day,” he said. “You’re not star struck, and you can prepare much better, both mentally and physically. Last year, I had only been CrossFitting right at a year during regionals, so I just kind of went out there not knowing very much. Being in between Aja Barto and Paul Smith was intimidating back then.
Newcomers Braden Torrez and Hopkins find themselves battling anxiety as the big weekend approaches, but they part ways when it comes to expectation. Torrez is going in with one simple goal.
“To leave the competition satisfied with the way I performed over the three days,” he said. “Of course, finishing on the podium would be an amazing experience and to do that this year, I believe it takes more of a mental game and plain grit with the (events) being what they are.”
For Hopkins’ first time to regionals, he has high expectations.
“I want to win. I think if anyone else tells you different they're lying,” Hopkins said. “I surprised myself and a lot of other people, I think, finishing sixth. I'll be going in very confident that I belong there and very confident in the work I've done.”
He added: “When we get to regionals, no one is going to be magically more fit than the week before. The work is done at that point and it’s time to have fun and show others how hard you've worked.”
Texans have dominated the podium the past three years, but this year athletes from outside the Lone Star State are looking to break tradition. No matter what happens, Hopkins is proud of the crop of athletes from Mississippi.
“I'm very excited with not only the number of athletes representing Mississippi this year, but the quality of athlete,” he said. “I think we'll have a very strong showing for our state.”
The newer competitors might end up a little star struck as they go up against the likes of Smith, Gamboa, Hoggan and Diaz. But Tsaganis is going to use it as fuel.
“It gives me motivation to push myself harder if I’m in the same heats as one of the big names in the region,” he explained. “Eventually, I want to be that big name that everyone wants to take down.”