May 19, 2016
New Faces in the South
By Brittney Saline
The South Regional will send six rookies to the Individual Competition at the CrossFit Games.
The South Regional will send six rookies to the Individual Competition at the CrossFit Games.

Like an encore one year later, two-time Games athlete Roy Gamboa and 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games champion Camille Leblanc-Bazinet reprised their 2015 roles as regional victors with top podium finishes in the South Regional last weekend.

What wasn’t as set in stone was which individuals would take the other eight tickets to Carson. All weekend, second through fifth place on both the men’s and women’s leaderboards jumped around like popcorn, and when the dust settled, six rookies earned their first tickets to Carson.

WHITNEY CAPPELLUCCI

Before 28-year-old Whitney Cappellucci hit the floor in Dallas, Texas, for her fifth individual regional appearance, she made a decision. Though she had yet to make it to the CrossFit Games, after this year, she would hang up her Nanos in to pursue a career in medicine.

“This is my last shot, if I get into medical school,” she said while cooling down after Event 5.

Cappellucci announced her presence in the weekend’s first event, finishing second to Leblanc-Bazinet in the snatch ladder. Though she remained in the top four all weekend, it was in the final event that she wowed the crowd with an event win.

While the women around her sprinted between barbell and rig, Cappellucci walked, saving her energy for the rope. Between reps, she walked a few paces away. The built-in recovery paid off as she kept climbing while her competitors fatigued. The only time she sprinted was her sprint to the finish.

Icing on the cake of her first individual CrossFit Games qualification, she received her letter of acceptance to the University of New Mexico School of Medicine one day later.

“What an insane, emotional, happy few days it has been,” she wrote on social media after. “My heart is so full.”

ALEXIS JOHNSON

Alexis Johnson, 25, had two individual regional competitions under her belt before this year, placing 12th in 2014 and 11th in 2015. Though she hoped to qualify this year, the former gymnast and current student—she’s working on her Ph.D. in algebraic geometry—had only one goal: to give it her all.  

“Making the Games would be awesome,” she said. “(But) my goal was to do the best I could … go until you fail. Give it all your heart.”

Johnson took home the bronze with five top-10 finishes, including a first-place finish in Event 2, her first event win in her regional history.

She won it by playing smart. Though the strict muscle-ups, which she performed in a nearly flawless L-sit, seemed easy, she broke them into singles early on and also set her 53-lb. kettlebell down between arms, preserving her strength to last the 20-minute gymnastic marathon. The strategy paid off; while others struggled with no reps on the muscle-ups in the final minutes, Johnson kept moving, getting six snatches into the ninth round before time ran out.

“I train for the community,” she said after the weekend’s events were over. “I’m training to be a better me.”

TENNIL REED

Like Johnson, last weekend was Tennil Reed’s third individual regional appearance, after taking ninth last year and sixth in in the South West in 2014. This year, she makes her Carson debut with four top-three finishes, including a win in Event 3.

The 28-year-old physical therapist made her ascent up the leaderboard slowly, not entering the top 10 until after Event 4. Before the final event, she sat in seventh, just 4 points outside Games qualification.

Though Games athletes Mandi Janowitz and Candice Wagner had the jump on her for the first half of the event—all were trailing rookie Brittany Chestnut—Reed made her move on the last set of thrusters, finishing all 9 with enough time to chalk up and rest before the other women caught up.

A giant leap made short work of Reed’s final ascent and she sprinted to the finish at 3:38.86, third after Brittany Chestnut and Cappellucci, but 1.12 seconds faster than Johnson and 12.61 seconds ahead of Wagner, which was all that mattered. Reed’s third-place event finish launched her to fourth overall, the first time all weekend she’d held a qualifying spot.

“I concentrated on me and what I could do in those workouts and thought about my game plan over and over and over again in my head,” Reed said. “I knew what I had to do to get there; it was just a matter of getting it done.”

LOGAN COLLINS

After just three years of CrossFit and only one previous regional appearance, in 2015, 24-year-old Logan Collins finished third overall with an impressive six top-10 finishes and two event wins.

The young owner of CrossFit Rejoice stunned fans and commentators with his smooth strict muscle-ups, stringing 3 of 4 reps together each round until the 10th round. He seemed to rebound from the dead hang at the bottom of each rep, looking more like a former gymnast than the collegiate baseball player he was.

Maintaining that pace throughout the 20-minute event, he snuck in four strict handstand push-ups in the last 10 seconds, and his score of CAP+15 out of Heat 4 survived the final heat of men. His top-10 scores put him in sixth before the final event, 3 points outside of qualification.

While Games athlete Elijah Muhammad captivated the crowd’s attention for the first two rounds of Event 7’s thrusters and legless rope climbs, a fan favorite desperate to return, Collins quietly kept pace, reaching the rope for the final ascent in line with Muhammad. But a no rep for Muhammad meant the difference between first and second in the event—while Muhammad did an extra rep, Collins made a breakaway for the finish, taking his second event win and the bronze to boot.

SEAN SWEENEY

Sean Sweeney was terrible at sports.

“When me and my brother were playing in little league baseball, he was always in All-Stars and I was picking my nose in the grass in the outfield,” he said.

Though he was decent at rodeo—team roping was his specialty—it wasn’t until he joined the Navy that he grew interested in working out, starting CrossFit in 2011. Four years later, he made his first individual regional appearance, finishing in sixth last year in the South Regional, just one place from qualification. Last weekend, he finished with one place to spare, taking fourth overall with five top-10 finishes and one event win.

Winning Event 4, the pistol and power clean couplet, was Sweeney’s price for multiple no reps on the wall-ball shots of the previous event. He knew he had ground to make up.

“I’m gonna pay for it now,” he said to himself before the event. Though he said pistols are not a strength of his, “pain tolerance is,” he said. That much was clear, as he ate up the reps without pause, despite the pain etched on his face. Carrying the barbell between sets instead of rolling it also saved precious seconds, and in the end, his grit paid off with a time of 14:58, which withstood even the final heat.

The pure grit he displayed in Event 4 was demonstrative of why he fell in love with CrossFit in the first place.

“I always worked hard, but I was never very talented at anything,” Sweeney said. “That’s (what) the thing about CrossFit is—you don’t have to be born gifted. You don’t have to be born lucky. You don’t have to be anything. You just have to work hard and want it more than anyone else.”

JOSEPH GUESNIER

Guesnier may be a first-time Games qualifier after last weekend, but he’s no true rookie. Though he said he’s wanted to compete at the Games as an individual since he began CrossFit in 2012, after placing 13th in the South Central in 2014, he joined CrossFit Lubbock’s team last year to gain experience, ultimately helping the team to a 35th-place finish at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games.

“That experience really helped elevate me,” the 25-year-old said.

The experience showed, as he hovered either in or near qualification contention all weekend, never falling below sixth overall and ultimately taking the fifth and final qualifying spot. Out of his five top-10 finishes, Event 6 was his best—his first outright career win.

All throughout the grueling chipper, Guesnier kept pace with Muhammad. Rep for rep until the end, it all came down to the final 5 overhead squats. Guesnier power-cleaned the 225-lb. barbell; Muhammad snatched it. To their right, Travis Williams missed it from behind. But a slight wobble for Muhammad as he stood the weight up gave Guesnier a split-second’s lead, and in a footrace to the finish mat, a split second was all he needed, finishing six-tenths of a second before Muhammad. After, his 10th-place finish in the final event was good enough to send him to Carson.

“It means a ton to go individual,” he said.