Volleyball isn’t the only sport UC Irvine excels at. The Anteater Paintball team just returned from Dallas, Texas and the National Collegiate Paintball Association Championship Tournament with the first place Class AA trophy in hand.
On April 7, the UCI Gold team took first place, with the Blue team taking third. Kansas State finished second and Ohio State fourth. Besides the Wildcats and Buckeyes, UCI’s two teams defeated Tennessee, Arkansas, Southern Illinois and North Texas to make it to the championship bracket. The field was set based on a system of awarding points for performances in preceding tournaments. An original field of 25 teams was narrowed down to only eight, with the Blue and Gold taking fourth and seventh respectively.
This victory was earned through long practices every weekend. They practice both in and outdoors at Brea’s Splat Factory and SC Village in Corona, scrimmaging and conducting drills honing skills for everything from shooting and moving to team communication to snap shooting. Snap shooting is when a player edges out from cover for only a split second in order to release a few shots before ducking back. This dedication to technique has given the Anteaters the winning advantage on a small paintball course in which matches last no longer than five minutes and have sometimes ended as quickly as 30 seconds, according to R.T. Harada, a third-year philosophy major as well as the club’s vice president and co-founder.
‘The actual objective is to get the opponent’s flag,’ Harada said. ‘But no one would even try it until we’ve cleared the other team.’
Club President and co-founder Kyle Nagao says he has about 20 players currently at the tournament skill level on his roster of 23. They’ve added a third, six-man team to the club as well. Teams typically comprise a five-man starting squad and one alternate. The success of the squad rests with the dedication of the team, Nagao says.
‘Personally, if they had been any other people, we never would have made it this far,’ the fourth-year international studies and economics double major said. ‘There has been sacrifice in the extreme, and I am very appreciative of the team. They are a solid group of people.’
This news has spread quickly through the paintball world. Some high school prospects have informed Nagao and Harada that they want to come to UC Irvine because it is one of the only schools in the UC system that has a team. One has even considered turning down a scholarship to UCLA in order to remain in competitive paintball.
The history of the UCI paintball team hasn’t always been this glorious, however. The first attempt at an organized team failed after a lack of interest and funding, and the current team didn’t exist until last summer. Word has traveled over the National Collegiate Paintball Association Web site, and Nagao and Harada organized a group of supporters. Meeting each other for the first time hours before their first tournament, the team placed third in a field of six.
From there, the team spent their spring break playing in Huntington Beach, earning first and third, and then prepared for the playoffs. The team sacrifice mentioned by Nagao is apparent in the cost of maintaining a paintball team.
‘We’re hurting for funding,’ Nagao said. ‘Everything is out of pocket. We have some guys committing $2,500 to $3,000 for travel and equipment.’
This cost is shouldered by the players because the team has twice been denied club sports status. The club sports office isn’t accepting applications for the rest of the school year, with reasons varying from the desired UCI image to season completion of teams already in existence. According to Club Sports Director Marie Fekete, it ‘seems the campus club is quite effective within [their] current management model.’
However, the team is left wanting for what UC Davis has already accomplished. Most of the competition, such as Ohio State, Connecticut and Illinois, has already secured their status and security as club sports. Without school budget or sponsorship access, UCI members will continue to fund their team themselves.
Both Nagao and Harada have been playing paintball since the sport started. They’ve continued practices during the NCPA off-season and are currently fielding one team in the Rookie Division of the Paintball Sports Promotions League, which is one of the premiere leagues in paintball. They’re heading to Las Vegas next where they’ll compete in a field of 40.
‘I want to win,’ Harada said. ‘It’ll be hard, but we’re good enough.’
Students are encouraged to attend the weekly club meeting if they’re interested in competing. Meetings take place Mondays at 7 p.m. in Social Science Lab room 129.
‘We’ve got a place for everybody,’ Nagao said.
For more information about the leagues that organize paintball, go to www.college-paintball.com, and www.pspevents.com.