Only one team will enter the finals with a flawless record, and it’s also a team that predicted their place at the start of the season.
After defeating Washington State University in the first week of league play, team captain Trent “PlantingCargo85” Wieland guaranteed, on stream, that his team would make it to the finals.
“Not to be overly cocky, but honestly, if we didn’t make LAN, everyone in the community would be surprised,” Wieland said.
That kind of brazen confidence is a common thread on this team, but the their play proves it isn’t empty talk.
Arizona is able to perform so well as a team because they’re one of Collegiate Rocket League’s few full rosters with a history together. Wieland and Ali “*fire*” Taherkhan knew each other before their CRL days, when the two had developed a lively online rivalry. Amid their playful banter, the pair realized they were both living in Tucson. Wieland was already attending the University of Arizona, and Taherkhan planned to stay local after graduating high school. Two thirds of UA Rocket League roster had formed.
Once Tespa announced Collegiate Rocket League, Wieland knew he only needed to find another solid player to create a formidable roster. Jonathan “jojocats” Rickel eventually joined the roster through the university’s esports club, though he wasn’t quite at the same level as his teammates. But after a challenging freshman year, Wieland said Rickel’s efforts in the off-season made him an essential part of the team.
“Jojo’s improvement between last season and this season is literally the only reason why we’re at where we are,” Wieland said. “He’s grinded his butt off to be able to hold his own at this level. I’m proud as team captain but just being friends with him is awesome.”
Another reason for the team’s confidence is its intense practice regiment. In preparation for the finals, Wieland said the team has been scrimmaging against competitors from both the Rocket League Championship Series and the Rocket League Rival Series. Wieland and Taherkhan both feel this sharpened their skill while simultaneously letting them develop tactics in private.
“I told Cargo that, no, going into LAN, I don’t want to play any college teams,” Taherkhan said. “I don’t want anyone learning what we do by watching the replays. I want us to become a surprise attack.”
Despite the level at which the Wildcats are playing and their undefeated record, the season had its challenges. According to Taherkhan, the Wildcat’s biggest weaknesses aren’t the sort you’d spot on a stat sheet.
“We had too many game fives,” Taherkhan said. “I think a lot of the series were closer than they should have been. But it just happens with all the nerves when you’re being shown in front of, like, 20,000 people.”
Those same nerves were on full display in the Wildcat’s Western Conference finals match against against Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Since Cal Poly had knocked Arizona out of the playoffs last season, Taherkhan stressed how crucial winning the 7-game rematch was for the team’s mentality.
The victory was so momentous that, as Taherkhan described it, he slammed his headset down in excitement, breaking it in the process. That moment represents what both Wieland and Taherkhan describe as Arizona’s ability to recover and overcome adversity.
“We started playing much better after we beat them because our confidence went way up,” Taherkhan said. “The team morale got extremely boosted.”
To see if Arizona can maintain their perfect record, catch the finals at 2:00 p.m. CST on twitch.tv/rocketleague. Tickets are still on sale for those who want to witness the action in person. To learn more about the other three finalists in the 2018 Collegiate Rocket League finals, click below.