Last year in the Western Conference Final, San Francisco was plagued by some injuries, a stomach virus and general fatigue. Phoenix, on the other hand, was executing at the top of their game. This match sets up a rematch of the 2015 conference final, but we should see a much tighter Fire. The Rise will be looking for an undefeated season, and San Francisco is hoping to take back what Danny Nichols took from them in the regular-season showdown in Race 11. It’s on.

Key players

The Fire’s Sarah Hopping-Estrella has been a standout all season. She will be a strong presence in this Denali format in much of the match, moving heavy weight throughout. On the other end of the spectrum, Courtney Walker will figure heavily in Jack and Jill, who along with Eric Cardona, will do a fair amount of skilled excellence with bar-muscle-up roll-overs. One of the Echoes, which close with 40 hang cleans, will be a face-off of the best closers in the league.

For Phoenix, Laura Poling was built for the Denali Echoes. Her task will be hang cleaning 145 lb for multiple reps, which for her is easy. Similarly, few athletes cycle a barbell in Quadrant 4 like Jessica Phillips and between her, Poling and Jamie Hagiya, they make a strong wall of defense against the Fire women.

For the men, San Francisco’s Cam Pernich, Ian Daniel and Ger Sasser will face off against Phoenix’s Danny Nichols, Blaine McConnell and Craig Kenny in Quadrant 4 and at various other places in the match. The Phoenix men showed why they are winners in the previous match against San Francisco, winning two of three men-only races, and with the dumbbell burpee box jump-overs, the Rise’s Nichols invented the speed on this move and will be hard to beat here. If Nichols positions Marcus Filly and McConnell to work through the chest-to-bar pull-ups quickly, the Phoenix men will be an stoppable force on the final cleans.

Keep an eye out for the Fire’s Cardona on Jack and Jill.

Race to watch

The Mirror, with its 40 front squats at 175 lb/285 lb is relatively heavier for the men than it is for the women. Ergo, the women don’t really factor as much as the men do. In other words, the teams will only be as fast as their slowest men. Both teams have won the Mirror twice against other teams. Head-to-head, San Francisco won against Phoenix. With Ian Daniel, Cam Pernich, Buddy Hitchcock and Jamie Lee, you have a solid lineup against Nichols, Kenny, McConnell and Filly. The slight edge may go to San Francisco on the strength of Daniels and Pernich in Quadrants 3 and 4.  

The Men’s Echoes should be a wild ride through the dumbbell burpees-over-box. Nichols showed how this was done in the 2015 running of this match and he and McConnell will be extremely solid on this element. Similarly, the Rise women, lead by Poling and Phillips, should dominate these, as well. If this is the case, the generalists like Hagiya, Loeffler and Filly, will get through the chest-to-bar pull-ups setting up the cleans. It’s very possible that Phoenix could sweep races 3-6.

Jack and Jill tends to lean toward the Fire. With Cardona and Walker, they make a solid body-weight focus duo. Phoenix, however, may unleash Braden Rubey here. Rubey has not gotten the press and the notice that Cardona has but he is actually a powerful body-weight specialist who happens to be firing on all cylinders at the moment. He and Calhoun could give the Cardona/Walker pair a run for their money. While the edge goes to San Francisco, I am not counting Phoenix out to take this.

As we did with DC and Boston, let’s imagine a scenario where the match is close (and I suspect this one will be). Let’s imagine that it comes down to the Relay.

Where might one team take an advantage?

  • 8 stone-over-shoulder (200 lb)

Who has the wingspan on each team to get all of these done — wingspan plus strength. Tyler Cummings and Bryan Miller for Phoenix. Miller does seven and comes out and lets Kenney do the final rep. (Miller is needed for the rope climbs.)

  • 20 handstand push-ups
  • 10 deck-to-roll-over
  • 3 rope climbs (legless)

Miller vs. Cardona. Cardona destroys these. Miller is close behind.

  • Kettlebell overhead walking lunges 2 x 32 kg

Daniel vs. Nichols. Nichols pulls way ahead.   

  • 20 chest-to-bar pull-ups
  • 6 handstand push-ups (freestanding, 5” deficit)

Calhoun vs. Walker.  Whoever is ahead easily finishes first. 

  • 5 snatches, 225 lb

Pernich vs. McConnell. This is Blaine’s element. He will be so fired up by this point that he will touch and go these 225-lb snatches like he’s warming up his opener in a local weightlifting meet. Pernich, although strong, can’t keep up and McConnell takes it.  


Phoenix has been very tight all season long and they haven't lost a match yet. They are a close and tight unit, and will fight for each other until the last man is standing. San Francisco has an enormous amount of talent but is a bit more diffuse as a team, and with a constant coaching rotation this season, won’t quite have the flawless communication and execution that the Rise have. I predict the match will go to Phoenix and they will face DC, again, in the Final.