Club paintball finalists in national competition filled with elite institutions

The SUNY Oswego Rush paintball team breaks out on a point during nationals in central Florida.  (Photo provided by Paintball Club)
The SUNY Oswego Rush paintball team breaks out on a point during nationals in central Florida. (Photo provided by Paintball Club)

An Oswego State team participated in a national championship – and it was not the men’s ice hockey team.

The Oswego State Club Paintball team, known as the SUNY Oswego Rush, traveled to central Florida to compete in the National Collegiate Paintball Associated Championships for the second time in the last three years, this past month. The team competed over the weekend of April 11-13 and finished second out of a field of a 52-team field filled with schools such as University of Texas, Purdue University and North Carolina State, the only team to defeat the Rush.

The club paintball team on Oswego State’s campus has been around since 2002. Without a full year of being a student organization, the team was unable to start competing in tournaments until the following year. Besides the competitive team, which competes at tournaments, the club also hosts an open play event each semester at NVP Syracuse, a paintball complex in the area. The event is open to anyone interested in playing paintball and having fun.

Members of the SUNY Oswego Rush pose together after their final match of the national championships.  (Photo Provided by Paintball Club)
Members of the SUNY Oswego Rush pose together after their final match of the national championships. (Photo Provided by Paintball Club)

The competitive team plays a type of paintball known as, “Race to Two: Five-on-five man.” A game similar to five-on-five Capture the Flag, this form of paintball involves the two teams trying to get the flag at the center of the field, get to the other side and touch the other team’s “home box” before being shot.

“It’s strategy. It’s aggressiveness, a lot of teamwork, communication,” club president Dominic Cardone said.

Executing all these key aspects of the sport comes easy to this year’s team as they were very fortunate to have several players with previous experience, as well as a lot of seniors.

“When it comes to college paintball, not just us, it comes down to dumb luck who comes to a school,” team captain Quentin Mariano said.

“Luckily, this year, we got a lot of people who have PSP experience, which is Paintball Sports Promotion, which is the big league out there. They have past experience there and current experience here. It’s just a bunch of friends playing and it comes down to that, honestly, just the teamwork.”

This year’s squad is made up of six seniors, a junior and a freshman. The seniors include: Mariano, Cardone, A.J. Katt, Kevin Saintey, Thomas Heaton and Taylor De Santis. Rounding off the team are junior Adam Martin and freshman Erik Pedersen.

Pedersen, who did not play very much at the national championships, showed Mariano a lot in his first year on the team. According to the captain, who besides being former club president is the longest tenured member of the team, the West Town, N.Y. native epitomizes what it means to be on this team.

“I’ve seen people grow who want to play and have that itch and urge to play. We have another freshman this year who just wants to play all the time,” Mariano said. “Every day he’s saying, ‘Are we going this weekend? Are we playing this weekend?’ And that’s the drive and the urge you need to be on this winning team.”

Seniors A.J. Katt (left) and Dominic Cardone (right) lead the team out of a break during nationals.  (Photo provided by Paintball Club)
Seniors A.J. Katt (left) and Dominic Cardone (right) lead the team out of a break during nationals. (Photo provided by Paintball Club)

During the fall semester, Mariano was back in New York City for an internship. So, while he was still a full-time student and able to compete with the team, he was not around at practices. That is where Cardone stepped in.

“He wasn’t here and he’s run things the past few years, so I kind of jumped that role and dove in the deep end,” Cardone said.

“So, I wasn’t sure at first what I was doing, but he was still helping from his home down in Brooklyn. He was still a full-time student, so he could play events with us, but he wasn’t here in that leadership role in practices and whatnot. The first semester was rough. We only played one event, but we came in third. Once he came back, it got the ball rolling. In our home tournament, we placed second and then nationals went right from there.”

Once the team reached nationals, it was put into one of 10 or so five-team round robin brackets for play on Saturday. After defeating all other teams in their bracket, the Rush earned a bye into Sunday’s round of 16, also known as the “Ocho Finals.”

On Sunday, the team knocked off Kent State (2-1), Liberty University (2-0) and North Texas (2-1) in order to advance to the finals versus North Carolina State.

After North Texas tied up the semifinal match at one, the Rush switched up their game plan for the final point and secured the victory. Then, they went back to the original plan for the North Carolina State match.

“Literally, the same five people to the same five bunkers every point, and nobody stopped us. So, we thought, ‘Let’s just keep doing this,’” Mariano said. “Then, one team stopped us in semis and we went, ‘Uh oh.’ So, we changed it and it worked. Then, we back to what we had done and it was 1-1 in a best out of three, and we won it to get to the finals.”

Once in the finals, Oswego State dropped the opening point of the match. While the rest of the team’s nerves began to set in and they started getting down on themselves, worrying about the last point, Mariano with his past experience at the national level, knew they were going to be okay.

“After we lost that first point, everyone was down but I knew, ‘We got it.’ It was that kick in the butt they needed at that level. I’ve been at that level for other national events,” Mariano said.

“I knew if you lose that first point it’s all right, it’s whatever; it’s only one point. But, they needed that point. They needed that kick in the butt to get them to the next level. We never blew up on each other. Even when we lost a point we just thought, ‘Okay, it’s fine.’ Next point, we won it.“

The Rush were able to get the second point of the match to tie it at one. Then, Mariano, the player with the most experience on the national stage, was taken out early in the last point of the finals due to a questionable penalty.

Mariano and Cardone both said the penalty was something they had never seen called in all their years of playing. After that, a few minor mistakes tripped Oswego State allowing North Carolina State to take the title.

Cardone, a senior graduating next month, was disappointed with how the season ended but proud of what they accomplished.

“Well, I’m graduating. We have four seniors on the team this year that are graduating, and a couple other seniors that are graduating in December. So, I know that was the last hurrah for us,” Cardone said. “We were going in there thinking, ‘Let’s make a mark on this. Let’s make a mark on our college career, and have a good time with it.’”

Cardone is one of four seniors graduating at the end of the spring semester , and then Mariano and one other will be walking   at the end of the upcoming fall semester.

This leaves questions of where the team will be at this time next year, but neither Cardone or Mariano are worried about the squad.

“It’s always exciting, but it’s also scary. You know you’re losing people, but you’re fine because it’s going to happen. But, you’re also excited to see who you get,” Mariano said.

“This year, we got a lot of guys with experience… Then, you see them play and we realize we have a good team.”

“I’m pretty sure we were one of the smallest schools in this tournament. We made our name known. Now, we have kids contacting that are coming in as freshman to play paintball,” Cardone said.

“It’s kind of odd to be like, ‘You guys are a good paintball school. I’m going to go there now.’ It’s kind of weird.”

While the competitive season is over for this school year, the club has one more event on its calendar.

In just over a week, on May 3, the club paintball team will host its spring semester open play event at NVP Syracuse in Syracuse, N.Y. For more information, go on the team’s Facebook page.