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Rocket Relay sizzles to Flyball triumph past Border Patrol
By Mark Waslick
Special to GOG

The Flyball contest can get fast and furious.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — For the second consecutive year, the Rocket Relay team from Hamilton, Ontario, made the Flyball competition its own personal showcase.

When a break in the clouds Saturday allowed for a safe run, Rocket burned up the course and the rest of the field. In a repeat of last year's Go Games finals, Rocket Relay defeated Border Patrol of Mount Hope, Ontario, three heats to two.

In making it to this year's finals, Rocket Relay blasted past Allsorts Dogsports of Winnipeg 3-0 in the quarterfinals and defeated Rude Dogs of Detroit 3-0 in the semifinals. It was an impressive double sweep against the best teams around.

Meeting Border Patrol in the gold-medal round for the second year in a row didn't surprise Rocket Relay captain Aaron Robbins.

"We usually face each other in the finals of the tournaments we both enter. We see a lot of each other," Robbins said. "We even practice in the same building at home."

Robbins was rightfully pleased with his team's performance.

We usually face each other in the finals of the tournaments we both enter. We see a lot of each other. We even practice in the same building at home.
Rocket Relay captain Aaron Robbins, on the rivalry with Border Patrol

"I knew it would be tough this year. We are running two green dogs — dogs that are competing at this level for the first time this year," he said. "I'm really proud at how they've responded."

Likewise, Border Patrol considered itself in a rebuilding year. Their anchor dog is only a year old and new to high-stakes races.

"We'll get 'em next year," promised Del Verna of the Border Patrol team.

In the battle for the bronze medal, a strong Rude Dogs team swept Texas Heat from Richardson, Texas. Texas Heat, seeded last based on earlier qualifying time, was down 2-0 in quarterfinals. It rallied to win three heats in row to upset top-seeded Touch N Go from Las Vegas to reach the semifinals.

Katy Kaylor, Texas Heat's captain, was thrilled with her team.

"We knew we were the bottom seed team coming in to the GO Games, so we just wanted to have fun and let it all hang out," Kaylor said.

As this year's favorite and returning gold medallist, Rocket Relay's Robbins approached the competition aware of the expectations on his team.

"As defending champs, people expect us to run clear, fast rounds. We'll chose dogs that are capable of doing that," Robbins said.

"We have some dogs that can put up a fast time, but might not run clear all the time. We'll pick the four dogs from our team of six that are likely to be consistent."

A flyball contests does its thing during the ESPN Great Outdoor Games.
Flyball is fast sport, taking just over 16 seconds per heat.

Each team consists of four dogs that race side-by-side in separate lanes. Each dog runs the 51-foot lane, crosses four jumps, grabs a tennis ball at the turnaround and crosses the same four jumps on its way back to the start/finish line without dropping the ball. Only then can the next dog begin.

If a dog drops a ball before returning to the start line or crosses the start line before the previous dog finishes, it incurs a penalty and has to run again. Running the heats without incurring penalties is as important as running fast. If the other team runs clear, running again will insure a defeat in that heat.

Knowing that each of the dogs on Rocket Relay and Border Patrol are capable of fast times, Robbins placed the responsibility of winning on his team's handlers.

The handlers have to time the release of their dogs to cross nose-to-nose at the start/finish line. A late release costs the team time, while an early release will incur a penalty, and certain defeat in that heat.

True to form, Rocket Relay stuck to the team that got them into the finals — fast but consistent.

The strategy seemed to be working as Rocket Relay easily one the first heat out of the best-of-five finals matchup.

But in the second heat, Rocket Relay's second dog dropped the ball and cost the team the second heat. The dog, one of the two green dogs got flustered at the enormous crowd and the assembled cameras.

Robbins made an immediate decision to substitute that dog with a slower but never-fail alternate. While the team fell behind 2-1 as they lost the next heat, Robbins had bought enough time with the substitution to calm the young dog down.

"The young guy just spooked at the cameras, but after we put him back in, he was fine," Robbins said.

When the team reassembled, Rocket Relay went on the win the next two heats and the gold medal in the 2001 ESPN Great Outdoor Games Flyball competition.

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