Mix a passionate thirteen-man squad with a large fan base and a nail-biter ending and you’ve got yourself UT Knoxville’s 2011 National Champion paintball team.
With 3:50 left on the game clock, the Vols were down 1–4 to the California State Long Beach 49ers. After a timeout, the team regrouped, and UT returned to the field to pull off a comeback win, defeating the 49ers 5–4.
Team captain Joey Baggott says the motto for the tournament was, “We are going to lose points; it’s how we finish that’s important.” He’s admittedly happy they finished as national champions.
“A national championship means so much to me—probably my greatest achievement as a college student,” says Baggott. “It’s one of those things that I will remember for the rest of my life and tell stories about when I’m old. Only a handful of other people get to do that.”
Professional commentators said the championship match against California State was one of the best paintball games they had seen.
The paintball team triumphed over adversity at the beginning of the year to set the pace for a successful season. As the team prepared for the first conference event, a few players backed out a week before practice.
“As we hit our stride during the season, though, everyone stuck around until the end,” Baggott says.
Anthony Sanders, the club president, says that not having a home facility in Knoxville can be a challenge as well. “When we practice, we have to travel all the way down to Chattanooga,” Sanders says. “That makes it more difficult to compete against teams that have their own field just down the road.”
Despite the ups and downs, UT managed to win the SEC conference with an overall season success of seven wins and two losses.
Coach Benny Baggott’s personal experience with nationals and individual insight with his players helped lead the team to a national championship.
“He has played in more national tournaments than everyone on our team combined and knows a lot about the sport,” says his son, Joey Baggott. “He has also been around since everyone was a freshman, so he knows how they play and how to coach each player.”
Beyond an experienced coach, a dedicated team, and a year of hard work and practice, Baggott pays tribute to the team’s supporters.
“Our wins mean nothing if we don’t have loved ones to celebrate with,” Baggott says.