Story:2017 FBA Finals

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2017 FBA Finals
Written by JWolfman

When my editor at FurSports assigned me to analyze the 2017 FBA Finals, my initial thoughts came back to the one single moment that defined the entire series in the minds of many people within the media and out: the Franz Volker injury that ended his career. Granted, it was a bit of a struggle to write this report with as little bias as possible because I grew up (and still am) a Montana Howlers fan, but I also wanted to make this more than just the last big moment of the entire series. The Franz Volker injury had been analyzed, reviewed, and reported to death, so for this assignment, I chose to deliberately put that impactful incident into the backburner. If you want a detailed report on the injury and its aftermath and the controversy surrounding that injury and head coach Hildegarde Tetreault’s decision to start Volker despite his condition being questionable at the time, go read about it elsewhere.

One incident should not define an entire series of seven games involving two teams.

A bit of regular season context: the Montana Howlers had a mediocre first half of the season, in which they were doing alright for themselves but losing plenty of games also. Then suddenly they woke up and a long winning streak led them to the very top of the FBA Western Conference standings. They entered the playoffs as the number one seed, eliminating San Jose, Winnipeg and then Las Vegas to reach the Finals. The Tallahassee Typhoons were mediocre throughout the regular season, having some good streaks and then slumping. They entered the playoffs as the seventh seed, then proceeded to defeat Tennessee, Queens, and then Williamsburg, whom had the top regular season record at the time. In the two games Tallahassee and Montana met, they evenly split the series with the Typhoons’ Narkissa Kassius and Howlers’ Ren Inoue taking POTG honors respectively.

One little side-note of history: while Ren Inoue being captain of the Howlers created very little controversy, the same could not be said on the Typhoons’ case when Franz Volker gave up the title and head coach Tetrault promoted Narkissa Kassius and Rosalie Smoot into the dual role. Excuses/explanations were handed out but many reporters (and fans) felt it was an odd choice for Kassius to have the role, since she was on the bench for much of the season. The lemur silenced most of her critics after her entire playoff performance, but that’s a story for another day.

GAME ONE July 1st, 2017 Billings, MT

The Montana Howlers came into the FInals as the favorites to win the series but there were several question marks that placed the odds in doubt. How rested were they after they barely squeaked through the Western Conference finals against Las Vegas that went all seven games? Could they resolve their inconsistent play? How confident were they, facing the Typhoons whom beaten the third, second, and then first seeded teams of the East Conference in rather convincing fashions?

The starting lineup for the Howlers were Ren Inoue (PG), Kresta Renstill (SG), Vincent Maraundi (SF), Brax Trenor (PG), and Sterling Bengtzing (C). For the Typhoons, it was Franz Volker (PG), Oliver Vance (SG), Tahiry Andriamatsinoro (SF), Rosalie Smoot (PF), and Neil LaRocca (C). While there were a number of roster changes in this series, the names listed were the general starters for their respective teams.

Of all seven games in this series, it’s the very first one that set the tone on what this series was going to be. It was brutal affair between two teams that were even in most of their respective positions, and it was an exhausting game even to watch as the game stretched to two overtimes. A total of five players sat out before the game ended due to injury, and all of them during the two overtime periods. The Howler fans however refused to leave and despite the game ending at a very late hour, the arena was as jam-packed as it was at the start of the game.

The Howlers had a strong start at the first half, led by Ren Inoue as he not only freely passed the ball to his shooting teammates but also made shot after shot as well. His total number of 25 assists were almost even with the entire number of assists made by the Typhoons (29), and coupled with his 27 points, he rightfully earned POTG awards as Montana won the first game 141-138. Brax Trenor was the scoring leader of the team with 29, and Sterling Bengtzing shot 7 for 8, ending with 15 points. However, the game was still mostly even due to the Typhoons dominating in terms of rebounds, grabbing 65 while Montana only managed to counter with 30 of their own.

Although the Howlers’ starting players had the better game against the Typhoons’ starters in terms of assists and points, their bench had no answer whatsoever for Narkissa Kassius. The Typhoons’ top bench guard played only 22 minutes, but her 19 points was equal to the combined scoring efforts of five Montana bench players. The top bench scorer for Montana was Ricardo Rodriguez, finishing with just eight points.

It was close to midnight when the game finally ended. Oliver Vance, Tahiry Andriamatsinoro, Brax Trenor, Ren Inoue, and Kresta Renstill had to sit out before the final buzzer. Many fans regarded this game as one of the best FBA Finals games in recent memory, if not the entire 2016-2017 season. It pitted two teams that refused to give in as they clawed at each other mentally and sometimes physically, and Montana winning out just barely in the end. It produced many highlights, and it gave the world a strong notice that while the Howlers may be the best team out of the West, the Typhoons would not just simply lay down for them. Hildegarde Tetrault wouldn’t allow it.

GAME TWO July 2nd, 2017 Billings, MT

The starting line up for both teams remained the same except for the Typhoons’ shooting guard Oliver Vance going to the bench and replaced by Narkissa Kassius. However for the first half, once again the Howlers had the upper hand but it became clear Ren Inoue was simply exhausted after his career-defining game just the night before. He only managed to earn six assists, the same number he had with rebounding, and was the lowest scoring starter with the Howlers, putting in 16 points which was still respectable but paled in comparison to Game One. To add insult to injury literally, he had to sit out in the fourth quarter due to harming his nose. It was the Howlers’ two forwards and their center that carried much of the night. Vincent Maraundi, Brax Trenor, and Sterling Bengtzing scored a combined total of 71 points which amounted to more than half of the team’s total.

As it happened in Game One, the Typhoons dominated in rebounding as they put in 50 while the Howlers only managed a pitiful 17. Despite Vance’s presence from the bench, both teams’ efforts from the bench were relatively even with no stand outs. The Typhoons’ two starting guards Franz Volker and Narkissa Kassius overwhelmed Ren Inoue and Kresta Renstill, scoring 28 and 29 points respectively and Volker earning nine assists. However it was Maraundi, Trenor, and Bengtzing that mostly kept the Howlers on top, and they won again at home with a score of 123-121. It was yet another brutal offensive game, and Maraundi, whose career was once considered to be on its way to an early route to the D-League, earned POTG honors with his 27 points.

Although Game Two was not as brutal or exhausting as Game One, it was still very impactful. Ren Inoue and Kresta Renstill left the game during the fourth quarter due to injury but it was Sterling Bengtzing that was affected the most. When he suffered an eye inflammation injury in the fourth quarters, his team doctors checked on him and determined that he should be regulated into day-by-day questionable status on his condition. Although Renstill received the same recommendation by doctors, coach Franklin O’Neil’s decision with Bengtzing would have greater impact later in the series.

With the Howlers leading 2-0 and their fans already talking about taking out the brooms for a possible sweep of the series, their confidence was high as they travel to Florida for the third game. As it turned out however, the Typhoons were still more than ready to fight back.

GAME THREE July 3rd, 2017 Tallahassee, FL

To this day, no one really knows why Coach Tetrault switched the Shooting Guard lineup between Kassius and Vance yet again, putting Vance back onto the starting line. It was a question that somehow managed to fall through the cracks, but many surmised it was likely due to Tetrault hoping Kassius could repeat her dominant effort off bench that she did in Game One. As for Coach O’Neil, he placed both Kresta Renstill and Sterling Bengtzing into the bottom reserves with the hopes of having them recover out of their questionable condition statuses. He then placed Vincent Maraundi into the Shooting Guard starting spot, LaShawn Grandon in as Small Forward, and Wescot Yobia as the team’s starting Center.

The trend of the Howlers taking control of the first half ended by Game Three when the Typhoons took control of the first quarter while the Howlers came back in the second. The entire game was once again a back and forth affair, with a team lead lasting only a few minutes before the other team takes the lead and then relinquishing it a short time later. While it was not a brutal physical game in comparison to a number of other games in this series, there were plenty of hustle between them while the Tallahassee fans, starving for their first professional sports title in the history of their city, roared to support the Typhoons from the first minute all the way to the final buzzer. Ren Inoue came back after a lackluster Game Two, ending the game with 28 points and 13 assists. Vincent Maranaudi proved that he could be decent as a shooting guard as well, playing circles around Oliver Vance and finished with an impressive 24 points at 10 for 16 shooting. Wescot Yobia held his own with his starting Center role, shooting 10 for 16 and ending with 20 points. But this game belonged to the Typhoon’s Franz Volker, as he passed selflessly to his players to earn nine assists and shot for 26 points. He was awarded the POTG for his efforts as the Typhoons prevented a Howlers sweep, winning 121-117. Tahiry Andriamatsinoro played his best game of the series, shooting 12 for 17 and ending with 27 points.

Although Game Three was Narkissa Kassius’ weakest performance, her 11 points was enough to equal the combined points total… of the entire Montana bench. It became drastically clear that Montana’s primary weakness was their bench, and it was not their own weakness. Montana only managed to grab 20 rebounds while Tallahassee grabbed 42. Renstill and Bengtzing only managed to play less than two minutes each on the court, but thankfully both were cleared to come back and play in the next game. While Yobia and Maraundi were decent in their starting roles replacing the two normal starters, the usual starters’ lack of presence on the court was felt.

GAME FOUR July 4th, 2017 Tallahassee, FL

It was Independence Day in America, and while the entire country enjoyed their barbeques and watched the fireworks and patriotic parades, basketball fans around the world watched Game Four of the Finals and witnessed history. Kresta Renstill came back to her normal position on the starting lineup and Vincent Maraundi went back to starting Small Forward. Coach O’Neil however kept Sterling Bengtzing on the low reserves and kept Wescot Yobia on the starting post. The Typhoons once again made the Kassius-Vance flip, putting the ringtail lemur Narkissa Kassius back into the starting Shooting Guard role.

This time it was the Typhoons’ turn to take control of the first half, but the teams were once again even, with the largest lead being only six points apart throughout the game and it went into overtime. This game stood out in this series as an especially devastating physical one, with a grand total of eight (!!!) players needing to sit out of the game before the final buzzer. The hustling for the ball and physical alterations dragged the players down, and by overtime, they started to drop like flies. Ren Inoue, Kresta Renstill, Vincent Maraundi, Brax Trenor, Narkissa Kassius, Tahiry Andriamatsinoro, Rosalie Smoot, and Neil LaRocca all left the court with various injuries, though it was Maraundi that suffered the worst, putting him into questionable status for the next game.

Ren Inoue continued his dominance in assists with 13 total along with 21 points, and while he couldn’t stop Franz Volker from accomplishing 9 assists, he at least stopped the doberman’s shooting cold, and Volker ended with just 11 points at 5 for 14 shooting. Although Wescot Yobia once again held his own with 16 points on the board, Neil LaRocca performed better, finishing with 20. Rosalie Smoot struggled to handle Brax Trenor, while Vincent Maraundi once again made a stellar performance with 24 points. Once again the Howlers’ weak bench were exposed and Oliver Vance took complete advantage over them, and his 14 points almost surpassed the combined effort of the entire Montana bench. The trend of rebounding efforts continued with the Typhoons dominating with 51 total rebounds and Howlers only with 25.

Game Four however was the Game of the Shooting Guards. Kresta Renstill and Narkissa Kassius decided to become ball-hogs, shooting shot after shot after shot and making most of them. As the game went on, their point totals increased and began to outshine their respective teammates, and fans began to wonder if either of them would ever get cold in this game. Only their injuries stopped them cold, but by the end, their combined points amounted to 80, an incredible stat rarely seen elsewhere in the FBA. Renstill finished the game with 38 points due to her 16 of 19 shooting, and while a performance of that caliber can easily lead a team to victory, it was all for naught as Kassius performed somehow better than her counterpart. With 18 of 26 shooting, her 42 points broke the record for the highest total points for a FBA game by a single player, a record that still remains as of this writing. She earned POTG that day, along with a little piece of FBA history. The Typhoons won 144-139, evening the series.

GAME FIVE July 5th, 2017 Billings, MT

The primary lineup changes for the Howlers were Sterling Bengtzing coming back to his starting role as Center and Regulus Lowenthal meanwhile took the starting position of Small Forward due to Vincent Maraundi’s questionable condition. Narkissa Kassius kept her starting Shooting Guard position with Oliver Vance in the bench, and this remained for the rest of the series.

Many people assumed by this point that both teams had to be exhausted to the breaking point. It has been four games of pure energy from start to finish, and surely by Game Five, they had to on their last legs. They could not be more wrong. Narkissa Kassius continued her hot shooting spree, finishing as the Typhoons’ top scorer with 27 points. Kresta Renstill didn’t score as much, but her shots were mostly accurate, ending at 15 points with 7 for 11 shooting. Tahiry Andriamatsinoro and Neil LaRocca both finished decently with 23 and 18 points respectively. However the Howlers’ Sterling Bengtzing performed as if his injuries didn’t bother him, finishing with 24 points and three blocks. Ren Inoue however put in yet another dominant performance despite Franz Volker guarding him, as he put in 33 points and eight assists, overwhelming the former primary face of the infamous Dawg Pack.

The trend on the rebounds and bench scoring continued yet again however, with the Typhoons pulling in 47 rebounds while the Howlers only managed 29. Both bench teams performed marginal to worse however, as even Oliver Vance performed poorly from the bench along with the rest of his bench teammates and their bench counterparts. Regulus Lowenthal’s performance as a starter was decent enough. Although his 12 points paled in comparison to his starting teammates, his nine rebounds were the most for his team.

Although the Montana Howlers won 118-109, the largest margin of victory for the entire series, it was a pyrrhic victory. Sterling Bengtzing once again suffered an injury, this time with his neck, and the doctors gloomily reported that he would not be able to perform back on the court for an entire week, ending Bengtzing’s time in the series. It was a devastating blow to the team, and although Montana led the series 3-2 with just one more victory to seal the deal, many fans state this injury as the actual turning point of the series.

GAME SIX July 6th, 2017 Tallahassee, FL

By the sixth game of the series, it became clearer that finally both teams were really feeling the strain of the brutal series. Wescot Yobia once again took the starting role of Center for the Howlers, and Regulus Lowenthal kept his starting position of Small Forward while Vincent Maraundi remained on the low reserves. Game Six was not the offense-dominant game of the series, as they both slowed down their tempo and focused more on defense. As a result, this became the game with the lowest total points for both teams combined.

Of all the games in this series, Game Six stood out for the wrong ways. There was no dominant performance from each team as just one player accomplished a double-double as Ren Inoue passed for 11 assists and scored 16 points. With the tempo at a slower pace, the game was still physical and yet it was boring in comparison to the rest of the series. There were a few highlights, some major dunks, and yet Game Six was generally regarded as the most forgetful game of the series.

Yet again, both benches performed marginally below-average to just simply unimpressive for the amount of minutes they played. Instead once again, the bulk of production rested on the shoulders of both respective starters. As with the previous games, the Typhoons dominated on rebounds with 42 but this time the Howlers put up a greater effort there, with 32 rebounds.

Narkissa Kassius earned POTG, becoming the top scorer for both teams with 23 points as the Typhoons forced a Game Seven with a 105-101 victory. Regulus Lowenthal, Neil LaRocca, and even Kassius had to sit out before the end due to minor injuries, but Franz Volker limped out of the court with a hip inflammation, setting the stage for the most controversial and most talked-about theme of the entire series.

GAME SEVEN July 7th, 2017 Billings, MT

Much had been said about Coach Tetreault’s decision to keep Franz Volker on the starting Point Guard position despite his questionable status. Many criticized her for the decision, while still many understood why she made such a decision. It was Game Seven, the first Game Seven in FBA Finals within recent memory. The stakes were high, and it was win or go home realizing that despite all the suffering of the past six brutal games, it would all come to naught. For the Howlers, Regulus Lowenthal went back to the bench as Vincent Maraundi recovered from his injury to take his starting spot.

Despite his still-aching hip however, Franz Volker performed like the superstar he was, dribbling and dashing through Montana’s defenses quickly, passing the ball sharply and making his shots. His 11 rebounds, 22 points, and eight assists were enough to earn him POTG honors, but everyone now remembers him for that final shot and the career-ending injury that quickly followed. Enough had been said about that however.

With both teams finding their trophy just within their reach, the game was a back and forth affair yet again, and Kresta Renstill this time outperformed the lemur Narkissa Kassius, scoring 32 points with 12 of 21 shooting. Ren Inoue impressed once again, countering Volker tit for tat on shooting and assists, finishing with 20 points and six assists.

Then came the moment that made me feel ashamed to be a Howlers fan. A drunken fan threw his drink onto the court, spilling the contents on the floor amid play. By the time the referees stopped the play, it was already too late as Narkissa Kassius slipped and broke her tooth in the fall, and Tahiry Andriamatsinoro along with teammate Rosalie Smoot also fell, injuring themselves. Even the Howlers’ Vince Maraundi suffered a fall, and all four players limped off the court. The drunken fan was escorted out of the arena by security, and was banned from the arena for life.

Once again, the bench players of both teams performed unimpressively and below average. As for the rebounds, the Typhoons pulled in the most game rebounds for the entire series with an eye-opening 74. The Howlers meanwhile managed just 33.

The Typhoons won 110-108 with that final infamous shot by Franz Volker, and thus ends one of the greatest Finals in the history of the FBA. Franz Volker became the Finals MVP but he would retire during the off-season later on. Tallahassee earned their very first championship, but it was a championship marred in controversy thanks to a decision by Coach Tetreault to keep Franz Volker playing from the starting lineup. But this is not the point of the entire article here. This was a series in which a great number of players shed blood and tears for that trophy. A series in which every team won at home until the very last game. A series in which the games ended very close each time by a few possessions, with exception to Game Five. There likely won’t be another Finals series like this.

Sadly due to Volker’s final shot of his career, the efforts by Ren Inoue, Narkissa Kassius, Kresta Renstill, Sterling Bengtzing, Vincent Maraundi and many others were largely forgotten by most of the media and fans… and that is sadly a tragic crime of consciousness. They deserved more recognition.

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