One of Texas' biggest guns is Steve Pate, built like a refrigerator. Pate is a "disease," a quadriplegic by the slimmest of possible margins, who lumbers around on foot when not on the court, dragging his chair behind him, slight black braces around his calves peeking over the edges of his workman's boots.
Pate's rugby chair is backless, and he has full use of his trunk, which allows him to power up and down the court faster than any other quad. He wriggles and twists his hips as he pumps his arms, further boosting his impressive speed.
But pushing his 200-plus pounds up and down a court all day has tired him, and his face and arms have turned a blooming shade of purple, sweat matting his curly red hair to his face. Seeing this, Phoenix picks him with relative ease. The thud of Cohn's chair as he nails Pate on a block booms ominously.
"That's it, Andy," Nermyr yells. "Hold him right there!"
Second quarter, Hogsett is picked by Texas in return; his chair flips backward onto the parquet floor, and his head hits with a sickening thud. A medical tech rushes over and checks the back of his head and his pupils.
Scott subs out while he is restrapped. The goose egg on the back of his skull matters little to him as he furiously works to get rebound into the chair and back on the court.
Finally, the last quarter finds the team in perfect synergy.
Phoenix opens the period with a handy five-point lead. It's 28 to 33 as the Heat's Chad Farrington intercepts a bad pass from Texas and takes it down the court. He hands off to Gilliland, who is immediately triple-teamed by Texas, then manages a short hand-off to Cohn, who finds the goal easily.
"Take your time, don't rush it!" yells Nermyr from the bench. They've shaved a minute off the time clock; a strategy crucial in maintaining their lead is to take as long to score as possible.
Texas returns the goal, and then it's back to Phoenix. Cohn finds himself triple-teamed again, passes off to Gilliland and moves further down the court. Texas rushes to block Gilliland, but he slips free and sends a long bouncing pass to Cohn, who carries it slowly home. Another minute-long goal.
Six minutes remain in the game.
A shaken Texas calls time-out. Phoenix huddles. The fire is on. "Let's get intense and focus," Hogsett yells as he grits his teeth and shoots back out onto the court. "Let's fuckin' do this!"
The play continues with Hogsett leading Phoenix's aggressive defense, hard-checking and holding Texas, making them struggle for each goal. They also manage to draw a few fouls, which at one point sends two of Texas' players to the penalty box. But rather than go for the quick score with only two defenders on the court, Phoenix waits it out. Cohn circles and holds back, eyes on the clock, until one player is released, then squeezes across the goal line with just over a minute left to play.
Phoenix takes the game 36 to 28 and the smiles are back. Nermyr greets his players as they come off the court. "That's the Phoenix Heat I know!" he yells.
The joy Phoenix has taken in destroying Texas has them impatiently awaiting the Sectional finals -- March 15 through 17 at ASU -- where the Stampede, still their strongest competition, has warned them to expect a much better game.
But the Heat isn't worried. Their loathing of their Texas competitors, they explain, is deep enough to virtually ensure a win. "It's not like we're rivals when we play and friends off the court," team captain Hogsett says. "We're not friends. We really, really hate Texas. We hate everything about them, and that's why we are going to beat them."
Plus, the confidence they gain from a win against the Stampede may be enough to convince them they can take out the top-ranked Lakeshore Demolition in Denver.
And what the Heat needs to win is right in front of them, coach Nermyr says: It's the closeness they share on and off the court that is his team's biggest asset. "They're together all the time; they really know each other, and that comes out on the court."
"I've often wondered why we're all so close," reflects Cohn. "Part of it is that we have shared experiences, but then again there are a lot of guys in chairs I wouldn't want to hang out with. I hang out with my able-bodied friends, too, but it's easier with other guys in chairs. ABs [able-bodied people] are way too spontaneous."