JACKSONVILLE, FLa. – It’s been a long time since the Sharks celebrated a victory.
After winning the National Arena League championship in 2019, the Sharks and the rest of the league saw the 2020 season canceled by the pandemic.
Then, they had to wait two weeks longer than most of the rest of the league to start the 2021 season, only to drop their first two games.
Which brings us to Saturday, when the Sharks host the undefeated Albany Empire (4-0) at the Vystar Veterans’ Memorial Arena. The Sharks will be looking for their first win since winning the title in 2019. After what happened last season, they’re just glad to be playing again.
“It’s been a breath of fresh air, that’s for sure,” said head coach James Fuller. “I know we’re all creatures of habit in our jobs. You’re used to doing things at certain times, of the year. You have to have this clock when you go through the year. And when you’re out for that whole year, you get antsy, and just kind of threw everything in a tailspin. So, you know, to get back to doing the things we all do normally it feels really good to be back.”
That being said, the Sharks have been dealing with injuries, especially at quarterback where projected starter Mike Fafaul was injured forcing rookie quarterbacks Breckenridge Ruddick and Connor Kaegi to be pressed into action.
“The timing, especially when you face teams that had players they played with, you can see the difference,” Fuller said. “The timing, where you have quarterbacks new to the players on the team. You know, the timing different certain guys are faster certain guys run the routes a little bit differently.”
The other obstacle that all NAL teams are facing this year is that a number of the players who played in 2019 did not return in 2021, instead deciding to put more time into their jobs in the real world. That has reduced the number of experienced players in the talent pool.
“It was tough for them to come back to the NAL because they’re like, ‘Hey, is it gonna go? You know, are we gonna be rolling? Can I leave my job to come down there?’ So it’s made it tougher to get guys because the pool is smaller,” Fuller said. “Because you did lose a lot of the guys from ’19. So it’s been tough. But, you know, you’ve also dealt with guys who didn’t train as well as they should so you are getting more injuries across the league.”
Albany has won their four games by an average of 69-46, including an 83-58 win over the Carolina Cobras on June 12. They’ve scored at least 60 points in every game this year, so the Sharks will have to find a way to control the ball in order to win.
“That means the running game, the bubble game, short pass, you know, take what they give us,” Fuller said. “If they give it some more. But it’s more running game bubble game we’ll get Alstevis Squirewell back this week. So that’ll be a huge running game.”
The game will be broadcast on CW17 beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday.