It’s his tournament, unquestionably, and Justin Slater proved it again with a dominating performance as he won his record setting 8th Ontario Singles title, and in doing so, captured his 4th NCA Tour Championship.
A field of 40 made their way to the St. Jacobs Mennonite church, which made up most, but not all, of the most likely contenders to win the World Championship in a month’s time.
With 4 groups in action, only 10 spots were available in the A group for the afternoon. 7 players made the advancement relatively easily, led by Justin Slater with a huge 68 out of 72 points, Jeremy Tracey, Andrew Hutchinson and Fred Slater all at 54 points, Connor Reinman (53), Ray Beierling (52) and Brian Simpson (50). Rex Johnston scored 49 points to qualify with a one point margin, as did Nathan Walsh who made the morning high 96 20s. The final qualifying spot was earned by Jason Beierling, who scored 48 points and 76 20s, which was only 4 20s ahead of Nolan Tracey, 5 20s ahead of Robert Bonnett, and one point ahead of Jon Conrad.
In the afternoon, Bill Harris and Howard Martin rose to the top of Pool D with 51 and 46 points. Peter Carter and Janet Diebel grabbed the final two semifinal spots at 39 and 38 points, just beating out Brian Henry at 37 points. Bill Harris won his semifinal 10-2 over Janet Diebel, while Martin and Carter played a very tight matchup. Carter did lead 6-2 in the “first to 9” but Martin came back to advance to the finals 10-6. After winning that match, Howard Martin came in full of confidence, and despite losing the earlier head-to-head match 6-2 against Harris, Martin was dominant in a 11-3 victory.
In Pool C, Steve Lefaive made a late push with a solid 6-2 victory over Beverly Vaillancourt in the final game, but it only landed him 38 points, leaving him in 5th place. Vaillancourt (43 points) finished the preliminary round in 3rd place, behind Bob Jones (46) and Cathy Kuepfer (43, ahead on H2H 20s tiebreak), while Rich Vander Hoven finished 4th with 39 points. Cathy Kuepfer and Beverly Vaillancourt played a very close semifinal that was tied 5-5 before Vaillancourt surged ahead for a 10-6 victory, with both showing very good form ahead of another battle for the Women’s World Championship title. Bob Jones held his top seed with a strong win over Vander Hoven 9-3 in the other semifinal. And in the C Pool finals, Bob Jones capped off a terrific afternoon with a 12-2 victory over Vaillancourt for the title.
Jon Conrad looked quite good in the afternoon in Pool B, easily grabbing the top seed at 54 points and only surrendering one loss in 9 games (6-2 to Clare Kuepfer). He was followed into the playoffs by Nolan Tracey at 43 points, who also only lost one game (6-2 to Jon Conrad). Robert Bonnett and Roger Vaillancourt finished 3rd and 4th at 38 points, leaving behind Cor Vander Hoven and Eric Miltenburg who both had 35 points. Tracey and Vaillancourt had a bit of see-saw affair with Tracey leading 6-0, and Vaillancourt cutting it to 6-4, but Tracey did finish off the victory 10-6.
However it was a long wait before the finals could begin as Jon Conrad and Robert Bonnett played yet another classic. Of course it is difficult to live up to the hype of 2017 World Championship, where Bonnett led 5-1, 4-0, before Conrad mounted a big comeback, and Bonnett finally clinched the title 5-3 in game 3. But this semifinal went the distance as the match utilized the “First to 9, with Wimbledon rule in place at 8-8” which requires any match tied at 8-8 to only be finished after an even number of rounds has been played. Bonnett and Conrad were neck and neck, tied at 8-8, and Bonnett moved one point away from the victory as he went up 2-0 in the extra rounds. But Conrad responded and also had chances to win as he led 4-2 and 6-4 in the extra rounds. But it wasn’t until 16 rounds had been played that Conrad completed the match 8-8, 10-6 in extra rounds.
Perhaps with a big boost of confidence or relief after overcoming the marathon match, Conrad was decisive in the finals, defeating Nolan Tracey, who had sat for 30 minutes waiting to play the match, 12-0.
In Pool A, much was on the line for the NCA Tour. Ray Beierling could move from 4th to 2nd with a victory, or 3rd with a runner-up finish, and Justin Slater with a victory could surpass Nathan Walsh for the NCA title. Walsh would quickly find himself out of the playoff picture and not in control of his NCA fate as he finished 9th in pool A. Meanwhile, Justin Slater would finish 1st with 47 points and 122 20s (136 when adjusted to 10 games). Connor Reinman would make his 3rd NCA top 4 as he finished 2nd with 45 points, followed by Fred Slater at 40 points. Jason Beierling would nab the final playoff spot at 38 points, to edge out Ray Beierling at 37 points.
Jason Beierling had been the only one to beat Justin Slater all day with a 5-3 victory in the round robin, and he began the semifinal with a 6-0 lead. But when they switched sides, Slater turned up the heat and reeled off 5 straight rounds to win the match 10-6. The other semifinal was a bit more straight forward and Connor Reinman looked stronger throughout to win the match 10-2 over Fred Slater.
So the final was a rematch of the Ontario Doubles final in last October. Reinman was gunning for his first NCA singles title (and his 2nd overall after winning the aforementioned Doubles title), while Slater was going for his record-extending 21st NCA title, and record-breaking 8th Ontario Singles title and 4th NCA Tour title.
Slater led the match 3-1, and had an edge in round 3, but rather unusually struggled on a couple of takeouts. Reinman was able to convert and tie the match 3-3. But from then on Reinman could not match the 20 scoring of Slater, and in one of his most dominant performances of the season, Slater took the match 11-3 for the 2018 Ontario Singles title.
The win is Justin Slater’s 8th Ontario Singles title, which now surpasses the record of 7 won by the legendary Joe Fulop in the years of 1992, 1994-1995 and 1998-2001. Slater won his titles over the years of 2010-2018, with a one year interruption from Brian Cook in 2011, who defeated him in the semifinals that year.
And with that, the 10th National Crokinole Association Tour is complete. Connor Reinman finished an impressive 5th in his first full year on Tour, beating out Jeremy Tracey who was 6th in his first full year of action. Ray Beierling finished 4th on the Tour, for his 10th straight Top 5 Tour finish, and only the second time he has finished outside the NCA’s top 3.
Jon Conrad finished the year with 3 runner-up finishes and an Owen Sound title, which was enough to finish 3rd on the NCA Tour for his 5th Top 3 finish. Nathan Walsh ended the year on a sour note, unable to hold on the NCA Tour lead which he had held from the start, but with his 3 tournament victories, earned his best ever Tour finish in 2nd.
And Justin Slater won his 4th NCA Tour, surpassing the previous best of 3 NCA Tour titles held by Brian Cook. Impressively, he entered 2018 with only one avenue to win the Tour, and he succeeded in winning three consecutive tournaments in Hamilton, London and St. Jacobs.