Sunday, 3 December 2017

Conrad Defeats Beierling again in Owen Sound Final

Jon Conrad and Ray Beierling rolled back the clock to the distant past of 2016 as they advanced through rounds one, two and three to find themselves squaring off for the title once again. And if that wasn’t enough of a case that history repeats itself, the two were neck-and-neck until Jon Conrad edge ahead at the finish line to claim his second straight Scenic City Crokinole Classic title.

53 players were in attendance, with 16 teams making up the Recreational Doubles division, and another 21 individuals competing in the Singles category as they fought for crucial points on the NCA Tour in the final event of the 2017 calendar. Nathan Walsh had a commanding lead in the Tour standings coming in, and looked to nearly clinch the Tour title with a first place in Owen Sound. He began the day strong, winning the $25 prize for the first “Perfect Game” of the day, sponsored by Dale Henry and the Tuscarora Crokinole Club, when he and Jon Conrad traded 8 20s each in the second game of the morning round. But the form didn’t continue and he barely made the A group cutoff with 50 points through 10 games. 

Roy Campbell was very consistent in the morning round as he carried his strong play from the Ontario Doubles tournament and scored 61 points for the 2nd highest score. His doubles partner however was dealt the cruelest form crokinole luck as he missed the A group cutoff by 3 20s (total of 49 points and 88 20s). But every crokinole disc has two sides, and it was Jon Conrad and Roger Vaillancourt would be benefactors and claim the final two spots in group A with 49 points each and 109 and 91 20s respectively. Jon Conrad’s 109 20s were matched by Ray Beierling as the tops of the morning round, while Beierling also racked up 62 points for top spot overall. Slotting in 3rd and 4th were Brian Simpson, and notable Walter White look-a-like, Andrew Hutchinson.

The Recreational Doubles competition was filled with local talent looking to show off the doubles skills they had mastered in one of the multiple local crokinole clubs. Clark Campbell and Paul Armstrong teamed up to finish 6th with 58 points, just ahead of Sharon Jolley and Jim Downing, and Murray Mizen and Mike Howe. The Zettler team of Francis and Len, and the Cook team of Elmer and Orville matched each other with 70 points each through 14 games. The slight edge went to the Zettlers who’s 68 20s were better than the Cooks’ 43, as they claimed 4th place.

The top 3 spots went to some NCA Tour regulars, with Bill Harris and Peter Carter finishing 3rd with 81 points and 78 20s. The second Cook team, this time named Neil and Carol, would be second, also with 81 points, but a superior 20 count of 89. And the Recreational title would go to Jo-Ann and Al Carter, who averaged just over 6 points per game to earn 87 points and a remarkable 114 20s.

In the second round of the competitive division, the brothers’ Tracey were on fire and finished the Pool C round robin with 38 points each, with Nolan earning a slight edge with 7 additional 20s. The final 4 was rounded out by Gloria Walsh at 20 points, and NCA newcomer Alex Dobbie with 22. In the playoffs, Reid Tracey was spectacular and earned 18 of a possible 24 points, while Dobbie impressed in his debut performance with 14 points to just edge out Nolan Tracey at 12 points, for second place.
2017 Owen Sound B Champion - Jeremy Tracey

If Jeremy Tracey had set out to out-shine his son’s; mission accomplished. In the Pool B round robin, he earned one extra point for a total 39 to grab the first spot in the playoffs. He was followed by Clare Kuepfer, who managed to score an impressive 25 points despite also having to help run the event. Eric Miltenburg scored 26 for 3rd, while Howard Martin got 21 points to just beat out Bev Vaillancourt (20 points) for the final spot. The playoff round was dominated by Kuepfer and Tracey, with Clare Kuepfer scoring 15 points and Jeremy Tracey scoring 19 (again one more point than his son) for the Pool B title.

With the Owen Sound title on the line, nerves were tight in Pool A and several players attested to not performing their best. Roy Campbell and Andrew Hutchinson showed moments of strength, but it was not their day as they failed to qualify for the playoffs. Ray Beierling earned the second seed with 27 points. Jon Conrad wanted no part in “just-barely” qualifying and cruised to the top seed with 31 points, while Nathan Walsh faced the edge of elimination again, but once again advanced to the playoffs by a single point with the third seed. That left Brian Simpson’s 23 points and 46 20s as the final qualifier. Meanwhile Roger Vaillancourt fell to the same fate as his wife, just missing the A pool playoffs by only 4 20s.

In the final four round robin, Jon Conrad was terrific, scoring 21 out of 24 possible points to easily earn the first spot in the final. And Ray Beierling made up a 2 point deficit on Nathan Walsh in the final game to earn the second spot in the finals with 13 points.

Most players do not have a strong head-to-head record against Ray Beierling, but it is still shocking that a player of Conrad’s calibre has not had much success in playoff meetings. Ray Beierling holds a 3-0 record in semifinal matchups (2013 & 2017 Hamilton, 2016 London) and a 4-1 record in finals (the wins being Exeter 2010, 2013 Turtle Island, 2015 Brucefield and 2015 ODCC). However the match freshest in memory for all spectators was the classic the two performed exactly one year earlier when Conrad marked that single blemish on the Beierling head-to-head record.

Jon Conrad had the choice of hammer in the “first-to-11” point final, but elected to not take it, perhaps looking to gain momentum with an early steal. However it was Beierling who would steal first when he went up 4-0. But Conrad came back and got the steal he was looking for and then some when he won the next 3 rounds for a 6-4 lead.

The sixth round saw a bit of controversy when a disappearing disc was not discovered until the round was thought to be over. Thankfully some available camera footage identified that each player had only taken 7 shots, and turned what could have been a potential brawl into an easy solution. There was no impact on the round and Beierling tied the match 6-6. At 8-8, Conrad fell behind twice, but levelled the round each time and jumped ahead on the 7th shot, only to leave Beierling ricochet takeout-20 for the tie on the final shot. While the 20 was made, the takeout stuck in the 5 and Jon Conrad took a 10-8 lead. The 20-make, takeout-miss was reminiscent of the 2011 London final, and after Beierling missed the takeout in Owen Sound, Eric Miltenburg could be heard saying, “That looks familiar.”
2017 Scenic City Crokinole Champion
Jon Conrad
Up 10-8, Jon Conrad fell behind early as he couldn’t match Ray Beierling’s open 20s. But when Beierling missing a hangar-20 opportunity, Conrad scored a huge follow-through 20 that jumped him into a lead he would not relinquish, as he won the match 12-8. 

With the win, Jon Conrad moves into 3rd place on the NCA Tour with 182 points, trailing Ray Beierling at 187 and Nathan Walsh at 195. And while the competitive crokinole season is complete for 2017, play will resume in Hamilton on January 27th for the Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament. The aforementioned top 3 in the NCA standings will certainly looked to begin the back-half of the 2017-2018 Tour on the right foot, but they will be chased by the other members of the NCA Tour Top 10, including Justin Slater, Clare Kuepfer, Jeremy Tracey, Fred Slater, Roger Vaillancourt, Roy Campbell and Andrew Hutchinson.

When CrokinoleCentre gets around to hiring a beat reporter, you know who it's going to be.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Walsh and Reinman Join Together to Win 1st Ontario Doubles Championship

Contributed by Andrew Hutchinson

2017 Ontario Doubles Crokinole Champions
Connor Reinman & Nathan Walsh
 What began as a partnership of necessity ended as the golden combination. Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman joined forces in a last minute decision in order to ensure Reinman would have a partner for his first Ontario Doubles tournament and that choice proved extremely fruitful.  Throughout the day they battled nerves, a bit of a tough morning, world class competitors, and even a sting from an angry wasp! In the end they prevailed against it all; the victory gave Walsh his third NCA title of the year, and vaulted Reinman into the elite company of NCA champions.

The morning started off with 58 competitors, a tournament record. The recreation division consisted of 15 teams, while on the other side of the hall there were 14 teams battling for Ontario Doubles supremacy.  The recreation side had some familiar faces including Jo-Ann and Al Carter, Peter Carter and last years’ NCA rec champ, Bill Harris, Gloria and Tom Walsh, and Wayne and Jennifer Scott. On the competitive side, this may have been the most loaded field in tournament history.  Amongst the favourites were father-son duo and defending champions Fred and Justin Slater.  Three time tournament winner, and most decorated doubles pair ever, Ray and Jason Beierling, were back to try to regain their crown.  Jon Conrad and Andrew Hutchinson were teaming up for a 2nd year in a row, trying to improve upon their third place finish from the previous year.  Roy Campbell and Jeremy Tracey, two competitors who are never afraid to try – and often make – the near impossible shot, joined forces for a 2nd time (the first time being the 2017 World Championships).  Finally, the surprise pairing of Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman was the wildcard entry that made this tournament so interesting.  Besides these 5 pairs, there were many more that had a legitimate shot at making the top 4 including, but not limited to, Tom and Rex Johnston, Clare Kuepfer and Neil Cook, Ray Kappes and Howard Martin, and the junior Tracey brothers, Reid and Nolan.

In the recreation division, the teams broke into 2 randomly selected groups for a round robin.  The top teams in the morning would make the ‘A’ group in the afternoon, while the remaining teams would make up the ‘B’ group.  In the first pool Murray Purdue and David Whyte came out on top with 41 points, followed by Tony and Rich Vanden Hoven (36 points), Maxine Whitmore and Lola VanDerheide (27 points), and Carmen and Evelyn Hodgkinson (23 points). In the second group Bill Harris and Peter Carter racked up an impressive 44 points, ahead of a trio of teams finishing with 36 points (Wayne/Jennifer Scott, Jo-Ann and Al Carter, Gloria and Tom Walsh).  Those 8 teams would make up the recreation A group in the afternoon, while the rest of the teams would face off for the rec B crown.

Over on the other side of the hall, in the competitive division the 14 teams were randomly broken into 2 groups of 7 in the morning.  The same process would happen again in the afternoon and after adding the morning and afternoon results, the top 4 would play off for the championship.  In the morning the Beierling’s got off to a characteristically fast start with 43 points.  Campbell and Tracey also got off to a quick start with 37 points.  Turning a few heads were Kuepfer and Cook with 36 points.  Rounding out the initial top 4 were the perennially slow starting Slaters, with 34 points.  On the outside, looking to make a run in the afternoon were Walsh and Reinman (31 points), Kappes and Martin (30 points), Conrad and Hutchinson (29 points) and the Tracey brothers (28 points).  However  these teams had some heavy lifting ahead if they were going to climb out of the hole that they had dug themselves into in the morning.

At this point, all the players took a break for lunch.  Lunch was a delicious spread of sandwiches, veggies and baked goods.  After the short break, the recreation group broke into an A and B division, for another round robin.  The top two teams from each level would face off in their division’s finals. In Rec A, the Purdue/Whyte tandem continued to dominate with an impressive 49 points. Battling it out for the 2nd spot in the Rec A finals were Bill Harris and Peter Carter and Jo-Ann and Al Carter, both teams finishing with 35 points.  And although Harris/Carter finished with 10 more 20’s, Jo-Ann and Al advanced based on winning the head-to-head.  Despite being at the top of the pack all day, Purdue/Whyte couldn’t finish the tournament off with the win, coming out on the losing side to Jo-Ann and Al Carter. In the Rec B round robin, Dave Carnahan and Fred Smith finished in first place with 33 points, just ahead of Alex Ostrem and Jack McLachlin with 32 points.  The 2 teams met in the finals, with Carnahan/Smith coming away with the title.

2017 Rec A Champions - Jo-Ann & Al Carter
On the competitive side, the groups broke into 2 groups again and tried to outdo their morning score in order to secure a spot in the top 4.  The top 2 teams from the morning had no problem in the afternoon and the Beierlings (88 points) and Campbell/Tracey (80 points) slid comfortably into 1st and 2nd place for the day.  Also having strong afternoons were the Slaters, Walsh/Reinman, and the Johnstons. The question would be whether any of them had strong enough scores to pass Kuepfer/Cook.  The partners from Scone, however, had a disappointing afternoon with only 27 points, finishing the day with 63 total points.  That let the Slaters (73 points) and Walsh/Reinman (71 points), having done enough in the afternoon, to secure a spot in the top 4.  In addition to Kuepfer/Cook, the Johnstons (60 points total), Kappes/Martin (58 points total) and the disappointing Conrad/Hutchinson (55 points total) sat on the outside looking in. 

So after a pair of round robins, we had our playoffs set.  Ray and Jason Beierling would face off against Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman in the one semi-final.  While in the 2nd semi-final, Jeremy Tracey would take on Fred and Justin Slater.  The first semi-final was notable in matching the 3 time Ontario Doubles Champions and front runner all day long versus a first time partnership that started to find their rhythm in the afternoon.  What looked like a compelling, if possibly one-sided, matchup was certainly interesting, but not for the reasons anyone would have expected.  Walsh and Reinman both seemed very relaxed from the beginning.  On the other hand, the Beierling’s, possibly due to the pressures of both running and participating in a tournament, just never seemed to settle in.  From the first shot they seemed out of sorts, and never really found their groove.  Walsh and Reinman won the first game to go up 2-0 in this first to 9 contest.  This trend continued throughout the rest of the match, and Walsh and Reinman continued to win, going out to an 8-0 lead.  They would only need to secure a tie in order to move on to the finals.  In the next game, one that was filled with leaners for both teams, Walsh and Reinman finished off the favourites, capping off a shocking 10-0 victory.
2017 ODCC 4th Place - Jeremy Tracey & Roy Campbell

The other semi-final saw the defending champion Slaters, who always seem to peak in the playoffs against the high-ceiling duo of Campbell and Tracey.  Campbell and Tracey got off to a strong start, Tracey looking like he hadn’t missed a beat since his 2nd place finish in Belleville and Campbell looking like he was back to his 2015-16 form.  They started off the first round playing some really solid crokinole, racing to a 2-0 lead.  The Slaters were looking vulnerable and the possibility that their attempt to repeat might come to an early end seemed entirely possible.  However, in the next round, fortunes started to shift, even if just subtly.  The Slater’s experience started to shine through, while Campbell/Tracey – though still playing strong crokinole – started to make a few small but costly mistakes. The Slaters rode this turn of events to four straight victorious rounds to gain an 8-2 edge.  With the hammer in the next round, the Slaters could smell victory, only needing to gain a single point to advance; what followed was some strategic and well thought out crokinole. As the number of shots left in the round dwindled, Campbell/Tracey led the 20 count by one, but the Slaters had a number of their pieces on the board.  Finally the hammer shot came around to Fred, and he needed a take-out and stick in the 5 to keep 20 points on the board to negate the opponent’s 20 advantage.  He made the shot to secure a tie in the round and a 9-3 victory in the game to advance to the finals.

2017 ODCC Runners-up - Justin & Fred Slater
So the finals saw the 3 and 4 seeds face off with long time partners Fred and Justin Slater opposing first time duo Nathan Walsh and Connor Reinman.  In the first round, with the Slater’s holding hammer, there were no 20s until the second last shot, when Walsh hit a ricochet 20 to guarantee his team at least one point; with the hammer shot Justin Slater missed his open 20 attempt, meaning that Walsh/Reinman would steal the round to go up 2-0.  They would build on that momentum and increase their lead winning the next three games to go ahead 8-0, requiring only one more point to win the first-to-9 championship.  The next game was a 20 fest, and it looked like it would go Walsh/Reinman’s way when Justin Slater was the first to miss a 20.  However, on the very next shot Reinman’s take out attempt knocked the Slater disc into the centre and the Slaters wouldn’t look back that round,  outscoring their opponents in 20’s 9-8 for the round and putting their first points on the board to cut the lead to 8-2.  If the Slaters had any idea of an epic comeback, however, Walsh and Reinman put an end to that quickly, securing the next round in order to clinch the championship 10-2.

Some interesting notes about this tournament:
·       Walsh currently holds both the World and Ontario Doubles Championship, but with different partners.
·       Reinman becomes the first American to ever win an NCA title; however as he is a dual-citizen, we can still say that every NCA champion has been a Canadian!
·       In the playoffs, Walsh and Reinman beat arguably the two best doubles teams by a combined score of 20-2!
·       With Walsh committed to attempting to defend his world doubles championship with Clare Kuepfer in June, Reinman is left as a very desirable ‘free agent’ partner
·       This is the first ODCC where neither the Beierlings nor Fred Slater (whether partnering with Brian Cook or Justin) would win the title.
·       Nathan Walsh continues his strong start to the NCA season with his 3rd win and a total of 195 points. Players with a single victory on the season are Ray Beierling (183 points), Clare Kuepfer (163 points), Reinman (95 points in only 2 tournaments) and Robert Bonnett (50 points from winning the only tournament he’s entered).

So with the Scenic City Crokinole Tournament coming up on Saturday, November 25 Walsh is looking to further cement his lead as he seeks out his first ever NCA crown, while a handful of opponents try to scratch and claw a bit closer in the NCA race.

Andrew Hutchinson is both a competitive cues and fingers crokinole player who won the 2016 Cues World Championship and finished in the Top 16 of the 2017 Fingers World Championship. He can be followed on Twitter @FavouriteHutch

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Beierling Ends Impressive Tracey Runs, Wins Belleville Challenge

For some players on the NCA Tour it only feels like it will only be a matter of time before they are competing for tournament titles. For a couple members of the Tracey family, that day came, but it was Ray Beierling who defeated Nolan and Jeremy Tracey in successive playoff rounds to win the 2017 Belleville Crokinole Challenge.

31 players descended upon the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre, hailing from Owen Sound, London, Kitchener, Oshawa, Toronto, Kingston, St. Jacobs, Penetanguishene and the local region of Quinte for the 7th edition of the Belleville event.

In the morning round robin, Nathan Walsh was the hot hand scoring 58 points and 97 20s through 9 games for the top score. While he qualified for the A group in the afternoon, he was joined by carpooling-mates, Ray Beierling and Andrew Hutchinson, as well as Fred Slater and Nolan and Jeremy Tracey. Also making the A pool was the far traveller of Roger Vaillancourt and the somewhat more local crowd of Kingston’s Wayne Scott and the Quinte Region Crokinole Club’s (QRCC) own Len Chard and Matt Brown.

As always, a few people got the unfortunate draw of just missing the A pool, such as Eric Miltenburg and Ray Campbell (missing by one point), and Cathy Kuepfer (missing by 2 points). In the Pool B round robin, Roy Campbell left no room for doubt on making the playoff round by scoring 55 points for the top seed. He was met in the semifinals by Bev Vaillancourt, who earned the fourth seed with 42 points and 63 20s. Roy Campbell was equally strong in the semifinal and was able to win the match in two-straight games with a 6-2, 5-3 victory.

Reg Chisholm Memorial Winner - Roy Campbell
Also making the playoffs were Peter Tarle and Eric Miltenburg, who were only separated by two points, and proved to be closely matched because they were tied after 3 games of the semifinals and required extra rounds to be played via the Quinte Convention. They tied through the first set, but Eric Miltenburg finally sealed the win by earning the decisive edge in the second set of extra games.

While Eric was able to loosen up following his tense semifinal to match the finals competitive, Roy Campbell was unstoppable, as he won the final and earned the B title.

In the Pool C action, Shirley Sager was clearly on her game through the round robin as she scored 55 points (similar to Roy Campbell’s afternoon high score). Peter Klaassen came in behind at 44 points, while both Janet Diebel and Gloria Walsh scored 41 points for the final two semifinal spots. Just missing out was Ron Hebden at 38 points who earned 5th in the pool. 

In the (1) vs (4) semifinal, Shirley Sager continued her strong play and held her seed to advance to the finals. While some locals were hoping QRCC Peter Klaassen could add some male representation to the C pool final, it was not to be, as Gloria Walsh won the other semifinal, and also broke up the chances of an all QRCC Pool C final.

2017 Belleville C Pool Champion - Gloria Walsh
In the finals, Gloria Walsh earned an early edge as she won game 1, before play really tightened up between Sager and Walsh. Game 2 ended in a tie, while game 3 also finished in a tie, giving the best of 3 match victory to Walsh, who earned the Pool C title.

In the A pool round robin, Nathan Walsh and Ray Beierling led the way with 51 and 50 points respectively. Nolan Tracey grabbed the third seed with 44 points through 9 games, becoming the youngest ever player to make the semifinals of an NCA Tour event. Grabbing the 4th and final playoff spot was Jeremy Tracey at 39 points, just edging out Andrew Hutchinson who had to settle once again for 5th place as he scored 38 points.

In the semifinals, Jeremy Tracey had a much better start than Nathan Walsh, as he dominated game 1 5-1. Tracey even scored the first 2 points of game 2, but Walsh eventually found a groove to take the second game, But it was all Tracey in game 3, as he won the match and advanced to his first ever NCA final.

In the other semifinal Beierling/Tracey began deadlocked with a 4-4 tie in game 1. Beierling gained an edge when he took the final 3 rounds of game 2 and then clinched it by reaching 4 points in the third game for a 4-4, 6-2, 4-2 victory.

2017 Belleville Crokinole Challenge Champ - Ray Beierling
The championship final had a lot of tension as the lead interchanged within rounds several times. So much of the match came down to a final 20 shot. For Jeremy Tracey, he was unfortunate to miss his final open 20 shot in rounds 1 and 3 of game 1, missing a chance to tie each round. Conversely, Ray Beierling made his open 20 in the final shot of the fourth round to tie the round, and win game 1 5-3. In the second game, Tracey made several ricochet and follow-through 20s, but Ray Beierling saw the finish line and only extended his lead to 4-0 in game 2. Beierling clinched the title making another open 20 on his final shot of the third round, to win the match 5-3, 5-1.

So Ray Beierling becomes the fourth ever winner of the Belleville Crokinole Challenge, joining past winners of Justin Slater (3 times), Brian Cook (2 times) and Nathan Walsh (once). The victory will also vault Ray Beierling up the standings of the NCA Tour to second place, just behind Nathan Walsh, while both Jeremy Tracey will also see his ranking rise due to his stellar performance in Belleville.

With this week also marking the first day of Fall, it’s clear the Fall swing of crokinole events is upon us, with the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship coming up in Brucefield in 3 weeks, and the Scenic City Crokinole Classic in Owen Sound looming large in November.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Walsh Claims New York Title over Conrad

There was a taste of redemption in the air for a few players as the playoff matchup were set at the Tuscarora Nation House on Saturday. In one match you had the World Championship runner-up in Jon Conrad facing off against Justin Slater, who had defeated Conrad a few months earlier in the semifinals of the St. Jacobs event. And in the other semifinal, there was Nathan Walsh facing Ray Beierling, one year after losing the New York title to Beierling despite hold a lead as large as 6 points in the final.

A field of 39 entered the Turtle Island Nation House for the unofficial kick-off of the 10th National Crokinole Association Tour, which officially began at the 2017 World Championships. After numerous surprise finishes at the World Championships (watch all videos here), the NCA Tour rankings were as tight as they have ever been to kick off a season, leading many to hopeful thoughts of what might be if they can put together some strong results.

Jon Conrad was in classic form in the morning round, scoring a tournament-high 63 points in in 10 games, despite finishing 14th in the 20-count with 47. Justin Slater, also in classic form, grabbed the second spot in points with 60, and the 20s spot with 85.

Jeremy Tracey, Dwayne Campbell and Roger Vaillancourt rounded out the Top 8 and moved into Pool A for the afternoon, while Christina Campbell was in the unfortunate 9th spot, just missing Pool A by 2 points.

On the Recreational side, Derek McKie showed no signs of fault from limited preparation. Even with a late cancellation to a lawn bowling tournament, he was able to make the trip over the border and lead the Recreational side in both the morning and afternoon round-robins to earn the top seed for the playoffs. An Owen Sound triple of Jo-Ann Carter, Janet Diebel and Doreen Sulkye rounded qualifiers on the Rec A side playoffs. While Jo-Ann Carter made a charge with 15 points in the final four, Derek McKie lead the tournament from nose-to-tail, earning 18 points for the Recreation A title.

For the Recreation B pool, Sarah Beierling was the top seed after scoring 35 points through 6 games in the second round. She was followed by Thomas Sharpe at 30 points, and the final four group was completed with Jeremy Printup and Tiffany Henry at 24 and 22 points respectively. Printed and Henry would finish in a dead-tie for 3rd, both scoring 9 points and 7 20s, leaving the battle between Beierling and Sharpe, but when the dust settled, Sarah Beierling remained on top with 17 points, to Sharpe’s 13, for the Recreation B title.

Back on the competitive side, Cathy Kuepfer just edged tournament organizer Dale Henry for the top playoff seed with 29 points to Henry’s 27. Kuepfer used that momentum to defeat Ezra Jantzi 9-5 in the “first-to-9-points” semifinals, while Mouser overcame his lower seeding to beat Dale Henry 9-5 in the other semifinal. The finals was close, but Cathy Kuepfer eventually pulled away in the “first-to-11” final, winning by a score of 12-8.

Neither Eric Miltenburg or Fred Slater had the morning they were looking for, but both eventually found their range in the afternoon and powered through their semifinal opponents of Wayne Scott and Michael Meleg to make the finals. In an enjoyable match, both in terms of quality, strategy and conversation, Fred Slater took the final and the B title 11-7.

In the A pool, Justin Slater, Ray Beierling and Nathan Walsh comfortably made the playoffs after scoring 34, 34 and 32 points in 7 games. That left only one spot in the playoffs and a myriad of players looking for it. Dwayne Campbell and Roger Vaillancourt fell on the opportunistic side of “just-made-it” vs “just-missed-it” in the morning, but the results fell the other way as their 26 points missed the playoffs by 2 points. Clare Kuepfer was even more unfortunate, finishing with 27 points, which was not enough to pass Jon Conrad’s 28 points for the final spot.

That left the semifinal matchups of Justin Slater vs Jon Conrad, and Ray Beierling vs Nathan Walsh. As previously mentioned, the last Beierling/Walsh meeting in New York saw Walsh jump out to a 7-1 lead, before losing the “first-to-11” match 11-9 as Beierling won the 2016 New York title. This “first-to-9” semifinal was much close through. Walsh earned a small edge early by tying a round against the hammer, which he was able to stretch to a 7-5 lead, before winning another two points against the hammer as Walsh won the semifinal 9-5.

The last Slater/Conrad semifinal had Justin Slater winning 6-2, 6-2 (with a perfect round) on his way to his 7th Ontario Singles Championship. In New York, Justin Slater started with the hammer, stole 2 points and earned another 2 points for a 6-0 lead. Staring down the barrel of a quick defeat, Jon Conrad got on the board with 2 points on his own hammer to make it 6-2. However, Conrad didn’t stop there and ended up reeling off 10 straight points for a 10-6 victory and a birth in the finals.

This was the first ever meeting between Jon Conrad and Nathan Walsh in a tournament final, and only their 2nd head-to-head playoff matchup (the first being a semifinal victory for Walsh at the 2015 Hamilton event). This was Jon Conrad’s 3rd trip to the New York finals, previously losing to Ray Beierling and Brian Cook in 2013 and 2014, while it was Nathan Walsh’s first final since his triplet of runner-up finishes at the World Championships, New York and Belleville in 2016.

The match began with both players “holding-serve” for 4-4. In the 5th round, Conrad put a lot of pressure on Walsh, who missed an early open 20, but Walsh was able to recover to earn one point on his hammer with the match moving to 5-5. Conrad was better in the open 20s in the 6th round as well, but Walsh managed to get a lucky break on his final shot as his follow through attempt missed the hole but bounced off a peg straight back into the 20 hole for a 7-5 lead.

Not to be out-done, in the very next round Jon Conrad used his final shot to score a mid-range ricochet 20, which levelled the match at 7-7 after Walsh missed his last open 20 attempt. The highlight reel continued in the next round with Walsh scoring a long-range ricochet 20 on his second-to-last shot for a 9-7 lead and hammer in the next round. In the 9th round, Walsh got an early edge and maintained it for an 11-7 victory and his first singles championship title since the 2014 London event.

The loss for Conrad means he’s suffering the same fate as Walsh one year ago, as both lost the World Championship and New York finals back-to-back in narrow fashion. Meanwhile, the NCA standings, while still quite early, show Nathan Walsh in first place with 134 points, and Jon Conrad in second with 126.

The next event on the 2016-2017 NCA Tour is the Belleville Crokinole Challenge coming up Saturday, September 23rd.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Bonnett Wins 2017 World Championship

Robert Bonnett takes a shot during the final match on his
way to the 2017 World Crokinole Championship.
Photo Credit: Bill Gladding
Being opportunistic and taking advantage of small openings may have been the theme of the day on the first Saturday of June in Tavistock. So when Robert Bonnett got an early lead in the final round of the championship match, it didn't seem to matter to him that Jon Conrad mounted a serious comeback to level the match. Robert Bonnett was not be denied as he won the 2017 world championship in surprise fashion.

The summer Saturday begin as it always does in Tavistock, a clean slate for all competitors in the hope that a big day lies ahead. For this year's new competitors (making up 31% of total tournament attendance in 2017) the excitement usually has a hampering effect that can limit performance. But quite a few first time USA participants excelled in their rookie year as Justin Martin and Jonathan Phillips finished fourth to make the doubles playoffs. The 6-time champion Beierling Brothers finished in the top spot among 42 teams, with 57 points out of a possible 64. 3-time doubles Champion Tony Snyder partnered with Cameron Heights colleague Dave Meijer (formerly of the Brooks/Meijer pairing) for the first time and finished in 2nd in the preliminary round with 56 points. Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh made their fourth straight top 6 playoff appearance after earning 54 points for third place. Filling out the playoff roster was Lloyd and Steve Wiseman making their first Top 6 playoff appearance 49 points and Ray Kappes and Kevin Bechtel earning their 4th playoff appearance, also with 49 points.
Narrowly missing the Top 6 and having to settle for a B Playoff position were:
  • BC Doubles Champions, Tom Johnston and MJ Andreola (48 points)
  • Defending Ontario and World Champions, Justin and Fred Slater (47 points)
  • 2011 runners-up Dave and Matt Brown (47 points)
  • Eric Miltenburg and Dale Henry, making their first playoff appearance (47 points)
  • Jeremy Tracey and Roy Campbell, pairing for the second time after their 2nd place in the Listowel PaddyFest (46 points)
  • Matthew and Roger Vaillancourt, making the playoffs for the first time as a pairing (45 points)

Missing out on the playoffs by a few points included the PEI doubles team of Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea, and Jon Conrad and Barry Kiggins, who both scored 41 points in the preliminary round.

In the B playoffs, Justin and Fred Slater were the class of the field, scoring the high of 32 points and 69 20s for the first spot. Dave and Matt Brown finished second with 19 points and a head-to-head tiebreaker win over Matthew and Roger Vaillancourt in third place. Also earning the tiebreaker victory for 4th place were Dale Henry and Eric Miltenburg, after being level with Roy Campbell and Jeremy Tracey at 17 points.

2017 Doubles World Crokinole Champions
Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh
Photo Credit: Bill Gladding
In the A playoffs, Kuepfer/Walsh and Snyder/Meijer were into the lead early with bigs wins in their first game while Beierling/Beierling and Martin/Phillips made up ground with bounce back victories in game 2. After game 4, Kuepfer/Walsh had a 6 point lead on the second place Snyder/Meijer with only their head-to-head match to come. Beierling/Beierling and Martin/Phillips used their final game to lock in a top 4 spot with 20 and 18 points respectively. Meanwhile, Kuepfer/Walsh secured top spot with a 6-2 win for 30 points, while Snyder/Meijer also finished with 20 points.

Justin Martin and Jonathan Phillips earned the 4th spot for the best ever finger doubles finish from a USA, or non-Ontario, team (the previous best belonging to PEI’s Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea with their 5th place finish in 2014). Ray and Jason Beierling finished 3rd for their 14th top 4 finish overall and 5th in a row. After winning the head-to-head tiebreaker, for Dave Meijer the second place was his first top 4 finish, while for Tony Snyder it was his 6th (and 3rd with a different partner). 

Lastly, for 2017 Doubles World Champions, Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh, it was their first World title for either of them, after finishing 3rd in 2016, 5th in 2015, and an agonizing 2nd in 2014. Along with Team Slater and Team Beierling, they are the only teams to have made the Top 12 in each of the past 5 years, and have now finally joined these two teams in the winner’s circle.

2017 20s World Crokinole Champion - Justin Slater
The preliminary round of singles play is always interesting with qualifications for the Top 16 mixed in with the 20s title, and usually, the Karin Jeske award for Top Female. While Jon Conrad and Ray Kappes have been near the top, the 20s title has really been a 2-way battle for 10 years between Ray Beierling and Justin Slater. This year a warm day with average humidity seemed to indicate their wouldn’t be any mind blowing top scores like Slater’s 142 in 2012 or Beierling’s 131 in 2014.

This year 6 player’s scored over 70 20s, including Connor Reinman, Jeremy Tracey, Rob Mader and Nathan Walsh. Walsh ended up third in the total 20s count with 75, as there was a massive gap to the top 2 of Ray Beierling and Justin Slater. Beierling scored 97, while Slater was the only one to crack 100 as he scored 104. The 2017 20s title is Slater’s 4th, as he stops Beierling’s streak of 4-straight titles, and continues the stretch dating back to 2008 of only Justin Slater or Ray Beierling coming away with the 20s crown.

Top Female Players (left to right)
Jennifer Carstairs, Beverly Vaillancourt, Cathy Kuepfer
Photo Credit: Bill Gladding
For the women’s title, a large number of competitors added variety, but Beverly Vaillancourt ensured the results wouldn’t change, winning her 6th straight title with 46 points. Jennifer Carstairs finished just behind for 2nd with 43 points, and Cathy Kuepfer finished 3rd with 40 points. PEI’s Margaret McKinley was 4th, and just off the podium with 39 points.

As always, there was a few unfortunate souls who barely missed the Top 16 playoffs, such as Jeremy Herrmann, Jason Beierling and Lawson Lea. All scored 53 points and missed the Top 16 cutoff based on 20s as Greg Pinel earned the 16th and final spot with 53 points and 66 20s. Matt Brown and Tom Johnston also just missed, finishing 20th and 21st with 52 points each.

For those that made the cut though, the chance to win the World title was still alive as the field split into two pools.

Pool A
  • Justin Slater (preliminary round top scorer and 3-time defending World Champ)
  • Ray Beierling (2011 champ, 9 Top 4 finishes, 19th Top 16 appearance)
  • Nathan Jongsma (2nd Top 16 appearance with previous best of 5th in 2012)
  • Brian Simpson (3rd Top 16 appearance)
  • Roger Vaillancourt (4th Top 16 appearance)
  • Connor Reinman (1st WCC appearance and top USA finisher in 2017)
  • Jeremy Tracey (1st WCC appearance)
  • Dwayne Campbell (1st Top 16 appearance)

Pool B
  • Andrew Hutchinson (2nd best preliminary score, first WCC fingers appearance)
  • Jon Conrad (4 Top 4 finishes with his last in 2013 when he won his 2nd straight world title)
  • Ray Kappes (2003 World Champ and 2016 4th place finisher)
  • Rob Mader (3rd Top 16 appearance in 4 years, 3rd in 2008)
  • Nathan Walsh (3 Top 4 finishes, 7th Top 16 appearance)
  • Robert Bonnett (2015 4th place finisher, 5th Top 16 appearance)
  • Fred Slater (5th Top 16 appearance)
  • Greg Pinel (2nd Top 16 appearance and top non-Ontario Canadian finisher in 2017)
Players gather around the scorer's table,
eagerly awaiting for official scores to be posted.
Pool A play was incredibly tight, and at the end of the 7 games the top scorer of Connor Reinman had 34 points, just 6 over the .500 level of 28. In some years 34 points would not be enough to qualify, but Reinman grabbed first with the score as a log jam was left behind him. Four players sat with one point separating them for the final playoff spot. Ray Beierling lost his last game 5-3 to Justin Slater, leaving Beierling with 29 points for 5th place in the group. The win put Slater into a 3-way tie at 30 points with Dwayne Campbell and Nathan Jongsma. Jongsma had only needed one point in his final game to clinch a spot in the Top 4, but lost it 8-0 to Reinman to fall into the tiebreaker scenario. In the 3-way head-to-head, Jongsma beat Campbell 8-0 and tied Slater 4-4, while Campbell beat Slater 6-2. Jongsma, scoring 12 points in the two games grabbed the final spot in the Top 4.

In Pool B a few players quickly emerged as contenders for the Final 4. Ray Kappes stayed in the hunt for a while but ended up 4th in the Pool with 28 points. Fred Slater made a big push for the Final 4, but on this day and in this pool, 33 points was not enough to advance. Earning the coveted entry into the next round was Robert Bonnett with 36 points, and Jon Conrad with 38 points.
A view from afar of the Final Four round robin

So the Final 4 consisted of Connor Reinman of Grosse Point Farms, Michigan, Nathan Jongsma of Sudbury, Robert Bonnett of Wingham, and Jon Conrad of Poole. Reinman and Jongsma were both making their first Final Four appearance. Robert Bonnett was making his second showing in the Final Four of competitive singles after twice winning Rec singles, and for Jon Conrad, it was his 5th Top 4 finish and the first since his 2013 championship.

In Game 1, Conrad and Bonnett shot out of the gates in pure dominance. Conrad was flawless in an 8-0 victory over Jongsma, while Bonnett won 6-2 over Reinman with a perfect game. In Game 2, Jongsma and Reinman looked to get back in the hunt for the finals with a win, but played to a 4-4 tie, and Jon Conrad moved further into first place with a 5-3 win over Bonnett. In the final game, both Conrad and Bonnett would win again, solidifying the championship final. In the third place game, the deadlock between Jongsma and Reinman continued and stretched the match out into 3 games. Reinman would come away victorious as Nathan Jongsma finished 4th, and Connor Reinman finished 3rd.

Singles Final
So the finals pitted Jon Conrad, going for his 3rd world title, against Robert Bonnett, going for his first. Robert Bonnett was hot early and scored several 20s, shooting from the right-hand side, rather than the centre of the board. Just when it looked like Bonnett was cooling off, as Conrad pushed back, Bonnett surged again to earn a tie in the 3rd round for a 5-1 Game 1 victory.

This looked like trouble for Conrad, after he had won each game of the Final 4, and had won Game 1 of both his 2012 and 2013 WCC finals on his way to the championship. Bonnett continued on and was leading 4-0, only one point from the World title. And that’s when the game shifted. Finally Conrad got ahead in the 20s in the 3rd round without the hammer and used several defensive strategies to lull the play to the outside and win 2 points for the round. In the 4th round, Bonnett missed a 20 early and Conrad defended well again to level the game 4-4. But even with a 5th round upcoming, Bonnett still had the hammer advantage. Suddenly though, Conrad was unstoppable and confident in defence for another steal and a 6-4 Game 2 victory.

The Final 4 (left to right) - Jon Conrad, Robert Bonnett,
Connor Reinman, Nathan Jongsma
After going winless through 5 rounds, Conrad had reeled off three in a row with his back against the wall, and only one game remained for the World Championship.

Many would have expected Robert Bonnett to wilt, but spectacularly, he recovered and was battling again. Conrad won the first 2 points to begin Game 3. In relentless determination, Bonnett returned the favour and tied the game 2-2, and Bonnett had an early 2 20 lead in the third round. Conrad cut the deficit to one 20 on his second to last shot, and when Bonnett missed an open 20 just long, Conrad blasted a follow through 20 to tie the round and the 3rd game 3-3, as both players moved one win away from the title.

In the final round, Conrad’s opening shot went right through the house and his second shot was left short for a hangar. Bonnett converted both chances for 20s in what would be the final critical moment of a spectacular match as Robert Bonnett won the 2017 World Championship 5-1, 4-6, 5-3.

The championship match really did have it all. 20s, defensive play, a furious comeback from the brink, and a decent amount of friendly banter. It will surely go down as one of the classics. It was Jon Conrad’s first loss in a World final as his record in championship matches moves to 2-1.Meanwhile, the win is Robert Bonnett’s first win on the Competitive side of any World Championship or NCA tournament.

2017 was truly a year of firsts, with first-time winners in doubles and singles, and first time top 4 finishes from the US in doubles and singles. The increased competition and variety promises to add excitement into the mix as we enter the 2017-2018 NCA Tour on our way to the 20th edition of the World Crokinole Championship on June 2nd, 2018.