It's almost strange to think that half of the NCA Tour has already been completed, but with the advent of many tournaments spread out over the calendar year, such is the case as 2013 comes to a close.
The 2013-2014 Tour consists of 11 scoring events, 6 of which passed with the 2013 year; including New York, Belleville, Brucefield, Owen Sound, and the doubles and singles events in Tavistock. That leaves only Hamilton, London, the 2 events in BC, and the NCA finale in St. Jacobs.
The 2012-2013 Tour, won by Jon Conrad, will most likely be remembered for Conrad's terrific start, collecting 2 World titles and amassing 110 points on the first day of the Tour. Even with Brian Cook winning 6 consecutive titles and finishing 2nd in St. Jacobs, Conrad still won the NCA Tour by a sizable 5 points.
This season however, is shaping up to be much more competitive, and is heading to a much tighter finish as the Tour enters the back half of the season.
While Jon Conrad got out to another amazing start in Tavistock, taking 107 points, the parity around the Tour so far has left the NCA title in doubt, and has left many players still in the hunt. In fact, currently the Tour's top spot doesn't even belong to Conrad, but rather Ray Beierling. Beierling was also very successful in Tavistock with two 3rd place finishes to take 100 points, but has also won in Brucefield and New York to lead Conrad by a single point, at an even 200.
The chart below shows the current top 20 players on the 2013-2014 Tour. Of most importance is the points column where we can see the tight battle for first place, and then a decent gap to Fred Slater in sole possession of 3rd spot, as the ranking points trickle down.
I'll direct your attention to the two rightmost columns, which provide more detail into the scores that make up a players total. The "4th score" column indicates the lowest score currently counting towards the point total. As is obvious, to improve one's overall ranking, they have to replace that lower score with a larger one.
This is definitely an important piece of information, as Ray Beierling's lowest score of 50 shows that he cannot improve his point total until the St. Jacobs tournament when more than 50 points are available for a first place finish. While Beierling leads Conrad by 1, Conrad certainly has the advantage, by having more chances to increase his total. As 45 points is a 3rd place finish in regular tournaments, an appearance in the finals will allow Conrad to retake first place.
Looking into the chart a little more, you get the idea how good of a chance several players have to challenge Beierling and Conrad for the top spot.
With low scores of 40 and 41, if Fred Slater were to win one event and then finish in the top 3 in St. Jacobs, his score would end up between 202 and 207. He's certainly very capable of doing that, and could very well be on top when the dust settles.
While Walsh and Jason Beierling currently share 4th place, Beierling is in a much better position to improve his scores. A win and a top finish in Hamilton and London would put his score close to 200, to be within striking distance of first place.
Three more notables come in the ranks from 12th to 14th as Justin Slater is sandwiched between Ray and Ron Haymes. The blank cell indicates that none of them have registered a 4th event so far this year, meaning that they have a tremendous opportunity to grow their score. While it's uncertain whether the Haymes will reappear to the crokinole scene before the 2014 World Championships, it's very likely Justin Slater will be competing to defend his St. Jacobs title, with a chance to bump his score up to 200 points, which should be good enough for a spot on the podium.
Lastly, it should be mentioned the scores of Brian Cook and Tom Johnston at 16th and 17th. Each still do not have a 4th event to score yet, and each have relatively low "3rd scores". While both face a tough mountain to climb, the number of events remaining provide them an outside opportunity to fight for the NCA title.
So the back-half of the season should be filled with a lot of excitement as there is still a lot to be determined. In about a month the first tournament of 2014 will take place in Hamilton for the 6th edition of Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament (one of only 3 tournaments from the NCA's inaugural tour). Brian Cook was not in attendance to defend his title in last year's tournament, allowing Ray Beierling to win his first Golden Horseshoe trophy. Perhaps they will both be competing in what should be a star-studded field as the 6th NCA Tour continues in 2014.
If you are sitting down with some relatives around a crokinole board this holiday season, this is a nice thing to keep in mind. This photo was found on louisvillecrokinoleclub.com meaning the credit likely goes to Jim Farris.