A tough battle, and a very difficult road it has been, but on Saturday Roy Campbell added his name to an elite list as an NCA tournament champion.
The 2015 Scenic City Crokinole Tournament was the 5th edition of the Owen Sound stop on the NCA Tour. The event has always been the final showcase of crokinole action for the calendar year, before the Tour goes into a slight hibernation for the winter months.
With players looking to display their best form of crokinole and bank NCA points for the second half of the Tour, the group of 24 competitive players was split into pools of 12 for the preliminary round.
Some very strong players proved to be very effective in the morning action. Ray Beierling, the tournament's defending champion, scored 74 points through 11 games, well ahead of the rest of the field. Still finishing quite strongly were Jason Beierling at 63 and Brian Cook at 61 points.
With the afternoon play being split into 3 different groups, the goal for several top players was attempting to finish in the top 8. Eric Miltenburg grabbed the final spot, scoring 48 points and 84 20s. That left several others just on the outside with Rueben Jong and Roger Vaillancourt at 46 points, and Cathy Kuepfer at 45.
The very unique aspect of the Owen Sound tournament is always its combination of competitive singles and recreational doubles. What it creates in organizational hassles it more than makes up for in overall enjoyment and quality of the event.
A large round robin was played in the recreational doubles event, as the well attended tournament led to a total of 30 players and 15 teams. A couple of doubles teams entered the event with a good amount of practice and experience from the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship in the month prior.
The Ontario Recreational Champions, Jo-Ann and Peter Carter, played well throughout the day but could only manage 56 points. The team the Carters defeated in the Ontario final, Bob Jones and John Lichty, managed better and were able to score 64 points to grab 4th place. Just ahead of them were Carl and Sharon Jolley who had 65 points for 3rd place, and Neil and Carol Cook with 68 points for 2nd. The Recreation Doubles Champions on the day were Clark Campbell and Paul Bryers who claimed the top prize with 70 points in 12 games.
In the afternoon singles play, a very strong leading position from Chris Gorsline in Pool C led to some extremely close scores battling for the final playoff spot. While Gorsline (43 points), Howard Martin (37 points), and Clare Kuepfer (34) comfortably advanced into the playoffs, the rest were very closely matched. Wayne Scott and Dave Brown had to feel slighted as they scored 25 points and only missed the playoffs by one single point. But it was even worse for Ken Hawkins, who scored 26 and lost out on a tiebreaker. Dale Henry was the beneficiary of all of this, also scoring 26 points but advancing as the 4th seed.
In the round robin playoffs, Clare Kuepfer turned up the heat and managed to pull through for first place with 18 points. Howard Martin scored 12 points for 2nd place.
The Pool B singles action shaped up quite differently. Roger Vaillancourt scored 39 points for first place, while Rueben Jong earned the 4th seed with 30 points, just ahead of Peter Tarle at 28. But in the playoffs, Jong and Roger Vaillancourt would finish third and fourth respectively, as Bev Vaillancourt finished 2nd with 12 points, and Andrew Hutchinson won Pool B with 17 points.
Hutchinson's all-round crokinole game seems to be reaching a level that no player has gone before. While he's already a World Champion in Cues play, his results on this stop of the NCA Tour are pointing towards him reaching the high levels of the Fingers game as well. While phrasing it as a "switch-hitter" may not be the best terminology, there may soon need to be a term for someone who can competitively dabble in both the finger and cues versions of crokinole. (Aside - I'm currently taking any suggestions for what the best moniker for this might be.)
In Pool A, the battle for tournament champion caused lots of nerves throughout most of the group. It was Roy Campbell and Brian Cook who seized the opportunity, scoring 39 and 35 points respectively. Jason Beierling and Robert Bonnett rounded out the playoffs with 27 points, just edging Nathan Walsh and Jon Conrad who both were within 2 points of advancing.
In the round robin playoffs, Roy Campbell dominated, winning each game 6-2 for 18 points and the first seed. Jason Beierling recovered from his 6-2 defeat to Campbell, to do exactly the same to his counterparts and earned 14 points for the other spot in the tournament final.
So the Scenic City Crokinole Tournament, and title of the "King of Scenic City Crokinole", would come down to Roy Campbell and Jason Beierling. It was Campbell's first ever NCA tournament final, still very impressive being that he was only introduced to the competitive side of crokinole in 2011. Meanwhile, for Beierling, it was already his third final of the 2015-2016 NCA Tour (having lost to Brian Cook at the Turtle Island tournament, and having won with his brother at the Ontario Doubles event).
The finals was a "first-to-11" point structure that amplified the importance of winning games with the "hammer" (last-shot) advantage. The match started out even with players trading wins to be tied at 4-4. The match took its first turn when Beierling got an early lead in round 5 and was able to hold it for a 6-4 lead, stealing 2 points without the last shot. He then consolidated the lead in the next round, with the hammer, to go up 8-4.
But Roy Campbell was able to reset and find his game. After stopping the string of 6 consecutive points from Beierling, he stole 2 points and had levelled the match at 8-8.
And with the match on the line, Campbell was unflinching. He sealed the final two round to take the match 12-8, and win his first NCA event with a victory in Owen Sound.
Roy Campbell's victory now adds to the parity of the NCA Tour so far in 2015-2016. With 6 events so far, only one player (Justin Slater) can claim two tournament titles. With the runner-up performance, Jason Beierling will join his brother Ray with 191 points for 1st place on the NCA Tour.
As previously mentioned, NCA Tour play takes a break for December and most of January, before 2016 crokinole action begins in Hamilton for the Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament.