With his back up against the wall, Jon Conrad still found a way to get the victory. After dropping the first game of the best of 3 match, in both the semifinal to Clare Kuepfer and the final to Andrew Hutchinson, Conrad rallied to win the 2016 tournament for his first Golden Horseshoe title.
Clear weather and a hankering for crokinole brought out 40 players to the Cornerstone Canadian Reformed Church for the first NCA event of the new year. The tournament welcomed several new players to the world of competitive crokinole, and brought in players from the clubs of Waterloo, Grimsby, Scone and Tuscarora.
Players were split into 4 groups for a morning round-robin that sprinkled the talent pool and introduced players experienced and new together. Ray Beierling was the top finisher through the morning with 61 points out of a possible 72. He was joined in the A group for the afternoon with Nathan Walsh, Jon Conrad, Eric Miltenburg, Roy Campbell, Andrew Hutchinson, Clare Kuepfer, Rueben Jong, Abijah Jong, and Jake Ruggi. While the Pool A cutoff ended up being 50 points, it was Howard Martin (49 points) and Bob Jones (50 points, but losing on 20s) who had to settle for qualifying into Pool B.
With the money and prizes on the line in the afternoon, nervous energy played its part, but those who were able to maintain their calm found their way into the playoff rounds. In Pool D Ted Cossit and Doreen Sulkye excelled, scoring 56 and 55 points respectively. John Herbst finished 3rd in the group with 48 points, just missing out of the title match. Cossit was able to hold onto his top seed and win the Pool D title by edging out Sulkye in the finals.
In Pool C, John McFeeters and Janet Diebel had very strong afternoons, scoring 46 and 44 to finish 3rd and 4th respectively. Alan Cerclier and Mouser Henry were neck and neck through the second round, both scoring 52 points over 9 games, and making for a very interesting finale. It was Cerclier who would finally gain the upper-hand, winning the Pool C title over Henry in the championship match.
Fred Slater was able to comfortably cruise into the top spot of Pool B action with 60 points, leaving behind a desperate log-jam attempting to grab the other spot in the final. Bob Jones and Jo-Ann Carter tried their luck, but fell just short with 41 points each, while Howard Martin edged forward, scoring 44 points and earning 2nd spot. In the final, Slater continued to roll and earned the victory over Martin for the Pool B title.
Pool A action had all 10 players vying for a top 4 spot to advance to the semifinals. While there were several close games, by the end of the round a clear set of 4 had left a decent margin of error. Jon Conrad took the top seed (45 points) and would play the fourth seed, Clare Kuepfer (43 points). Leaving Ray Beierling and Andrew Hutchinson (both with 44 points) in the other semifinal.
The Conrad/Kuepfer semifinal was thoroughly entertaining. Clare Kuepfer would win the first game 6-4 with Conrad responding to win game 2 6-0. The deciding 3rd game was incredibly tight. The players traded takeout-20s before drawing round 1 and round 2. Conrad would take round 3 for a 4-2 lead, and Kuepfer's double-takeout attempt would just come up short in round 4 to tie another round, leaving Conrad with the 5-3 victory in game 3 to win the match.
In the other semifinal, Andrew Hutchinson was trying to take another step in his meteoric rise of the fingers-side of crokinole, and was in tough against the defending Golden Horseshoe Tournament Champion. Hutchinson started out strong and took the first game 6-4 against the hammer of Ray Beierling. The second game was very strategic and came to a conclusion of much deliberation. With Hutchinson leading 4-2 and Beierling needing 2 points, he needed to make a tough combination double takeout to extend the match. He was unsuccessful and Hutchinson advanced to his first ever NCA tournament final.
There were many momentum swings in the championship match between Hutchinson and Conrad, which made for great viewing pleasure. At the end of the see-saw first game, Hutchinson had secured the victory 6-4 against the hammer. Once again, Conrad needed to respond, and did so quickly by jumping ahead 4-0 in the second game. He'd hold off some strong play from Hutchinson to win the game 5-3 and force a deciding third game. In the third game Conrad was unshakeable and nearly perfect as he took the game 6-2 and claimed the Golden Horseshoe title.
It was Jon Conrad's first singles final since New York in 2014, and, amazingly, just his first NCA tournament victory outside of the WCC. With the victory, Jon Conrad now joins Justin Slater and Ray Beierling as the only men with two victories so far in this 8th edition of the NCA Tour.
It is that sort of equality that is making for a very interesting Tour race, as we can see below. There are four events remaining this season (London, St. Jacobs and 2 in BC). The favourites to win the Tour are Conrad, J Beierling and R Beierling who find themselves at the top of the standings, along with Justin Slater who has 143 points, but has only played 3 events (the best 4 count to the total score).
There is no word yet on if any eastern players will be making there way to BC for the British Columbia Players Championship in early March, but the action is sure to heat up once crokinole returns completely from its Winter slumber.
NCA 2015/2016 Tour Rankings - As of January 31, 2016