There were many moments when the result didn't seem clear, but you wouldn't have been able to tell, and with calm and consistency, Justin Slater took another step in etching his name into crokinole history. A 3rd doubles championship with his father, and a 3rd singles championship in 7 years, in the 18th edition of the largest crokinole tournament in world.
As always, the much anticipated crokinole tournament starts with many nervous shots during the preliminary round of the Doubles competition, with teams desperate to score points early and often to make the playoffs. At the end of the 8 preliminary games the playoff field had been set with Justin and Fred Slater earning the high score of 54 points, while Jason and Ray Beierling scored a ridiculous 106 20s (a score more than 20 higher than the next largest 20 count). The teams making the top 6 included:
- Justin and Fred Slater (2013 and 2014 champions, 6th straight top 6 finish)
- Jason and Ray Beierling (6-time champions, 4th straight top 6 finish)
- Jon Conrad and Barry Kiggins (1st top 6 finish as a pair, after both earned world championships with different partners)
- Abijah and Reuben Jong (1st top 6 finish after winning the Rec. Doubles title in 2015)
- Kevin Bechtel and Ray Kappes (1st top 6 finish since 2013)
- Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh (3rd straight top 6 finish)
While much is often made of the teams just missing the cutoff for the top playoff bracket, this year was no exception. The teams of Bechtel/Kappes and Kuepfer/Walsh, both scored 46 points to grab the final spots, just beating out Tom Johnston and Ab Leitch, and the team of Roy Campbell and Howard Martin, who each scored 44 points. Those teams would compete for the consolation title in the B playoffs, along with another set of Cameron Heights teachers (Dave Meier and Kevin Brooks), the Quinte father/son duo (Matt and Dave Brown), the Waterloo pair (Alex Protas and Dennis Ernest) and the PEI team (David Younker and Daryl MacDonald).
As a point of interest, the final spot in the B Playoffs, earned by Younker and MacDonald, was enough to edge not one, but two other doubles teams from PEI. Both Lawson Lea and Wilfred Smith, and Robert Weeks and Douglas Neill represented "The Island" contingent well, finishing 13th and 14th respectively.
The B title was won by Tom Johnston and Ab Leitch, who scored 27 points, just beating the 26 points of Matt and Dave Brown.
Shifting back to the A playoffs, with the world title on the line, two teams jumped out of the gate in the 5-game round robin. Justin and Fred Slater, and Jason and Ray Beierling were looking strong, and met head-to-head in the third game. The Slaters would win 6-2, in what would be the decisive moment, as they scored 28 points for 1st place, and their 3rd World Doubles title.
This title moves Justin and Fred Slater into 4th place in all-time World Doubles victories, tied with Tony Snyder, and just behind Jon Conrad (4 titles) and Jason and Ray Beierling (6).
Jason and Ray Beierling ended with 25 points, and a second place finish for a second straight year. Kuepfer and Walsh would finish just behind at 24 points for 3rd place, and Bechtel and Kappes would complete the top 4 at 21 points.
After the lunch break the main event was set to begin. The preliminary round of 10 games brings with it a fight to advance to the top 16 playoffs, with some keen players keeping an eye on their 20s scores with the hopes of earning some extra hardware.
After the round concluded, the playoff pools were set, as the top 16 separate into two pools of 8.
- Justin Slater (2015 and 2010 world champion)
- Jon Conrad (2012 and 2013 world champion)
- Ab Leitch (2008 runner-up, 2009 4th place finisher)
- Roger Vaillancourt (2014 8th)
- Robert Bonnett (2015 4th)
- Nathan Walsh (2009 runner-up, 2014 3rd)
- Lawson Lea (2nd top 16 finish)
- Brian Simpson (1st top 16 finish since 2009)
- Tom Johnston (4th in 2011, 2013)
- Raymond Kappes (2003 world champion)
- Ray Beierling (2011 world champion, 2015 runner-up)
- Fred Slater (4th top 16 finish)
- Eric Miltenburg (2010 4th)
- Barry Kiggins (1st top 16 finish)
- Kevin Brooks (1st top 16 finish since 2013)
- Randy Harris (1st top 16 finish)
For a moment it appeared that Randy Harris would be the unfortunate 17th place finisher, even after scoring 49 points to be tied with Kevin Brooks in 16th (but lose on the 20s tiebreaker). But due to one qualifier not being able to stick around, Harris was awarded the final spot.
Fate was crueler for Matt Brown and Jason Beierling, both scoring 47 points and 65 20s, and Ezra Jantzi who ended with 46 points, to just miss out on the playoffs.
Speaking of very tight scores, Eric Miltenburg and Lawson Lea ended with identical markers of 51 points and 60 20s. As the exact placing in the preliminary round determines allocations into Pool A or B, there was a need for a 20s Shootout to break the tie. Instead the two decided settle it with a simple coin toss, which placed Miltenburg in Pool B, and Lea in Pool A. (Eric Miltenburg explains the situation, along with an interesting take on 20s scores on the NING website.)
Women's World Title
With a 23rd place finish overall, after scoring 44 points, Beverley Vaillancourt was once again crowned the Women's World Champion, winning the Karin Jeske Memorial Trophy for the 4th consecutive year.
The 20s Title
The preliminary round conclusion also determined the World 20s Champion. In what was a low scoring year for 20s, only 6 players totalled at least 70 20s. Jon Conrad, Kevin Brooks, Robert Bonnett and Rob Mader all landed in the 70-79 range, while Ray Kappes scored 89 20s which was good enough for 2nd. But it would be Ray Beierling winning the title with 92 20s, which he strongly believed would not be enough to earn the honour.
The win is an impressive feat for Beierling, as it marks his 6th 20s title, stretching his all-time 20s titles lead, as Justin Slater and Al Fuhr each have 3 to their credit. It was also Beierling's 4th straight 20s title, going back to 2013, which is clearly the longest 20s title streak in WCC history.
Shifting the focus back to the playoffs, the battle was intense with players looking to finish in the top 2 in their respective groups to move on. In Pool A, a few players started to separate from the rest of the pack, but in the final games, Justin Slater and Nathan Walsh clinched the top spots with 39 points each. Jon Conrad was third in the group with 33 points, and Robert Bonnett was 4th with 29.
In Pool B, Ray Kappes was on fire, scoring 41 points to easily take the top spot. The final spot in the top 4 was a narrow battle between Ray Beierling and Eric Miltenburg, who each scored 34 points. But in the head-to-head match, Beierling won 6-2 and claimed the final spot.
So the Top 4 included:
- Justin Slater - reigning Singles Champion, and Doubles victor earlier in the day
- Ray Beierling - recently crowned 20s Champion, making his 9th Top 4 appearance
- Ray Kappes - making his first Top 4 Singles finish since winning the World Title in 2003
- Nathan Walsh - the only member of the Top 4 without a previous Singles title, making his 3rd Top 4 appearance
For the first time ever, each of the Top 4 Singles finishers had finished in the Top 4 during the Doubles competition earlier in the day. A clear sign of how strong play can carry through an entire day of tournament crokinole.
In the Top 4 round-robin, Nathan Walsh jumped out to a fast start, and had earned 11 points through 2 games, while Justin Slater and Ray Beierling had 10 and 8 points respectively. In the final matches, Ray Kappes beat Nathan Walsh 6-2, but Walsh earned all he needed to finish in the top 2, while Slater and Beierling split their game 4-4. That left Slater with 14 points and the top seed, Walsh with 13 points for 2nd, Beierling at 12 points and Kappes at 9. In the "Battle of the Rays" Beierling would win the match for 3rd place, while Kappes would settle for 4th.
So the World Final would pit a pair of 23-year-olds against each other, as Justin Slater looked for his 3rd World title, and Nathan Walsh looked for his first. The two had met in NCA tournament finals twice before. In Belleville in 2014, and St. Jacobs in 2014, both matches would go the distance of 3-games, but Slater prevailed in each.
This match began with a flurry of 20s, as Walsh scored 7 in a row, and Slater failed to make his final shot to lose the first round. The roll of 20s would continue for Walsh in round 2, scoring 6 and grabbing a 4-0 lead in game 1. The scoring began to slow down in round 3, but when a Slater misfire resulted in a 20 for Walsh, the lead was insurmountable and Walsh won the first game.
Play was solid and very even in game 2, with both players looking comfortable in winning their rounds with hammer. After 4 rounds, they were tied at 4-4, calling for 5th-round tiebreaker. In what was a wild round of near misses, Walsh had the hammer advantage, but was quickly looking at a cluttered board of Slater discs. With the final shot of the game, Walsh faced 4 opposing discs and could only earn a victory with a tough double takeout. The shot was missed, and Slater had won game 2 6-4, to force a decisive game for the World title.
In game 3, Slater convincingly scored 20s in the first round to go up 2-0. Slater was equally as strong in the second round, and won the 2 points against the hammer to make it 4-0, one point from the title. In the third round, Slater quickly converted a few 20 opportunities and won the game 6-0, to clinch the 2016 World Crokinole Championship title.
With the win, Justin Slater stands with Joe Fulop at 3 Singles titles, and just behind Brian Cook at a total of 4. His feat of winning the Doubles and Singles title in the same year (being coined as "The Double"), matches the achievement of Jon Conrad in 2012.
And with that, the crokinole season rounds to a close, with many players putting their crokinole boards away, save for a few rainy summer days or cottage vacations. That is of course, only until the 2016 Turtle Island Crokinole Tournament in Lewiston, New York on July 30th, when the NCA Tour picks up again for its 9th season.