In what was a rematch of the World Championship final 3 months earlier, and the Belleville final two years prior, Justin Slater came out on top in a match with Nathan Walsh and claimed the 2016 Belleville Crokinole Challenge for the third year in a row.
In what was a tournament record of 39 in competition, the crew of crokinole enthusiasts gathered in the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre for the 6th edition of the event. After some words by Belleville Mayor, Taso A. Christopher, the event was underway.
In the morning preliminary round Jon Conrad registered the high-score with 68 points in 10 games. Justin Slater, Roy Campbell, Ezra Jantzi and Ray Beierling followed just behind to fill in the top 5. Rounding out those qualifying for the afternoon Group A were Len Chard, Reuben Jong and Bev Vaillancourt. That left Quinte's own, Shirley Sager as the first qualifier in Group B, falling just 2 points shy of the Group A cutoff.
The afternoon competition had split the field into three groups. Peter Carter and Peter Klaassen each scored 56 points for the top two spots in Group C, while Helen Noonan and Ron Hebden earned the final spots in the semifinals. The contest was very tight as Bob Leggett, Dale Henry and Jennifer Scott each scored 44 points, missing the 4th seed by a mere 3 points.
In the semifinals, Peter Klaassen won game 1 over Helen Noonan 6-2, but Noonan forced a third game after earning a 4-4 tie in game 2. Klaassen would complete the victory, with a win in game 3 to move into the final.
Meanwhile, Ron Hebden and Peter Carter were going the distance. After the two tied game 1, Hebden won game 2, while Carter won game 3. That forced the implementation of the Quinte Convention Tie-Breaker. The tie-breaker format has been met with mixed reviews, but ultimately has been revolutionary to crokinole since it was first introduced in 2012. The tie-breaker consists of "pairs of rounds" which gives each competitor one round with the hammer advantage. If a player earns an edge after 2 rounds (with a score of 3-1 or 4-0), then the match is over, while a tie after the 2 rounds (with a 2-2 score) means another "pair of rounds" will be played to break the tie.
Carter and Hebden stretched the match out with some very even play, and after Pair 1 and Pair 2, the match was still tied. Peter Carter earned the decisive edge in Pair 3 to move on to the final. Klaassen had won the C title in 2015, but Carter would ride the momentum of the tight semifinal victory, and took the C title in two straight games.
In Group B, Howard Martin played tremendously through the round robin, easily taking the top spot with 62 points over 10 games. Cathy Kuepfer earned the second seed with 52 points, and Eric Miltenburg was third with 50. For the final semifinal spot, Dave Brown edged out Alex Protas, with 46 points to Protas' 45.
Whatever clutch play Dave Brown used to make the semifinals, he carried directly forward into the playoffs as he was able to defeat Howard Martin in 2 straight games. Meanwhile, Eric Miltenburg needed 3 games to beat Cathy Kuepfer to set up a final between the 3rd and 4th seeds. Miltenburg would prevail over Brown in the final, to win the B title and take home the Reg Chisholm Memorial trophy.
Reg Chisholm was a long-time member of the Quinte Region Crokinole Club, until his passing December of 2015. As Chisholm won the B title of the Belleville event in 2012, the club saw it fitting to name the title in the honour of sportsmanship, talent and humour that he offered to the game of crokinole.
In Group A, the competitors were vying for the "Eastern Challenge" trophy and the Belleville title. The Eastern Challenge trophy had been repurposed in previous years to award the Belleville tournament champion, but it used to serve as the top prize for a 3-team club tournament (similar to the Joseph Schneider Haus) that included crokinole clubs of Ottawa, Kawartha and Belleville.
With 13 players looking for a spot in the semifinals, Ray Beierling once again came through the round robin strong and earned the top seed with 54 points. Roy Campbell scored 49 points for second, and Nathan Walsh and Justin Slater each scored 47 for the final spots. That left Fred Slater in the unfortunate bubble position, finishing the round robin with 44 points for 5th place in the tournament.
Ray Beierling met Justin Slater in the first semifinal, which was a rematch of the 2015 Belleville final. They split game 1 4-4, but Slater earned the victory after taking game 2 6-2, and earning a decisive 4-0 edge in game 3 to move on to the final.
Roy Campbell got an early edge in his semifinal against Nathan Walsh, winning game 1 5-1. Walsh levelled the match with a 5-3 win in game 2, and they headed to tie-breaker rounds when the score was tied 4-4 after game 3. The extra rounds were incredibly tense as the two of them traded wins in hammer rounds, and after 3 Pairs of extra rounds they were still tied. With a potential "Shootout" looming, Walsh narrowly clinched the match and advanced to the final.
And so Walsh and Slater once again sat down in the final match with the tournament on the line. Justin Slater was riding a streak of 5 straight victories in singles events, while Nathan Walsh had entered his third consecutive tournament final. Walsh got ahead early, and led 3-1, but was denied a chance to win game 1 with the hammer when Justin Slater shot a perfect round, and tied game 1 3-3. Slater ran the momentum further and took the next round with hammer for a 5-3 win in game 1. In game 2, Slater led 2-0 and Walsh looked to respond by winning his hammer round, but Slater was too much to handle in 20s scoring and moved ahead 4-0. Walsh couldn't amount any pressure in the third round of game 2, and Slater took the match by a score of 5-3, 6-0.
The win backs up Justin Slater's 2016 World Crokinole Championship title, and moves him to a score of 150 points after 3 events on the NCA Tour. Ray Beierling has the early lead with 187, Walsh sits in 2nd with 186, while Fred Slater is in 3rd with 163 and Jon Conrad sits 4th with 160.
But there is still a lot of action left on the 2016-2017 NCA Tour, with the next stop in Brucefield for the Ontario Doubles Crokinole Championship on October 15th.