After Justin Slater's defeat to Ray Beierling in the London final, it looked like Slater's certain 2016-2017 NCA Tour victory was actually in doubt. But on Saturday, Slater showed that there's no doubt that the Ontario Championship is his tournament, as he won the event for the 7th time and clinched the NCA Tour crown.
There was a record attendance of 44 players at the St. Jacobs crokinole tournament, featuring players from the age of 7, to players within their 70s. Nathan Walsh had the high points and 20s scores through the morning play with 71 points and 87 20s through 10 games. He was followed by Robert Bonnett, who scored 64 points, and then by Justin Slater and Ray Kappes at 59 points each. There were a few players who missed qualifying for the A group by a narrow margin, but the toughest of luck went to Jeremy Tracey. Stuck in a tough pool with only the top 3 finishers advancing to Group A, Andrew Hutchinson scored 57 points for first, Jon Conrad earned second (56 pts), and Rex Johnston finished third (55 pts), leaving Tracey's 54 points on the outside looking in.
Players were reseeded for the afternoon with the prize money on the line. In Pool D, Janet Diebel made a strong push for the finals but ultimately finished third, as Allen Pengelly and Amelia Hartmann finished in the top spots. In the final, Hartmann won a tough first game and went on to win the match 6-4, 6-2 for the D Pool title.
In Pool C, Dale Henry showed no rust from his British Columbia voyage one week earlier, and made a run for the finals, but had to settle for fourth place. Howard Martin also challenged, but missed the second place spot to Cathy Kuepfer by 2 points. In the finals, Kuepfer overcame the top seeded Reuben Jongsma to win Pool C 6-2, 6-2.
Jeremy Tracey looked strong through the afternoon in Pool B, finishing with 56 points for the top spot, and was joined in the final by Roger Vaillancourt. Vaillancourt's score of 55 points was enough to beat out his Penetanguishene compatriot of Brian Simpson, who scored 51 points for third. In a great final, Vaillancourt came through 6-4, 6-2 to earn the Pool B title.
The Pool A action was spectacular and fierce as the Ontario title, and NCA Tour Rankings were on the line. While the group featured world champions and tournament mainstays, the most interesting competitor was NCA rookie, Connor Reinman, who showed off his University of Michigan colours and made a statement in finishing 9th in the tournament. An impressive debut that leaves one to wonder what could be in store in the very near future.
The hope for a dream final of Ray Beierling vs Justin Slater with the NCA title in the balance ended in the round robin phase as Ray Beierling's 44 points were only enough for 6th place (despite a tournament-high 125 20s in 11 games), missing the semifinals. Andrew Hutchinson just fell short of backing up his top 4 finish in London, as he earned 48 points for 5th place. Jon Conrad showed absolutely no rust from missing the last couple crokinole tournaments, as his 54 points had him finish at the top of the table. Fred Slater scored 53 points for second, while Nathan Walsh and Justin Slater finished with identical scores of 50 points and 111 20s (Walsh earning the edge through head-to-head tiebreaker).
So that left the semifinals of Jon Conrad vs Justin Slater, and Fred Slater vs Nathan Walsh. While Justin Slater had already clinched the NCA Tour title, the opportunity was still there for both Jon Conrad and Fred Slater to pass Walsh for 3rd place, and the final spot on the NCA podium. In the semifinals, Slater and Conrad played a high scoring match that included a perfect round for Justin Slater on his way to a 6-2, 6-2 win. The Fred Slater/Nathan Walsh match featured a lot of tactics and was especially tight in game one, before Walsh won the match 6-4, 6-0.
That setup a final of Justin Slater vs Nathan Walsh, and another instalment of what has been a one-way rivalry in tournament finals, with Slater earning the victory in each Championship encounter (St. Jacobs 2014, Belleville 2014, World Championships 2016 and Belleville 2016). An early mistake where Walsh scored a 20 for Slater allowed him to jump out to a 4-0 lead, but it was cut to 4-2 when Slater returned the favour in the third round. Slater then stole the final 2 points of the game to win the first of the best of three 6-2. Slater was once again ahead 4-2 in the second game and needed only a point for the title. Walsh had the opportunity to leave 2 discs in the 5 on his own side of the board, but had to press to the win in the round. When a ricochet attempt fell short of the 20 hole, Slater made the takeout and secured the Ontario Singles Crokinole Championship.
So Justin Slater has now won 7 Ontario Singles titles, equaling Joe Fulop for the most all-time. As mentioned, the victory also earned him the first place finish on the 2016-2017 NCA Tour. He began the season with double victories at the World Championships, and also won the Belleville and Ontario Doubles titles before finishing second in Hamilton and London. This is Slater's third NCA title to go along with 2014-2015 and the co-championship with Ray Beierling in 2009-2010.
Ray Beierling earned the second place spot on the NCA Tour after racking up wins in New York, Hamilton and London, as well as three second place finishes. Through 9 events this season, Beierling only missed the Top 3 once (with the 6th place finish in St. Jacobs). This season marks the 6th time Ray Beierling has finished in the top 2 on the Tour, and he has been in the Top 5 in all 9 seasons.
The third place spot went to Nathan Walsh, which equaled his best ever Tour finish from 2014-2015, and is an improvement from the 8th place finish in last year's Tour. Walsh began and ended the Tour with a myriad of runner-up results as he finished second in the World Championships, New York, Belleville and St. Jacobs. This is Walsh's 4th Top 5 Tour finish as he's finished 4th on two separate occasions.
So the 2016-2017 National Crokinole Association Tour has completed, and players only have a month to make their final tune-ups for the Tavistock tournament. That tournament will mark a major milestone for the NCA Tour as it begins its 10th season. But for now, the focus shifts away from the NCA and on to the most important crokinole tournament of the year as June 3rd is the date for the 2017 World Crokinole Championships.