Being opportunistic and taking advantage of small openings may have been the theme of the day on the first Saturday of June in Tavistock. So when Robert Bonnett got an early lead in the final round of the championship match, it didn't seem to matter to him that Jon Conrad mounted a serious comeback to level the match. Robert Bonnett was not be denied as he won the 2017 world championship in surprise fashion.
The summer Saturday begin as it always does in Tavistock, a clean slate for all competitors in the hope that a big day lies ahead. For this year's new competitors (making up 31% of total tournament attendance in 2017) the excitement usually has a hampering effect that can limit performance. But quite a few first time USA participants excelled in their rookie year as Justin Martin and Jonathan Phillips finished fourth to make the doubles playoffs. The 6-time champion Beierling Brothers finished in the top spot among 42 teams, with 57 points out of a possible 64. 3-time doubles Champion Tony Snyder partnered with Cameron Heights colleague Dave Meijer (formerly of the Brooks/Meijer pairing) for the first time and finished in 2nd in the preliminary round with 56 points. Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh made their fourth straight top 6 playoff appearance after earning 54 points for third place. Filling out the playoff roster was Lloyd and Steve Wiseman making their first Top 6 playoff appearance 49 points and Ray Kappes and Kevin Bechtel earning their 4th playoff appearance, also with 49 points.
Narrowly missing the Top 6 and having to settle for a B Playoff position were:
- BC Doubles Champions, Tom Johnston and MJ Andreola (48 points)
- Defending Ontario and World Champions, Justin and Fred Slater (47 points)
- 2011 runners-up Dave and Matt Brown (47 points)
- Eric Miltenburg and Dale Henry, making their first playoff appearance (47 points)
- Jeremy Tracey and Roy Campbell, pairing for the second time after their 2nd place in the Listowel PaddyFest (46 points)
- Matthew and Roger Vaillancourt, making the playoffs for the first time as a pairing (45 points)
Missing out on the playoffs by a few points included the PEI doubles team of Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea, and Jon Conrad and Barry Kiggins, who both scored 41 points in the preliminary round.
In the B playoffs, Justin and Fred Slater were the class of the field, scoring the high of 32 points and 69 20s for the first spot. Dave and Matt Brown finished second with 19 points and a head-to-head tiebreaker win over Matthew and Roger Vaillancourt in third place. Also earning the tiebreaker victory for 4th place were Dale Henry and Eric Miltenburg, after being level with Roy Campbell and Jeremy Tracey at 17 points.
In the A playoffs, Kuepfer/Walsh and Snyder/Meijer were into the lead early with bigs wins in their first game while Beierling/Beierling and Martin/Phillips made up ground with bounce back victories in game 2. After game 4, Kuepfer/Walsh had a 6 point lead on the second place Snyder/Meijer with only their head-to-head match to come. Beierling/Beierling and Martin/Phillips used their final game to lock in a top 4 spot with 20 and 18 points respectively. Meanwhile, Kuepfer/Walsh secured top spot with a 6-2 win for 30 points, while Snyder/Meijer also finished with 20 points.
Justin Martin and Jonathan Phillips earned the 4th spot for the best ever finger doubles finish from a USA, or non-Ontario, team (the previous best belonging to PEI's Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea with their 5th place finish in 2014). Ray and Jason Beierling finished 3rd for their 14th top 4 finish overall and 5th in a row. After winning the head-to-head tiebreaker, for Dave Meijer the second place was his first top 4 finish, while for Tony Snyder it was his 6th (and 3rd with a different partner).
Lastly, for 2017 Doubles World Champions, Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh, it was their first World title for either of them, after finishing 3rd in 2016, 5th in 2015, and an agonizing 2nd in 2014. Along with Team Slater and Team Beierling, they are the only teams to have made the Top 12 in each of the past 5 years, and have now finally joined these two teams in the winner's circle.
The preliminary round of singles play is always interesting with qualifications for the Top 16 mixed in with the 20s title, and usually, the Karin Jeske award for Top Female. While Jon Conrad and Ray Kappes have been near the top, the 20s title has really been a 2-way battle for 10 years between Ray Beierling and Justin Slater. This year a warm day with average humidity seemed to indicate their wouldn't be any mind blowing top scores like Slater's 142 in 2012 or Beierling's 131 in 2014.
This year 6 player's scored over 70 20s, including Connor Reinman, Jeremy Tracey, Rob Mader and Nathan Walsh. Walsh ended up third in the total 20s count with 75, as there was a massive gap to the top 2 of Ray Beierling and Justin Slater. Beierling scored 97, while Slater was the only one to crack 100 as he scored 104. The 2017 20s title is Slater's 4th, as he stops Beierling's streak of 4-straight titles, and continues the stretch dating back to 2008 of only Justin Slater or Ray Beierling coming away with the 20s crown.
For the women's title, a large number of competitors added variety, but Beverly Vaillancourt ensured the results wouldn't change, winning her 6th straight title with 46 points. Jennifer Carstairs finished just behind for 2nd with 43 points, and Cathy Kuepfer finished 3rd with 40 points. PEI's Margaret McKinley was 4th, and just off the podium with 39 points.
As always, there was a few unfortunate souls who barely missed the Top 16 playoffs, such as Jeremy Herrmann, Jason Beierling and Lawson Lea. All scored 53 points and missed the Top 16 cutoff based on 20s as Greg Pinel earned the 16th and final spot with 53 points and 66 20s. Matt Brown and Tom Johnston also just missed, finishing 20th and 21st with 52 points each.
For those that made the cut though, the chance to win the World title was still alive as the field split into two pools.
- Justin Slater (preliminary round top scorer and 3-time defending World Champ)
- Ray Beierling (2011 champ, 9 Top 4 finishes, 19th Top 16 appearance)
- Nathan Jongsma (2nd Top 16 appearance with previous best of 5th in 2012)
- Brian Simpson (3rd Top 16 appearance)
- Roger Vaillancourt (4th Top 16 appearance)
- Connor Reinman (1st WCC appearance and top USA finisher in 2017)
- Jeremy Tracey (1st WCC appearance)
- Dwayne Campbell (1st Top 16 appearance)
- Andrew Hutchinson (2nd best preliminary score, first WCC fingers appearance)
- Jon Conrad (4 Top 4 finishes with his last in 2013 when he won his 2nd straight world title)
- Ray Kappes (2003 World Champ and 2016 4th place finisher)
- Rob Mader (3rd Top 16 appearance in 4 years, 3rd in 2008)
- Nathan Walsh (3 Top 4 finishes, 7th Top 16 appearance)
- Robert Bonnett (2015 4th place finisher, 5th Top 16 appearance)
- Fred Slater (5th Top 16 appearance)
- Greg Pinel (2nd Top 16 appearance and top non-Ontario Canadian finisher in 2017)
Pool A play was incredibly tight, and at the end of the 7 games the top scorer of Connor Reinman had 34 points, just 6 over the .500 level of 28. In some years 34 points would not be enough to qualify, but Reinman grabbed first with the score as a log jam was left behind him. Four players sat with one point separating them for the final playoff spot. Ray Beierling lost his last game 5-3 to Justin Slater, leaving Beierling with 29 points for 5th place in the group. The win put Slater into a 3-way tie at 30 points with Dwayne Campbell and Nathan Jongsma. Jongsma had only needed one point in his final game to clinch a spot in the Top 4, but lost it 8-0 to Reinman to fall into the tiebreaker scenario. In the 3-way head-to-head, Jongsma beat Campbell 8-0 and tied Slater 4-4, while Campbell beat Slater 6-2. Jongsma, scoring 12 points in the two games grabbed the final spot in the Top 4.
In Pool B a few players quickly emerged as contenders for the Final 4. Ray Kappes stayed in the hunt for a while but ended up 4th in the Pool with 28 points. Fred Slater made a big push for the Final 4, but on this day and in this pool, 33 points was not enough to advance. Earning the coveted entry into the next round was Robert Bonnett with 36 points, and Jon Conrad with 38 points.
So the Final 4 consisted of Connor Reinman of Grosse Point Farms, Michigan, Nathan Jongsma of Sudbury, Robert Bonnett of Wingham, and Jon Conrad of Poole. Reinman and Jongsma were both making their first Final Four appearance. Robert Bonnett was making his second showing in the Final Four of competitive singles after twice winning Rec singles, and for Jon Conrad, it was his 5th Top 4 finish and the first since his 2013 championship.
In Game 1, Conrad and Bonnett shot out of the gates in pure dominance. Conrad was flawless in an 8-0 victory over Jongsma, while Bonnett won 6-2 over Reinman with a perfect game. In Game 2, Jongsma and Reinman looked to get back in the hunt for the finals with a win, but played to a 4-4 tie, and Jon Conrad moved further into first place with a 5-3 win over Bonnett. In the final game, both Conrad and Bonnett would win again, solidifying the championship final. In the third place game, the deadlock between Jongsma and Reinman continued and stretched the match out into 3 games. Reinman would come away victorious as Nathan Jongsma finished 4th, and Connor Reinman finished 3rd.
So the finals pitted Jon Conrad, going for his 3rd world title, against Robert Bonnett, going for his first. Robert Bonnett was hot early and scored several 20s, shooting from the right-hand side, rather than the centre of the board. Just when it looked like Bonnett was cooling off, as Conrad pushed back, Bonnett surged again to earn a tie in the 3rd round for a 5-1 Game 1 victory.
This looked like trouble for Conrad, after he had won each game of the Final 4, and had won Game 1 of both his 2012 and 2013 WCC finals on his way to the championship. Bonnett continued on and was leading 4-0, only one point from the World title. And that's when the game shifted. Finally Conrad got ahead in the 20s in the 3rd round without the hammer and used several defensive strategies to lull the play to the outside and win 2 points for the round. In the 4th round, Bonnett missed a 20 early and Conrad defended well again to level the game 4-4. But even with a 5th round upcoming, Bonnett still had the hammer advantage. Suddenly though, Conrad was unstoppable and confident in defence for another steal and a 6-4 Game 2 victory.
After going winless through 5 rounds, Conrad had reeled off three in a row with his back against the wall, and only one game remained for the World Championship.
Many would have expected Robert Bonnett to wilt, but spectacularly, he recovered and was battling again. Conrad won the first 2 points to begin Game 3. In relentless determination, Bonnett returned the favour and tied the game 2-2, and Bonnett had an early 2 20 lead in the third round. Conrad cut the deficit to one 20 on his second to last shot, and when Bonnett missed an open 20 just long, Conrad blasted a follow through 20 to tie the round and the 3rd game 3-3, as both players moved one win away from the title.
In the final round, Conrad's opening shot went right through the house and his second shot was left short for a hangar. Bonnett converted both chances for 20s in what would be the final critical moment of a spectacular match as Robert Bonnett won the 2017 World Championship 5-1, 4-6, 5-3.
The championship match really did have it all. 20s, defensive play, a furious comeback from the brink, and a decent amount of friendly banter. It will surely go down as one of the classics. It was Jon Conrad's first loss in a World final as his record in championship matches moves to 2-1.Meanwhile, the win is Robert Bonnett's first win on the Competitive side of any World Championship or NCA tournament.
2017 was truly a year of firsts, with first-time winners in doubles and singles, and first time top 4 finishes from the US in doubles and singles. The increased competition and variety promises to add excitement into the mix as we enter the 2017-2018 NCA Tour on our way to the 20th edition of the World Crokinole Championship on June 2nd, 2018.