In a fitting manner, some of the best performers in the 20 year history of the World Crokinole Championships took the top spots at the 2018 edition of the event. The Beierlings ended an 8 year drought and cemented their status as the most successful doubles pairing of all time with their 7th World title, and later in the day Justin Slater emerged victorious from a brilliant championship encounter with Jon Conrad to take his 4th world title.
It was a banner year for the World Championships, of course with the significance of the number 20 to the game of crokinole, and the WCC committee was quite hopeful the 20th edition of the unique event would be a terrific success. The result was just that as crokinole enthusiasts poured in record numbers and saw the afternoon singles play fill the arena floor with 120 boards in action.
Later in the day, East-Zorra-Tavistock mayor Don McKay announced and celebrated the many participants who travelled a great distance to compete at the event. Once again the enthusiastic and talented crew from PEI made the trip, along with a few others who represented Quebec and Newfoundland. Another strong slate of American entrants made their way from the states of Connecticut, Virginia, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. And finally the 20th edition of the World Championships also saw entries from Switzerland and Russia for the first time.
The preliminary round of the competitive doubles field featured 40 teams vying for a spot in the top 6. Zooming through the 8-games comfortably were Jeremy Tracey and Roy Campbell who picked up 55 points out of a possible 64 for the first seed, and their first top 6 finish together. They were followed by Ray and Jason Beierling with 52 points and a tournament high 90 20s. They were making their 6th straight top 6 appearance (tying the record set by Justin and Fred Slater from 2011-2016), and 15th top 6 appearance overall. Qualifying third were the PEI crew of Lawson Lea and Wilfred Smith, making the top 6 for the 2nd time at 48 points. Also at 48 points was the newly formed team of Jon Conrad and Connor Reinman. For Reinman it was his first top 6 finish in his first attempt in competitive doubles, and for Conrad it was his 10th top 6 finish with a 4th different partner. The final 2 qualifying spots at 47 points went to Tom and Rex Johnston with their 4th top 6 finish, and Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh with their 5th straight top 6 finish.
With the doubles playoffs at the World Championships there are teams who have to deal with the sting of just missing a shot to compete for the title, but do get the fortune of getting to play a few more games of crokinole as they finished from 7th-12th place to play in the B playoffs. For 2018 these included:
- Justin and Fred Slater, scoring 45 points to miss the top 6 by 2 points for the 2nd straight year, but making the top 12 for the 8th year in a row
- Eric Miltenburg and Dale Henry, scoring 43 points, making the B playoffs for the 2nd straight year
- Kevin Bechtel and Ray Kappes, scoring 43 points, making the top 12 for the 9th time and 4th in a row
- Dwayne and Christina Campbell, scoring 41 points, finishing in the top 12 for the first time as a pair
- Reid and Nolan Tracey, also scoring 41 points for their first top 12 finish, and
- Michael Meleg and David Braun, completing the hat-trick of teams scoring 41 points for their top 12 debut
Those just missing the playoffs included Howard Martin and Paul Brubacher at 40 points, and Arthur and Robert Thuot who scored an impressive 40 points in their first World Championships. Dave and Matt Brown also scored 40 points and unfortunately saw their 7-year top 12 streak come to an end.
In the B playoffs Dwayne and Christina Campbell emerged victorious with 26 points through the 5-game round robin, beating out 2nd place finishers of Justin and Fred Slater at 22 points. Ray Kappes and Kevin Bechtel finished 3rd at 20 points, and Eric Miltenburg and Dale Henry finished 4th with 18 points.
In the A playoffs the teams of Beierling/Beierling and Tracey/Campbell quickly found themselves clearly in the top spots with 14 and 13 points after two games. In game 3 of the 5-game round robin they met head-to-head and the Beierlings played magnificently in an 8-0 victory and had a 9 point lead on the rest of field with only 2 games to play. Meanwhile Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea were sitting 3rd with 12 points, hoping to surpass their personal best finish of 5th in 2014, but had two tough matchups left with Tracey/Campbell and Beierling/Beierling.
Tracey/Campbell rebounded well from the Beierling skunk to win their final games 6-2 over Lea/Smith and 5-3 over Conrad/Reinman to finish with 24 points, good enough for second place. Lawson Lea and Wilfred Smith would hang on to the 3rd place finish by one point after earning a critical tie 4-4 with the Beierlings in the last game, earning the best ever finish from a non-Ontario team at the World Championships. 4th place would go to Jon Conrad and Connor Reinman by virtue of 20s, after they finished with 17 points, just beating out Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh who also scored 17 points, and whom they drew 4-4 in the crucial head-to-head.
Ray and Jason Beierling closed out their round robin with two draws to finish with 30 points and a pretty high 20 score of 76 (31% of total shots). While the pair have been a staple of World Championships and unquestionably one of the top teams every year, for a long time they had been unable to find that necessary championship form in the playoffs. While they had been close since 2010 (finishing 2nd twice, 3rd twice and 4th once), something always eluded them which had been present during their dominating run of 4 straight from 2007-2010. With 2018 being their 20th Top 12 finish (success rate of 100%), 15th top 4 finish (75%), 10th top 2 finish (50%) and 7th World Doubles title (35%), there is no other team that currently rivals the Beierlings in the discussion of greatest doubles team in the history of the World Crokinole Championships.
With the morning festivities done, players were forced to quickly transition to the singles game in an effort to accumulate enough points to finish in the Top 16, while a few others may have placed an eye on the 20s title. In relative terms to some previous years it was a low scoring year as only 5 players scored 80 or more 20s, with Randy Harris at 80, Robert Bonnett at 86, Andrew Hutchinson at 88, Jon Conrad at 89, and Ray Beierling scored 99 20s for his record-extending 7th World Championship 20s title.
The 99 20s Ray Beierling scored is equivalent to 31% of all shots being made for a 20, and kept alive the drive for the first ever World Championship "Triple Crown" (doubles, 20s and singles victories on the same day). Ray Beierling is the only person who has ever won the doubles and 20s titles on the same day and faced the prospect of being able to fight for the triple crown in the singles playoffs. He earned the opportunity in both 2008 and 2009, but finished 4th and 3rd in the singles events respectively.
The Karin Jeske Award, sponsored by Hans Reinhold, was once again awarded to the ever consistent Beverly Vaillancourt. The award has been granted to the top female competitor in the Adult Singles competition since 2012, and Beverly Vaillancourt has taken home the prize in the last 6 years, following Kristin Vaillancourt's victory in the first year in 2012. This year Beverly Vaillancourt won the prize with 51 points, just missing the top 16, and ahead of Christina Campbell and Jennifer Carstairs who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively at 44 points.
Following the afternoon singles preliminary round, some time was given for a few individuals to speak. David Younker of PEI had a heart-warming speech thanking the committee members, volunteers and players who have helped create and continue the World Crokinole Championship through these past 20 years. It is no small task that a double digit number of Islanders travel to southern Ontario nearly every year for this crokinole event, something that began largely from the efforts and passion of David's father, Roy. But David reminded all in attendance that the goal of their trip from PEI is to always have fun, and clearly their persistent attendance is proof that they are doing so.
The WCC committee also made a presentation to Willard Martin. The world famous board maker, who has created thousands of high quality crokinole boards for several decades, announced earlier this year that he was retiring. Volunteers and players around in the early years of the World Championships remember that it was challenging to gather enough boards to host a large tournament, and the fact that the boards were of different quality and make was an annoyance with no easy and simple solution.
It was tremendous project that the World Championship tournament took on in 2003 when they announced their intention to only use custom-made tournament boards, and shortly afterwards Willard Martin became the sole producer for the WCC. The committee honoured Martin and thanked him for his years of service in making quality boards worthy of a World Championship. Willard Martin then took time to express his gratitude for the high praise and then announce that he would be working with Jeremy Tracey in a mentorship capacity as he begins to create high quality crokinole boards of his own. (Crokinole Boards by Tracey is already up and running, and you can view the website here.)
With the playoffs set after the preliminary round, here's what the Top 16 pools looked like.
- Andrew Hutchinson (preliminary round top scorer with 68 points, 2nd top 16 fingers appearance in 2nd attempt)
- Justin Slater (3-time World Champion, 5 top 4 finishes, 9th top 16 finish)
- Reid Tracey (1st top 16 appearance)
- Ray Beierling (2011 champion, 9 top 4 finishes, 18th top 16 finish)
- Jeremy Tracey (2nd top 16 finish in 2nd attempt)
- Jeremy Herrmann (1st top 16 appearance after missing in 2017 by one point)
- Kevin Brooks (3rd top 16 finish)
- Ray Kappes (2003 champ, 3 top 4 finishes, 11th top 16 finish)
- Jon Conrad (2-time champion, 5 top 4 finishes, 12th top 16 appearance)
- Jason Beierling (2006 champ, 2002 runner-up, 10th top 16 finish)
- Brian Simpson (5th top 16 finish)
- Roy Campbell (2015 3rd place finisher, 3rd top 16 finish)
- Tom Johnston (2 top 4 appearances, 7th top 16 finish)
- Tony Snyder (3rd top 16 finish)
- Robert Bonnett (defending champ, 2015 4th place, 6th top 16 finish)
- Dwayne Campbell (6th top 16 finish)
Dwayne Campbell was the final qualifier for the top 16 with 51 points and 56 20s. He earned that final spot just ahead of Eric Miltenburg and Beverly Vaillancourt who also scored 51 points, but only 45 and 44 20s each. Connor Reinman and Roger Vaillancourt also just missed the playoffs with 50 points.
In Pool B there was a significant log-jam for the top 2 qualifying spots. Jon Conrad would emerge first in the pool with 35 points, and Jason Beierling was right behind at 32, and that left Tom Johnston, Dwayne Campbell and Roy Campbell all on the outside looking in at 30 points. Even more so, Brian Simpson was right behind them at 29 points. It is quite rare to see 6 players above the .500 mark in an 8-player round robin, and for Dwayne Campbell it was the second straight year he'd just miss the cutoff for the top 4. Fortunately for Jon Conrad and Jason Beierling they advanced and earned their 6th and 3rd top 4 appearances respectively.
In Pool A, 3 players quickly found themselves at the top of the leader board fighting for the 2 spots in the top 4. Justin Slater ended up finishing first with 42 points, and Ray Beierling was 2nd with 36 points, edging out Andrew Hutchinson who also scored 36 points, but missed out due to the 5-3 head-to-head victory for Beierling.
Going all the way back to 2009, Justin Slater's 42 points in the top 16 is the 4th highest points score of the last 10 years. He also owns the 3rd highest score (43 points in 2012) and the 2nd highest score (44 points in 2014). The highest belongs to Nathan Walsh who scored 45 points out of the exact same pool as Justin Slater in 2014.
Also going back to 2009, Andrew Hutchinson sets record for most points ever in the Top 16 without qualifying for Top 4. In the last 9 championships, his 36 points would have easily been enough to qualify for the Top 4 in 13 of the 18 pools (Pool A and B in each year). Previously the record for most points without qualifying for the Top 4 was held by numerous individuals at 34 points. These include: Ray Kappes and Ron Haymes in 2009, Ray Beierling in 2014, Rob Mader in 2015 and Eric Miltenburg in 2016. This is also a stark contrast to last year when Nathan Jongsma set the record for lowest ever qualifying total as he scored 30 points and had the edge in a 3-way tie over Dwayne Campbell and Justin Slater.
So the final 4 was set, and for the first time featured both-halves of a doubles team, and included only former world champions as Jason Beierling (2006), Ray Beierling (2011), Jon Conrad (2012, 2013) and Justin Slater (2010, 2015, 2016) met in the round robin to compete for spots in the World Championship final.
In game one, Jon Conrad scored an 8-0 victory over Ray Beierling, while Justin Slater won 6-2 over Jason Beierling, setting up both Conrad and Slater quite well to advance. Jason Beierling made a strong push for the finals in game two with a 6-2 victory over Jon Conrad, and Justin Slater scored another victory beating Ray Beierling 5-3.
So with one game remaining it was a 3-horse race with Justin Slater out in front with 11 points, Jon Conrad at 10, and Jason Beierling at 8. Conrad and Slater played a high quality game that was won by Conrad 5-3, while Jason Beierling scored a 5-3 victory over his brother Ray, but it wasn't large enough to make the top 2.
In the 3rd place game, the brothers and World Doubles Champions, Ray and Jason Beierling squared off, with higher prize money, NCA points, and the all important brotherly bragging rights on the line. It was quite a game of momentum with Ray winning game one 6-0, Jason grabbing game two 6-0, and Ray winning the match in game three 6-0. It was Ray Beierling's 5th time finishing 3rd out of his 10 top 4 appearances, and Jason's first time finishing 4th after his 1st and 2nd place finishes in his two previous top 4 appearances.
But of course all of the attention was on the championship final between Jon Conrad and Justin Slater. It was only the third ever championship rematch as Conrad and Slater had met previously in a thrilling final in 2012 when Conrad won game 3 in a 5th-round-tiebreaker. The first of the other finals rematch was between Brian Cook and Bruce Hartung, where Hartung won the initial 2005 meeting, and Cook won the 2007 rematch. The only other finals rematch saw Justin Slater beat Brian Cook in 2010, and Cook win the rematch in 2014.
Conrad was looking for his 3rd World Singles title after victories in 2012 and 2013, and a defeat in the 2017 final, while Justin Slater was in the hunt for his 4th title after wins in 2010, 2015 and 2016, and loses in 2012 and 2014.
Game one of the best-of-3 included a few mistakes from Conrad, but for the most part Conrad had the lead due to superior 20 scoring and he came through in the first few high pressure moments of the match as he won the 5th round to take game one 6-4.
Slater had the hammer advantage in round one of game two, but overhit his final shot trying to takeout a hidden Conrad disc. He was able to make the takeout, but lost the shooter to make it 1-1 in game two with an early edge to Conrad. Conrad held his hammer to solidify the advantage at 3-1 and move two points from the world title, but Slater responded very well winning the next round comfortably to make it 3-3. In the 4th round Conrad had the hammer and it was Slater needing a victory to extend the match. With only two shots left and a tied 20 count, Slater faced two opposing discs and made back-to-back takeout-20 conversions, which was just enough for the 5-3 game 2 victory when Conrad's last open 20 bounced out of the hole, sending Slater fist-pumping to the other side of the board.
In game three, Slater was down 2-0 and Conrad was threatening to steal 2 more points against the hammer, until Slater got a hangar opportunity and scored a takeout-20 to tie the round. But Conrad put the pressure on making the next open 20, and Slater missed to make it 4-0 Conrad, moving him just one point away from the match.
Round three started well for Slater as he made his first 3 20s and had an edge, but gave up 2 tough takeout-20 opportunities. Fortunately for Slater, Conrad couldn't quite make the conversion and it was 4-2 Conrad.
Round four appeared to be going Slater's way in a comfortable fashion, until an ill-advised combination takeout went awry. This caused Slater to look skyward as he had given an open 20 shot for Conrad that could have been the definitive edge. Conrad's 20 attempt went just long allowing Slater to stay alive, but good disc placement and a well-strategized and well-executed double-takeout-peel left just one Conrad disc on the board, far on his own side. Needing the two points in the round, Slater was forced to have to shoot over the 20 hole to make the hit-and-stick to stay in the match. Allowing enough time to compose himself, and for enough tension to fill the air as spectators looked on, Slater eventually took the shot and made it to perfection as on-lookers applauded. Game 3: 4-4.
And just as the players gathered their discs Slater could be heard saying "dejavu of 2012" as in that year Conrad led 4-0 in game 3, and Slater tied it to 4-4, sending it to a one round winner-take-all. Only this time Slater was hoping to come out victorious, but faced an uphill battle as Jon Conrad had the hammer advantage due to his higher finish in the final 4 round robin.
In the 5th round, Slater made his first open 20 and Conrad left a hangar, which Slater converted for a 2-0 20 edge. Expertly and spectacularly the players went back and forth scoring their open 20s with everything on the line. Amazingly Justin Slater went 8-for-8 winning the World Championship with a perfect round and taking the victory in what is certainly in the conversion as the greatest crokinole match of all time.
For Conrad, it was his 2nd straight final loss after also losing a terrifically well played final in 2017. The match will sting for awhile for him, but the brilliant 2nd place he earned at the 2018 World Championships will be remembered.
And for Justin Slater, the 4th World Championship title, tying the record of Brian Cook is just one of several records set or matched in the historic crokinole season that he had:
- At the Hamilton event he extended his own record for most 20s made in a round robin (adjusted to 145 20s in 10 games)
- In London, claimed the NCA record for most NCA tournament victories with 20 (now extended to 22)
- In St. Jacobs, claimed the NCA record for most singles tournament victories with 17 (now extended to 18)
- Claimed the NCA record for most NCA Tour Championships with 4
- Claimed the record for most Ontario Singles Championships with 8
In sports, or if you want to be petty, games it is often difficult to live up to the hype and expectations, and for the 20th edition of the World Championship, there were a few. But with record attendance and a terrifically well organized event, it is safe to say the WCC committee and volunteers lived up to the hype. And with some fine sportsmanship and prodigious performances on board, it is safe to say the players lived up to the hype of the 2018 World Crokinole Championship.