Blitz Tournament Oct 14, 2016
With 28 members strutting onto the battle field, this Blitz Tournament arguably had the deepest pool of players we have seen. Almost half of the entrants would be considered a 3.5 level or higher, and we also had 4 women take part including Audrey Berling, one of the countries strongest juniors in her age group at 15 years old.
|Maggie, Audrey, Cathy, Gina|
As is customary in the event, my judgment of the handicapping comes into serious question. If the games can end up with either a 15-13 or 15-14 score, then I consider the handicap a success. Of course, I can’t take into consideration everyone’s current form, mood, nor how many beers one may have consumed before (and during) the event. All factors that can considerably alter the accuracy of the points I may have awarded. In total, 26 games ended up within the 2 point margin, and it was exciting to watch so many close encounters, especially when one of the players is a clear underdog. The crowd really gets behind the lower ranked player, all pleading for the upset, it was a drama filled, gripping atmosphere.
There were 6 groups for the round robin play. Group 1: Derek Aguirre was one of the favorites to move on, but of course he had to contend with the large leads he had to give up on all of his opponents. He was 100% perfect (if not particularly cruel) in his first match against Cathy Lysack, not hitting one error, nor allowing Cathy to hit one winner. Cathy could have started with 14 points (instead of the 9), it wouldn’t have mattered. The other matches were not so straight forward. Giving up 13 to Jeff Rogers, Derek stumbled early to give Jeff a dozen or so game balls, but managed to get back to 14-all. However, Jeff apparently was just toying with him, as he dug Derek’s dying backhand rail out of the deep corner for a wonderfully paced lobby-drop just above the tin for the game winner. Derek wasn’t Jeff’s only 15-14 victim, he also took out Cathy in the same manner! Three players at the end were tied with 3 wins each, and since only 2 players can move onto the knock-out round we had our first ‘straw-drawing’ of the night. Here, Jeff Rogers’ luck ran out. The short straw for him sent him to the shower… I mean keg. Beneficiaries of Jeff’s poor straw performance was Derek and Colin Bayer.
Group 2 had 3-time winner Sante Fratarcangeli, sporting completely out-of-character normal squash gear. Maybe that was his downfall? Sante started the competition well, offering up a bagel to Joey Gaylord who must have thought the number ’10’ next to his name on the sheet was not the points he was supposed to start with, but the amount of beers he was supposed to drink before he hopped on court. Next, Sante tackled squash newcomer, Chris Laenen. A 13 point head start, Chris scored early. Often when I do “challenge the pro” it is more difficult to play the lower ranked guys than the higher. You have to deal with the unexpected mis-hit, and sometimes the more naive the opponent, they do not overthink and hit shots that one would never envision. Chris hit his fair share off the frame but Sante was (lucky) careful enough to be covering them just enough to edge out the 15-14 victory. But it then fell apart. Mike Parker took the court with 11 points on Sante, but walked off the court 5 rallies later with a 15-1 demolishing, and then Ryan MacVoy showed off his recent improvement taking advantage of his 8 point lead with a 15-10 win as well. In fact, Ryan went 4-for-4 in group play, advancing to the finals with Mike.
|Sante sipping his stirred, but not shaken, martini|
Group 3’s dominating player was Chas Bayer. Here, it appeared, the handicapping was a teensy-weensy off as he didn’t even let 3 of his opponents reach double digits. The one who did was Jon Diewald, but he started with 11… and finished with 13. Another player at the DAC who has had a rapid improvement curve is David de la Torre. David has been playing squash for just about 12 months, and is rising quickly through the ranks. Apart from his match against Chas where he lost 15-8 (they started at 0-0), David also convincingly beat up on his group opponents, blowing my handicapping prowess out the window. The top 2 ranked players in the group - Andy Adamo and Josh Slominski - only picked up 3 wins between them, 2 of them were 15-14.
I was happy to redeem myself in Group 4. Here, out of the 10 matches, 5 of them were 15-14, and another 4 were 15-13. Unfortunately they played all of the games upstairs so I couldn’t watch them. But, I will go with the most exciting verbal report from John Mann… John - with absolutely no bias whatsoever - named his match with Kevin Thomas as the most epic battle in the history of the Blitz Tournament. In the death throes of the game, John at 13-14 down was on the end of a punishing rally and was hanging in by the narrowest of threads. A desperation full body dive was his last gasp and in a miracle he managed to get his racquet - which he was holding on with the fingernails of just his thumb and pinky - underneath the ball and astonishingly it reached the front wall. Kevin was watching slack-jawed, and in a Hollywood super-slow-motion action, forgot any consideration to his own safety our health and also gave it a full body dive to the ball only to connect but hit the tin. Epic. John won the next point for the 15-14 win, Rocky theme song blasting in the background… okay a little exaggeration… John scored 3 wins in the group, all 15-14. Kevin, for all his effort, only picked up 1 win. Audrey Berling also managed 3 wins in this group, she of course has no need for full length body dives on the court, she knows how to lunge. I will add though, that Audrey was John’s sole loss in the group. John can mark up another loss on his resume to a girl.
Group 5. Along with Group 6, there were only 4 players competing in each group for the 2 finals spots. There was only one 15-14 result here. Bret Williams was the beneficiary of it as he staved off Paul Gormley for his only win of the group. Paul was also the only victim of the one 15-13 result of the group which was against Jason Currie. Jason, of course, was just warming up for the finals. He took the 3 wins in his group and he clearly was not done running for the evening. He would be needing all the energy possible to last the rest of the way… wouldn’t want to waste any by running too much, eh Jason? Joining Jason in the finals from Group 5 would be Mike McCuish who picked up 2 wins in the group, both of them 15-10 and again proving that sometimes - just sometimes - my handicapping needs a bit of tweaking. Thanks… mate.
The final group would also have to draw straws to see who would advance to the knock-out round. Unfortunately, Gina Greer would not be part of that. But, if she had just a smidgeon of luck, she could have ended up first in the group! Gina lost all of her matches 15-14, the crowd unquestionably behind her all of the way, especially since she had the chance to knock off JC Tibbitts and Dane Fossee. But it wasn’t to be, and along with JC and Dane, Maggie Durant scored 2 wins and forced a 3-way tie. This time, Dane who has come third in this event twice, drew the rough end of the pineapple and could now drown his disappointment at the keg without restraint.
On to the knock-out draw. Let’s move quickly (ish) through the early rounds… Tibbitts v de la Torre. A 9 point head start was not nearly enough for David as JC looked to be on a mission. David looked rather weary actually, JC had little trouble taking the 15-10 win; Currie v Parker. A similar scenario evolved for this match as Mike took 11 points to start but could not fend off the now up-and-running Jason. With his engine now in full gear, Jason rocked through the match dropping just one point; McCuish v Durant. Maggie was giving up 8 points here and that was just about spot on. She was consistent enough to hold Mike just short of the finish line and take the game 15-13; Mann v Aguirre. John had 9 on Derek, and Derek was probably a little worried going into this one after hearing about John’s Superman exploits. But event Superman gets tired at times and Derek pulled out a 15-13 win.
Quarter-finals. Colin Bayer v JC Tibbitts. Straight up. No handicapping required between these two. And rightly so. JC started off the game the stronger, taking a early lead by a few points but Colin did get the motor going and caught up, helped a little by a few easy unforced errors of JC’s racquet. It was great to see the crowd help Colin with counting to 2 (or 3) on the pick-ups and ensuring him the the red-line is actually ‘out’, and with that assistance, Colin was only 2 points from victory at 13-12 up. But JC ended the game the steadier and eventually took it 15-13.
Audrey Berling v Jason Currie. Straight up as well. Ah, it is lovely to see a young junior with a smooth technique and rhythmic footwork show everyone what a squash player can actually look like. Jason, though, didn’t have any time to watch her, he was too busy chasing down balls in all the four corners. Regrettably for Audrey, Jason is quite content to dart around the court (“run Forrest, run!”) and he simply did so until Audrey hit the error. It would be an interesting match between the two if it was a best of 5, but this is a one-and-done event. Jason took the game 15-9.
Chas Bayer v Maggie Durant. Chas, the man on a mission. I openly admit - and apologize to Maggie - this handicap was wrong. This also should have been a straight up 0-0 start but I did hand Chas 5 points going in. He certainly did not need it. The two went almost point for point, and Chas in the end could have given Maggie a couple of points to start instead, he won the game 15-7. No offense to Chas on this result - or to Jason Currie - bit I was rooting for the girls to win here. It would have been a great scene to have 2 women in the final… but that’s me being selfish!
Aguirre v MacVoy. Ryan jumps in with 9. Tough assignment for Derek and I was fully aware of that fact. Also because Ryan is playing well lately, and the two have been practicing together some early mornings. Pressure… It was close. Ryan had to bust a gut every rally, Derek was not going easy on him. Nor should he! Maybe a couple of lucky framers to blame, but Ryan was elated to end up the 15-13 victor here, Derek demanding a recount afterwards, but promptly shut down by the review board - me.
Semi-Finals. Tibbitts v Currie. You guessed it, this was straight up. Just how fit do you need to be? Jason once again proved that running is the best cure for any squash rally, not matter how much court you have covered unnecessarily in the past, you simply cannot cover enough in the future. Excellent game between the two, the audience was enthralled all the way. I can’t sit here and tell you that the rallies were long because the players were hitting tight rail after tight rail, they were long because they were hitting the ball just high and loose enough to entice the other to keep running for it! If only one could hit winners! But it only added to the drama - Jason was able to hang on just enough to advance to the final with a 15-12 win.
Chas Bayer v MacVoy. Hats off to Chas. I did offer him 5 points head start here and - to his full credit - he denied them. Maybe he was riding his momentum all the way, maybe he was a little insulted by the offer, maybe he didn’t think much of Ryan’s game (kidding!)… As everybody was watching the other semi, they probably missed the best match of the day. If you thought Jason and JC were covering some court, Ryan and Chas ran circles around them. It could not have been a more even match (except if the score was 15-14), never was there more than a couple of points between them all game long, and they literally exhausted themselves to the stage of not being able to hold onto their racquets anymore. Hands on the knees, the knees that wobbled, stars and little blue birdies rotating around their heads, Chas owned his decision of no handicap loudly taking the game 15-13.
|Chas Bayer and Jason Currie|
3rd / 4th: MacVoy v Tibbitts. Ryan took the high road here as well and flatly turned down his 5 point offering to start, thinking that Chas had the right tactic. Everybody felt rather crippled by this stage, it was down to survival of the fittest. JC was spent. And Ryan took advantage. He made quick work of his opponent finishing him off, probably completely outraged that I offered him any points at all and taking it all out on the flat-footed JC. 15-3, thanks for coming.
Final: Currie v Chas Bayer. Chas was not going to turn down his handicap here. I again offered him 5 points and this time he gladly took it. I figured Jason had at least one more game in him. He did not. Chas, though, was a man possessed. I have not seen him play better than this day and he took the game to Jason with aggression. He quickly race to a 10-1 lead, the game all but over, right? Jason started to crawl his way back, pushing through his weary legs, surviving the rallies long enough to get the error, and slowly closed the gap. But it was too little too late. Chas was not going to let this slip, he kept his composure, stayed positive at the important end of the game and scored the 15-10 win! Congratulations to Chas for his first ever Blitz Tournament title! For Jason, this is the second time in a row he is the bridesmaid. His time will come no doubt!