The Reach for the Top national championship is coming next weekend, with top teams from across the country vying for the title. Last year’s champion, UTS, is among the field and will be attempting yet another of their back-to-back title sequences. A mix of newcomers and long-time attendees will challenge them; could we see a first-time title winner? Here is a preview of the competitors, but please note that some teams may not end up attending:
Eric Hamber SS
- Most recent national result: 5th (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 2nd (2016)
University Hill SS
- Most recent national result: 6th (2000)
- Best national result (on file): 6th (1998-2000)
Sir Winston Churchill SS
- Most recent national result: 7th (2017)
- Best national result (on file): 5th (2008)
BC will be Ontario’s biggest threat to a strangehold on the semis. Eric Hamber will lead the way, coming in with the highest PPG (518) in any variation of packs done at provincials (in BC’s case, two 930-pt regionals + three 1110-point provincials). They have a chance at repeating their finals appearance of 2016 if they get a nice draw. University Hill has re-emerged on the national scene after almost two decades away; they are not far behind Eric Hamber on the provincial scene, and should be among the top six seeds. Churchill is a step behind the two leaders in BC, but if they attend, they are also in the running for at least a quarterfinal spot. The BC contenders have been preparing for nationals with small scrimmages on NAQT and independent sets – nothing on the official side, but enough to give them more exposure to material than past years.
The Renert School
- Most recent national result: 9th (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 9th (2017-18)
- Most recent national result: 12th (2014)
- Best national result (on file): 12th (2014)
- Most recent national result: 10th (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 10th (2014, 2018)
It’s an all-Calgary representation for Alberta this year. Renert is probably in the best position they’ve ever had, and they will want to get out of the consolation bracket before their graduation window closes. A quarterfinal appearance is due for them. Renert put up 504 PPG on 1110-pt packs that included one housewritten round. STS has not had many national appearances, but went undefeated in their provincial pool along with Renert. They, along with now-regular attendee Webber, will be on the borderline between consolation and quarterfinals.
St. John’s-Ravenscourt School
- Most recent national result: 10th (2017)
- Best national result (on file): 7th (2007)
River East Collegiate
- Most recent national result: unknown
- Best national result (on file): 1st (1971)
St. Paul’s HS
- Most recent national result: 14th (2017)
- Best national result (on file): 3rd (2010)
This will not be a strong year for Manitoba. Their usual national quarterfinal contender, Kelvin HS, didn’t make provincial semis, and the game scores from those playoff matches were not as impressive as other provinces. The PPG of just semifinals, 3rd-place matches, and finals for each known province (all on 1110-pt packs, NB is actually the 3 games involving KV and MacNaughton): 410 for ON, 348 for NB, 329 for BC, 324 for AB, 304 for MB. Nevertheless, the Cinderella story from the province, if there is to be one, is the revived River East team – a national champion from the CBC days that restarted their Reach team a few years ago. They have played spoiler in Manitoba and would love to do so nationally.
University of Toronto Schools
- Most recent national result: 1st (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 1st (2002-03, 2012-13, 2018)
- Most recent national result: none
- Best national result (on file): none
- Most recent national result: 1st (2017)
- Best national result (on file): 1st (2008, 2015, 2017)
As expected given the last few years, Ontario is the juggernaut that will hog the semifinal spots. UTS and Westmount have dominated the regular season, with the latter also surviving a prelim stumble at provincials to still make the final. Westmount has never been to nationals, but don’t let the novice status fool you: they are strong. Lisgar is somewhat weaker than the top two, and, combined with the fact that they took some surprise losses at provincials, will probably be the Ontario team most within reach of the other provinces.
- Most recent national result: 14th (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 5th (2014)
Marianopolis is a wild card. I have no information on them, and they will be a completely different team from last year due to eligibility rules. The team has not made it out of the consolation bracket in recent years, but all it takes is one good cohort to pull the squad into the quarterfinals, like in years past. I’m not expecting a high finish from the college, but don’t underestimate the unknown.
Kennebecasis Valley HS
- Most recent national result: 4th (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 1st (2010-11, 2016)
Bernice MacNaughton HS
- Most recent national result: 13th (2015)
- Best national result (on file): 13th (2015)
Nationals has been the “KV + Ontario” show for a while, but this year will probably be KV’s toughest road to a semifinal in a while. Attending all the independent tournaments gives them a leg up on the rest of Canada, but they are not among the Ontario leaders this year. The BC teams and possibly Renert will be breathing down their necks, now that they have had some extra practice events too. MacNaughton will likely put up a better result than past appearances; they were within a whisker statistically of KV at provincials and beat them once, and their PPG was comparable to Strathcona or Churchill if I try to compensate for the set differences. MacNaughton might have a shot at the quarterfinals, especially if there are some attendance drops.
- Most recent national result: 11th (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 1st (1981, 2005)
Auburn Drive HS
- Most recent national result: 15th (2018)
- Best national result (on file): 10th (2008)
Nova Scotia has significantly declined from their glory days of a decade ago. There is very low attendance, but unlike New Brunswick, they aren’t bolstered by running or attending tournaments all through the year. I don’t have current information about how strong they are, but I think they’re headed for the consolation bracket.
This will be an interesting tournament. It is the first Nationals with public results available for most provinces, and I’m sure there are teams out there scouring the tables for any useful information. Unfortunately, due to every single province having a different method of playing out their preliminary matches, none can be compared directly with R-values. BC had a few shorter games, and have deflated points totals as a result. Alberta had one housewritten round (which didn’t make a large impact), but R-value comparisons to New Brunswick look odd because the “average” team in New Brunswick is a national qualifier! Meanwhile, Ontario played on 930-pt packs but still put up PPGs that would make the other provinces tremble. We’ll see how the varying results manifest at the real tournament.
As at Ontario provincials, UTS should be the favourite. They are quite used to Nationals and the grind of getting through all those prelim games in one day, even if they are not as much of a lock as last year’s cohort. Westmount will be close behind, and should have a good playoff draw this time as long as they don’t pick up too many losses in the short prelim games. Eric Hamber and Lisgar are the top contenders to round out the semifinal group. The quarterfinalists should include University Hill, KV, and Renert, but that 8th spot could be close between STS and MacNaughton (and Churchill, if they do attend). A good prelim showing by all these teams helps: large R-value upsets in the playoffs are rare thanks to the greater number of questions available.
Like I mentioned before the Ontario tournament, this preview is not fate. The games are in the players’ hands, and surprises can happen – just ask the 2013 Bellerose team. Good luck to all the competitors, and be proud of your accomplishment of being national contenders.