Last weekend, UTS and the University of Toronto hosted the 49th* national championship of Reach for the Top. 16 teams from seven provinces had a full day of round-robin competition before vying for the title in the playoffs.
*Reach claimed it was the 51st, but only 49 championship seasons have occurred due to the stoppages after the CBC era.
The full results are uploaded here. Lisgar CI claimed their third national title in a close 460-410 final over the University of Toronto Schools; it was an anticipated clash of titans and a rematch of the provincial title which UTS won. My rundown of the teams, in order of rank (note: for this tournament, I broke standings ties by round-robin seed):
- Auburn Drive (16th). Nova Scotia’s clubs were greatly hindered by job action this year; only five teams went to provincials. Let’s hope this year was only a blip and that teams can have more support next year. As for this particular team, I never saw them until their final consolation game. They kept close with SJHS in the first half and won an excruciatingly long shootout, but saw their tournament end there.
- Rundle College (15th). Schedule quirkiness meant I saw Rundle for 9 of the 15 preliminary games and became their unintended fan club. As a surprise invite from their fourth-place finish in Alberta, expectations were not high. Their top player will return next year, so hopefully they can build from this experience for another shot at Nationals.
- St. Paul’s (14th). I think there was a different line-up between provincials and nationals, because the Manitoba champs fell short of the other teams from their province. Hopefully this means the school has a large pool of players to choose from, and can re-assemble for another provincial title run next year.
- Collingwood (13th). This rank will simply go down as “oops”. They temporarily disappeared after one of their consolation losses and defaulted a win to lower-seeded Saint John. They would have been in contention for the consolation bracket title otherwise.
- Saint John (12th). They got a lucky break from Collingwood, but ended up fourth of the final four consolation teams. They will be in tough to qualify for nationals next year, because the competition for second in New Brunswick is very tight. Interestingly, I only ever saw them win: in the round-robin over Rundle and the playoffs over Auburn Drive.
- Marianopolis (11th). This team was a bit weaker than some CEGEP teams of the past, but they pulled one of the few upsets in the playoffs with a second-round consolation win over Renert.
- St. John’s-Ravenscourt (10th). Just getting to nationals was impressive: Horton’s drop-out meant that SJR organized a team trip from Winnipeg less than a week before the tournament. They didn’t show too much rust and even managed to beat their provincial champions in the round-robin!
- Renert (9th). Renert & Co. did improve from last year. Their highlight was either almost defeating KV or getting the most games of any team by taking the long route to get to the consolation bracket title. A tournament MVP came from this team (I don’t mention names due to a blog-wide policy of keeping players anonymous).
- Old Scona (8th). Unlike their provincial compatriots, Old Scona did pull off a win over KV, but fell back to eighth seed by the end of Saturday. Eighth seed unfortunately meant an early match with UTS, where even a 480-240 loss to them would be considered a good result.
- Sir Winston Churchill (7th). They seemed, on paper at least, to be the strongest team from BC, even though Collingwood beat them in both the provincial final and the round-robin match (they won the play-in match over Collingwood, though). They led UTS going into the final snapout of their match, but couldn’t pull off what would have been the biggest upset of the tournament. Their mix of ups and downs averaged them out to the middle of the pack.
- Templeton (6th). For a team’s first appearance at Nationals (either in a long while or ever – not sure), they did very well. They almost beat Martingrove in the round robin and finished as the highest-placing BC team. Considering that they were nowhere even on the provincial scene before this, they would certainly be the “most improved” team. A tournament MVP came from this team.
- Kelvin (5th). R-values suggest the 5th-8th place teams have razor-thin differences in strength between them, but Kelvin got the wins. Kelvin was on my radar as the Manitoba runners-up, but I didn’t expect them to get as high as fifth. Well done, though I didn’t get to see them play. A tournament MVP came from this team.
- Kennebecasis Valley (4th). I think that even before the tournament began, KV was destined for fourth: they weren’t quite up to the level of the Ontario teams but were definitely better than anyone else. They got within 30 points of Lisgar in the round-robin, but a loss to Old Scona almost cost them a playoff bye. The semifinal match against UTS was very impressive, though. They capitalized on UTS’ mistakes and frustrations to keep within 20 points late in the match, and nearly gave the favourites their first loss of the tournament. With good players returning, I would not be surprised to see a late-round rematch next year- perhaps even in the final for once!
- Martingrove (3rd). Like KV, Martingrove seemed set for their final position as a step behind Lisgar and UTS. A mere 250-230 loss to UTS in the round-robin gave the Ontario champs a little scare, and they easily handled Templeton in the quarterfinal. The semifinal wasn’t pretty though: a poor run during the team scrambles sapped any momentum they had and allowed Lisgar’s MVP alone to earn more points than them. Nevertheless, they were part of the good camaraderie among the Ontario teams and hopefully they’ll show up at more tournaments next year in their quest to keep their Nationals attendance streak alive.
- UTS (2nd). UTS was my pick as the strongest team on paper, despite what the R-value said. They swept the round-robin while rarely fielding their true A-team; it cost them a few extra points, but who needs points for seeding when you’re 15-0? Unfortunately, the team was mired in production difficulties in both of their final-day matches. They were not on top of their game and only narrowly beat KV before taking the loss in the final. I think the delays and frustrations ate away at them, but they also had to deal with Lisgar’s MVP getting a second wind on the last day. It was a very good final match, and they had a great season overall (including a 6-1 record across formats over Lisgar A). They should be just as strong next year, so best of luck for another title run!
- Lisgar (1st). Best ever regional result. Best ever provincial (round-robin) result. 2nd best ever national (round-robin) result. Analytically, this title is not a surprise. Realistically, it was anything but. The team played sick (barely getting to the stage) and they entered the playoffs knowing they had taken nothing but losses to UTS all year. There was not a lot of optimism among them for the final morning. However, that semifinal was a much-needed boost in confidence and set them up for a stellar (minus the 25-minute delay) final. Who needs shootout wins anyway? While Lisgar’s MVP (also selected as a tournament MVP) returns, no one else does, so this was expected to be Lisgar’s last chance for a while. They got the title, and now they can go back to their regularly-scheduled programming of quizbowl.
A great tournament by all the teams. The matches I saw both in-room and on-stage were great to watch, even if I ended up rooting for the Rundle underdog half the time.
The tournament organization was pretty good. Logistics has never been a problem for Reach, and for their price tag, you expect the perks and efficiencies. Games were on time, staff were prepared, food was ready, and results were prompt. Sunday’s stage games were also well done, even if there was an audience of just me and the coaches at times.
Unfortunately, Monday was a mess. The small change from SchoolReach to Reach for the Top – filming the event – was a world of difference for the negative. Floodlights blew the breakers in the first game and wrecked a buzzer. The need to announce players on the replacement buzzers forced a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” scene where a person hid behind a banner to identify the light that went off. Pre-games became fidgety with ridiculous insert shots of buzzing, applause, and phony reactions. Games stopped twice when camera SD cards filled. Most notoriously, the delay of “reviewing the tapes” (rather than using a tried-and-tested method south of the border of leniency on vowel pronunciation) dragged the final into a 90-minute affair. UTS’ auditorium is not a television studio. Reach needs to either get back to a real TV production or start embracing less intrusive broadcast options, like Twitch or Youtube streaming. Disrupting players for the sake of pretty video (that will never come to light) shows a complete disregard for what should be the most important part of these tournaments – the academic performance of the players. UTS was definitely compromised by the production, and while I don’t dispute the title, I think we were robbed of an even better final. I know some changes will be underway at Reach, and I hope the Monday routine is part of that.
The final gala was good, though. Much more concise and meaningful than some of the provincial galas.
But I shouldn’t let my rambling detract from recognizing the most important things: the players who all showed excellent skill, teamwork, and friendliness; the coaches who coordinate not only the management of a strong team but the logistics of getting them to events; and the volunteer staff who keep the games going in a timely manner.
To those graduating, best wishes for your post-secondary pursuits (hey, try quizbowl). For those returning, good luck in your title run!
Finally, a blog note: this is, obviously, the end of the Reach season. For the off-season, my priorities are an explanation of the R-value (and follow-ups with old provincial analysis), a look at some historical games, and an updated Reach champion ranking, which I last did in 2015. Stay tuned!