-by Tony Hansen

Pitch 1 & 2 at the Rockford SHS Tournament

I had been looking forward to playing in the Rockford 2012 tourney since I missed going in 2011.  While sad the other half of Pitch Slap couldn't come, I was thrilled Dobbie was able to partner up with me.  I always enjoy playing kubb with him and knew the tournament was a fun one to boot. 

On the drive to Rockford, we chatted about the possible strong teams we may encounter and tried to predict the seedings in bracket play.  I think we got pretty close in our predictions and were constantly checking out the competition and team records throughout the day.  While there were quite a few teams at the tournament, as typically seen in the best tournaments, there are more "recreational" teams than "competitive" teams.  I think this is what makes kubb the friendly sport it is and truly will usher in world peace.  The round robin matches in the morning were fun for getting to know the other teams and playing some relatively stress-free, friendly kubb.  In one of these matches, we played against a team trying to bribe us with Leine‚Äôs if we made some bad throws.  That light-heartedness made for an enjoyable match.  In addition to having fun, it also allowed Dobbie and myself to hone our throws and figure out the pitches as well as get into our team strategy routine.

I would like to take this opportunity to note that Dobbie and I tend to vastly over think this simple looking game.  When lifting kubbs, we were constantly talking about double and triple lines, kubb facings, effects of an advantage line, penalty kubb placement, and so on.  Most people don't see the merit in whether a kubb is righted 6 inches one way or the other and generally try to move them apart above all else.  I am positive our approach to righting kubbs saved us several times in the later rounds.  As far as team throwing strategy, we all know Dob is one of the best inkastares in the nation and he also took all king tosses to start the match and did most of the short throwing.  I was tasked with mainly eight meter throws, picking up batons between rounds, and "spotting" at the center line to let Dob know whether kubbs would be righted in bounds or not.  Using those strategies, we swept all of our round robin matches and were able get out of the sun as quickly as possible.  I believe our quick morning wins that kept us out of the sun paid dividends later in the day. 

After a break for the bottom teams to "play-in" to the bracket, we got underway.  Games meant more now that we were in the actual brackets and elimination from the tournament was a lurking possibility.  I have some experience on early bracket play so it didn't shake me too much.  It was a good stress that made me focus and help Dob and I do our stuff on the pitch.  Despite the competition gradually getting stronger, we managed to sweep our round of 32 match as well as our round of 16 match.  Not having lost a game or missing a king shot, we were pretty happy and feeling good.  Little did I know what was about to come.

When we got to the quarterfinal round against the Kubb Snipers, my stress level started increasing as the competition got much more difficult.  The Fox Valley folks, while very nice people, were pretty darn good at kubb.  I had the false hope that being a six player team would dilute their talent.  That was simply not the case.  It was at this point, I started stressing about my throws and missing a lot of long throws as well as some fairly easy short ones.  I knew that a wrong move could start our demise and put us on the road to being booted from the bracket.  That pressure, along with the six bright red shirts that kept working their way into my peripheral vision gave us our first loss of the tournament.  Luckily, we were able to win the match (despite me having a couple of king misses) and move on.  Again, I can't say how great of a group the Fox Valley people are.  Several stayed through the final match to cheer us on.

Lynn Saegert of the Kubb Snipers blasting a group

For some reason, the stress really got to me during the Kubb Snipers match and I had a minor melt-down after winning that game.  I think it was partly due to the heat and probably getting a little dehydrated in addition to never having been this far in a major tourney before.  I had to lie down on the grass for a bit, take some deep breaths, and drink some water.  After five or ten minutes, I was good to go again.

Next up for team Head Slap was our semifinal match against the infamous Ringers.  These are great guys that really know how to play some good kubb.  As a member of Pitch Slap in the past, I have encountered these guys twice.  Both matches were swept by the Ringers so I really wanted to get a win against them.  These guys typically get better the further they get in a tournament, so I knew getting a win on them would not be an easy task.  I continue to marvel at Aaron's ability to nail eight meter shots with very little setup.  He just puts his toe to the line, throws his three batons, and takes down three baseline kubbs.  This was a slugfest with both teams trading blows.  If I remember correctly, this match lasted an hour and a half to two hours.  This is where I think being out of the sun early in the morning helped us out.  That, and having plenty of water in me.  Despite making plenty of mistakes (including a few more king misses by yours truly), we were able to grind it out for a two to one match victory. 

Another item to point out here is that after watching the final matches at nationals last year, I wondered why the players seemed to miss easy shots more frequently.  It seems in all tournaments, the top teams miss king throws to win the game with a much higher frequency than earlier in the tourney.  Before this tournament, I couldn't understand it.  Now, I really do.  The stress levels in the later rounds of a tournament skyrocket and you start second-guessing every little thing you do.  All day long, I had been stepping up to the corner pin and making king tosses with ease.  In the later rounds, mid-throw, I would feel a lump of turf under my toe, or a fly brushing by my leg, or notice a reflection or something out of the corner of my eye.  Let me tell you, it throws a person off and it is hard to get back on track.  I had to figure out a way to snap out of it.

After a much more minor melt-down where I just needed to get some water in me and lay in the grass for a few minutes, we began the final match against Tad Kubbler.  We had identified these guys as being a possible finals contestant during our pre-tournament evaluations and we were right.  They are extremely competitive and seem to feed on the stress of final round competition.  After another king miss to take a game from them, I knew things had to change.  I do not recommend this, but I ended up changing a lot of my game in the final round of competition.  This was a big risk, but I think it paid off.  In switching up my routine, I was able to focus on the simple aspects of lining up and throwing instead of worrying about the little details that take my attention from those actions.  I changed the amount of rotation on my 8 meter throws, I changed where I took a king shot from, I only held one baton at a time on important throws, and surprisingly, Dob and I somewhat switched roles and I started taking some of the short throws.  It seemed like I was doing well short so I started taking out some groups and we were able to make progress.  I know that isn't Dobbie's normal way to do things (especially switching things up in the final match), but it seemed to work for both of us.  It was kind of new scenery for us and I think it helped us to relax and focus on knocking down kubbs.  That, in turn, allowed us to come back and win the match.

Going back to what I said early on in this novel, I really feel the thought Dob and I put into raising our kubbs paid dividends in the later matches.  Having some control over where kubbs will go once struck and deciding which lines to give the other team really helped us out.  That, along with following our team roles and being able to adjust our games on the fly, are what helped us win the tournament.  On skill alone, we both agree we weren't playing our best kubb and we barely hung on in some of the later games.  I believe it was our strategy between baton rounds that ultimately allowed us to bring home the hardware.  After the last king fall, we were both physically tired, but mentally exhausted.  

It was a great opportunity to be able to team up with Dobbie and go head-to-head (or baton-to-baton?) with some of the best teams in the nation.  I honestly didn't expect to come home from Rockford as a champion, but we made it happen.  Personally, I couldn't have done it without the support from the other Des Moines players and people from other teams that stuck around through the final matches.  Having some people cheer when you make a big throw really helped the stress levels.  Despite the physical and mental exertion and stress from playing in the later rounds, I hope to make it back to that position in future tournaments.  It is great being able to compete against teams at that caliber and to still be throwing that late in the tournament.  I still need quite a bit of practice to get to the level of some of these guys, but as Eric Anderson told me after that final king fall, "You're in a league with the big boys now."  I just hope I can back that up.