It's that time again! The 2019 ACL Cornhole Mania is upon us. The weekend of March 29-31, Cornhole players from across the country will flood the America's Center Convention Complex in the heart of downtown St. Louis, MO to compete for over $34,000 in cash prizes. One year ago, this same tournament launched the ACL into a national sensation. With one of the most compelling broadcasts to date, the 2018 ACL Cornhole Mania was filled with talent and drama. In my opinion, that tournament marked the beginning of the ACL's explosion of growth across social media, television, and player base that continues today. This season, with a more centralized Midwestern location, I expect to exceed that hype from last year. Both the Midwest and Great Lakes Conferences have players represented in the home state of Missouri and are not hoping, but rather expecting the hometown crowd to succeed at the end of this month.
Players who competed at the 2019 ACL Kick-Off Battle (first ACL National of the season) are either coming into this event riding momentum that they began in January, or are looking to play the vengeance card and get back towards the top of the ACL Rankings. When looking at the playing field for this event, the story that will be written will include either the players that could overcome defeat or the ones that simply just refuse to lose. Let's take a look at some of the questions that I am asking myself as we embark on the second leg of this yearlong journey.
Will the Midwest/Great Lakes Conferences defend their home turf?
The 2019 ACL Kick-Off Battle had a balance of homegrown and visiting talent. Specifically in ACL Pro Doubles, the underdog team of Emory Parker and Matthew Sorrells were able to utilize some home-field advantage down in Fort Lauderdale to finish second. Alongside them in the last four of the tournament, however, were three teams that included at least one player from Louisville, KY (5 players total). From that mix, ACL Pro Doubles Champions Derrick King and Jordan Camba emerged victorious to be crowned champions. What I am looking for in St. Louis is if a name, or group of names, can step up like Parker/Sorrells and prevent another Louisville invasion.
In particular, two names stand out; the first is ACL Pro Dave Sutton. If you remember, I highlighted Sutton before the ACL Kick-Off Battle. I said that he would have a question mark surrounding him just because he had not yet played on such a big stage. Well, he certainly showed me that he could play. If it were not for an incredible push-drag-airmail (yes I said that correctly) by ACL Pro Frank Modlin in singles, Sutton could have very well made it to the last four. Additionally, Sutton was apart of the incredible 20-4 comeback win in the Crew Cup division alongside ACL Pro Isidro Herrera, Ryan Windsor, and Tanner Halbert. I expect Sutton to have another strong performance especially because he lives in St. Louis. Never underestimate the power of being able to sleep in your own bed.
Another player representing the Midwest/Great Lakes that I like is ACL Pro David Morse. Morse plays in a quite difficult regional in Chicago, so you know he has the ability to take on tough talent, not to mention he's the #5 ranked overall player in the country and has three regional wins. At the ACL Kick-Off Battle, Morse had an incredibly tough battle with my pick to win the tournament (ACL Pro Frank Modlin) and ended up 5th in his bracket for a top 20 finish in singles among 600+ players. I look for him to also bode well in ACL Pro Doubles with partner and trick shot extraordinaire ACL Pro Mike Jacques. These two finished 3rd in their bracket for a top 12 finish in Florida with simply just a bad last game. If these two played like they played all day long in the third place game in their bracket, they would have easily made it onto the ESPN broadcast.
Who is next in line to make their national television debut?
Every national television broadcast of the ACL has had a mix of both familiar and new faces. We all know who the favorites are (and I'll talk about them in a minute), but the group of players I'm probably most excited for this month are the players that have come so close to making a broadcast in the past. I know their time is coming, and they do too. There are probably 10 of these players I'm talking about but I'll highlight four in particular, both teams coming from the Atlantic Conference.
The first two are ACL Pros Timothy Pitcher and Leston Allen. When I saw these two at the beginning of the ACL Pro Doubles tournament at the ACL Kick-Off Battle, I honestly didn't think they would give up more than 10 points all day long. Pitcher was absolutely deadly with his airmails early in the tournament, including a ridiculous three-bag drag airmail against ACL Pros Dave Sutton and Isidro Herrera. On the other end, if you look up the definition of smooth in the dictionary, I'm pretty sure there's a pitcher of Leston Allen, just saying. I personally witnessed a regional win of his not too long ago where he ended the regional making 26/28 bags, absolutely sick. These two were dominant in Florida right up until their play-in game against ACL Pros Greg Geary and Lester Price where they collapsed (mostly due to Price and Geary not missing anything) and lost two straight to miss out on their television debut. The two have an already combined 9 regional singles wins and 10 regional doubles wins. They'll get there, I'm just asking when??
The other two right on the brink of national exposure are ACL Pros Ryan Smith and James Washington. Smith partnered with ACL Pro Timothy Pitcher last year and the two were literally one slide bag shot away from making it on television, coming up short to ACL Pro Frank Modlin and Jordan Langworthy at the 2018 ACL Final Chase. Washington really emerged as a sleeper last season, so this year no one is taking him lightly. He had a strong finish in singles at the 2019 ACL Kick-Off battle, finishing 3rd in his respective bracket, and recently at the Atlantic Conference Event, he won his Advanced Singles Bracket. In regional and conference play so far this season, only three people have defeated Washington...three (Caleb Avery, Kaleb Hurt, and ACL Pro Michael Lucas Jr. for those wondering). Smith has shown he can compete among the best in the country as well; not many can forget the incredible 21-20 showdown that he had with ACL Pro Cody Henderson at the 2018 ACL Championships, only two games short of the main television stage. The only thing that worries me about these two is bag selection. I had a chance to chat with them in Florida and they still have yet to find a bag that suits both styles of play. If they can find the right bag, better put some money down on Smith/Washington.
Who are the sleepers we need to watch out for?
Sleepers are always fun to pick because there's always little pressure. Specifically with these sleepers, I wanted to look at a few people that I think have the potential to be great players. I make that statement because these sleepers are already pretty well known. The emphasis that I make is that they should start gaining a little more respect as top players in the country over the rest of the season. especially in St. Louis.
The first sleeper is actually a group of players. Those players are the ACL Women. The time for our ACL Women to emerge as top players in the country is now. There are too many great female Cornhole players for one not make it to the finals of a singles or a doubles event this season at an ACL National, and there's no better opportunity than to start in St. Louis. ACL Pros like Stacia Pugh and Christine Papcke have paved the way for all women and shown that they can compete with any Cornhole player, regardless of gender. Obviously those two are the biggest names, but also pay attention to other ACL Pros like Rosie Streker and Harlee Culpepper. There are also plenty of other top women like 2018 ACL Women's Singles Champion and Runner up Courtney Coy and Cheyenne Renner. Don't forget about Kamryn Belvin or Kaylee Hunter, either. Two ACL Women cracked the top 30 in the Advanced Singles division at the 2019 ACL Kick-Off Battle and I expect that number to at least double in St. Louis. My point here is simple, Women are just as good at Cornhole, and we are ready for one of them to win a title.
With my other sleeper, I'm going to go with an individual player that has really impressed me recently. Devon Harbaugh of the Mid-East Conference has been nasty over the past few months. He was dominant at the second conference event of the year and only stumbled to ACL Pro and #1 ranked overall player in the country, Cody Henderson. Even in that loss, he led Henderson 17-9 at one point thanks to shots like this one. In addition to that third place finish in singles at the second Mid-East Conference, Harbaugh has won four regional singles, five regional doubles, and a second place finish at the first Mid-East Conference Event in doubles. Back in January in Florida, Harbaugh won his bracket in the blind draw with ACL Pro Trey Burchfield. Oh, and did I mention he is the #2 ranked overall player in the country?
Which top players will show up?
The best teams usually find a way to the top. You can probably pick out who will fill in the majority of the top ten in each event but some special attention should be paid to a few of the top teams. ACL Pros Cody Henderson and Adam Hissner grossly disappointed me at the ACL Kick-Off Battle. Although they both did well in singles (each finishing 3rd in their respective brackets), their performance in ACL Pro Doubles wasn't their best. The good news for them is that beating a motivated Henderson/Hissner is harder than beating a relaxed Henderson/Hissner. Across regionals and conferences, Cody is only 8 points away from a perfect score, which is absurd at this point in the season. Obviously ACL Pros Jordan Camba and Derrick King will be looking to defend their title. It's going to be tough, they put on a show using those sticky bags down in Florida and it's so hard to repeat a performance like that, but if anyone can do it they can. Neither player has an overly strong resume in singles, but for some reason they just turn in on in doubles. You can also never count out ACL Pros Greg Geary and Lester Price, who just seem to turn it on in doubles anytime they play on the big stage. They sit at #3 and #4 in the Mid-South Conference, one of the toughest in the country.
Another team I have high expectations for are ACL Pros Blake Demale and Scott Phillips. There's a strong case that these two are the premier team out west. I had a chance to chat with them at the ACL Kick-Off Battle and they described their performance as "okay". It wasn't a very descriptive assessment but they finished the day 2-2 in ACL Pro Doubles which shows me their expectations are much higher. Both Demale and Phillips are the top ranked players in their individual states and this season I have pretty high expectations for the both of them. Their regional records are nearly perfect but overall I would classify their start in Florida as slow. I look for them to bounce back and make a good run in St. Louis.
Every ACL National I do this thing where I attempt to pick winners from a seemingly endless list of players. Here's my best shot:
ACL Pro Doubles - ACL Pros Timothy Pitcher and Leston Allen. They call themselves Team Peanut Butter Cup and if Pitcher's airmails are hitting, I expect these two to enjoy a pretty "sweet" victory.
Women's Doubles - ACL Pros Christine Papcke and Stacia Pugh. I made the mistake of not picking these two in Florida, I won't make it twice.
Advanced Singles - ACL Pro Jay Dotson. Dotson's only two losses were to Dalton Mcklem at the ACL Kick-Off Battle. Dotson finds a way to win the mind game and takes home a victory Jay-Bird style.
Advanced Doubles - ACL Pro Kyle Malone and Dalton Mcklem. At the national level against the best competition in the country, these two have won their last 22 straight games. I'm picking them until they can show me they can actually lose.
I can't wait for St. Louis! See you there.
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