6,000 seconds. That's all it took for the 2020 Cornhole Mania to sell out. It is mind-numbing to think that just over 2 years ago we were celebrating our first ever sellout, back at the 2018 Kickoff Battle. But, back then, we capped each event at 256 players. Fast forward to today, over 1,000 unique players have registered for the second ACL National of the year, and payouts are already projected to be $80,000+. All I can say is that I hope the city of Cleveland is ready for this cornhole tidal wave that is about to strike on March 13th.
Just like the Kickoff Battle, we will dive into the three main events: Pro Singles, Pro Doubles, and Women's Doubles. If we look back to last season, you will see incredible similarity between the top finishers in these divisions at the Kickoff Battle and the Cornhole Mania. In Pro Doubles, 3 teams from the 4-team playoff from the Kickoff Battle repeated at the Cornhole Mania: Daymon Dennis/Philip Haydon, Matthew Sorrells/Emory Parker, and Greg Geary/Lester Price. In Advanced Singles (no Pro singles last year), Ryan Windsor won the Cornhole Mania after coming in second at the Kickoff Battle. In Women's Doubles, Christine Papcke and Stacia Pugh went back-to-back, winning both events. What I am trying to say is that I expect some, but not all of the top finishers to rise to the top again.
Singles is always the toughest event to preview, so why not do it first? The two obvious picks for everyone should be Ryan Windsor and Jamie Graham. Even though there were many great competitors throughout the day in singles, Graham and Windsor truly separated themselves from the pack and earned their 1st (Graham) and 2nd (Windsor) place finishes at the 2020 Kickoff Battle. Graham's 9.75 average round score in the finals may have actually been one of his lower scores on the day, if you can believe it. Windsor has also been working on his flop and roll shots. As an aside, the flop shot doesn't have a full forward tumble, but more of a 'hop' over the side of a bag if it's not fully blocking the hole. The roll shot truly rolls over a blocker bag after the bag rotates 90 degrees onto its vertical side upon impact (see Miguel Villa, there's your naming convention). The roll shot in particular for Windsor has become a great replacement to the aggressive airmail shot that can cost players points if they miss. There are quite a few players that have the talent to win, but these should be near the top of everyone's list.
The next group of players I'm looking forward to seeing are the 'fringe' players from the first National. The players who didn't quite make the finals, but showed they are on a hot streak and have legitimate shots at winning. Matthew Morton and Ryan Smith stand out as possible candidates. Morton at the first National out-shot opponents 62% to 35% on airmails in the Pro Division (via Mike Morton Stats) which tells me two things: he was pretty consistent with his airmails and he put his opponents into situations where they had very low percentage shots. Just like in pool, sometimes giving your opponent an impossible shot to hit can be just as effective as hitting the shot yourself. The person he defeated in his bracket finals was none other than Ryan Smith. Smith, after sitting a while waiting in the driver's seat, was walloped by Morton in just five frames averaging a 7.20 round score to Morton's 11.20 (wow). The second game was much closer, which indicates that Smith needed more time to get his rhythm back after going undefeated through his winner's bracket.
Daymon Dennis is another player that impressed me greatly and I expect him to have sustained success through this event. His 10.75 average round score against Isidro Herrera over a 15 round game was nasty. It's one thing to average over a 10 point round, it's another thing to do it for 15 rounds and have 6 4-baggers. Timothy Pitcher also seemed to gain some swagger down in Florida finishing 13th. Although the only game I watched of his he lost (to Jay Dotson who is although worth mentioning has a good shot to make another run after finishing 9th), he shot 75% on his airmails which was the highest out of any game I saw in singles with 5 or more attempted airmails. Finally, I keep going back to Josh Groce but I really don't care. Perhaps I'm a little biased because I think he's a superstar on and off the boards, but Groce had an absolutely mesmerizing three game series against Ryan Windsor, taking game one in a barn burner of a match but eventually losing two straight in the finals of his bracket. Groce, like Windsor, can go bag-for-bag with the best in the country. If he can get away from his "too cute" shots where he tries to do too much, he will have sustained success throughout the season.
The last group of singles players that I'm looking forward to watching in Cleveland are the under-performers at the Kickoff Battle. This group has to be led by Derrick King who finished 97th, a staggering rank for a player who was on the Crew Cup team that won the whole tournament and was two games away from making the 4-team playoff in doubles. King lost his first match to Bobby Morris Jr, the ACL's youngest ACL Pro. Normally, I would only be slightly surprised by the upset because Morris Jr has always had top level talent, but a 21-3 score certainly raises some eyebrows for me in respect to King's game. A later loss to Sean Short by a score of 21-20 ended King's day early, so expect him to bounce back. Scott Lane's 65th place finish also turned some heads, but I attribute this performance to his recent recovery from a shoulder injury. Here's to hoping that Lane has fully recovered and has had time to get his game straight so we can see him back in his 2019 dominating form. Finally, I'm looking at Jay Rubin to make a splash. I think he under performed in both singles and doubles, and coming into the year I pegged him as a top 10 Pro. 49th in a field of 200+ is nothing to be ashamed of, but if Rubin wants to be in the conversation with the best of the best, he will have to restart his 2020 campaign in Cleveland; he's got too smooth of a delivery not to succeed (or so I hope for the sake of my predictions).
Doubles in Cleveland will be another toss up. Unlike singles, my gut feeling is that we will not repeat history and have all repeat top finishers at the second National. If we do have any repeats, I lean towards Mcklem/Malone and Herrera/Windsor. In comparison to their counterparts, I really saw them have a consistent tournament from start to finish. I saw some swings from Schermerhorn/Singleton that need to level out in order to repeat their performance, and right now Frank Modlin is not playing his best game. I'm sure he will figure it out soon, but I just want to see it happen before counting on him again.
A few teams jump out at me as possible top contenders. First, Jordan Camba and James Baldwin look like a lock to me to make at least one 4-team playoff this season, it's just a matter of which one. They were double dipped by Graham/Modlin in Florida mostly because of Graham's dominant performance against Camba. If Camba can have his best performances towards the end of the tournament, you just know that Baldwin will be clutch when needed. The team that split the 2 game series against Camba/Baldwin in the same bracket also has a great chance of a big performance: Trey Burchfield and Derrick King. Burchfield was all over the ACL later in the 2019 season, so perhaps he's similar to Scott Lane and James Baldwin and doesn't really like to show his best cards until after a few events.
One team that I don't think is on anyone's radar that should be is Eddie Grinderslev and Dave Sutton. Admittedly, the pairing is a bit odd, but when I asked Grinderslev how he and Sutton did in Florida, before actually looking at their finish, he described it as "Eh, okay". After the event I expected to see a 30+ finish and saw 13th...I was shocked. With both players not shying away from aggressive shots, if an "Eh, okay" finish got them 13th, if they can have a "not bad" or even a "decent" performance, I expect them to crack the top 4. The final two teams I want to discuss are two that truly surprised me in Florida and earned my respect. First, Blake Demale and Nick Renevitz were just a single win away from TV. I couldn't believe the improvement that Demale made in the offseason, and Renevitz played fearless among a field of the best in the world. I hope they can find that groove again because they are one of those teams that I just enjoy watching. I'm not sure if it's their energy, or their play style, or even just their vibe, I hope these two can continue momentum. Second, I'm looking at Allan Rockwell and Matthew Stout. When I watched Rockwell last year in doubles, I felt like he struggled to get a consistent tournament put together. Because of this, when he paired up with Matthew Stout, an elite, but for the most part unproven player in the pro division, I wondered what the upside would be for this team. The short answer is that they proved me wrong. I saw a confident and consistent Rockwell on the boards accompanied by an aggressively successful airmail by partner Stout that helped throughout the day. With these two playing together on a weekly basis, I think team chemistry won't be an issue at any point this season, which is invaluable for a new partnership, especially in the first half of the season.
So part of me feels like this event is Christine Papcke/Megan Maupin, Cheyenne Renner/Sam Finley, and everyone else. After watching almost this entire event in Florida, these two teams that competed in the finals, similar to Pro Singles, established themselves on a tier of their own. The storyline that most excites me between these two is whether or not Renner and Finley can return the favor of another team coming into their home turf and handing them the metaphorical 'L'. This time, that pressure is on Papcke and Maupin as they try and defend Papcke's hometown of Cleveland. The problem for Renner and Finley is going to be that the edge that they had in the first event was that we expected Maupin and Papcke to play nervous. Well, that couldn't be further from what actually happened. Papcke put her nerves aside and Maupin played so well people were making "Maupin the floor" with the competition signs in the crowd.
Just because there are two big favorites in this event doesn't mean everyone else should be underestimated. With Women's Doubles not having rankings to seed the players based on their finish at the first event of the year, there's a 50/50 chance Finley/Renner and Papcke/Maupin end up in the same bracket, guaranteeing a new team to make the finals. Jackie Sayasone and Lori Dool were just a single last-bag error away from making the semifinals of this event in Florida. Would they have won if they made it? No way to tell. But, the fact that they were in that position shows they are talented enough to win. The one team I am excited to make up for their less-than-stellar debut is Courtney Coy and Allison Heine. What is almost amusing about Coy and Heine is that they finished 33rd in Pro Doubles among a field of 100+ and 28th in a field of 40 in Women's Doubles. Whether it was rust or nerves, Coy/Heine did not have the start they were looking for in the first tournament of the first event of the year. The last thing I am going to do is panic when it comes to this team. Similar to the way I feel about Heine's fiance (James Baldwin) and partner Jordan Camba, I feel like this team is almost a lock to make at least one final this season.
This year I'm also going to review how I did in the previous event:
Pro Singles - 1st - Ryan Windsor (ACTUAL: 2ND), 2nd - Ryan Smith (ACTUAL: 5TH), 3rd - Jamie Graham (ACTUAL: 1ST) AND Devon Harbaugh (ACTUAL: 5TH) - Damn Trey, nice!
Pro Doubles - 1st - Wooten/Sorrells (ACTUAL: 25TH), 2nd - Sims/Groce (ACTUAL: 17TH), 3rd - King/Burchfield (ACTUAL: 9TH) AND Camba/Baldwin (ACTUAL: 5TH) - Eek, not as good here.
Women's Doubles - 1st - Renner/Finley (ACTUAL: 2ND), 2nd - Maupin/Papcke (ACTUAL: 1ST), 3rd - Coy/Heine (ACTUAL: 28TH) AND Mittermiller/Emge (ACTUAL: 12TH) - Not Bad
Now let's do Cleveland, I'm purposely not going to pick any repeat winners because it's more fun that way
Pro Singles - 1st - Ryan Windsor, 2nd - Daymon Dennis, 3rd - Jamie Graham AND Matthew Morton
Pro Doubles - 1st - Camba/Baldwin, 2nd - Herrera/Windsor, 3rd - Burchfield/King AND Mcklem/Malone
Women's Doubles - 1st - Renner/Finley, 2nd - Maupin/Papcke, 3rd - Coy/Heine AND Sayasone/Dool
Powered by Froala Editor