Last year, we attended our first kubb tournament ever. The 2013 US National Kubb Championship. It was a blast, and can be read about here. The story of our first trip even wound up in the 2014 edition of Kubbnation Magazine. We placed 2nd in the Consolation bracket and had a great time. Ever since being awarded those 2nd place medals, it was a certainty that we would be back for the next year.
Or so I thought. This year we began to plan the return trip. James Gilbertson was in, as he has been for every kubb tournament I’ve gone to. He’s been on the most consistent players out of the group of us, and he’s always been helpful to have along. This year Brian Konicek, who was on the team last year couldn’t attend. And so James and I (Ryan Feathers), began the search for a third. One of our close friends (and another past camp staffer of Tesomas Boy Scout Camp, the nexus for how we all know each other) was willing to and excited to come. So Craig Beer was on the team and we were set for nationals.
Or so I thought. On Thursday evening Craig Beer informs us that unexpected circumstances have arisen and that he would have a difficult time making it to the tournament. This is bad news. Playing down a man at nationals really wasn’t an option, and James and I expected to do pretty good so we needed a partner who at least had played some kubb and had a bit of practice. We immediately called up the other camp staff individuals who are still working there this summer to see if they had an extra player. They had registered as the Rubik’s Kubbs for this year, and I was actually playing on team Kubbers Get Pitches at James and Craig’s demands. Unfortunately team Rubik’s Kubbs had only three players able to make it, and were unable to get anyone else to come with. At that point I began to panic a bit. I knew very few other individuals who had played kubb in the past and whom we could utilize. A last minute call to Brain Konicek confirmed that he would be unable to make it this year to reform the team. Adam Gewiss who had played at nationals last year had other commitments by then. And so as I have learned to do all my life when I’m in a bind–I called up my parents on Friday morning.
They only had loose plans and my father said he could play if we needed him. I spent the rest of the afternoon talking with Craig and anyone else I could think of to try and get an alternate so he wouldn’t have to cancel his plans, but none arose. So around 7:00pm the night before nationals our new team was finalized. Tim Feathers would be the other member of our team. Some last minute practice took place and we were as ready as any team could be that had formed the night before a national tournament.
We woke up early the morning of the tournament and go prepared to go. And by “we” I really mean my father woke up early. As is usual for him when he has something on his mind, he was up around 3:30 getting prepared and packing things up for the day. By his standards I slept in until 5:00. We loaded up the cooler and the shade tent, along with some lawn chairs and set off for the pitches at 6. We got to the Eau Claire soccer park at 8 and got set up and signed in. My father brought a US and Wisconsin flag with him to attach to our shade tent, and we had a nice spot overlooking the entire park. It was a really good set up for the day, and as it turned out we were right near the pitches we were to play on for the morning and afternoon.
We all spent a bit of time warming up on the numerous pitches. While I had experienced nationals before, part of kubb tournaments always surprises me. There is always such a varied crowd of players and spectators ranging from numerous states, backgrounds, and ages. The competitive spirit is present in all, and yet the sport retains an ethos that mirrors curling. Everyone is friendly and helpful, players will freely hand out advice and explains rules. Disputes are settled calmly, quietly, and quickly without the need for referees usually. Players shake hands and congratulate the other teams. Friendships are formed. While there are competitive rivalries, I cannot imagine anyone in kubb truly hates another team such that we see in national sports like football or basketball. The game has a wonderful spirit that pulls together and incredible group of individuals, and I was proud to be a part of that once again.
After that moment of existential sappiness, our first match was ready to begin and it was time to get into the game. Kubbers Get Pitches was in a bracket without any top 16 teams from the last year, and so I figured most of our games should at least be winnable for us. Whether or not they would be easy…well we were to find that out. Our first match was against the Kubba Divers from Eau Claire. The team was comprised of three college aged individuals, similar to James and I. They were pretty good and played us tough. If I remember correctly, they took game one from us. We were not hitting that well, particularly on the base kubb shots early on, and so the Kubba Divers were able to overwhelm us in a close game. During the next two games we were able to outplay them however. We warmed up our hitting, particularly my father was getting good at hitting the field kubbs, and James was warming up on the base kubb shots. My returning was starting to get into a rhythm and this was one of those games I think we largely took because we could return just enough better to emerge victorious. Our strategy for the day was to have my father throw the first two batons and knock out as many field kubbs as possible for us. I would then try to pick off the remaining field kubbs and let James take the last throws at the base kubbs as he was the best at hitting the long ones. I returned on the day and was able to make pretty good clusters for us. We escaped from our game one loss and got our first match win right away in the morning.
Our next match was against Tony’s Two Mrs. from Des Moines, Iowa. They were a friendly bunch and another tough match for us. Tony had really good returns–undoubtedly better than ours, and frankly was a better returner than I. Fortunately for us, our hitting was better. They were unable to consistently hit down kubbs at some times. While they would not leave us an advantage line for most of the match, they did not get many base kubb shots. For awhile the two of our teams traded back and forth 6-7 kubbs for a few rounds, until finally they broke down and left us an advantage line that we for once fully utilized to quickly win thereafter. This game took a very long time as we were both evenly matched, and the other team played at a bit of a slow pace. We wound up pressed for time in game 2. Our team was up one base kubb and so would win the tiebreaker. We had to play through one more turn each. Our team was unable to knock over any more base kubbs and so we had to watch three batons get thrown at our base kubbs, hoping they would all miss for us to win. One, two, and three misses later and we got credit for the “win” and won the match. I think had the game continued we would have actually been able to out shoot our way to the full win. While I don’t know the proper solution, I do think Tony’s Two Mrs. as a team needed to play a bit faster. Of the time, I’m pretty sure we utilized only a third of the total time of the match during our turns. In our bracket, not a single match with Tony’s Two Mrs. ended with a full two games being completed, much less three. While not feasible for kubb, curling once again came to mind. At the Olympics each curling team is allotted half the total time for their turns, and if they utilize all their time, they forfeit the match. Chess does the same thing with Chess clocks. While I don’t feel kubb needs to get that pendantic, I do think it is somewhat unfair for one team to be playing at a pace that winds up seeing none of their matches actually completing and all getting called on time. Oh well, it was a fun and challenging match, and they were nice people, and in the end we netted the win anyhow.
For our final match of the morning we were up against the Kubbatrubbas from West Saint Paul MN. They had also gone 2-0 in their matches up to that point, and so this game was for the top seed in our bracket and the bye that accompanies winning your pool. This team was another fun and challenging opponent. I don’t remember if it was game one or two, but they did snatch one of them from us. We arrived at game three once again on the day. Our opponents were playing well. Our returns were possibly a bit better than theirs, but it was quite close. Both teams hitting was nearly equal as well. However, I think there was one crucial difference. No one on our team is proficient at throwing heavy. We just have not practiced it and cannot do it with any accuracy. So we instead all just focus on hitting each kubb one at a time, and if a double or triple happens it is more of a happy accident than planned outcome. The Kubbatrubbas however often tried for doubles and triples by throwing heavy–and more often than not wound up whiffing all of the kubbs. This led to them leaving us an advantage line and from there we overtook the game and match. It’s a classic issue we’ve experienced before as well and have learned to keep ourselves in check and not try to throw extra heavy as we know we will just miss. If they had just focused on hitting each kubb normally, I think they might have taken the game and match from us.
With that win in hand, we had won our bracket! Given our teams’ inauspicious creation, we were extremely satisfied with that result. We had only lost two games and won 5 (and the sixth due to time). Plus all of those had come against quality opponents and teams that were basically our equals. It was a really fun and evenly matched pool, and we were glad to have emerged as the 1st place team in it.
At that point we were able to catch up with our friends, the Rubik’s Kubbs. They had not fared as well but had managed to sneak 2nd place in their pool due to tiebreakers, despite going only 1-2 in match play. They had managed to get their first round bye as well and were in the round of 64 with us. They played their game earlier than us, as we were waiting for a marathon match between Skubby Dudes and Kubbacabra to finish to determine our foe. The Rubik’s Kubbs put up a good fight and played hard, but wound up losing 1-2 in a match they likely should have won. Still, upon further reflection it was perhaps prefferable for them to lose–as in losing they wound up in the consolation bracket. Had they won, they would have had to immediately play King Pin (an elite team who was the reigning 2nd place team, and wound up placing third in 2014). Even if they had played at the best of their game, the Rubik’s Kubbs themselves could admit they would not have won that match. Instead they wound up in the consolation bracket with the chance to play more games than they otherwise would have managed. After checking in a bit later, they won their first game in the Consolation bracket to advance to the round of 16, but then lost another game they claim they should have won. Such is the game of kubb though, where half the battle is simply consistency. Still, a tied for 9th in the consolation bracket wasn’t a bad showing for them, and they had a blast.
During our long break, a few individuals came up to me to mention this blog. I’d like to thank anyone who actually takes the time to read our kubb adventures. I was glad to hear people thank me and complement me for this blog. Thanks for reading, and as always if you enjoy it, leave a comment. I love hearing other’s thoughts on my ramblings. As was though, it was time for our match however. The Skubby Dudes had managed to dispatch the Kubbacabras after a long match. After about a two hour break from our previous match, it was time for us to get back into game shape–which we promptly did. The Skubby Dudes were a real nice group of gentlemen, but there was a skill difference in this match. Our returns were consistently tighter, and our hitting was more consistent throughout the match. We won the first two games and match in fairly short order to advance into the round of 32 in the championship bracket. This was uncharted territory for James and I, as last year we had been knocked into the Consolation bracket by the Lienenkubbels.
Our opponent for the round of 32 was King Me, a team from Eau Claire Wi. Thsee three guys were pretty good, and played us hard. At the same time, the length of the day was starting to wear on all of us. At times we were missing field kubb shots that we had no business missing. My returning got a bit sloppy at points, and we had to knock over a punishment kubb once or twice during the match. Game one we were doing well in, and then disaster struck. King Me had left us an advantage line after returning six kubbs and had left a close one standing. I returned five in a jumble. There were no clear doubles, and so I did what I always tell myself not to, and what I had chided the Kubbstrubbas for doing earlier in the day–I tried to throw really heavy…and promptly whiffed shots on kubbs that were not more than 1m away. I only got one down with my two batons, and with our othe four batons, one of us whiffed a super close shot as well and we left an advantage line for our opponents! It was incredibly terrible. King Me quickly too advantage and dispatched us in game one. During game two we fought our way forward and were able to win. Still our hitting had cooled down from our earlier performances and we were scraping by in the match we would have taken much more easily in the morning. During game three we played poorly again, and had a terrible round. I returned four kubbs poorly, where there were no good double hopes, and we each proceeded to hit only one kubb per person, leaving an advantage line, and just like that, the game was over during the next round, as was our tournament.
It was a particularly hard loss to swallow, as a win would have made us top 16–a position that gives returning teams their own pool the next year. It would have been quite a strong showing for our ragtag team, but we let it slip out of our fingers–despite being entirely winnable. Ah well, even had be won we would not have moved beyond that–as the winner of our game had to go play the Knockerheads (a team that has not placed below third overall for the past four tournaments, and may be the best team in the nation). No matter how well we played, it is extremely improbable that we could have defeated the Knockerheads that day.
It was still a fantastic showing and a fun day! We went 4-5 in our matches and 8-4 in our games. (And again we had that one win on time that would have brought us to 9 total wins). That was a marked improvement over last years 8-6 showing. We finished the day tied for 17th out of 88 teams, not a bad showing for us, and something we were all pretty proud of. In the end the U.S National Kubb Championship 2014 had largely the same effect as it had on me the year before–my passion for kubb coming in was a small fire burning brightly and passionately, and the nationals fueled that fire into a raging inferno. James and I talked with the Bubik’s Kubbs to plan our upcoming tournament plans to return to the Clash of Kubb and Oktoberfest, and hopefully also making it to a few other new tournaments as well. Until then, I shall miss the banging and bashing of batons crashing and clanging into kubbs, in the constant cacophony at the crest of kubb competition.