ALANSON, Mich. — Phil Dickinson hosted the fifth annual ￼Great Lakes 1v1 ￼Kubb Championship at his grand kubb enclave in Alanson, just minutes from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Sixteen players from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin battled the elements and each other with the goal of taking home one of Joe Hrejsa’s beautiful, hand-crafted Great Lakes-themed trophies.
Everyone had one eye on the weather forecast and radar as nine-rounds of qualifying matches kicked off at 10 a.m. These rounds used the Klassic format to determine the top eight players, which moved on to an afternoon championship round. Before round two of the qualifying matches could be completed, Mother Nature made her first thunderous appearance of the day. Nearby lightning strikes and strong winds sent everyone running for cover. Motor City Kubb’s Bryan Jones heroically employed his body in a successful effort to prevent the main tent from taking flight. Surprisingly, only one pop-up tent was destroyed in the first of the day’s storms.
As play resumed, a number of the tournament’s more accomplished competitors found themselves struggling. Phil Dickinson, Matt Erdman, and Evan Fitzgerald all failed to find their rhythm early on, and wins were elusive. Jesse Fraim already resigned himself to eyeing the consolation bracket trophy. Meanwhile, Eau Claire’s Adam Holtz, Minneapolis’s Steve Dolan, and local up-and-comer J.R. Hrejsa piled up impressive early victories.
Throughout the day, another battle within the tournament was taking shape—as father-son competitors and Great Lakes teammates Joe and J.R. Hresja accumulated neighbor after neighbor in the drilling-skill part of the game. Dad Joe eventually took that prize with a total of seven neighbors drilled on the day.
One of the day’s highlights was Erdman’s 10 year-old daughter Lily facing local brewer Matt Whitener in a time-expired, accelerated-play thriller. After a scattered drill, young Erdman faced seven field kubbs and one remaining baseline. All the players were there to witness her perfect round that cleared all the field kubbs (necessitating one double) plus the remaining baseline. Chaos ensued! A pony was promised!
And, although Papa Erdman struggled on the tournament pitches, he didn’t go home empty-handed. As usual Dickinson had devised a fun midday kubb-related, skill-based competition. Each participant took a string that had been tied into a large circle and staked it down in the drilling area in any configuration they chose. They then drilled ten kubbs – all of which must be 100% inside the sting when setup. One re-throw was allowed on any kubbs outside the lines. After setting the kubbs, the player had one stick to knock down as many kubbs as possible. Erdman’s drilling left a very impressive nine kubbs in play, all of which he took out in his blast to take the victory.
For most of the morning, Holtz was unbeatable. His 8 meter accuracy was well over 80 percent—perhaps even 90 percent—for much of the early rounds. Over his first three matches, he only missed one back row attempt. Dolan continued to grind along all morning as well. Both players were able to continue their strong play after the lunch break.
Finishing up the qualifying round, Fitzgerald eventually found his game and strung together enough wins to tie Dolan in the win column at seven apiece. Dolan took the first place slot as his opponent’s score of 45 was four points higher than Fitzgerald’s.
The next three slots were all filled with six-victory players with their final seeding order also determined by opponent’s score. Holtz earned the third spot, followed by J.R. Hrejsa and Fraim, who overcame a very slow morning start to earn fifth place. Sixth and seventh places were filled by Erdman and Dickinson, respectively—each with five morning wins.
At the very bottom of the championship bracket, eighth place came down to a “win and you’re in” final morning match between Joe Hrejsa and Demian Moore. A Hresja win would give him five wins for the morning, and eighth place outright. Moore needed to beat Hresja to finish the morning with four wins, which would lead to five players tied at that number of wins for the final slot. Moore prevailed in a lengthy, tight match, taking possession of the eighth and final championship bracket slot, which was once again, determined by the highest opponent’s points total.
With the championship and consolation rounds ready to kick-off, attention again turned to the skies and weather radar. Similar to that morning, phones began buzzing and beeping with weather alerts. With only light rain and fairly tame skies, players made the move to get on with final-round play. Fortunately, a couple of people took a closer look at their alerts and discovered that the incoming warnings were of the “take cover immediately” variety—with multiple tornado watches and warnings being issued for the area. This time everyone took cover in Dickinson’s garage, with Dolan scampering to the solitude and safety of the Dickinson’s newly opened AirBnB basement apartment. Play resumed about an hour later, with two-fewer intact tents, numerous chairs strewn across the pitches, and the top 20 to 30 feet of an enormous nearby tree laying across a neighboring tree just feet from Dickinson’s backyard deck. The pitches and the incredible Great Lakes Kubb Stadium were relatively unscathed. The early-round’s drilling pits had been leveled out and smoothed over by the downpour, now providing a soft, forgiving sandy dirt area for sticking the kubbs.
With the skies clearing, the swimming pool overflowing, and the pitches softened into a driller’s paradise, the tournament finals finally got underway. In the championship bracket, the weather delay proved to be a much-needed break for some players but had a cooling effect on others. Both J.R. Hrejsa and Holtz prevailed over their lower-seeded opponents in their quarterfinal matches, but top-seeded Dolan fell in two straight to eight-seeded Moore, and Dickinson took out number two-seeded Fitzgerald.
Meanwhile, Northern Illinois Kubb Alliance teammates Andy Terveer and Brad Vock were chasing some redemption in the consolation bracket. Terveer battled some early morning losses to barely miss out on the eighth seed spot, instead claiming the top seed in the lower-bracket. Vock entered the second half of the tournament in the eleventh spot, but battled back against some tough competition to take home the consolation bracket crown.
The semi-finals were set, with J. R. Hresja facing Moore and Dickinson matching up against Holtz. While Holtz had cooled a bit from his morning mastery of the 8 meter game, he was still looking like the man to beat. He eliminated Dickinson in two games without missing an 8 meter in the second game. Hresja and Moore’s match went three games, with Hresja prevailing on the back of a couple of neighbor kubbs over his two wins. Before the final showdown, Moore dispatched Dickinson 2-1 in a fairly evenly-matched set of games that decided third place, giving Moore a spot on the podium.
Hresja and Holtz then faced-off to decide the crown. The downtime after the semi-final finished and while the third-place deciding match was completed had an obvious impact on Holtz. His 8 meter game was nothing like it had been earlier. At the same time, Hresja’s drilling continued to be spectacular. Having gone cold on the back row, Holtz couldn’t overcome Hresja’s machine-like drilling and blasting game, which included one last neighbor in the deciding second game. Hresja won the match, and trophy time had finally arrived!
Photos courtesy of Bryan Jones