By JOHN A. GILBERT
The U.S. National Concrete Canoe Competition has become one of the most competitive student competitions in the world and Cal Poly - SLO raised the bar more than a few notches in 2010. I believe that the national contingent will not tolerate such dominance and that the winners in the various categories at the 2011 NCCC will be distributed resulting in one of the closest top five finishes in recent history.
What happened to Team UAH...
Five-time national champion, Team UAH (for which I have served as faculty advisor for the past 26 years) will be conspicuously absent at this year's nationals. Florida Tech capitalized on our failure to pass the flotation test at the conference level and will proudly represent us and the rest of the Southeast in Evansville. Our hats go off to Tech for a job well done in Cookeville! We're looking forward to next year's Southeast Conference in Tallahassee and the 25th Anniversary of the NCCC!.
Our international contingent...
Many of you know that I serve as the webmaster for concretecanoe.org. This year marks the 40th anniversary of concrete canoeing and I've updated "Concrete Canoe Fever" to reflect the current status of this unique sport. China, Oman, Israel, Iran, and Turkey recently joined our international contingent and I recently discovered that concrete canoeing has been taking place in Brazil for several years now. This brought the number of countries that we cover on the web to 17.
The 2011 U.S. contenders...
2011 marks the 24th anniversary of the U.S. National Concrete Canoe Competition (NCCC). The first place overall winner in each of 18 Conferences was invited to compete. In addition, if the first place Conference winner finished in the top five overall in the 2010 National Competition (Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo, the University of Nevada, Reno, Ecole de Technologie Superieur, Michigan Tech, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison), the second place team was also invited to compete at nationals. The 2011 host (University of Evansville) had the option of competing this year or waiting until 2012..
All of the schools that finished top five in 2010 defended their conference titles thereby allowing the second place competitors in these conferences to qualify for the national competition via the "top five" rule. The University of Evansville decided to play their trump card and joined the pack as the 2011 host school. So, the field is set at 24. Cal Poly - SLO is the defending champion.
2011 Statistics (see "For the Record")...
Referring to the chart below, the contenders include 6 U.S. and 2 Canadian national champions who together hold 29 national titles in the U.S. and Canada. Berkeley and Wisconsin - Madison (also Team UAH) have an all-time record of five U.S. titles each.
Altogether the qualifiers have made 157 prior appearances at the U.S. nationals. Clemson and Berkeley will set a new record in 2011 for the most national appearances at eighteen.
The average placement for the field in the U.S. is slightly above 10. Reno holds the record for the highest average placement at 3.40.
Please remember that my commentary and tops picks are just for fun... written mainly to heighten the interest in concrete canoeing, give the qualifiers the recognition that they deserve, and shed light on past, present, and future competitions.
For the record, I have a hit rate of 87% for selecting the top five (see chart below). In my 2004 Coverage, I established a precedent of writing down every question posed by the judges to the teams during the oral presentations. Simply click on the links to the schools listed in the order of placement.
I continued this practice in my 2005 Coverage, 2006 Coverage, 2007 Coverage, 2008 Coverage, 2009 Coverage, and 2010 Coverage Teams that were fortunate enough to qualify in 2011 may just want to review this information before venturing into their question and answer session.
My top picks for 2011...
Traditionally, I make five selections for top five and choose three alternates; for a total of eight picks. This year, I believe that Cal State – San Luis Obispo (SLO) will be challenged most for their title by the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Badgers) and the University of Nevada-Reno (Wolf Pack). The Universite Laval (Laval) could take home the title if they deliver an excellent oral presentation. Ecole de Technologie Superieure (ETS). University of California - Berkeley (Bears), Michigan Tech (MTU) and Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) are strong top five contenders and may possibly end up winning this competition.
If I were wagering in Vegas, I'd put my money on Wisconsin for the win and play the odds with Florida Tech as the long shot.
Here's why... .with hyperlinks pointing to statistics, and logos pointing to web sites:
Let's begin with the defending champion.
Cal State - San Luis Obispo has come on very strong lately, finishing top five in their last five national appearances. The school will be making their twelfth national appearance and has an impressive average placement record of 7.09.
SLO traditionally builds an excellent product. They have won the best product category for two years in a row. "Cetacea" will weight in at approximately 208 lb.
Last year, I remarked that SLO "needed to make improvements across the board to win the national title," and said that "this school may win on their home turf"...and they did. Provided that nothing goes wrong in Evansville...
Top five... no problem. 2011 NCCC Champion... a strong contender.
Bottom line: SLO is currently on top but they'll have to fight very hard to stay there.
I believe that the University of Wisconsin - Madison will give SLO a run for their money. The Badgers are one of four teams (Team UAH, the Berkeley Bears, and Clemson's 3CT are the other three) that have won this competition more than once. All four schools have won back-to-back titles; Berkeley is the only one to have accomplished this feat twice. Berkeley, UAH, and Wisconsin all have five national wins but the Badgers have won five consecutive titles. This year, they and Berkeley will try to set the all time record for the most national wins by making it six.
Host of the design report page for ConcreteCanoe.org, the Badgers are a veteran team that will be making their sixteenth appearance at the national level. They hold the record along with Clemson for the most consecutive appearances set after representing the Great Lakes Conference for fourteen years straight! Wisconsin's has an impressive average placement record of 6.73. The team gained back their momentum last year, after missing the 2009 competition, and finished fifth.
"Element" will weight in at slightly under 200 lb, which I believe is close to the ideal weight. Wisconsin is my favorite pick for the winner's circle in 2011 but they must win in the water.
The Badgers have had some awesome paddlers in the past and are typically very strong in the technical categories (design report and presentation). Assuming they will challenge for best product....
Top five... no doubt. 2011 NCCC Champion... my favorite. They need to win in the water to take down the title.
Bottom line: Simply put, the contenders need to watch out for the Badgers. Madison won't place lower than third unless they make a mistake or get a bad break.
Last year, I pegged the University of Nevada, Reno as the favorite and, by placing second overall, they lived up to my expectations. Simply put, the Wolf Pack is really, really good.
Host of the message board for ConcreteCanoe.org, Reno has supported the concrete canoe community by keeping the most recent national spreadsheets. After making their debut in 2006, the Pack quickly improved their delivery and won the national title in 2008. They have four top five wins to their credit and have placed top ten in all of their national appearances.
Despite the fact that this will be only their sixth national appearance, Reno has placed first in all of the major categories included in the current scoring system (design paper, product, presentation, and races). With a 3.40, the Pack has the highest average placement record in competition history.
This team is very enthusiastic about this competition and is backed by sound faculty support. They have always taken a very aggressive stand while promoting their efforts well. Significantly, Reno has battle scars that come from wounds suffered as a result of taking risks and making mistakes during the heat of battle... making them one of the most skilled and dangerous competitors in the game. Candid comments and blatant honesty lay testament to this team's character... and Reno has turned their mishaps into valuable lessons learned.
Reno will be competitive in all categories. And, if Laval is correct in making their boat lighter (see below), the Pack won't be too far off the pace. At a weight of approximately 150 lb, "Black Diamond" will make Reno extremely competitive in the water and may just give the Pack the advantage that they need to win there.
In light of this team's prowess and remarkable past performances...
Top five... absolutely. 2011 NCCC Champion... the Pack could win.
Bottom line: The Wolf Pack is one of this year's strongest competitors and with their skill and some luck will return to the winner's circle.
Universite Laval hosts the video and photo galleries for concretecanoe.org. They won their ninth Canadian national title at the 2011 CNCCC that took place on May 20-22nd in Montreal. The outcome was some indication of how well they stack up against another of my top five favorites, ETS (see below).. But you never know what can happen from one competition to the next.
Laval has an impressive average placement record of 7.33 in the U.S. and will be making their tenth national appearance there. Prior to their appearance in 2009, we hadn't seen Laval for some time at the U.S. Nationals due to restrictions placed on eligibility.
Last year, I said that "it may take another year or two for this team to build back their momentum" and, judging by their performance at the 2011 Canadian Nationals, they have. "Voltage" is by far the lightest boat in the field (approximately 100 lb) and the underlying technology may place Laval in contention for a win in the technical and product categories.
Although heavier boats provide other womens' teams with slightly longer waterline lengths and theoretically higher hull speeds, Laval seemed to have no problem winning the women's endurance and sprint races in Canada. The lighter weight of their entry has evidently overcome the inherent disadvantage associated with its slightly smaller waterline length making this team a formidable force in the water. So, if Laval can overcome the difficulty of making an oral presentation in a language different from their own (French):
Top five... they'll be there. 2011 NCCC Champion... this could be Laval's first U.S. win but they must do well in the oral presentation.
Bottom line: This is Laval's best shot at the U.S. national title and this time, they just may get there.
The Ecole de Technologie Superieure is a fierce competitor that has their act together. This team has four Canadian National titles to their credit and has finished top three in their past three U.S. appearances. Simply put, ETS knows what it takes to win.
This year's appearance in Evansville will mark the team's sixth U.S. national appearance. Their outstanding recent finishes brought their average placement record to up to an impressive 7.60.
Like Reno, this team has made mistakes and has the battle scars to prove it. I can tell you first hand that they are very intelligent when it comes to making strategic decisions under pressure. In 2008, for example, a structural flaw in ETS's boat forced the team to take their foot off the accelerator during the sprint races. But superior strategy allowed them to place first in the product category. They have had no structural problems lately and had a very consistent delivery at last year's national competition.
This year's entry, "Turning Point," will weight in at about 230 lb. My thinking is:
Top five... a strong contender. 2011 NCCC Champion... They'll be facing some stiff competition.
Bottom Line: A consistent and seasoned competitor. Definitely a threat for top five placement.
The University of California - Berkeley is a veteran team who, along with Clemson, will be making a record breaking eighteenth appearance at the national level. The Bears are one of four teams (Team UAH, Clemson's 3CT, and the Wisconsin Badgers are the other three) that have won this competition more than once. All four schools have won back-to-back titles; Berkeley is the only one to have accomplished this feat twice. Berkeley, UAH, and Wisconsin all have five national wins; the Badgers have won five consecutive titles. This year, Berkeley and Wisconsin will try to set the all time record for the most national wins by making it six.
Finishing only once out of the top ten, Berkeley's five national wins (1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, and 2009) and nine other top four finishes (1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2008) give them the third highest average placement record in NCCC history (3.82).
True to form, Berkeley will rely on their technical expertise and presentation skills to forge ahead of the pack early in the game. "CyBear" looks pretty sharp but the boat will weight in at approximately 290 lb which may place the Bears at a slight disadvantage in the water. They also missed last year's competition and may need this stint to come back up to speed.
This team knows what it takes to win but considering their competition:
Top five... probably. 2011 NCCC Champion... They'll need race points to get there.
Bottom Line: A seasoned veteran and skilled competitor. Definitely a team to watch.
Last year, I underestimated the potential of Michigan Tech who finished an impressive forth overall. My rationale in not selecting them for a top five slot in 2010 was they were slightly off the pace in 2007 and 2008, and did not qualify in 2009. This year, I've reconsidered.
MTU is a veteran team that will be making their twelfth national appearance. The school has an average placement record of only 10.09 but their teams have placed top five three times and they have placed in the top ten in their past seven appearances.
Michigan Tech has a very large team, sporting a roster of well over 30 students enrolled in nearly 10 different majors. The team is filled with hardworking individuals who are involved in all aspects of the competition. Tech has veteran leadership and will return in 2010 with many of the skills shown last year.
Tech's 2010 entry gave the team the points that they needed to finish top five. This year, their entry looks just as good. "Frontier" will weight in at approximately 165 lb.
MTU is a consistent player and my feeling is:
Top five... possibly. 2011 NCCC Champion... Outside chance.
Bottom Line: A consistent and seasoned competitor. Definitely a threat for top five placement.
I left the best of my top five picks for last because I think that I'll be right on the money with the Florida Institute of Technology FIT will be making their seventh national appearance and the school has an impressive average placement record of 7.67. They are the only second place competitor to have won the national title and have three top five finishes to their credit.
Tech did very well in the Southeast this year against stiff competition from teams including the Florida "Gators" and Team UAH "Chargers." I've always had a great deal of respect for this team and never underestimated their prowess. They are a perennial powerhouse n the water and have become highly skilled in the technical events.
The team has some of the best coaches in the game and long-time faculty advisor, Dr. Paul Cosentino, is back after taking a well deserved break. I think that it did him good because Paul mellowed out in Cookeville and left the business at hand to his well versed team.
They took the bull by the horns and were virtually unstoppable with "The Final Countdown." Most importantly, everyone on the team seemed to have fun and they were very cordial to us, Florida, and the rest of the Southeast contingent all throughout the conference competition..
I know for a fact that Tech will come on very strongly in the technical categories. Their boat won best product in a very large field and, at 150 lb, it will make Tech highly competitive in the water. Tech is one of the few teams who paddle in a sitting position and they have outfitted their entry with bearing blocks to achieve maximum performance.
I think that that FIT may have just what it takes to win in Evansville, so:
Top five... yes. 2011 NCCC Champion... You've got my blessing.
Bottom Line: FIT is coming from a different perspective. All systems are go... and I can hardly wait to see the blast off.
may be underestimating the prowess of the rest of the pack by placing them in a
second tier. In particular, I'm probably way off base by not selecting Clemson
because it's only a matter of time before this three time national champion
recovers from their slump (albeit their eighteen national appearances are only
matched by Berkeley).
I may be underestimating the prowess of the rest of the pack by placing them in a second tier. In particular, I'm probably way off base by not selecting Clemson because it's only a matter of time before this three time national champion recovers from their slump (albeit their eighteen national appearances are only matched by Berkeley).
The two newcomers (no national statistics yet) are the Minnesota State University - Mankato and Utah State University. Chances are that they will have their hands full just getting acclimated. But if they get to Evansville early enough and "settle in," they could surprise everyone and end up scoring some major points in the competition. It has happened before... and it could happen again.
The two newcomers bring the number of schools that will have participated at the national level to 112. For those of you who keep up with the national statistics, I'm still looking for a spreadsheet from 1990 (held at Buffalo... and only one of the two national competitions that I was unable to attend). So if you happen to have one, please email it to me. Thanks!
Here's my best guess for the top three finishers in the four major scoring categories (table includes only major five picks):
I wouldn't be placing any major bets based on the above table, since there are many other schools that could place high in any of these categories. Chances are very likely that Berkeley, ETS, and Michigan Tech will squeeze in here somewhere (not to mention some of the other competitors)... the question remains where and in how many categories.
The bottom line...
This year's competition will be very close... Wisconsin is my favorite to win and Florida Tech is my long shot. But anything can happen... and all of the teams that I haven't targeted for the win will want to prove me wrong. If you do, rest assured that your school will be among my top picks in the years to come!
Good luck and may the best team win...
Needless to say, Team UAH and I would have loved to qualify for nationals and we wish all of you the very best of luck at this year's competition. I hope that you'll take time to say hello to me... as I report for ConcreteCanoe.org in Evansville.
If you enjoy our coverage and want to help support the effort, please contact me. We'll put your school to work and give you the exposure that you deserve. By adding a link on your site to ConcreteCanoe.org, you and your school can help promote the competition to a continuously expanding worldwide audience. So please see our graphics and instructions for doing so. Thank you in advance for your support and kind consideration. My hat goes off to UIUC for supporting the site via Concrete Canoe Pictures.
In closing, I thought that the Committee on National Concrete Canoe Competitions (CNCCC) really did an excellent job this year in formulating and clarifying the rules. My hat goes off to the sponsors, ASCE, Mike Carnivale, and the Committee for working so hard to make this event happen.
I commend the qualifiers that sent me pre-national photos. If you didn't receive my invitation to send me your photo, I'd be happy to add it.
Thanks to everyone involved for making this one of the most exciting and rewarding competitions in the world!
As always, I'll be following up on my predictions below shortly after the competition is over.
Ok, I'm back in Huntsville after a very exciting visit to Evansville. I really enjoyed chatting with team members on Thursday about their plans for the oral presentation as I walked around and photographed the final products, table top displays, and cross sections. Friday was even better because the presentations were the best yet. Sure, there were some glitches but I thought that every team gave it their all.
I thought that Saturday would be a disaster when I woke up to a barrage of thunder and lightning but Evansville and ASCE performed a miracle by getting in all of the races after a four hour delay. I can't tell you how impressed I was by the folks at Evansville who put this show on with a skeleton crew. My hats go off to the students and their faculty advisor, Dr. Mark Valenzuela.
I was also impressed by the judges who were very polite yet meticulous and demanding. I really enjoyed going to dinner at the Log Inn (Abraham Lincoln ate there) on Friday evening with members of ASCE and my fellow faculty advisors (see below).
Regarding my predictions, SLO had to fight very hard to stay on top and they did... all the way. It wasn't the closest finish in recent history because SLO won by a 10.6 point margin but the Badgers did challenge the defending champions for the top spot; and, the winners in the four major scoring categories were distributed (Reno won the paper, Pomona won the presentation, SLO won the product, and Laval won the races). Madison didn't make a major mistake and placed second as predicted. Laval not only did well in the oral presentation but hammered their competition in the water to place third overall. I underestimated Cal Poly - Pomona who rose to the top and placed fourth... but I knew they would as soon as I got there on Thursday because they put on a first class show. Reno was also on their game and lived up to my expectations by placing fifth overall. My other picks finished sixth through ninth. So I pegged four out of the top five and eight schools out of the top nine; not bad considering that this was a very competitive field.
Thanks to all who made this happen. I know that Reno will do a wonderful job as next year's host and I hope to see you there! Stay tuned for my 2012 Front Line because I plan to get to this early in order to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the National Concrete Canoe Competition.