COLUMBUS, Ga. — The STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Championship presented by Carhartt has come down to two guys: Matt Slingerland, of Montgomery Community College, and Adam LaSalle, of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Early in the day it looked like LaSalle was going to run away with the competition, as he finished at the top of the first three events stock saw, single buck and standing block.
"I've been training for about eight months, and as summer let out, I turned it up a notch," said LaSalle, who is competing in his second championship. "Considering the last time I came here I DQ'd on underhand, screwed up stock saw and screwed up single buck, I'd consider today a success."
LaSalle, 29, got to college a little late after spending four years in the Navy, but he's made the most of his time. After competing on the lumberjack team at Paul Smith's College in New York, he switched to Wisconsin and resurrected the lumberjack program from a multi-year hiatus.
He had a chance to put an end to the collegiate competition early going into the fourth and final event, the underhand chop, but his fifth-place finish reopened the door for Slingerland.
"When I came down here I had a plan to use one ax for my underhand and one for my standing," LaSalle said. "My underhand ax didn't cut, and the wood was really firm. I should have stuck with the first ax."
Slingerland, who started the day with a fifth-place finish in the stock saw an event that has been his nemesis for the past few years, needed the break.
"I've been training in the stock saw a lot and I thought I would do real well, but I thought wrong," Slingerland said. "I had a good first cut, but I was trying to go too thin on the second so that I wouldn't DQ and I cut out."
Of the four events the six qualifying collegiate lumberjacks competed in at the Aflac Outdoor Games on Saturday, LaSalle and Slingerland both finished first or second in three of them, which is key for Sunday's competition.
The format of the collegiate championship has the top two in each of the four disciplines compete head-to-head on Sunday to see who will win the event and thereby receive the maximum number of points (six) the loser finishes second and receives five points. That means that Saturday's finishes are irrevelant for Slingerland and LaSalle, while the rest of the field is locked into their point total and place in the standings.
LaSalle's poor finish in the underhand, an event Slingerland had the best time on, made the pair exactly tied going into Sunday. Slingerland received two points for his stock saw, LaSalle two points for his underhand and the rest is to be determined.
Slingerland said it's a complicated system, but the idea is pretty simple.
"Whoever does the best tomorrow wins the title," he said.
On paper, LaSalle has the edge. He beat Slingerland in both the standing block and the single buck, which are the two events they'll be going head-to-head on in the finals. Slingerland felt like he had a lot of room to improve on his standing block and he's changing saws for the single buck an event he said he ran almost perfect on Saturday.
"After watching Adam today, I might be in trouble," Slingerland said. "I should be able to give him a run though."
As for LaSalle, he said Sunday's plan is a simple one: do the exact same thing he did Saturday. And he thinks he can.
"I'll just work hard and won't give an inch," a sweaty LaSalle said as he looked up at the sun. Saturday was another 100 degree Georgia roast. "I just hope the weather is a little cooler."