CARBONDALE, Ill. Under a double rainbow, the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Challenge presented by Carhartt came down to a final saw-off between the local school with a tradition of dominance in the sport and the up-and-coming program that was reanimated by 2009 Collegiate Champ, Adam LaSalle.
"Well, the Salukis won like 16 years in a row or something," LaSalle said of perennial favorite Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, host of the Midwest Regional Qualifier.
But that winning streak was broken last year when LaSalle put a long-lost University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point woodmen's team back on the map by winning the region and eventually the national title. Coming back to the school after graduating to try to continue to build the program and claiming he was less a coach than a guide for the students, LaSalle selected sophomore Andrew Gollnick to represent the school.
"I picked Andrew because of his talent and his enthusiasm," LaSalle said. "Some people are out here to have fun, and that's fine, but when I compete, I have a desire to win, and I see that in Andrew."
While the morning's dense fog gave way to sunshine and warm temperatures for most of the day, the weather in Ozark, Ill., had a few more tricks up its sleeve during the late afternoon, when the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS competition was scheduled.
As students made their way through the team competitions in the Midwest Foresters' Conclave and over to the water's edge at Camp Ondessonk in Ozark, Ill., dark clouds gathered and a storm front sailed in with winds strong enough to topple the steel scaffolding that provided the backdrop for the event. Closely following the wind was rain that fell steadily, pouring at times, throughout the course of the two-hour competition.
"This is why I brought three of everything," Gollnick told LaSalle. "I knew it'd get wet. I just hope my sleeping bag [left under a three-sided shelter at the camp] is dry."
Using the driest of his three axes in the underhand chop, Gollnick took the early lead, posting a time of 1:11.84 that was only topped by Kory Garrie of SIU-Carbondale, who put on a chopping clinic, posting a 1:03.23 and beating Gollnick by 8.5 seconds.
"When I knew Adam (LaSalle) wasn't going to be back, I knew it was up for grabs." Garrie said, his words proving prophetic as the collegiate competitors made their way through the remaining three events.
In the second event, the stock saw, Garrie disqualified when, after 'cutting out' on the second, upward cut, he tried to remedy his mistake. Making his third cut, Garrie cut more than the allowed four inches of usable wood. The mistake gave Gollnick a short-lived lead in the event until Franklin Boyer of Iowa State University edged Gollnick's 23.26-second time, making his two cuts in 22.73 seconds to shouts of, "Frank the tank!" from the ISU supporters. Overjoyed by the event win, Boyer picked up one of the sawn pieces of log called a 'cookie,' and broke it in half with his forehead.
"That was something we'd all been talking about doing for a while," Boyer said of the stunt, "but my head already hurts a little."
The self-inflicted headache didn't seem to hamper Boyer's performance in the third, standing block chop event, however, as he dropped his block in 1:11.01 and took a lap around the field waving an ISU flag. The lap couldn't quite be considered a victory lap, however, due to Garrie recovering from his misstep in the stock saw event to post a winning, 1:03.59, time.
Going into the final event, the scores stood at: Garrie, 14 points; Boyer, 14 points; and Gollnick, who, prior to earning just one point by not completing his cut in under two minutes, had claimed to be, "pretty confident considering this is only the fourth standing block I've ever chopped," with 13 points.
The single buck showed saws of all different shapes, sizes, and price tags. And, despite using an older saw than Garrie, Gollnick came through in the clutch, outpacing Garrie's second-place time of 34.01-seconds by just less than four seconds to tie Garrie's points-leading score of 20 and force a tiebreaker.
As day turned to dusk in Illinois, the rain stopped and the sun lit up a rainbow against dark clouds. A trip to the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Challenge Final had come down to one cut of a chainsaw. Garrie vs. Gollnick and SIU-Carbondale vs. UW-Steven's Pt. for a year's worth of bragging rights. On the call of "Go!" Garrie was first to the wood with his saw and held his lead the entire way through the 19-inches of white pine, beating Gollnick by under a second.
While Gollnick was more soberly congratulated by LaSalle and company for his effort, Garrie, a senior this year at SIU-Carbondale, was mobbed by his teammates, but remained remarkably restrained when asked what his plans for celebrating were.
"I'm going to do a little bit of deer hunting first," he said. "Deer season opens up next Thursday. Then I'll jump right back onto training for STIHL come January.
"I'm looking forward to the finals. I'm happy to be representing the Midwest, and I'm not going to let the Midwest down."