As the Team Finals were playing out, we knew there would be one man watching just a bit more intently than anyone else. When we cut to the Top 8 last night, the number of people on 39 points stretched from 7th place all of the way down to 17th, and Minnesota's Matthias Hunt was one of them.
Having won one of the last PTQ's of the season for Pro Tour Paris earlier this year, Hunt followed that up by winning a PTQ for Nagoya two weeks later. Seeing an opportunity to make a run for the Rookie of the Year title, he went for it.
"I've been playing a ton over the years, I even qualified for Nationals a couple of times, but never finished in the money to pick up any pro points," Hunt admitted. "After winning the two PTQs, I just took all my sick leave at work and went to Grand Prix Atlanta."
After a very respectable Top 32 finish at Pro Tour Paris, Hunt was well on his way, but it wouldn't be easy. "It's really hard for someone in the United States to get Rookie of the Year, because our National Champs is full of so many great players. You're usually up against someone who happened to make their National Team, because that's worth so many Pro Points on its own."
And Hunt wasn't kidding about that. Because his tiebreakers weren't incredible, his 39 points this weekend landed him in 11th place. Had he made the Top 8, he'd have been Rookie of the Year right then and there. As it was, Sveinung Bjørnerud was the captain of the Norway National Team, and they had battled their way into a finals appearance against Team Japan. A win in the Team Finals would give Bjørnerud the title by 1 point.
"Oh man, there were a few ups and downs there," Hunt laughed, after the watching the grueling match from the edge of his seat. Finally, Japan's Makihito Mihara defeated Bjørnerud to take the team title, and leave Hunt the Rookie of the Year. So what did Hunt have in store for next year?
"I got this without Top 8ing anything. I just Top 32ed everything I played. Next year, I'm aiming to Top 8 something, but soon after that, the goal is gonna be to win something."
Hunt was not shy about thinking big.
"I mean, Rookie of the Year isn't the only title they were giving out this weekend. I know it's a big goal, but you gotta dream big, right?"
Congratulations to Matthias Hunt, your 2011 Rookie of the Year!