For fans that like to be kept on the edge of their collective seats right up until the final score of the season is announced, this is a banner year. If any corps is going to open up a spread at the very top, we'll have to wait until San Antonio to see it happen. After the previous night's results from the Masters of the Summer Music Games in Murfreesboro, Tenn., fans were wondering if the Atlanta event would offer any clarification on what has been a season of supreme parity at the top. In Murfreesboro, the top third place corps, the Cavaliers, were only .125 from the first place corps, Blue Devils, with the Cadets a scant .025 above third and .1 under first. The night show in Atlanta saw those three corps finish in the same order, with .3 between first and third and the same .025 spread between second and third. If a trend is developing with Blue Devils at the top, it's developing at a snail's pace. With these spreads, a contest can practically be decided on any small performance detail. As in Murfreesboro, Phantom Regiment is somewhat comfortably in fourth and the fifth place Bluecoats kept the relatively same spread between themselves and seventh place, the big news being that Carolina Crown passed up Santa Clara Vanguard for sixth place. In the next block down, Boston Crusaders exacted a little revenge on Blue Knights. The Denver corps had knocked Boston out of the Murfreesboro lineup by opening up a spread of .675. Colts, Glassmen and Spirit from JSU stayed in the same order from the Atlanta afternoon show. So, how did all this shake out? A few interesting tidbits are revealed by a cursory (and by far not comprehensive) glance at the recaps. Blue Devils (1st-88.475) first place in Music General Effect (.2 over the Cadets and .3 over the Cavaliers) was offset by a fourth place in Visual General Effect, .4 under the Cavaliers and with the Cadets and Santa Clara Vanguard in between. A .3 gain in Visual Performance over the Cadets (and a full .6 over the Cavaliers, who were fourth, just under Bluecoats) was augmented by a win in Visual Ensemble, though by a .1 margin over the Cadets. A sweep of the visual captions was prevented by the Blue Devils coming in fourth in Color Guard, .8 under the Cavaliers, who were able to edge Carolina Crown by .2 and Phantom Regiment by .5 in that caption. Moving to music captions, Blue Devils were surprisingly in fifth in brass, .5 under the caption-winning Bluecoats. The Cadets took first in Music Ensemble with the Cadets only .2 behind, but the Cavaliers a full .8 under, (beneath both Phantom Regiment and Carolina Crown). Phantom edged the Blue Devils in Percussion by only .05, and the Cavaliers placed fifth under the Cadets and Bluecoats. For Blue Devils, then, weaker placements than expected in Color Guard and Brass were more than adequately offset by wins in General Effect Music, Visual Performance and Visual Ensemble. The story for the Cadets (2nd-88.150) is bottom-lined by wins in total general effect (tied with the Cavaliers despite placing second in both General Effect Visual and General Effect Music) and a win in Music Ensemble. The corps' most noticeable weakness (according to the recaps) was a fifth place finish in Color Guard, a whopping .9 under the Cavaliers, though only .1 under Blue Devils. At this level of competition, any one caption can make a corps sink or swim and it will be interesting to see what happens to this caption on the way to Pasadena. The Cavaliers (3rd-88.125), despite only .3 from tying for a win, have got to feel a little exasperated in coming so close, so often. The effect of placing first in Visual General Effect and Color Guard was tempered by placing fifth in Music Ensemble, .8 under the Cadets and also fifth in Percussion, .6 under Blue Devils. For the top three, this is a story of supremacy in one caption being muted by weaknesses in another caption. The top three, so far, have done a good job of splitting their scoring strengths and weaknesses and it might all come down to whichever corps has a great, solid show throughout the ranks at the same time. With that a possibility, anything can happen. In the "anything can happen" department, we can't forget Phantom Regiment (4th-86.500). Finishing just shy of two points from the top, everyone knows those points can be found on the road to California if the stars (and captions) line up right. While delivering the goods in the Percussion caption and placing third in Music Brass, Music Ensemble and Color Guard, deficiencies (compared to the other corps that placed higher) were noted in the sixth place finish in General Effect Visual and seventh place in Visual Performance. The corps also was a full .8 down in the fourth place finish in Visual Ensemble. If Phantom Regiment wants to spring to the top, it appears that the visual captions are where it will have to happen, seeing that wins in Percussion and a second place in Music Brass are not enough to float those hopes. Bluecoats (5th-85.925) walloped other corps in Music Brass by winning the caption coming in third in Music Percussion. Sixth places in Visual Ensemble, Color Guard and Music Ensemble pulled the corps down, with the 1.3 spread in Visual Ensemble being the real killer. Carolina Crown (6th-84.650) has to be basking in the glow of a potential top-six finish in Pasadena, giving pause to Santa Clara Vanguard (7th-84.450). The second place in Color Guard and fourth in Music Ensemble were enough to pull the corps up over seventh place finishes in both General Effect captions, Visual Ensemble and Percussion. However, considering that at last year's DCI World Championship Semifinals, the corps' percussion line came in 14th, this is a massive improvement. Santa Clara Vanguard might be wondering if anyone got the license plate number of the truck from the Carolinas that ran over the corps in Atlanta. Third place in Visual General Effect and fifth in Visual Ensemble were the two top placements. Seventh in Color Guard and Music Brass and Ensemble captions sealed the corps' fate, the 1.4 deficit to Crown in Music Ensemble accounting for way more than the overall .2 loss to Crown. With Boston Crusaders (8th-80.525) being close to four points behind the Crown-Santa Clara Vanguard battle, the race in that part of the activity is to see who can place in the top eight. Boston passed up Blue Knights (9th-79.850) by enjoying a .5 gain in Visual Performance, a .4 advantage in Color Guard and a .45 spread in Percussion. Colts (10th-77.900) have got to be resting a little easier, being almost four points above the elusive 12th place spot. Having last made the World Championship Finals in 2001, the corps is enjoying a season that looks more than just a little bit promising for a return to the final Saturday night show of the year. The corps was solidly in 10th in every caption except Music Ensemble (ninth) and Visual Performance (11th). Glassmen (11th-74.900), a full three points down to Colts and Spirit from JSU (12th-74.025), at this point have to be considered corps on the "bubble." As it appears at the moment, if either were to falter in the final weeks, it could leave open the door for a corps such as Blue Stars, who missed the Atlanta evening competition by only .350. Glassmen's spread of 1.825 over Spirit in the afternoon in Atlanta was reduced to just .875 in the evening. Of interest is that Boston Crusaders improved upon its prelims score of 79.950 by finishing in finals with an 80.525. Blue Knights, coming in from Murfreesboro, did not have to compete in the prelims. The Colts' score dropped from 78.625 to 77.900, which isn't that much. But Glassmen fell from 77.375 to 74.900, a drop of 2.475. Spirit from JSU fell from 75.550 to 74.025, not nearly as big a drop from afternoon to night. It's generally accepted that two shows in one day takes a lot out of a corps, so one has to wonder if Boston really clicked at the night show to overcome the drop that plagued all the corps under them. One thing that can't be argued is that this season is far from over, in so many ways. Expect the unexpected and you probably won't be disappointed.
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