Wednesday, November 23, 2011

USCA American National Championships

Rancho Mirage, California

Hidden in a sunny valley beneath the San Jacinto Mountains is a secluded set of fantastic croquet lawns. For the winter croquet season this year the Mission Hills Croquet Club might as well be called the National Championship Center. The first of three national championships to be held in the desert this year was the American Rules contest in November. Over 40 players from all over the United States and Canada fought through nagging deadness and tight wickets to claim the 35th USCA title.

Defending the championship singles and doubles crown was a tall task for Ben Rothman, now directing and playing. Last year's runner-up David Maloof was entering the tournament on a 26-game winning streak after his Selection Eights performance and the North Carolina Club Teams. North Carolina was well-represented with the 11-time champion Jeff Soo and the lowest handicapped player in the American game, Danny Huneycutt. Doug Grimsley brought his six-month-old daughter, Anna, along with wife Stephanie out to enjoy one of the few tournaments he has played this year – while he dragged Rich Curtis around the court, as usual, in doubles. With reliable lawns and nearly 20 players with a zero or lower handicap, the title was up for grabs.

Jeff Soo emerged as the early favorite for the championship as the only undefeated player through the six block games. Soo beat Grimsley and Maloof (ending his win streak at 32) while Huneycutt beat the defending champion with the first half-Spooner of the tournament 26-1 to redeem his early loss to Paul Bennett 20-19. The prodigal son of the game, also known as Oz, had already scored a half-Spooner against Charlie Smith while Ben Rothman attempted to be unique by completing a triple peel against Johnny Mitchell. Jeff Soo noted that the triple has been completed in the American nationals “like, a million times” before. Rich Lamm scored all three peels (in the only other attempted triple peel) against Charlie Smith but failed to peg out, finishing 25-19.

Steve Mossbrook took undefeated honors in the first flight singles while Sandy Knuth only faltered in her last block game. Dr. Knuth earned the third seed behind Chris Mondt who was also on five wins. The final spot in the eight-player ladder was a dead heat. Cindy Bagby and New Paltz alumnus Dave Cohen were both on the bubble with two wins. The tiebreaker for the eighth seed in the playoffs was an uncommon but extremely fair test: they would play for it. The play-in game came down to one stupendous 11 point run including a difficult rush-peel towards the end of regulation, which put Dave ahead 16-11. Dave would continue his run into the playoffs securing fourth place in singles. Cindy was dropped into a cross-block between the four first flight players that failed to make the playoffs and our four high-handicapped players who began in the second flight block.

Second/third flight was the story of a new Mission Hills player Cameron Evans. Cameron has been knocking balls around for a year during social golf croquet days but only picked up American Rules over the summer. The practice paid off as Cameron defeated all of the second flight and all but one of the first flight cross-over players to achieve an 11-1 record. Cameron went on to win the third flight singles trophy against San Diego player, Val Terry. The four players who missed out on first flight honors became their own playoff ladder for second flight. Don Oakley, responsible for Cameron's sole defeat, took the American title back to Canada with victories over Karen Comeau and Jean Engebretson in the “second” flight ladder.

Cameron Evans and Don Oakley with TD Ben Rothman and USCA Rep. Johnny Mitchell

First flight doubles was very well-matched as most teams were 4-2 or 3-3. Oddly enough, the two teams with four wins lost in the semi-finals leaving Steve Mossbrook and Lee Hamel to play Dave Cohen and local Mary Rodeberg in the finals. Dave was unable to repeat his brilliant break running and missed hoop four with a game-winning break all lined up. Mossbrook was not done as his undefeated streak had continued all the way to the final of the double elimination singles ladder. Steve returned to form after a few seasons back from his long hiatus from the championship game. With convincing peg-out victories in two of his playoff games and the position as “holder” in the final game(s), the trophy seemed destined for Wyoming. But Mary Rodeberg had other plans. On the heels of her last turn victory over Chris Mondt in the loser's bracket final, Mary was ready for a battle. Steve could not organize his breaks as he had against Mary in the semi-final, but he held a slight lead all game. Bending her body to direct difficult shots, Mary gave it her best but the fickle fate of tight games finally failed our femme fatale. Steve Mossbrook took both titles in what he hopes is his final first flight tournament.

Recent winners of both first flight singles and doubles national championships Peter Bach (2010) and Ron Hendry (2004)

Championship doubles was riddled with strong teams. Jeff Soo and Rich Lamm took the top seed with an undefeated block performance only to be matched by the five wins from the underdog team of Charlie Smith and Steve Johnston who celebrated courtside with some of the finest wines from Charlie's Smith-Madrone vineyard. 2010 champions Rothman and Cumming took the second seed from the block while 2009 champs Grimsley and Curtis took the third spot. A well-deserved wild card went to the Bennett brothers' team and the final spot was a close shave where Britt Ruby and Rory Kelley edged out Jim Turner and Sherif Abdelwahab by net points for the final spot in the ladder with just two wins. As many players know, when the playoffs begin it is a whole new tournament.

The high-octane winos couldn't continue their winning ways against Ruby and Kelley and returned to the winery after the first round of the loser's bracket to Huneycutt and Maloof. The last wild card team went on to beat Grimsley and Curtis as well as Soo and Lamm by one point each thanks to clutch hit-ins by Ruby. Rothman and Cumming were knocked down by Soo and Lamm but relished their roles as knockout artists on their way back to the finals. This was Rothman's fourth consecutive doubles finals appearance (second with Cumming), but the true double elimination format gave Ruby and Kelley a nice advantage. Ben faltered in the first game, knocking a line ball out of bounds on the attack, but Brian recovered after an unintended cross-wire by Britt. The 26-8 victory was just the set up for the second, winners-take-all game. Game two was an ugly affair as each player put down a break or two and limped through lots of deadness. Ruby and Kelley continued their “good American tactics” and kept at least one ball alive while Rothman and Cumming grasped at straws. Eventually both Ben and Brian failed costly line rushes to cement their deadness situation while Rory, now a rover, loomed large as the enforcer. Britt Ruby and Rory Kelley kept the lead without having to score one-back a second time and won 19-10. This was Rory Kelley's first national title and Britt Ruby's first doubles title. While Britt was very happy, he was no longer “just happy to be here.”

Rory Kelley and Britt Ruby Celebrating

The championship singles knockout followed last year's format with a double elimination ladder with redemption in the semi-finals followed by a best-of-three final match. With nearly every game rewarding early attackers with lop-sided victories, the more reliable format was very popular. Lamm scored an early upset over Osborn 24-22 while the other Johnny (Mitchell) handed David Maloof a free pass to the loser's bracket 26-12. Doug beat Danny 26-4 and made his daughter proud enough to warrant a diaper change in the process. Jeff Soo continued his streak without allowing more than five points in a game and cruised into the finals with victories over Butts, Bennett, Rothman and Cumming. Danny recovered from his second round loss and took out Maloof, Rothman and Grimsley twice in a row for a chance at his first American rules national championship. The only obstacle: the man with the most USCA national championships.

The match was one of the best national championship finals ever with two nearly perfect games followed by one of the most dramatic back-and-forth battles of the tournament – or any tournament. Danny drew first blood 26-2 and showed that Jeff was human after all. Jeff returned to form after patiently waiting for Danny to bring both balls in and attack. The attack worked, but Jeff hit a heroic long shot and stole the break(s) to level the match with another 26-2 victory. Game three started cleanly, but both players lost control with missed roquets and stuffed hoops leading spectators to wrongly declare the inevitability of a two break finish. Danny was more productive before he relinquished control, but Jeff still had a chance at the end. A lengthy takeoff to hoop three left Jeff with a knee-knocking twelve-foot hoop shot in last turns, but it would give him a game-tying break.

The crowd was hushed enough for all to hear the ball gently nudge the stanchions as it sailed through the hoop and down court. Jeff had two balls on court and a good chance to win if he could get the break together. Sadly, the drama ended as quickly as it began when the ten yard return roquet was too long for Jeff's medium paced shot to stay on target. Danny took the title 26-2, 2-26, 20-10 and all the spoils along with it. The USA team captain collected enough tracking points to become the first -4 handicap in USCA history and his lead in the grand prix should be enough (ask Rich Curtis) to secure the “Player of the Year” award for 2011. Jeff Soo may have lost, but the best-of-three match is much preferable to years past when several times he lost a single game in the tournament and took second.

Players and guests stayed fixed under the canopies during the finals as they witnessed a rare rainy day in the desert. The courtside bloody mary bar was enough to keep spectators happy despite the realization that the wonderfully-catered lunches were now a thing of the past. Special thanks were given to the tournament manager Ron Hendry and his thoughtful wife Genie who brought lunches every day and ran a profitable “Mallet Makers Mania” auction and raffle featuring eight different brands of North American croquet mallets. While the end of the tournament was bittersweet, some took comfort in the unavoidable déjá vu of two more national championships in the desert this year!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

2011 Delaware Invitational at Wilmington Country Club

Another beautiful weekend in Wilmington, Delaware, greeted the twenty-four participants in this year's Delaware Invitational. Tom and Joan Hughes were kind enough to open up their home for the welcoming reception again this year and provide shelter from the heavy heat that weighed down the practice day. Barry Gibson, the tournament co-host, welcomed a few select players to compete at the DuPont Country Club to alleviate the double banking concerns of tournament Director, Ben Rothman. The heat held back during the actual competition but the players left it all on the court. Handicaps were lower than last year, players were better and there were several games that went to the peg compared to zero last year.

The field was split into three flights of singles and two flights of doubles with assigned partners. While Jim Hughes aimed to repeat his championship victory, he would have more than the usual Delaware players to contend with as former rookies-of-the-year Micah Beck and Justin Berbig made their Delaware debut in the Championship flight. Peter Woolley faced his own challenges repeating as several 4 handicaps ventured into the first flight and last year's second flight champion, Robert Lankford, threw his hat in the ring. This year's second flight featured some newcomers as well as Carla Rueck who seems to have won just about every trophy in Florida before migrating North for the summer circuit.
The Y.A.C.H.T. crew in Wilmington.

In the top flight the late entry of David Lyon, heralded by Tom Hughes as “most likely, the strongest player in the tournament”, made life tough for Rufus Bayard and John Warlick. David was uncatchable until the last round of block play when he lost by one point to Tom Hughes. Tom desperately needed that win to sneak out of the block at two and two along with Justin Berbig, leaving Rufus behind by a few net points. In the other block Barry Gibson was able to defeat Jim Hughes in a rematch of last year's final and rise to the top of the ladder with four wins while Jim took second and Micah Beck took the last spot in the playoffs.
Incredibly close competition in the first flight nearly came to the Rock-Paper-Scissors tie-breaker as an entire block finished with two wins and two losses. Net points would suffice for Kevin Betz and Peter Woolley while a frustrated Jodie Rugart and elated Whickey Knight were left to watch the playoffs from the sidelines. Jodie was able to salvage her tournament with a wonderful doubles performance as she and Barry Gibson claimed the top spot in the ladder at three and one with solid net points. Ken Northrop dominated the other block with four wins leaving room for Conrad Rugart to take the second playoff berth with three wins.
Third flight had a friendly round robin that was very instructive for newcomer Wink Del Duca and showed that while Gail Ruben was playing in her first Invitational, she was no slouch. When the knock-out ladder began, good friends and doubles partners Cody Aichele and Carla Rueck had to face off. Cody played above and beyond while Carla couldn't muster the mojo required for a comeback and exited the tournament without a trophy for the first time this season. Gail was able to handily defeat Wink in the semi-final and put together an astounding display of control in the final including a three wicket break and cagey deadness management. Cody could not get clean and Gail went on to win the flight!
Second Flight finalists Gail Ruben and Cody Aichele

Sadly, a puppy problem resulted in a broken leg for the usual tournament dinner hostess, Linda Prickett, but Craig and Amy Smith (Tom's daughter) gallantly stepped in and made a feast for all. Guests were left with such satisfied taste buds that they were blissfully ignorant of the dueling piano show they were missing this year. Craig followed up his feast with a stunning performance in the doubles playoffs the morning after. With an aggressive partner in Micah Beck, Craig picked up any and all attacks and ran his breaks around to win 26-21 in the semi-finals against the solid team of David Lyon and Conrad Rugart. Craig limited Micah's role to point guard in the final as he played the deadness game and ran around to stifle Greg Shaffer and Kevin Betz to no end. With Craig succeeding in all he attempted Micah set rushes, collected the occasional spent ball and enjoyed watching his partner and gracious host carry him to the doubles podium.
Championship Doubles Champions Craig Smith and Micah Beck

Timing is everything. That became crystal clear as the knock-out ladder did not bode well for the undefeated players. Both Barry Gibson and Ken Northrop ended up in the third place match after losing their first game in the semi-finals. Ken lost to last year's champion Peter Woolley 14-13 in a barn-burner while Barry lost to his constant adversary, Tom Hughes. Brothers Tom and Jim were of similar mind, for once, keeping the young'ns at bay in the knockout. Tom defeated Micah Beck 17-15 with solid attacks and Jim was able to keep Justin just dead enough to win 15-14. Jim's canny play could not keep pace with the mighty David Lyon who ended the chance of a repeat and earned a spot against Tom Hughes, the only player so far to beat him, in the final.
Gail Ruben came prepared for the finals day.

While they didn't shine in the block, the two and two boys were able to polish their game for the ladder. After Peter knocked out the undefeated Ken Northrop, Kevin Betz got revenge on Conrad Rugart who defeated Kevin 19-18 in the cross-block game. Kevin took no prisoners and ran clean breaks which did not leave Peter many options. The repeat was not to be and while he missed the doubles championship, Kevin did take home the top prize for singles in his flight. To his credit, Peter did manage to control the doubles final with the helpful shooting of Gail Ruben taking the title over Mary Tatnall and Lindsey Grigsby.
First Flight Doubles Champions Gail Ruben and Peter Woolley

In the main event both David and Tom managed treacherous attacks near the violently rolling north boundary. The breaks were had but the difference was clear as Tom averaged six to eight hoops per break chance while David masterfully built break after break for a scant average of two or three hoops. The golf croquet aficionado was undone by the firm hoops at moderate distances allowing Tom easier attacks and great deadness advantages. After all his hard work managing and organizing the tournament, Tom was rewarded with a convincing victory as the only player to beat the well composed David Lyon.
Championship Finalists David Lyon and Tom Hughes

Championship Singles:
1. Tom Hughes
2. David Lyon
3. Jim Hughes
3. Barry Gibson
5. Micah Beck
5. Justin Berbig
7. Rufus Bayard
7. John Warlick
7. Greg Shaffer
7. Craig Smith

First Flight Singles:
1. Kevin Betz
2. Peter Wooley
3. Ken Northrop
4. Conrad Rugart
5. Jodie Rugart
5. Whickey Knight
5. Mary Tatnall
5. Robert Lankford

Second Flight Singles
1. Gail Ruben
2. Cody Aichele
3. Carla Rueck
4. Wink Del Duca

Championship Doubles:
1. Craig Smith + Micah Beck
2. Greg Shaffer + Kevin Betz
3. Barry Gibson + Jodie Rugart
3.David Lyon + Conrad Rugart
5. John Warlick + Justin Berbig
5. Rufus Bayard + Ken Northrop

First Flight Singles
1. Peter Woolley + Gail Ruben
2. Mary Tatnall + Lindsey Grigsby
3. Whickey Knight + Sidna Mitchell
3. Robert Lankford + Wink Del Duca
3. Carla Rueck + Cody Aichele

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

USCA Western Region Championships

It has been a banner year for Mission Hills Croquet Club. During the 2010-2011 season Mission Hills hosted a well attended Golf Croquet Nationals, had several members score USCA awards (district president of the year, volunteer of the year, and two players of the year in their respective flights) and took the honor of USCA Club of the Year. As club ladders wound down and snow birds migrated North to more familiar territory the Western Regionals became the ultimate contest for many players in the desert. Twenty-two players, many of whom are Mission Hills members, took part in the regionals with a few visitors from other areas of California, Oregon and Idaho. The groups were divided into two familiar groups for singles and the field of seven doubles teams were left in an all-play block until the playoffs.

Block play had several undefeated players, but the cross-block games took care of that. Three of the four singles blocks had an undefeated player; Ben Rothman in Championship flight and Sheri Foroughi and Mary Rodeberg in First Flight. Since these were also the top seeds in their respective groups, they faced off against each other in the crossover games. Mary and Sheri had an all out battle with Sheri holding her edge for a 20-15 victory and the number one playoff spot. Ben and Jim Butts traded breaks and Jim put down the winning break to let Ben back in for a 26-22 nail-biter.

Traveling players had a tough time warming up to the lawn speed and faltered early. Steve Scalpone underperformed in the block allowing Jim Turner and Aviv Katz to score big upsets while Len Lyon, a long time desert player, showed his touch and deadness control with giant wins over the two Jims, Butts and Turner to be exact. In some games, the wind became a major factor. Players had to wait for still winds or suffer the swaying sensation of the mallet mid-swing. But the wind did allow for a convenient scapegoat for missed shots and “lucky” hit ins.

When all the scores were in the books, players congregated at Hope Harmon's court-side condo for a Toast and Tally. Mission Hills Croquet Club was very generous in providing lunches throughout the tournament and a wonderful cocktail party where players donated to the Y.A.C.H.T. (Young American Croquet Homage Tour) Fund. The Y.A.C.H.T. has been gaining momentum during the Winter months and will be working towards its goals of promotion, education, and support throughout the Summer and Fall this year (for more information email Ben and Sheri took the top seeds with perfect records and while most blocks went to seed Karen Comeau and Toni Kemp surprised their block and jumped up a few spots for the playoffs. Doubles was dominated two teams: Bob Van Tassell and Steve Scalpone and the only team to beat them, Ben Rothman and Bob Morford (of Morford Mallets). Peter Bach and Jim Turner took the third seed but the next three teams ended up in a tie for the fourth and final spot in the championship playoffs. With head-to-head as the first tie-breaker, Mike Orgill and Nick Gray moved on while Jim Butts and Aviv Katz along with Ron Hendry and Marty Foroughi dropped into the first flight doubles playoff with Mary Rodeberg and Rich Schiller.

Steve Scalpone and Bob Van Tassell celebrate a doubles victory.

In the single elimination playoffs, early upsets were in vogue. The undefeated Sheri Foroughi fell to a warmed up Dick Engebretson (18-13) after Dick beat Bob Morford (16-4) in the play-in game. Dick soon ran out of gas against his croquet rival Marvin Salles who returned to form in the playoffs with convincing wins over Toni Kemp (20-12) and Dick (16-4). Karen Comeau survived a scare against Nick Gray (14-13) while Judy eeked out a win over Jean Engebretson (15-14) only to lose to Mary Rodeberg by the same score. Mary's hard work in understanding the end game paid off as she moved past Karen (13-10) and into the finals with Marvin.

The biggest upset in championship flight proved the value of a play in game and the detriment of a top seed. Jim Butts waited for his opponent as Peter Bach battled with Len Lyon (23-11 for Bach). Jim was unable to get in the groove against his confident opponent and watched as Peter demonstrated his newfound championship-level play in a long-awaited victory (22-14). While Rich Schiller hoped the same fate lay in store for him after defeating Aviv Katz (22-7) in the play-in round, he was not as lucky. Ben Rothman used his quarter-final game as an experiment and laid a trap giving himelf a standard triple peel for a 26-10 victory. Ben remained in form but decided against tripling in the semi-final with Steve Scalpone who will not be putting his name on the John Taylor trophy this year (26-4). Bob Van Tassell found his game after a brief hiatus this winter and beat Jim Turner (24-14) as well as the giant-killer Peter Bach (23-18). Could “Sandy” Bob repeat his perfect game and defeat Rothman in the finals?

In a word, no. The championship final was a rather boring game in which Rothman failed an aggressive attack, giving Van Tassell a break. Bob made one error (a missed return roquet after hoop five) and Rothman turned it into two breaks to complete the snooze-fest. The good news was, this freed up spectators to watch the truly exciting finishes in the first flight finals and the championship third place game.

Ben and "Sandy" Bob continue their friendly rivalry in the desert.

In doubles, the two dominant teams remained so as they cruised to the finals. Ben and Bob managed a nice attack, but one stuffed hoop was all it took for Bob Van Tassell and Steve Scalpone to run their breaks and seal the deal. In the “first flight” doubles final, Marty Foroughi and Aviv Katz battled the out game for over an hour as Jim and Ron made risk-free hoops. After the in-balls got around to rover and penult, the out-balls joined the game. There was some anxious two-balling until finally Marty ran a nice break to take a comfortable lead and seal the victory (20-16).

Aviv Katz and Jim Butts after losing to Ron Hendry and Marty Foroughi

The two most exciting games of the day were saved for last. The first flight final pitted wily veteran Mary Rodeberg against the sharp shooting cowboy, Marvin Salles. Mary had the lead, but could never feel secure as Marvin is an avid break runner. With a small lead in the final minutes, Mary had a chance to take Marvin out of the jaws of his hoop (see below) and keep him double partner dead. Mary had to assume a fair amount of deadness for this opportunity and when the critical shot came, she missed the ball in the jaws! With the necessary balls on the court, Marvin ran a game-tying break, but when he realized that he was near the go ahead hoop, his shots began to falter. With a bad pioneer and a bad approach, Marvin took a desperation angled shot and bounced back from the hoop, leaving a tied ball game. At this point, it was anyone's game. Mary forgot to use her clearing, which could have sealed the victory, but from corner three, she shot her rover ball at the peg and hit! This put Mary up by one point leaving Marvin the hoop shot from nearly the same spot as before. With the game on the line, Marvin proved that the angle was just too much to contend with and Mary won the first flight (17-16).

Mary's missed shot (black) at Red to allow Marvin a chance for the title.

In the rough and tumble battle for third place Steve Scalpone fell way behind the up and comer Peter Bach. Peter had a finishing break, but missed a shot after one-back. With very little time left Steve got around to peg while his back ball was still for hoop three. With the game nearly in hand, Peter used up the remaining clock and pegged out his rover ball. Behind by six points in last turns Steve hit his partner and rolled both balls down to hoop three leaving a nice rush and a desperation turn. Spectators nearly turned away as Scalpone managed to get rushes and make a few tough roll-ups and as the crowd buzzed with recognition, Steve made a bad rush to one-back. Still behind by two, Steve dribbled the take-off from the middle of the court just past one-back. After a sweaty six yard roquet, Steve faced another long take-off to two-back and came up about ten feet short. With the crowd enraptured and Peter staring daggers, Steve hit both stanchions and wiggled through for the tie! The second rotation saw a heroic shot just missed by Mr. Bach and Scalpone sent his rover ball to the peg for one of the most clutch finishes of 2011, and it was for third place (21-20).

2011 Trophy Recipients (Less Marvin Salles)

Championship Singles:
1. Ben Rothman
2. Bob Van Tassell
3. Steve Scalpone
4. Peter Bach
5. Jim Butts
5. Jim Turner
5. Ron Hendry
5. Rich Schiller
9. Aviv Katz
9. Len Lyon

Steve Scalpone presents the John Taylor Award to the Tournament Champion

First Flight Singles:
1. Mary Rodeberg
2. Marvin Salles
3. Karen Comeau
3. Dick Engebretson
5. Sheri Foroughi
5. Toni Kemp
5. Nick Gray
5. Judy Dahlstrom
9. Jean Engebretson
9. Bob Morford

Championship Doubles:
1. Bob Van Tassell + Steve Scalpone
2. Ben Rothman + Bob Morford
3. Peter Bach + Jim Turner
3. Mike Orgill + Nick Gray

"First Flight" Doubles:
1. Ron Hendry + Marty Foroughi
2. Jim Butts + Aviv Katz
3. Rich Schiller + Mary Rodeberg

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jim Butts scores the Three-peat victory in the 2011 Bob Riddell Golf Croquet Tournament.

40 players and dozens of spectators gathered to watch an exciting final for the Bob Riddell Golf Croquet Tournament at Mission Hills Country Club. After a 6-3 lead, Jim Butts held off a tremendous comeback from Aviv Katz, and made a tricky 30 degree jump shot at rover to win 7-5. Bob Van Tassell took Third place by defeating Ron Hendry, who's long hoop shots failed him on the final day.

Mike and Helen Orgill won the doubles making it two finals appearances in a row for Mike, with his partner of choice this time. Mike and Helen played marathon games and took down the astonishing newcomer Jim Okey and his clutch shooting partner Louann Evans. Louann has "the straightest shot in the entire tournament" according to Mike Orgill. The Orgills sealed the victory with a handshake at penultimate in a hard fought 7-4 battle.

Karen Comeau continued her hot streak and defeated Toni Kemp in the First Flight final 7-5. Karen took out number one seed David Cartwright and the incredible rookie sensation Jim Okey on her way to the top. Jean Engebretson took home yet another trophy defeating Jim Okey, who learned the game last December, in the game for third place.

The Second flight final posed a familiar question to married couples, “Is it better to be right or to be happy?” Given the choice, Mike Corrigan decided, “Winning, duh.” After a 10-0 streak, Brenda lost to her loving husband 7-3 in the final. Brenda had an amazing run but, like the 2007 Patriots, missed the big game. Former marathoner and recent birthday boy David Pollock finished in third at the tender age of 95, proving that one can be competitive at any stage of life.

Each winner enjoyed a unique hand-made trophy comprised of wire croquet players in various stages of a game on a green tile and a commemorative hat. Bob Riddell celebrated the victories of his good friends with merriment and the occasional stiff drink in another well attended golf croquet tournament in croquet heaven.

And the winners are...
Championship Flight:
1. Jim Butts
2. Aviv Katz
3. Bob Van Tassell
4. Ron Hendry
5. Leo Nikora
5. Nick Gray
5. Mike Orgill
5. Bob Kays
5. Bob Riddell
DNF Gordon Milse

First Flight:
1. Karen Comeau
2. Toni Kemp
3. Jean Engebretson
4. Jim Okey
5. David Cartwright
5. Pat Dugan
5. Paul Christy
5. Jerry Phillips
9. Bob Morford
9. Marylin Estenson
9. Bernie Rubien
DNF Welles Farago

Second Flight:
1. Mike Corrigan
2. Brenda Corrigan
3. David Pollock
4. Jerry Brault
5. Jerry Evans
5. Phil Arenson
5. John Pearson
5. Mary Brault
5. Jackie Ackerman
DNF Marc Clausen

1. Mike + Helen Orgill
2. Jom Okey + Louann Evans
3. Karen Comeau + Scott Smith
4. Bob Morford + Marylin Estenson
5. Bob Riddell + Elaine Kennedy
5. Kory + Betty Teoman
5. Rob + Susan Stiff
5. Nick Gray + Ruth Pollock
5. Pat Dugan + Bernie Rubien
DNF Welles Farago + Marc Clausen

Special Thanks to:

Bill Roche

Marge Okey

Aviv Katz

John Pearson

Nancy Deupree

Mick Greagsby

Judy Dahlstrom

Rob Stiff

Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 Mission Hills Invitational

The 15th annual Mission Hills Invitational croquet tournament was held March 1-5 and the weather could not have been better. The 25 participants played in two flights with doubles in the mornings and singles in the lazy afternoons. After a few years of waterford doubles, the new officers of the club have brought back self-selected partnerships which did wonders for team dynamics and the overall enjoyment of the doubles experience. Visiting players represented just about every region in North America: Louisiana, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Maine, Wyoming, Idaho, and British Columbia. With the 2010 champion Bob Van Tassell taking the week off, the title was up for grabs. Ninety minute games and limited double banking set up yet another luxurious tournament at the USCA's “2010 Club of the Year."
Early round play with the spectacular San Jacinto Mountain Range as a backdrop.

In early doubles play, the local duo of Mary Rodeberg and Dick Engebretson that barely made it into the championship flight doubles beat the big dogs of Ben Rothman and “Uncle” Larry Stettner! Mary, the recent USCA Grand Prix winner, ran a seven hoop break going into last turns to get within one point, but she made 4-back out of bounds. Dick followed up with a spectacular 10-foot roquet of Mary's ball and a 60-foot take off to the attack. He created a rush to his hoop and two-balled his way to a 15-14 victory.

Rich Schiller and Val Terry went undefeated in first flight and snagged the top spot in the playoffs. A two-way tie at 2-2 will put veterans Karen Comeau and Jean Engebretson against rookies Bob Morford and Nick Gray in one semi-final. The last spot came down to the very last game as the Vancouver duo of John Destry and Keith Sjostrom narrowly defeated Carl Myer (Massachussetts) and Rob Franks (Louisiana) to sneak in the semi-finals 14-12.

Championship flight pitted the top two teams against each other in the final round of block play. A desperate attack by Stettner gave Rothman the game winning break in last turns to defeat Jim Butts and Aviv Katz for the number one seed. Ron Hendry and Chris Christian ended Mike Orgill and Robert Coleman's playoff hopes while securing the number two spot 20-16. The last semi-final spot was awarded to Peter Bach and Steve Mossbrook thanks to their 15-9 defeat of Dick Engebretson and Mary Rodeberg.

“By the skin of my teeth.” That is the margin by which Steve Mossbrook made his first Championship knock-out in the last 14 years. The championship flight featured a play-in round to determine seeding in two-way ties. That is to say, if two of the eleven players finished with the same total number of wins, they had a full 90-minute game to decide who deserved to be ranked above the other in the 8-player knock-out ladder. The top two players, Rothman and Butts, played off while the third and fourth seed, Peter Bach and Rich Schiller, battled it out. But most importantly, the eighth spot in the ladder was played out between Steve Mossbrook and Mary Rodeberg.

Having just broken into the top flight, Mary Rodeberg has shown tremendous poise in her play while stepping her tactics up several notches to compete with the best. Mary, having lost two games by two or fewer points in last turns, decided she would put the tied game on her mallet with under five minutes remaining. With balls for one-back and two-back, Mary took-off from the West boundary near two-back all the way to Steve's balls on the East boundary near 4-back. The 100-foot shot fell short and left Mary with a daunting 18-foot roquet of a ball just two feet from the boundary, but she hit! Now for the easy part, or so she thought. Mary just needed to set up her partner and/or split up the opponents, but the danger ball was so close that it interfered with her stroke. With a shortened backswing and a difficult angle, Mary committed a fault. Mary called the fault on herself and replaced the balls leaving Steve an easy go ahead play. The honorable defeat was hard to swallow, but it was the correct call. Hopefully all will remember Mary's shining integrity as she continues to make strides in the top flight.

With some blowouts and a few close shaves, almost everything went to seed in the various singles ladders. The third and fourth seed captured third and fourth in the playoffs while all three finals pairings are the number one seed versus the number two seed. The only upsets came in the fifth place ladder as seven and eight seeds Cindy Bagby and Jean Engebretson worked their way into the decider for who makes the top five in first flight. In a tight match filled with two-ball scenarios, Jean overran position in the final two minutes to give Cindy the chance she was waiting for culminating in a one point double overtime victory. After a one point loss to Karen Comeau, Judy Dahlstrom captured third place by defeating the wily Rob Franks and Bob Morford took third in the second flight with his second victory over newcomer Val Terry.
Club President, Ron Hendry awards Bob Morford (center) 3rd place in the Second Flight.

In Championship flight Jim Butts slipped up on a finishing break against his doubles partner, Aviv Katz, but recovered for a 21-11 win and had to play the red hot Peter Bach. Since winning both the singles and doubles at USCA Nationals in first flight, the pilot from Idaho has brought his game to a new level. Thanks in part to his forays into association rules, Peter's aggressive shooting and consistent break play led him to two upsets over Mike Orgill, a solid play-in win over Rich Schiller and a spot in the semi-finals.
Peter Bach, always playing games, with Steve Mossbrook enjoying the show.

The limit to Mr. Bach's well-orchestrated play seemed to be the negative handicaps. In block play, the national champion match-up between Rothman and Bach was an entertaining exhibition in exceptional efficiency. Rothman ran an eight hoop two-ball break that included a cannon at 2-back leaving Peter no opportunities. Peter lost 26-1 and his match against Jim Butts didn't go much better. Attempting an early attack, Peter collected deadness and got to watch Jim Butts at his best. After two breaks and a near perfect leave, Peter was eliminated 26-3. Peter went on to take third place over Rich Schiller in a tight match (18-16) with deadness traps and aggressive rover play by Mr. Bach. Ben Rothman cruised to the final with two 26-3 games over Steve Mossbrook and Rich Schiller.

The finals day featured the familiar Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar courtside with a cloudless view of the snow-topped mountains composing the beautiful backdrop for the doubles and singles finals. A surprised Carl Myer and Rob Franks won the second flight doubles over rookie players Bob Morford and Nick Gray, while John Destry defeated his fellow Vancouver resident Keith Sjostrom for the singles title. The high-low team of Rich Schiller and Val Terry wore out their welcome in first flight by defeating the scrappy Karen Comeau and Jean Engebretson (16-12) in the doubles final. Jean's husband (and unwilling opponent) Dick completed his perfect record with a convincing victory (14-8) over Karen Comeau in the final. Dick's stunning achievement was only overshadowed by Karen defeating several of the low handicapped players and making the final as a 9 handicap in her first flight debut!
Karen Comeau and Jean Engebretson after an excellent showing in First Flight Doubles.

The championship doubles was a great meeting of the minds as Croquet Puzzler Book author Larry Stettner and his protege Ben Rothman vociferously discussed tactics on when to enter the game and how to set leaves against club President Ron Hendry and Chris Christian of Pinehurst, North Carolina. All that mental acuity was derailed when Ron Hendry hit in on several leaves only to run into hoop trouble as soon as the break was in hand. The last narrow window of opportunity came when Larry had a three-ball break for the final three hoops and a peg out, but missed the return roquet after four-back! Ron once again hit in and built a break, but hoop five was blocked by two pesky stanchions. Rothman and Stettner won their first doubles title (ever) 22-9 with Rothman's parents (Stettner's cousins) Al and Arlyss enjoying the family circus.
(From Left to Right) Larry Stettner, Ben, Arlyss and Al Rothman reunited during the tourney.

The club pro quickly shifted into singles mode to meet Jim Butts in the main event. Rothman took an early attack and attempted a difficult break only to miss a tough angled shot at hoop three. Jim took a break around and watched with wide eyes as Rothman missed the 60-foot hit in. The more Luis the bartender poured, the more the crowd roared and Rothman retreated to the far side of the lawn to watch the championship slip through his fingers for the third year in a row. Having just run a nice break for eleven hoops it came as a big surprise when Jim failed hoop six. Ben realized the fleeting nature of this opportunity and managed to make the most out of it. Two boring breaks and several bottles of champagne later, Ben pegged out for the clean sweep and the title (26-17). With the tournament out of the way, pick-up golf croquet games kept the crowd satisfied and the atmosphere jovial well into the afternoon. The croquet never ends here in Mission Hills.
2011 Mission Hills Invitational Winners
Back Row:
Rob Franks, Carl Myer, Keith Sjostrom, John Destry, Bob Morford, Nick Gray, Chris Christian, Dick Engebretson and Ron Hendry.
Front Row:
Karen Comeau, Val Terry, Rich Schiller, Jean Engebretson, Judy Dahlstrom, Ben Rothman, Larry Stettner, Peter Bach and Jim Butts.