Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Association Rules Amateur National Championships

After a poorly attended tournament in 2008 (only 17 participants) it was a shock to have 15 players in the first flight of the 2009 national championships. Along with the 28 in the championship flight (three of which played in both tournaments) the USCA had a record setting 40 players for the Association Rules National Championships. During the wonderful opening reception at competitor Mike Taylor and Elaine Moody's estate, tournament directors Ron Lloyd and Ben Rothman dubbed the inaugural event the Amateur National Championships.

While there were a few veteran players (including favorites Tommy Harrington, Bob Whitmore and Frank Thompson) many of the participants were association rules rookies. Those few in their first tournament were local Dave Strawson, rookie of the year Charles Gillmarten, and club teams champion John Young III. The first day of the tournament featured heavy rains and cold winds and while this effected everyone, the young rookies were quite distracted. Both Charlie Gillmarten and John Young managed to run the rover hoop in the wrong direction. Thankfully this silly mistake did not cost either of them more than a few points, but Charlie did manage to lose unexpectedly. Despite the cold Canadian winter, Jane Beharriel came out on fire. In block play, Jane beat two of the players who earned top spots in the playoffs. But Jane was not the only female assassin in the midst. Local matriarch Becky Essick scored two pivotal victories against the top two seeded players in the block proving that croquet is a gender neutral game.

After a wonderful dinner of tender filet mignon at the Pinehurst Country Club, the playoff pairings were announced. The local favorites, Mike Taylor and Tommy Harrington earned the third and fourth seeds with byes into the quarter finals, while rookie favorites John Young III and Charlie Gillmarten earned the number one and two seeds. Sidewinder Barry Williams and the Jane Beharriell earned a late start in Saturday's single elimination playoff with the fifth and sixth seeds. The fantastic meal ended with a sweet treat as competitor Jon Essick sang a few tunes for the remaining diners.

The next morning, the talented entertainer managed to defeat Bob whitmore and earned a game against the rookie of the year. The unlucky Jon Essick missed one severely angled wicket attempt at hoop 5, while his quarter final opponent Charlie Gillmarten drained 3 of 4 such hoop shots. After staying alive with these impressive jump shots, Charlie showed his proper grooming with a nice diagonal spread and a sexy crosswire leave to end the game. The resilient Barry Williams managed to beat Bob Roth but ran into a wall of rain which favored the versatile Mike Taylor. Mike smoothly operated his way to a win earning a spot against the Charlie in the semi-final.

In the other half of the ladder, undefeated John Young III waited with zen like patience for his opponent, Becky Essick, to emerge. Becky dispatched of Mike Conry 13-5 despite his efforts to distract her with his best Gilligan impersonation. Becky rallied and maintained a lead though the first 70 minutes of the two hour match, but when given an opening, John ran three breaks in only 34 minutes for a 26-7 victory. In the race to join "3 strokes" in the semi-final was the dark horse David Collie. David was the only player breaking seed as he beat past Allen Clem and even Canadian phenomenon Jane Beharriell. While he was well prepared for the storm that arrived during the quarter finals and even held the lead for 80 minutes, David came up short.

The semi-finals were virtually synchronized as Charlie and John managed to run their first breaks simultaneously. It could have been predicted that both Mike and Tommy would miss the lift shots, but both Charlie and John missing hoop 5? It was almost scripted. John managed to hit in and beat Tommy, but he had to wait to see his fellow finalist. Charlie hit in, but so did Mike and in the end Charlie won a close game.

The amateur national championship game pitted two young players, who had never played in an association rules tournament before, against each other. The game started off a little sloppy. Charlie won the coin toss and started off conservatively with a ball at maximum distance. John responded with a duffer's tice which proved un-hittable by both players. On the fifth turn Charlie chose to shoot at partner 11 yards away, but missed. John hit in from 14 yards and got control. John ran 9 hoops and set a beautiful diagonal spread leave showing that he had learned a lot in the past week. After Charlie missed the lift shot, John over rolled position at hoop 3 and tried to make a tough jump shot, but he missed. Charlie made a canny play, leaving "3 strokes" balls at hoop 2 and 3 while trying to roll up to hoop one. He set a nice leave that would have assured him a break, but John hit in. John ran his back ball all the way to rover, but while concentrating on the leave, he missed an easy roquet! Charlie showed no mercy in building his break, running around to 4-back, and setting a nice diagonal spread leave. John missed the long lift shot, but the synchronicity remained. Only, instead of over rolling hoop 3, Charlie gave himself a difficult jump shot at hoop 5. While Charlie made these hoop shots all week (especially against Jon Essick), this one stuck in the jaws. John had things all laid out for him. After rush peeling Charlie, John made the last three wickets and staked out to become the National Champion!

1. John Young III
2. Charlie Gillmarten
3. Mike Taylor
3. Tommy Harrington
5. Barry Williams
5. Jon Essick
5. Becky Essick
5. David Collie
9. Jane Beharriell
9. Mike Conry
9. Bob Whitmore
9. Bob Roth
13. Allen Clem
13. Dave Strawson
DNF: Frank Thompson

(I plan on making a personalized account of this tournament with much more media, but here's the official story, for now)

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