Thursday, June 4, 2009

2009 Association Croquet Amateur National Championships

America was floundering. Maybe it was just bad timing, but there were only 17 competitors in the 2008 Association Croquet National Championships. And despite the recession, despite the heavy 2009 schedule, we rebounded. There were more than 40 players in this year's field. Thanks to this burgeoning interest in Association Croquet the USCA was able to initiate an Amateur National Championship. The powers that be saw fit to split the tournament into flights, allowing for a quickly developing crew of competitors to flourish without having to fear the big bad triple peel. There were ups and downs, but in the end there was an historic battle between two future forces in American croquet.
After two oddly similar match ups and coincidentally identical games, the two young guns emerged from the semi-final fray. An established North Carolina fixture in Tommy Harrington, who has been known to best 12 time National champion Jeff Soo in several club championships, playing against an undefeated new comer in John Young III. John has long been an accomplished American Rules player but was making his debut in Association Croquet after learning the game on a two-day clinic during the road trip up to Pinehurst from West Palm Beach. John took two breaks and an early lead on Tommy but gave up the reins at hoop 5 where he had to approach from just behind the wicket, known as the “death position”. Tommy returned the favor by missing the 2-back wicket on his first break. The game became fairly interactive, but John was able to build better breaks when he had control. After hitting in a few times (including a 50 footer on the last turn) John sent home the tournament's #1 seed 26-8.

On the other half of the ladder there was rookie of the year, Charles Gillmarten, who outlasted local up-and-comer Mike Taylor. Both missed a few short roquets and while Mike proved to be a better sniper on that day, (hitting in 3 out of 7 times from over 40 feet), Charlie was a more consistent break player and made more out of his opportunities to win 26-10.

This was the matchup the fans (mostly the Argentinian women) had been waiting for. Both players were in their first Association Rules tournament lending credence to the title of Amateur National Championships. Charlie, having played for months in practice games with his mentor, former National Champion and US team member Stewart Jackson, was no longer the upstart he once was. John, hot off of his Club Teams National Championship, was still treading water in an unfamiliar sea of nuance when it came to Association tactics. In the blocks, Charlie had come the closest to blemishing John's record, producing 18 points in a close game that went to the wire.

The game started with Charlie going to maximum distance and a standard Duffer's tice from John. Charlie chose to shoot at the tice softly, but missed with his ball stopping near the peg. While John had been hitting well and Charlie known for his accuracy, nerves showed a little bit as both missed the ensuing hit in chances. On the sixth turn of the game John finally hit a 40 foot double target left by Charlie's near miss. John had no trouble converting the hit into a controlled break and showed how much he had learned in the short week by setting the diagonal spread leave in an efficient and timely manner. Charlie took the 20 yard shot down the east boundary and watched as his ball rolled slightly towards the line and missed. John got off to a good start, but after rolling too far at hoop 3 John missed a tough angled shot.

Charlie took advantage, hitting a 15 footer but failing to rush to hoop one. After attempting a pass roll from mid court to position, Charlie joined up near wicket one enticing John to bite at his clever trap. John went for the bait...

John took his back ball all the way around 10 wickets and to the peg while his partner ball was still for four back. As Charlie's window for a comeback was closing, John envisioned becoming a National Champion and concentrated on his leave. What John failed to focus on was his shot after rover and he missed an easy 6 foot roquet! Charlie swooped in, took his break around to 4-back and set a near perfect diagonal spread. John tried to avoid the roll of the court by shooting at the on court ball, but to no avail. Charlie got started with a little difficulty, having to shoot wicket one from 8 feet, but he nailed it. The ball went through so cleanly, in fact, that Charlie was left with a long return roquet.

While successfully avoiding these distanced wicket shots at 2, 3 and 4, Charlie over rolled his way into a difficult angled position at wicket 5. While he had made many jump shots on such angled shots during the week, at this distance Charlie stayed grounded, and there he remained. John was left to hit a 4 yard roquet for the finishing chance...

He was able to get his final 3 hoops while putting Charlie's ball through wicket 5. John took the title of 2009 Amateur National Champion and remains undefeated in Association Croquet to this day.

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