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2022 USCA Association Laws National Championship

Jeff Soo - TD | Published on 9/11/2022
USCA Association Laws National Championship
September 11-17, 2022
Chesapeake Bay Croquet Club

Matthew Essick took top honors at the thirty-sixth USCA Association Croquet National Championship, reclaiming the singles title he first won in 2020. Over the past twelve months Essick has won four straight US national singles titles, equaling Ben Rothman’s record set in 2012–2013. Since 2020 there have been six USCA national championships, Essick winning five of those singles titles and three of the doubles, each with a different partner. In the same span he has also won two WCF medals: silver at the 2020 AC World Championship, gold at the 2022 GC World Championship. While he has some way to go to match Rothman’s overall record, he’s left no doubt about who is currently USA’s top player.

Sherif Abdelwahab and Stephen Morgan won the doubles, their second AC doubles title together. It is Abdelwahab’s eighteenth US national title and Morgan’s ninth.

Flat courts with firmly-set hoops in hard ground provided a tough but fair test for the players. When newly set, the hoops seemed to have no give at all and rejected outright many shots that would have wriggled through on softer lawns. Triple peels were few and far between. In First Flight, with two-and-a-half-hour time limits, even the winning side usually failed to reach double digits.

The doubles championships were played first, allowing a shorter event for those choosing singles or doubles only. As usual, Championship Flight jumped straight into the best-of-three-games knockout. By the end of day 1 the field had been narrowed from nine pairs to four. On day 2 the five pairs knocked out of the main event continued in a two-life (Draw & Process format) Plate knockout, while the Championship semifinals got underway. #6 seeds Michael Albert & Shane Hettler took the first game +18 against #2 seeds Abdelwahab & Morgan, but Abdelwahab & Morgan won +25 and +11 to advance to the final. #5 seeds David & Kyle Maloof—grossly under-ranked due to Kyle’s small number of AC ranking games—took down top seeds Matthew Essick & Zack Watson, David tripling in games 1 and 3 for the +4tp, -4, +12tp win. Having won the GC doubles title earlier this year, the Maloofs were hoping to become the first father-son pair to win US national doubles titles in multiple disciplines. But it was not to be. In the final on day 3, after Kyle tripled to take game 1 +21tp, Abdelwahab countered with a triple for +19tp in game 2, and Abdelwahab & Morgan won the deciding game +25.

Brian Cumming & Doug Grimsley won the doubles Plate.

First Flight, with four pairs entered, started with block play. All four pairs then advanced to a two-life (Draw & Process format) knockout. Rick Darnell & Arthur Olsen earned top seeding by winning all their block games. They lost their first knockout match to #3 seeds Loretta Cooper & Steve Thurston. Cooper & Thurston went on to win the Draw side of the knockout, while Darnell & Olsen recovered form to win the Process. This set up the overall final between the two pairs, Darnell & Olsen winning 7-6.

Singles block play began the afternoon of day 3 and finished the morning of day 5. Essick attempted sextuple peels in most of his games, until the strategy backfired with a surprise loss to Rick Sheely. He then switched to conventional tactics, winning his block with three triple peels. Watson and Jeff Soo likewise notched three triples in winning their respective blocks. Morgan tripled in all four of his wins, his only loss to a Soo triple, to earn the final bye to the quarterfinals.

Hettler had a mediocre block record but raised his game in the play-in round to advance past Abdelwahab, +25, -22, +26. Cumming survived being pegged out in game one against Macey White, hitting in and building a three-ball break for +7, then closed out the match +16tp. Kyle Maloof had a nominal upset over Albert, +12, +11. Stuart Lawrence and Randy Cardo played on until evening, Lawrence winning +22, -26, +5.

On day 6 Watson and Essick both advanced in straight games. The two highest ranked players then met in the semifinals. Watson won the first +9 and had the first break in game 2. Essick hit and triple-peeled Watson’s forward ball out the game, winning +13tpo, then won game 3 +26tp. Morgan and Kyle Maloof played three games, each of which could have gone either way, Maloof winning +3, -5tp, +2. Soo and Lawrence took even longer to finish, Soo winning -3tp, +25, +10. This only left time for one game of the Maloof v. Soo semifinal, Soo taking the better part of two hours to win +26.

The First Flight knockout turned into a three-way race between Cooper, Olsen, and Thurston. Thurston beat both of them to win the Process half of the Draw & Process ladder. Olsen beat Thurston, then Cooper beat Olsen, to win the Draw half, setting up the overall final between Cooper and Thurston. Cooper won 9-7 to win the title.

As both player and TD, Soo was relieved to finish his adjourned semifinal match quickly on the morning of day 7, winning the second game +20tp. After a short pause he and Essick started the final. Essick won the toss and chose to play first. He laid a supershot ball and Soo replied to just north of max distance on the east boundary. Essick hit dead center (rushing Soo’s ball straight down the yard-line to corner IV) and made a break of nine, finishing with his usual “three ducks in a row” leave along the max-distance line between 1 and 2. Soo hit from b-baulk, then made nine hoops and a spread. Essick shot from b-baulk and hit. With one peel done and the break under tight control, he failed a routine hoop 6, again showing the challenge of properly-set hoops in hard ground. Soo finished +10tp.

Soo chose a conventional east boundary opening for game 2, and Essick laid a standard tice on the west boundary, shorter than usual at about 11 yards. Soo joked that Essick’s plan was for Soo to hit the tice and make a leave so that Essick could hit and go round, and that is exactly what happened, Essick again hitting in from b-baulk. Soo missed Essick’s New Standard Leave and Essick finished +26tp.

Essick joked that since each of the first two games finished in six turns, perhaps he should choose to play second in the deciding game. But he chose first and played his usual supershot opening. Soo shot gently from corner I, missing. Essick shot gently and hit, but failed 1. Soo hit and got going, but failed 7. Essick went round and again made a New Standard Leave. Soo lifted his backward ball and shot from a-baulk, missing. Hoop 3/10 proved particularly unforgiving, rejecting Essick’s first two attempts to peel his partner ball. He finally peeled it straight, then pressed on with the straight triple attempt despite angled position at 11. His partner ball went through but the striker’s ball bounced out, and Essick finished his turn by scattering both balls to the boundary. Soo played his forward ball and made three hoops and a spread. For the first time all match, Essick missed a shot from b-baulk. But Soo failed 1, luckily ending in position and wired from Essick’s ball. Essick missed a shot at his partner ball in corner IV. Soo ran 1 up to his ball near 2, then rolled that ball to 3 while approaching Essick’s balls in corner IV. Despite a poor approach to 2 he ran the hoop, but hoop 3 again showed its teeth and rejected his hoop shot. Essick finished with one peel for a final score of -10tp, +26tp, +15.

Cumming won the singles Plate. The tournament was managed by Lyle Browning and directed by Jeff Soo.

—Jeff Soo, TD

Championship Singles
1. Matthew Essick
2. Jeff Soo
3. Zack Watson
3. Kyle Maloof
5. Brian Cumming
5. Stephen Morgan
5. Stuart Lawrence
5. Shane Hettler
9. Sherif Abdelwahab
9. Randy Cardo
9. Michael Albert
9. Macey White
13. Doug Grimsley
14. Rick Sheely
14. Gil Rocha
14. Jay Hughes
17. Gene Raymond
18. Jodie Rugart
18. Tom Cooper

First Flight Singles
1. Loretta Cooper
2. Arthur Olsen
3. Steve Thurston
4. Jon Spaulding
5. Rick Darnell
DNF Bo Prillaman

Championship Doubles
1. Sherif Abdelwahab & Stephen Morgan
2. David Maloof & Kyle Maloof
3. Matthew Essick & Zack Watson
4. Michael Albert & Shane Hettler
5. Brian Cumming & Doug Grimsley
6. Stuart Lawrence & Jeff Soo
7. Tom Cooper & Jay Hughes
8. Randy Cardo & Macey White
9. Gene Raymond & Jodie Rugart

First Flight Doubles

1. Arthur Olsen & Rick Darnell
2. Loretta Cooper & Steve Thurston
3. Dennis Leddy & Bo Prillaman
4. Gil Rocha & Jon Spaulding