USCA 9W National Championship
August 24-27, 2023
Pulaski Park, Denver, CO
The USCA 9-wicket nationals were attended from a field of players from as far away as New York, Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona and Colorado. The tournament was played in Denver’s public Pulaski park. The grass was wickedly tall and uneven presenting the players a true challenge and prompting changes in their strategy.
The field was divided into six courts measuring 50x100 feet. Tables, tents and chairs were brought out of a rental truck each morning and setup by local club members from Denver. A special thanks goes out to Doug Moore for helping set wickets into the rocky mountain ground each morning and to Ron’s granddaughter Sydney who brought us lunch each day and helped with the dinners. I enjoyed the taco bar Friday night.
Two sets of rules were printed out and given to the players. The ‘options’ chosen to play by were directly incorporated into the rules allowing for an easier read. The field of players were broken evenly into two flights – championship and first flight. And the doubles teams were comprised from a mixture of both flights.
The championship players played with 9” boundary and carry over deadness while the first flight players played with a 36” boundary and no carry over deadness. The other main rule was that a ball had to score the first two wickets before being considered ‘in-the-game’ when players may take croquet from it. Thanks go to Todd Marshall for developing these two sets of rules. Ron is also working with Todd on an ‘Introductory’ set of rules that can be used for beginning players. Ron has taken over as the 9-wicket committee chairman.
Since all of the USCA certified referees were playing in the championship flight and since I made teams with players from both flights, I decided to make doubles play by the first flight set of rules. This would help the first flight players figure out how to play and strategize using these rules and prepare the referees in case they got called out to referee a shot during a game in the other flight.
We started with doubles in the morning and transitioned to singles in the afternoon and this format seemed enjoyable to everyone.
The hurricane that came up through California and parts of Arizona the prior week, dissipated and finally reformed in the northwest to bring us a good day of solid rain on Friday and predictions of continuing through Saturday. The tournament committee decided to push the schedule to completion on Friday and with a bit of re-organization, we started early on Friday and managed to finish shortly before the meal Friday night.
The players in the tournament came from a variety of locations and while some were well known repeats from the last few Nationals, others were complete unknowns. Judy McKeon is a long time Denver CC member, but I had not met Steven Berry or Todd Marshall.
Kabe Erkenbrack is an elementary principal from Evergreen CO and he could only play in the afternoons, thus was not able to play doubles. Kabe came in from school, dressed in long pants, which for the first two days was very hot. Played his 3 games and went back home for the evening. He entered the playoffs with one loss and prior to the finals Russ Dilley and I figured out “that he had played some croquet in college”. Indeed! He was on the 2014 St Johns croquet team.
Macey White from Virginia teamed up with John Warlick from West Palm Beach to defend their doubles championship from last year. While Doug Moore teamed up with his friend Lance Titus whom had never played this type of croquet before. They won their first game being the first team to 32 points and managed to squeak out a few more wins to qualify for the first flight doubles playoff.
In Championship doubles, Macey and John went up against the father and son team from Bowling Green, KY, - Dalton “Buck” Majors and his dad Howard. John and Macey won 22-16 in a final game that went to the 75 minute time limit.
In First Flight doubles, Lance Titus and Doug Moore went against Steven Berry and Jamie Grimm. Steven was filling in for Paul Bennett who got injured setting up equipment on Tuesday. Jamie and Steven led by narrow margins most of the game until Doug and Lance took control and did not look back 32-7.
In the semi-final of first flight, Dalton (the 4th seed) took out his father, then undefeated, 32-22. I overheard Howard comment that near the end of the match, he wanted to save his mallet for doubles.
This was actually a pretty reasonable thing to consider. The tournament took a toll on both mallets and the ‘Pro Baltz’ balls. The damage report at the award ceremony was 5 mallets and 14 balls – a new record!
Later in the day, Kabe played his semi-final match against Todd Marshall winning that game 25-14. This led up to the last game of the day, Kabe versus Dalton Majors. This game went to time while it continued to rain and temperatures plummeted. Kabe kept control throughout the game and won it 17-11. A couple of Kabe’s friends, along with Russ Dilley filming for you-tube were there watching the game. Dalton’s dad, Howard, was watching from inside the car.
Earlier in the day, Macey White defeated Bill Trower in the semi-finals in a very close game 19-14. In the other semis, Doug Moore took out John Warlick 32-21. Doug was runner-up last year and wanted to get even against Macey this year.
In the finals, the game was looking grim for Doug when Macey went to rover with his first ball, but black was well back and Doug managed to tighten up the match briefly taking a small lead. But Macey would not let yellow get clean and managed to gain a 1 point advantage in last turn 27-26.
Macey holds the Championship singles and the doubles (with John Warlick) 9-wicket title for 2023.
Congrats to Kabe Erkenbrack First Flight Singles and Doug Moore and Lance Titus First Flight Doubles.
As director and careful observer, I would recommend that Kabe, Dalton and Howard Majors all advance to play into the Championship flight next time we meet.
Postscript for rule committee considerations:
There were several instances of equipment failure. Though not specified in the rules, when a ball breaks, the striker should have the option to replay the shot with a new replacement ball or play the new ball from the place where the majority of the ball came to rest.
If the striker suspects that an improperly set wicket stopped their ball from clearing that wicket, they should summon a referee to inspect and reset the wicket if necessary. If the wicket is reset, then the striker may claim a replay shot.
The old option to stake out a rover ball is often used to prevent a run-away game. Whether any ball may stake out a rover, or whether only a rover ball may stake out a rover should be reconsidered.
Lawn conditions were brought to the attention of the tournament committee. Some wanted to specify a maximum length of grass, others wanted to know if the game could be played on short grass. No resolution or consensus was reached.
It was up to the players to determine what to do when their balls went into one of the several deep holes. Most agreed to play the ball from where it laid.
During the players’ meeting Tuesday night, it was agreed that a ball had been hit by the striker ball if that ball visibly moved. It did not matter if a tuft of grass was clearly stuck between the striker ball and the croqueted ball, it still was a hit when the croqueted ball moved. This makes sense. What was not made clear, was the situation where the striker ball caused the croquet ball to move due to a wicket moving it. Without an observant referee, that would be difficult to call and perhaps the same reasoning could be applied, if the ball moves then it was hit.
Paul (finger still on the heal)
1. Macey White
2. Doug Moore
3. John Warlick
4. Bill Trower
5. Gail Warlick
6. Ron Eccles
First Flight Singles
1. Kabe Erkenbrack
2. Dalton Major
3. Howard Major
3. Todd Marshall
5. Jamie Grimm
6. Lance Titus
7. Judy McKeon
1. John Warlick & Macey White
2. Dalton Major & Howard Major
3. Doug Moore & Lance Titus
4. Stephen Berry & Jamie Grimm
5. Gail Warlick & Todd Marshall
6. Bill Trower & Judy McKeon