Selection Eights Won by Brian Cumming
After playing in four so-called perfect games on Thursday I was geared up to make a nice run on Friday. Perfect as Association Croquet games go. All four games went 5, 6 or 7 turns and finished with a 26tp-0 score, I won two and my opponents won two. With a good night's sleep, proper physical and mental preparation, I was excited about my prospects. That was until I crossed the National Croquet Center parking lot, where I accidently stepped on the edge of a sidewalk curb and came crashing down, resulting in a mild knee abrasion and a severely sprained ankle.
I gave it the old college try, but without a good, steady, balanced long shot against the sharks you're nothing but bait. During the afternoon I kicked back, alternating between dipping my ankle in an ice bath and elevating it, as I contemplated how best to use my time during the remainder of my stay.
Since I participated in the first two Selection 8s and was absent from the last two, I had a good vantage point to properly observe and evaluate how far the Association game has progressed in North America over the last few years. Without a doubt the level of play in the four groups of 8 has ratcheted up several notches.
With three consecutive days of four untimed games and one day of two games and completion of any pegged-down games, the Selection 8s is a great test of mental and physical endurance. It's a shame that everyone on the Selection Committee isn't present to observe who is properly preparing for the National teams and who has the potential in the next couple of years; it would be eye opening.
My following comments are not about who won and who lost, but are intended to give an indication of the state of Association Croquet within the USCA.
Canadians Brian Cumming and Leo McBride appeared to be the best prepared as they dominated the early going. I thought the story of the first group was Doug Grimsley, who after losing 0-4 on the first day came back on the second to hand Brian and Leo their first losses on Friday and continued strong play through Sunday. Doug's performance was a testament to his experience, hard work and mental toughness and willingness to push the envelope. If he would toughen up physically he would be a pretty good player.
Jerry Stark, Jeff Soo and Rich Lamm (nursing his own injuries) continued to prove why they will stay at the top of the selectors' list. Ben Rothman, with youth on his side and already one of the better players in the USA, appears to have unlimited potential.
Superior knowledge and shot making sent Damon Bidencope to the top of this group and Bob Kroeger demonstrated the most consistent break play, while the always colorful Johnny Osborn used his vast repertoire of shots and creativity to chalk up his wins. Committing to the 3-ball ending during most of his games, Johnny spent much time learning the idiosyncrasies of one-legged association croquet.
Jim Bast, Stuart Lawrence and Ron Lloyd finished with even records of 7-7 but had opportunities to win nearly all their games. Stuart was willing to push his peeling breaks and it paid off as he led the group with 3 triple peels.
It's been a few years since I had seen Paul Billings play, and it was amazing how much he has elevated his game. Paul potentially can become one of the best players in the country during the next couple years. Mik Mehas struggled in the early going but showed flashes of good play the last two days.
Paul Emmett and George Cochran were difficult to beat. Paul's experience and George's dogged determination pulled out several wins. Johnny Mitchell, on the strength of two consecutive delayed triple peels, strung together several high-level wins. Eileen Soo and Steve Scalpone continue to improve and with more experience can consistently collect scalps from the so-called upper echelon.
Jim Butts and Russell Brown were able to grind out several wins and with a commitment to more aggressive play will start moving up the ranks. Ken Scoggins is the one player in this group who has virtually unlimited ability. If he determines to learn the Association game, you could see his name on the Selectors' list in short order.
I wasn't able to observe this group as much as the others, but it was no surprise that Tommy Harrington, Ed O'Laughlin and Dave Theiste were the class of the group. From casual observation, I say that Brad Mol potentially appears to be a star in the near future for the USA.