Greenwich Invitational Won by Jane Simonds, and Mary Daly
24-28 June 2009
Croquet is that rare sport in which men and women compete directly against each other on an equal footing. It's taken as a given that men and women can play the game equally well. But the results of the 2009 Greenwich Invitational cast doubt on this theory. Twelve of the nineteen podium positions were claimed by women, including the top finish in every event: seven first-place trophies went to women, none to men. Vae victis: perhaps next year the men will be given their own division so that they, too, can have a chance at winning a prize.
The twentieth annual tournament was held at three venues: Bruce Park, the Field Club, and Bayberry (Bill and Marjorie Campbell's court). Players gathered Wednesday morning at the Field Club for the opening meeting, schedule handout, and breakfast. With forty-five players the field was a bit smaller than usual, but in a year where tournament entries are down across the country this was a solid turnout. Hardly a fluke, this was the result of a determined recruiting effort by the Greenwich Croquet Club, as well as the tournament's well-deserved reputation for featuring an elegant party every night.
Wednesday play was all doubles, Waterford (i.e., a new partner in every game) format. First Flight, with eight players in doubles, played four relaxed rounds of single-banked games at Bruce Park. Cynnie Cagney, Conrad Rugart, and John Hoffman each won three of four games. Play finished ahead of schedule and without too much interruption from the occasional rain.
The Field Club was a different story. With more players, more rounds scheduled, and some double-banking, play continued into the later afternoon, when the rain began in earnest. Players continued gamely on despite the increasingly soggy lawns, and all scheduled games were completed. Callie Cagney set the pace in Second Flight doubles, winning all four of her games. Betsy Atkins and Suzanne Spangenberg were just behind on three wins in four games. In Championship doubles Mary Daly started with four straight wins, and several players were 3/4: Peter Just, Tom Krause, Paul Phoenix, and Bill Hamilton. There's nothing like a little adversity for bringing people together, and once dried out and cleaned up players and guests were happily exchanging war stories over cocktails and dinner at the Field Club. The evening did feature a more serious moment, to commemorate Ted Fuller. Ninety-two years old, a stalwart and enthusiastic GCC member, and planning to play in the tournament, he unexpectedly passed away the prior weekend.
Singles play began Thursday. Championship flight had fifteen players, each playing six games in a single incomplete block. Mike Gibbons, Rufus Bayard, and Jane Simonds led the day's tally, each scoring three wins in three games. The First Flight singles schedule, rewritten after a withdrawal Wednesday morning, had nine players in an incomplete block. Gerry Dolezar went two for two to lead the early going. Second Flight, with only six players in singles, were scheduled for a standard block. They played out the block at Bruce Park, all games single-banked. Top seeds Suzanne Spangenberg and Blair Stuart each started 3/3. Thursday's evening gathering, billed as a Toast and Tally but including a light dinner, was hosted by Em Toohey at her home near the Field Club.
In what has been an extraordinarily wet season in New England the impression is that there have never been two successive days without rain, and afternoon thunderstorms continued this trend on Friday. Bruce Park was again least affected, play scheduled to finish earlier and with games single-banked. Fortunately at the Field Club players pushed the schedule to take advantage of some free game slots early in the day, leaving just two games still in play when the players were finally forced to stop due to lightning and flooded lawns. Friday play was primarily singles, finishing out the Second Flight block and most of First and Championship flights.
Second Flight went close to seeding, the only departure being the strong performance of twenty-four-year-old Callie Cagney, playing in her first singles touranment. She won three of five games to earn second place in the single-life knockout. Semi-final pairings would be Blair Stuart, undefeated, against Bobbi Shorthouse, and Cagney vs. Spangenberg.
In First Flight, Jodie Rugart ended Gerry Dolezar's undefeated run in Friday's last round, leaving Dolezar tied with Jerry Luecke on 4/5 with one round to play Saturday. In Championship singles Ben Morehead finished the block strongly to claim top seeding on 5/6, +75. Simonds and Bayard also finished on 5/6. Krause, Gibbons, and Peter Just secured playoff spots with 4/6, while Mike Zuro and John Curington, on the bubble at 3/3, would have to wait for the pegged-down games to finish before learning their fate. Cocktails and dinner at the home of Chris and Sarah Fey rounded out the day.
On Saturday the Field Club lawns were reclaimed for tennis, Championship and First flights crowding together at Bruce Park while Second Flight borrowed a half court from Bob Kroeger's Training Flight at Bayberry. Peter Grey won his pegged-down singles game to earn the final playoff spot, bumping Curington off the bubble. Championship ladder pairings: Morehead vs. Grey, Just vs. Gibbons, Bayard vs. Krause, and Simonds vs. Zuro.
First Flight doubles played its final round during Saturday's first game period. The key game was Cynnie Cagney and Pat Colt vs. Conrad Rugart and Jerry Luecke: Cagney and Rugart each had three wins and strong net points, and this game would determine the overall winner. Cagney and Colt won 16-14 to give Cagney first place. Meanwhile, a 22-10 win by Nancy Reynolds and Jodie Rugart over John Hoffman and Charlotte Hapak gave Jodie Rugart three wins and enough net points to overtake her husband for second place overall.
Each player in Championship doubles had two games Saturday. Daly continued her unbeaten streak to leave no doubt about first place. Krause also won his final two to earn second place on 5/6. Bill Hamilton and Bill Campbell each finished with four wins, Hamilton claiming third place on net points.
Two partial rounds of First Flight singles set the playoff pairings: Dolezar vs. Luecke and Jodie Rugart vs. Cynnie Cagney. Luecke and Cagney each won to advance to Sunday's final. Championship quarterfinals saw Just, Bayard, Simonds, and Grey advancing, the latter pulling off an upset against the top-seeded Morehead with a late-game comeback. Grey was faced with the need for a similar comeback against Just, but this time was too little too late, sending Just to the final against Simonds, 15-14 winner over Bayard.
Second Flight started the day with two games each of doubles. Callie Cagney and Suzanne Spangenberg each won their games, giving Cagney a perfect 6/6 and Spangenberg second place on 5/6. Betsy Atkins finished third on 3/3, edging out Augusta von Heisermann on net points. Spangenberg beat Cagney in the singles semi-finals, advancing to the final against the still-undefeated Blair Stuart. Saturday night's gathering was a poolside lobster bake at the Campbells'.
Saturday's weather was perfect, so would Sunday continue the pattern of alternate days of bad weather? Fortunately not -- it was another perfect day, sunny with a light breeze. Stuart and Spangenberg opened the program with the Second Flight final, a characteristically back-and-forth game with interesting deadness situations and tough shots made and missed. Stuart pulled away at the end to win 17-14.
The First Flight final, Luecke vs. Cynnie Cagney, featured some good aggressive attacks and some short three-ball breaks. Nervousness probably contributed to a few mental errors and missed shots. As in their block match, Cagney came from behind with a three-ball break in the final minutes, ending with a defensive play in last turns to seal a one-point lead, 17-16.
While the spectators enjoyed steaks and salmon grilled by the exuberant John O'Grady, the Championship final got underway. After some two-balling and positional play Just had the first attack, but a hampered shot left him with a less-than-ideal leave. His break failed leaving Just with significant deadness. A few turns later Just was six-ball dead with both balls for #4; Simonds two-balled around to 1-back while Just set up or took long shots at the hoop, several of them hitting the hoop but bouncing off. Simonds peeled and ran 1-back with a chance at a three-ball break, but declined a difficult cut rush to 2-back, allowing Just to clear both balls. When Simonds failed 2-back on a two-ball break, Just attacked with yellow to set red. Simonds shot and missed, and with time running down Just played his break through penultimate to tie the game. Unfortunately for Just, he forgot about yellow's deadness and made no attempt to peel or position it. He learned his mistake before playing yellow and attempted the long hoop shot, but this missed and Simonds had an easy play to score the go-ahead point and close out the match 15-14.
After four days of alternately bad and good weather, the hope is that Sunday will break the trend. Today was brilliant, going far to make up for dismally wet Wednesday and major thunderstorms on Friday.
Waterford Doubles are finished. Mary Daly was undefeated in winning Championship Flight. Cynnie Cagney led First Flight with 4/5 wins. Cynnie's daughter Callie Cagney was undefeated in winning Second Flight.
Bob Kroeger's Training Flight, an important recruiting tool for the Greenwich Croquet Club, is also finished. Today there was an informal mini-tournament, won by Pam Marshall with three wins in three games.
So it's down to the singles finals in the three tournament flights for Sunday. These will be single-banked, one after another, on the Campbell's court. Play will kick off at 8:10 with the Second Flight final, Blair Stuart vs. Suzanne Spangenberg. First Flight follows at 9:40, Jerry Luecke vs. Cynnie Cagney. Then Championship at 11:10, Peter Just vs. Jane Simonds.
The 20th annual Greenwich Croquet Club Invitational is in full swing at three venues. Bob Kroeger runs the Training Flight through their paces at Bayberry, whilst the three tournament flights alternate between Bruce Park and the Field Club. Day 1 soggy; day 2 brilliant.
Wednesday was Waterford doubles. In Championship flight, Mary Daly set the pace with four wins in four games. In First flight, Cynnie Cagney, Conrad Rugart, and John Hoffman are tied on 3/4. Second flight has Suzanne Spangenberg and Callie Cagney tied on 3/3.
Singles today. In Championship, with 15 players to play an incomplete block of 6 rounds, three players are on 3/3: Mike Gibbons, Jane Simonds, and Rufus Bayard. Interestingly, none of the three were to be seen slogging on the sponge that was the Field Club lawn yesterday; all are playing singles only. Gerry Dolezar is the lone undefeated player in First flight singles, with 2/2. Second Flight has Blair Stuart and Suzanne Spangenberg leading on 3/3.