2019 USCA National Association Croquet Championships
March 24–30, Venice, Florida
For complete scores see the croquetscores.com listing for the tournament.
Morgan wins singles, doubles with Abdelwahab
The USCA’s national championships of Association Croquet (AC) was held at the Sarasota County Croquet Club in Venice, Florida. With five full-size courts and tremendous volunteer support, SCCC is an excellent base for a smaller national event.
Stephen Morgan and Sherif Abdelwahab won Championship Doubles, beating Brian Cumming and Doug Grimsley +17, +26. Morgan then won the singles, beating Zack Watson +17tp, -25tp, +25tp. Having won both events in 2017, Morgan becomes the second player, joining Ben Rothman, with two singles-doubles sweeps at this tournament.
Day 1 was devoted to doubles. Championship Doubles was played as a straight best-of-three knockout. The draw was prepared British Open style, seeding the top four pairs into separate quarters, drawing the remaining six pairs randomly, and arranging the byes so that all ten pairs could begin play at once. All four of the seeded pairs advanced to the semifinals.
First Flight Doubles, with six pairs, played a complete block with no playoff. Two pairs started 2-0: Dawn Jupin & Lynda Sudderberg, and Gene Raymond & Arthur Olsen.
Singles block play was the order of business for most of the next three days. Championship Flight had three blocks of eight, the top four plus any ties advancing from each block to the best-of-three knockout. First Flight had one block of eight, the top four advancing to a single-game knockout.
Despite the usual run of upsets the Championship blocks mainly finished with the top four seeds in each block qualifying to the Knockout. The pattern continued into the Knockout, with one notable exception: Zack Watson. Thirty-two years old, Watson has played one or two AC tournaments a year for the past several years, and was playing in his first national championship. His outstanding single-ball skills and improving management of breaks and peeling were good enough for a 6-1 block record, followed by upset 2-0 wins over David Maloof, Doug Grimsley, and Jeff Soo, earning him a spot in the final.
On the other side of the draw, Stephen Morgan earned a bye to the quarterfinals, where he survived a tough match against Stuart Lawrence. His semifinal against Matthew Essick was one of the highlights of the week: the pair split the opening games, then Essick opted for the “New Zealand TPO” (i.e., a break to 1-back, then a TPO and peg-out of both rover balls) in game 3. Morgan tied the game with a two-ball break from 4 to 2-back, then won by finishing from 3-back.
In First Flight Singles, Lynda Sudderberg’s excellent hit-ins and hoop-running gave her top seeding in the knockout with a 7-0 block record. Another solid win, against Jodie Rugart, put her in the final. The other semi-final featured Virginia player Lee Jorde and SCCC local Roni Brazell, both with steady 5-2 block records. Jorde won 9-8. The final was another one-point game, both players having chances at the end. Jorde survived Sudderberg’s late attack to win 10-9.
First Flight Doubles played their final three rounds on Thursday and Friday. Sudderberg and her partner Dawn Jupin went undefeated through the block to take the title. They narrowly avoided a net-points tiebreak by beating Jodie Rugart & Sandy Knuth 15-14 in the Friday morning round.
Both of the Championship Doubles semi-finals went to a third game. Maloof and Soo had chances to take the match in game 2 against Brian Cumming and Doug Grimsley, Soo making good progress in the one-on-two ending after a Grimsley TPO. But Cumming tied the game with time winding down, allowing Grimsley to win by pegging out. Game 2 having gone to time, game 3 had a two-hour time limit, Cumming and Grimsley winning 15-12. Essick and Lawrence took the first game against Morgan and his partner Sherif Abdelwahab, but the latter pair equalized 26-20 and then closed out the match with the same score in game 3.
With Morgan in both finals, the doubles final was started as soon as all players were available on Friday afternoon. Morgan and Abdelwahab took the back-and-forth game 1 26-9, then wrapped up the match and title 26-0 in game 2. This is their second national doubles title as a team, having won the 2017 GC national doubles; they are the only pair to have won both titles. It is Abdelwahab’s 10th national doubles title, and the second AC national doubles title for each player.
Watson started the Championship Singles final with a Supershot ball nearly peg high, to which Morgan responded with a ball just outside corner IV. Watson shot at this ball and missed, leaving a double target which Morgan hit on turn 4. He made a routine break to 4-back, but after failing to wire Watson’s balls across the peg for a Spread leave, he opted to join wide on the east boundary. Watson made a double target by playing his lift shot from just outside corner III, missing into corner IV. Morgan took the five-yard shot at Watson’s ball in the corner but missed, and Watson parlayed this into a nine-hoop break, ending with a Spread. Morgan took the more defensive lift shot from corner III, hitting, and took game 1 +17tp.
Morgan started game 2 with a standard ball to the east boundary, albeit a little farther north than most players prefer, possibly anticipating a corner II response, which is just what Watson chose. Morgan then shot down the east boundary at his partner ball, missing into corner IV. Watson shot at partner and missed, and Morgan hit the 12-yard shot back up the line. He took off to Watson’s balls in corner II, but his rush to hoop 1 came up short, as did his take-off to position, so he retreated to the east boundary. Watson played the ball near hoop 1 into corner IV. Morgan went to that ball and rolled to excellent position at hoop 1. After scoring the hoop, he rolled Watson’s ball to 3 while approaching the ball near corner II, nearly going out of bounds. His reverse take-off to hoop 2 came up just short, and he returned to his partner ball near corner IV.
Watson took on the 35-yard double target from the boundary north of 2 to Morgan’s balls in corner IV, hitting. He went round to 4-back with a tidy Spread leave. Morgan again took the more defensive lift shot down the east boundary, missing into corner IV. Watson’s delayed triple peel was made easier after an excellent rush from 2-back to peeling position at penult, and he equalized the match with his +25tp win.
In the deciding game Watson chose the standard east-boundary opening, and Morgan replied to corner II. The first roquet came on turn 5, Watson scoring 1, and then approaching the corner II ball with a roll shot, his ball stopping just short of the boundary in an uncanny echo of Morgan’s shot in game 2. His take-off to position was a little short. He tried a hard flat shot at the hoop, which failed, ending with the ball just encroaching on the jaws of the hoop.
Morgan took the 22-yard shot from near corner II to his partner ball at hoop 3, hitting center ball. He took off to Watson’s ball near corner IV, rolling out to hoop 1 but coming up short, and retreating to partner. Watson cornered and Morgan cut partner to the north boundary, then rolled to the ball in 2. He came up a bit short and had a three-yard shot at a very small target, which he played perfectly, rushing Watson’s ball nearly to corner I. After a good roll-up to the hoop he had a routine break to 4-back, finishing with a Spread.
Watson declined the lift, taking on the twenty-some yard double target at Morgan’s balls. This missed, giving Morgan an immediate four-ball break to win the match. He opted for a short pivot position at 2 to aid in getting partner to peeling position, but sent it too far; now the turn would be a delayed triple-peel attempt. He survived some imprecise play around hoop 6 to get the first peel, and was well back on track in time for a penult peel before 4-back. The finish looked in doubt when he could only get partner to within 4 yards of rover before scoring penult, but the match was effectively over once he rushed partner to trivial peeling position, less than a foot out from the hoop. Morgan now has six national titles, four in AC and two in GC.
The event was managed with an all-volunteer crew. This included a large and dedicated cadre from the host club, setting up the courts to championship specification each day and keeping the players and guests fed and watered throughout the week. Club President Hans Peterson was the Tournament Manager; Jeff and Eileen Soo were the co-Tournament Directors.
Championship Singles Plate
First Flight Singles
First Flight Singles Plate
First Flight Doubles