“Man, you guys are tougher than the N.F.L.”
—Bearded man in a 4x4 that stopped and watched a bit of the championship action from his truck.
COLORADO GOES TO TIEBREAKER TO CLAIM QUAD TITLE
The States Shield once again delivered drama on an epic scale as Colorado pulled off an improbable comeback from a 3-0 deficit to steal the Central Quad title from Missouri by a 6-5 score this past Sunday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The entire Central Quad event which started on Friday, June 21, with a practice day and ran through Sunday, June 23, shaped up to be a somewhat casual event as the home of the Tulsa Croquet Club at LaFortune Park offered four courts for convenient scheduling. In fact, the semifinal tests were concluded by noon on Saturday. With the forecast showing spots of rain, Colorado and Missouri worked to get in a few extra games to speed along the Sunday schedule. As it worked out, Missouri jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead. At that included a 7-6 win by Missouri’s #2, Stephen Jackson over Colorado #1 Ron Eccles.
The rains did come on Sunday morning and that threw off our set up crew which was already struggling with a missing clamp. The hard rains flooded the lower courts, but we adjusted and made the executive decision to move to the higher court area that had no standing water.
Still, as the court setup concluded, the rain continued to pour down ranging from steady to hard and the official start of 8:30 a.m. slipped by. Missouri Team Director Matt Smith conferred with Steve Berry from Colorado (presumably he drew the short straw to exit the dry car to join the crew under the light protection of the pavillion). At that time the Colorado players seemed to be considering a forfeit. Berry jumped back in the car and several minutes later the Colorado players began filtering out of the car and strapped on rain gear if available and dumped out umbrellas. Their enthusiasm was minimal and the story later slipped out that it was team director, Judy McKeon, that said, “Get out the car and go play.”
The two games that plowed through some of the hardest rain to start off the day featured John Steninger (CO #2) against Jackson (MO #2) and Eccles (CO #1) against Ron Millican (MO #3). Both games were battles and Millican almost picked up the fourth win for Missouri, but Eccles survived 7-6, while Steninger won the 2 v 2 against Jackson 7-5.
So now, the test was 3-2 and the concept of a forfeit was long forgotten. Matt Smith (MO #1) then took on #2 Steninger and that really put things asunder as Steninger emerged with a 7-4 victory to get the test to 3-3. In the meantime, Millican and Berry went into a hardcore wicket-by-wicket battle in the 3 v 3 game. It drew out so long that the 1 v matchup started and finished with Smith winning 7-3 to put Missouri up 4-3. Back in the Berry vs Millican matchup though, Berry came through for Colorado at the 13th hoop and tied the test at 4-4.
That left the 2 v 3 matchups to determine whether or not the test would go to the extra doubles tiebreaker. Jackson (MO #2) and Berry (CO #3) played a tight game while Millican looked to be playing solid against Steninger who was thus far undefeated in singles for the weekend. It was looking like Jackson might be playing for the test win for Missouri. Steninger settled in though and took a 7-5 win that put Jackson in a “win to stay alive” situation. The veteran delivered at the 13th hoop and the 5-5 tie put the if-need, extra doubles game into the mix.
States Shield regulations mandate a line-up change from the opening doubles match of the test for the tiebreaker. Colorado chose to go with Steninger and Berry and while Missouri matched up with Smith and Millican. As the decider rolled out, each hoop was fiercely contested, but they kept going Colorado’s way and took the first three hoops and then worked out to 4-1. The Missouri duo battled, but Colorado methodically finished off the game 7-1 to claim the Central Quad title and a berth in the States Shield Championship to be held on the same courts August 16-18.
Steninger with a 6-0 singles record and a 2-1 doubles record was clearly the MVP of the weekend and McKeon surely has a shot at team director of the year for basically pushing her team out onto the courts into the rain.
SEMIFINAL RECAP: COLORADO 6, OKLAHOMA 4
As a player/TD for Kansas, I did not see much of the Colorado vs Oklahoma test but I did get to see a bit of the final game. Essentially, the theme of this test is that John Steninger and Colorado’s #2 emerged as a force with a 3-0 record. Oklahoma on the other hand had strong peformances from Suzanne Spradling (#2) and Carl Archiniaco (#3) both went 2-1. In fact, Spradling took Steninger to the 13th hoop in her only loss and also pitched a shutout against Steve Berry. Archiniaco’s only loss was also a 7-6 heartbreaker against Steninger that sealed the win for Colorado.
SEMIFINAL RECAP: MISSOURI 7, KANSAS 3
For my Kansas team, we weren’t able to improve on previous win totals, but we felt like we made some overall progress. We had a good battle going in the opening doubles games, but Jackson made a jump hoop midway that got the momentum on Missouri’s side and they won the opener 7-5. Jackson then beat Kansas newcomer Greg Clouse 7-3 in the 2-2 matchup, while Justin Marcinak (KS #3) lost to Missouri #1 Matt Smith by the same score. I had to comeback in my game in the 1 vs 3 matchup over Ron Millican for 7-5 win, but Missouri already had a strong 3-1 win at the end of two rounds. As the Kansas #2 Clouse has strong game against Smith, but fell 7-5. Clouse did claim his first win in Shield play with a 7-4 win over Ron Millican in the final round.
Oklahoma’s Doug Ledgett went 0-3 in the Shield main event, but reversed that trend in the plate event that was held Saturday afternoon. The event was for alternates and players on teams that had been eliminated in round one. After a 7-3 win in round one against Missouri alternate Wanda Jackson, he squared off against Oklahoma teammate Spradling in the semifinals and survived 7-6. I had been working the other side of the bracket and met Ledgett in the final, where we played during the hottest part of the day. It was a good battle, but Ledgett was stronger on hoop shots and took a 7-6 win to claim the plate.
- Missouri is now 5-2 in tests since the start of Shield play in 2016. Colorado is 3-1, Oklahoma is 2-2 and Kansas is 0-5.
- Team Colorado was generous enough to host a happy hour at their AIRbnb near the courts on the Friday evening to open the event.
- Joe Steiner and the Tulsa Croquet Club provided all the equipment for the event and had the courts marked up for us in advance.
- Suzanne Spradling acted as social director and coordinated the Saturday night team dinner and also made an important coffee run with Judy McKeon on Sunday morning as the temperature turned a bit chilly in the rain.
- Doug Ledgett and Stephen Jackson acted as the official player referees at the event.
- Matt Smith, Justin Marciniak and Doug Ledgett all worked hard on setup and teardown each day.