Written by: Liam Watts / Photo by: Ashlyen Fisher
While many people have played some variation of croquet in their backyard on a beautiful sunny day, very few would ever think to play on a collegiate level, and even fewer would dedicate the time required to compete for the national championship. This year, on the first weekend of April, nine Oklahoma Wesleyan students and their beloved coach played at the Merion Country Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to do just that: become national champions. Sending four doubles teams, (Jake Campbell playing with Ryan Rimmer, Kena Haley with Natalie Church, Liam Watts with Matthew Greenwood, and Ashlyen Fisher with Paige Bostwick, in addition to Matthew Feistner who played solo) securing a national championship was not going to be easy. Especially challenging, facing off against schools such as Pennsylvania State University and the Naval Academy who sent as many as thirteen teams would be no walk in the park. Additionally, the lineup of this year’s OKWU roster was nearly fully comprised of new players in their first season of croquet. Yet, these students battled hard with most making it into at least the top sixteen leading to a close and decisive championship.
The first day of competition consisted in all the teams being divided into groups of six called pools. Each team was then responsible for playing all the other teams in their pool. The teams with the best records in pools, which are the number of wins with point differentials being used for ties, would advance to the next day and playoffs. Unfortunately, due to terribly bad luck, many of OKWU’s teams ended up facing off against one another in pools. Commenting on this situation, Paige told us that “I was mad! Out of everyone there, I immediately had to play my teammates. At least it was a way to warm up to competition in a less stressful way.” It’s been a dark tradition that OKWU teams have often been forced to eliminate their own. However, this year, despite finding themselves in the same pools, all but one of our teams managed to advance from this stage to the next day of competition by means of their grit, determination, and skill. This left OKWU as four of the top sixteen teams in the playoffs on the final day.
On the last day of the competition, the OKWU teams remaining were Jake and Ryan, Kena and Natalie, Liam and Matt G., with the addition of Matt F. playing by himself. After a tough first round, only Jake and Ryan advanced through to the quarterfinals. The other OKWU teams fought hard, but the competition was fierce. Kena recounted her feelings on the experience: “I was a little disappointed when we lost our game on Sunday, but I was more disappointed with myself and how I played. I knew the game was going to be tough, but I made it harder on myself by messing up easy moves. Even though we lost in the first round of the Sweet Sixteen, I accomplished what I came to do, [which was] making it into one of the top listings. It was exciting to be able to watch everyone play and the different techniques that people use. I am looking forward to going back next year and placing even higher.”
Moving on to the quarterfinals, Jake and Ryan played a commanding match, never losing their lead before completely running away with it with a score of 7-4. This brought them all the way to the semi-finals. Here they played a close game. Unfortunately, despite their best effort, they lost. This left themselves, and OKWU, with a third-place finish.
Of course, when they weren’t competing, the OKWU croquet team made sure to enjoy their time in Philadelphia. Between visiting historic sites such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Valley Forge National park, and the Old City, there was plenty to see and do. In addition to exploring Philadelphia, a number of students also took the drive up to New York City. While there, they rode the Staten Island Ferry, saw the Empire State Building, visited Time Square, and so much more. Ashlyen said her favorite part of the experience was “exploring a new city with people I would not normally experience those kinds of things with.”
Overall, OKWU’s croquet team had a great time competing and spending time with one another. Visiting historical sites, playing croquet, and eating great food were the highlights of the experience. After this long competition, they claimed their third-place spot proudly. However, they’re ready to come back even better next year.