On April 16 and 17, the New Paltz Extreme Croquet Society was one of eight teams to compete in the 2011 USCA National Collegiate Championship held at Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, Pa.
Despite it being New Paltz’s fourth year attending the national tournament, the team was able to place first in six wicket, breaking St. John’s College’s seven-year winning streak and also placing third in golf.
Approximately 80 players competed in the National Championship this year. While many teams prepared rigorously for this year’s competition, no amount of practice could prepare the players for the extreme conditions on Saturday, April 16, making it even more difficult to make it into the final ladder.
Through the rain, each school put at least one team in the golf finals. In six wicket, four SUNY New Paltz and four St. John’s teams qualified for the finals.
With clear skies opening on Sunday morning, the tension was high.
“They [New Paltz] were impressive,” said John Fleming, St. John’s future captain. “They brought a big team again this year and have four teams in the [six wicket] finals. I’m very excited to see what happens.”
SUNY New Paltz, who brought 28 teammates last year, also brought a large team to the Collegiate Championship.
“Our spring 2011 roster is the largest it’s ever been at 40 players,” said Francis Palasieski, co-president of the New Paltz Extreme Croquet Society. “Normally being a club sport we invite all of our members to play at Merion. This year though, with the college division growing, we were capped at 24 players.”
Despite having many players and much preparation, both schools felt affected by the horrid weather on April 16, altering many players’ performances. New Paltz, which is known for playing in extreme conditions, had the advantage.
“I think the rain definitely helped us,” said Palasieski. “I was in the rain five days leading up to the tournament. The team itself always plays in bad weather.”
Anne Morris, chairman of the USCA Collegiate Division, viewed the rain positively.
“I actually like playing in the rain. I think it’s a great equalizer. The best teams will be able to work through it.”
Morris’ sentiment proved true when New Paltz and St. John’s were found to be the only teams in the six wicket finals. By the end of the day, everyone crowded around to watch the final game between New Paltz’s co-presidents Palasieski and Tim Mullen and St. John’s Stephen Monteiro and Linus Feder. While New Paltz started out strong in the lead, Feder made an astonishing comeback, but it was not enough. In the end, the New Paltz team flooded the field to tackle their two co-presidents who had just earned them the national title in six wicket, shattering St. John’s seven-year legacy.
“Our strategy was to play it safe and wait for the other team to make the first move,” said Palasieski.
Morris recognized New Paltz as a force to be reckoned with.
“New Paltz and St. John’s is the new rivalry. I think New Paltz will be the next big team. They are such a community. They do almost everything together. I really think they will be successful,” she said.