Croquet Wins National Title
Silence reigned on the 84-by-105 foot course as the clock ticked into the last few minutes of the hour-limit. Four players, numerous teammates, and two anxious coaches murmured an occasional "Good shot" before huddling to plan the next move.
At such a scene last Saturday the Harvard croquet team broke a three-year Yale win streak to gain a 10-4 victory in the United States Croquet Association Tournament.
The championship finals were held in Southampton, Long Island, N.Y., as a culmination to the 1991-92 croquet season.
This is Harvard's first national croquet title.
The four-man winning Harvard team consisted of junior Ned Banno, sophomore Ryan Berglun, senior Ian Henderson and junior Lawrence Nottenboh.
The team qualified with its 2-0 record in the 1991-92 season. However, because of the scheduling of the finals in the 1992-93 school year, the team that qualified was different from the team that played for the title.
In fact, Bannon was the only returning player. His teammates practiced together for the first time in the 30 minutes preceding the championship round.
"We were a ragamuffin band," Harvard Coach Albert Myer says, "and we were up against this formidable, organized team...with a coach, an assistant coach, uniforms, eight or nine players and managers. And we won."
Unlike most of the teams that tried to qualify and compete in the finals last weekend, Harvard's croquet crew has club sport status at the University, meaning less funding and support for the players.
Despite this setback, Harvard's program has existed on and off for the last few decades--steadily over the last three years.
How did Harvard overcome these seemingly insurmountable challenges to win it all?
Bannon thinks he knows: "Superior athletic prowess," says the former soccer player. "We were athletes, and more of a team. We had a lot of experience playing sports--team sports."
Myer attributes the success to good planning. He explains the state of deadness, in which a player is not allowed to hit certain balls with his own.
In doubles collegiate croquet--the kind played in the championships--four players wielding mallets each control a ball of a different color.
To score points, each player makes his way through a six-wicket (hoop) course twice with the possibility of scoring 13 points--one per wicket and one extra point for hitting a central pin at the end.
Players can strike other balls but must pass a wicket within the next two shots. If they do not, the ball they hit is considered dead and cannot be struck again until the player scores a point.
"Both teams experienced deadness problems, but whoever gets through the wicket faster gains an advantage--and that's what we did," Meyer says.
In the championship game, Nottenbohm was the high shooter. Nottenbohn credited this to a year of croquet experience while he was attending school in England.
Harvard and Yale meet again in a croquet match the day before the Harvard-Yale football game. Until then, Myer wants people to perceive croquet as "a very sophisticated, very challenging game. Large mallets, narrow wickets. It's an orderly, strategic game."
Bannon is more direct: "It's not a joking sport."