This year, the NZ U-21 Champs were held at United in Christchurch over four days. The first six hours of day 1 were set aside for coaching over 30 youngsters with Greg Bryant, Jarrod Coutts and Phillip Drew being lead coaches. At 3pm, the doubles event started with 40 players ranging from 13 to 20 years of age. The lawns were playing in excess of 12 seconds and with fresh hoop holes and temperatures approaching 30 degrees, the conditions were challenging. The youngsters adapted well and history shows that playing in difficult conditions early on in your croquet life can be a big advantage.
In one semi-final, Felix Webby, partnering Alex Bennett, twice ran hoop 13 from the boundary to beat Lachy Hughes and Charlie Sharpe (Aus) 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. Chris Spittal and Kaleb Small from Mt. Hutt School had an easier win in the other semi 7-3, 7-6 against Jeff Gatchell and Jason Hodgett. Throughout the event, Spittal and Small showed balanced tactical decision making and good positional skills.
The final was another nail-biter, going to the deciding third game. Chris and Kaleb led 6-4, but Alex was the one to run a short hoop 13 to win the Championship.
The singles started on day 3 with 37 players. Te Kiri King and Seth Garrison both performed better than their handicaps to qualify for the knockout where the semi-finalists were Felix Webby playing Kaleb Small and Charlie Sharpe (Aus) playing Edmund Fordyce. Kaleb continued his good form to become the first player to take a game off Felix whilst Edmund won in two close games against Charlie. We therefore had the expected top two seeds reach the final – the U21 World Champion against the NZ Open Champion. Most spectators thought Felix was favourite, despite the fact that Edmund had not dropped a game in the singles and it appeared that they were correct as a one sided first game went to Felix 7-1 who ran 3 and 4 in the same stroke.
The rest of the match saw Edmund produce a much higher level of shooting with both players struggling with some positional shots despite slower lawns due to cooler conditions. Edmund won the remaining two games 7-5, 7-2 to add the U21 title to his National one.
Grace Mohi beat Paul Kaiser in the Plate final and Ellie Ross who finished 5th is a player I expect to represent NZ teams in the future.
The entire 4 days were played in good spirit. Thanks very much to everyone who made this great event possible.