Query: Which Oklahoma Wesleyan University sports program has won more national championships than all the others — combined.
Answer: Croquet, baby.
The mallet-and-strike crew recently brought home its fifth national title from Haverford, Penn., in a field that included teams from some of the nation’s most prestigious schools, such as the US Naval Academy, Penn State and others.
OKWU began its national supremacy in croquet in 2011, followed by titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
In 2018, the Eagles qualified five two-person teams for the Sweet 16. OKWU went on to qualify a team or two for the Final Four but just missed out on another national pennant.
The sport was circumvented in both 2020 and 2021 due to the virus-related spring sports shutdown nationwide and its aftermath for the following several months.
But, led by veteran head coach Wendell Thompson, a former OKWU librarian and nationally-prominent croquet player himself, the school began competition again in 2021.
This year, it returns back to the top of the mountain during the tourney late in April in Pennsylvania, at the legendary Merion Cricket Club, the site of OKWU’s other national triumphs.
The teams were placed in blocks of seven, with each team playing six 50-minute qualifying games in order to advance to the next round on the playoff ladder.
Thompson entered three women’s twosomes and two men’s twosomes. OKWU could have brought as many as 12 two-person teams, but funds were a consideration, Thompson said.
As it turned out, OKWU’s relatively small group boasted a powerful punch — all five OKWU teams landed in the Elite Eight.
The OKWU duos, listed by their seed in the Elite Eight, were: No. 1 Raelyn Gabrel and Leina Casimer, No. 2 Samuel McGlathery and Stanley Fisher, No. 3 Alex Worley and Vanessa Fernandez, No. 4 Cade McGlathery and Andrew Williamson, and No. 5 Morgan Lane/Victoria Sparks.
During the Elite Eight competition, four of the OKWU teams won — which guaranteed the school a national title.
OKWU Elite Eight winners were: Gabrel/Casimer beating Penn State, 7-1; S. McGlathery/Fisher beating Navy, 7-3; Worley/Fernandez beating Penn State, 7-6; and C. McGlathery/Williamson beating teammates Lane/Sparks, 7-3.
The four Elite Eight winners went to the Final Four.
Results included Gabrel/Casimer beating C. McGlathery/Williams, 7-5; and Worley/Fernandez beating S. McGlathery/Fisher, 5-4.
That set up an all-OKWU championship final.
Gabrel/Casimer claimed the crown by outlasting Worley/Fernandez, 4-3.
OKWU toted home the coveted Team Trophy as the National Collegiate Golf Croquet champions.
“The weather was good,” Thompson said about the weekend.
There were some clouds and sprinkles on Saturday, but the temperature went into the 70’s on Sunday as the sun shone and the wind remained calm.
“The (teams) received light facial sunburns,” Thompson said.
One of the highlights included a double wicket shot by Williamson and a six-foot jump shot by Cade McGlathery, Thompson said, adding all his players succeeded with jump shots.
“Jump shots were the secret weapon, completely puzzling the opposition,” he explained. “They did not know what a jump shot was nor how to execute (one).”
Casimer and Gabrel became the first women’s team to seize the national title he said, noting they won nine consecutive games.
Thompson had retired in 2018, but returned to lead the team.