E.A. Sports Today

National champs

Former White Plains athletes from JSU win College Cornhole Doubles National Championship in Myrtle Beach; Oliver singles runner-up

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Branson Oliver really likes playing cornhole and he’s gotten pretty good at it. He was fascinated watching the Southern College Cornhole Championship on television last year and got to thinking if they ever put together a national tournament for college all-comers he’d jump right on it and was convinced he could win.

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. Introducing the newest ACL College Cornhole Doubles national champions: Branson Oliver and Dustin Travis.

The two Jacksonville State students, both 22 and former White Plains athletes from two different sports, went through the field in Myrtle Beach, beating teams from Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio to reach the top of the mountain of college cornhole.

“Right now it’s kind of surreal, kind of in the moment,” Oliver said. “I really, really don’t know what’s going on with it, but I suspect tomorrow it will kind of hit us.

“I knew we could win it; if we played our game, we were good to go. We had a lot of tough competition going on, but as long as we played our game and threw like we knew how to we could do it.”

All that was required to get in was to be an undergraduate with a student ID and a teammate attending the same school – and a passion for the game. There’s no advantage to being from a Power-5 school; throwers from schools that don’t even sponsor intercollegiate athletics could compete with schools that appear in the ESPN highlights every night.

And although it may look it, this isn’t the same friendly game you might play in the backyard picnic or tailgate with a cold one in your hand. It’s serious business. The throwers in this tournament were playing for some serious scholarship money.

And the pressure was particularly high on the local team when they fell behind in the championship match 7-0 after their opponents from Ohio figured out Travis’ playing style.

“This is real competitive,” Travis said. “It’d be just like on a golf course in a major tournament. You’re playing the best of the best.”

He’d know about that. Travis is a former Calhoun County high school golf champion who originally signed to play at Montevallo after graduation (Oliver played baseball at White Plains and hasn’t played since leaving high school).

Travis only picked up cornhole after returning home to enjoy the things he didn’t have time for playing college golf, and he only played in tournaments when invited. In fact, this weekend was just the second time he’s picked up a bag since the summer, the first being last week to knock off some rust because he knew they were going to Myrtle Beach.

He hasn’t completely gotten away from golf. Next week he starts a job as an assistant pro at Anniston Country Club while going through the PGA apprentice program. The mental pressure in the two sports is quite similar when you’re in the heat of the battle.

“A lot,” he said. “I’m standing over a putt to win a match, it’s that same feeling, but it’s for the whole time we’re playing I have that feeling because I know how much it means to him.

“In golf if you play 18 holes you might not feel it until 17 or 18 if you’re up or down a stroke. Here it’s not like that, you have to stay that steady. With that being said I had to carry my weight no matter what because if we lose it’s on me.”

They got through five matches to win their pool and beat the SEC champions from Georgia to qualify for the telecast of the championship on ESPN. In the knockout round they took down teams from Paul D. Camp Community College that had the player who beat Oliver in the college singles final the day before, N.C. State and Baldwin Wallace.

Since winning the title both throwers’ phones have been blowing up with texts and messages from well-wishers from all corners. Even school officials jumped on board. After all, it’s not every day someone you know wins a national championship.

“I think we should get rings from JSU,” Oliver said.

Cover photo: Dustin Travis (C) watches doubles partner Branson Oliver focus on the target during his pro-am match at the ACL National College Cornhole Championships Sunday night. Travis and Oliver, former White Plains athletes, won the doubles national championship.

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