Monday, August 8, 2022

Team USA for the 2022 IRF World Championships

USA Racquetball (USAR) is sending a team of 9 players to the 2022 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships in San Luis Potosi, Mexico that begin on August 20. Supporting the players will be coach Jim Durham and athletic trainer Rodger Fleming.

Leading the team will be veterans Rocky Carson and Rhonda Rajsich, both of whom are playing singles. How veteran are Carson and Rajsich? Carson first played for Team USA in 1998, and Rajsich in 2002. Since their debuts, Carson has played 18 times for the USA - the most by a man - and Rajsich 28 times - the most by any player. That's a lot of racquetball experience, which has included playing on four continents: North and South America as well as Europe and Asia.

How much more experience do they have than their team-mates? By our unofficial count of the players who have played for Team USA beginning with the first World Championships in 1981, Carson was the 64th player to play for Team USA and Rajsich the 69th. The rest of this year’s team have three digit numbers, including rookie Hollie Scott, who by our count will be the 110th player to wear USA on her back in international competition.

Scott will play Women’s Doubles with Kelani Lawrence, who’s making her 6th appearance on the team. Erika Manilla, on the team for the 3rd time, will be the other singles player with Rajsich. Michelle De La Rosa will be making her 4th appearance on Team USA and first since 2016. De La Rosa will play Mixed Doubles with Alejandro Landa.

Landa, the reigning Men’s Singles World Champion, will also try to defend his title on his 3rd Team USA appearance. The USA Men’s Doubles team will be Charlie Pratt and Sam Bredenbeck, who we don’t think have played together. Pratt played with Carson and Bredenbeck with his brother Jake at the USA National Championships. So, it’s a roll of the dice putting a new team out at Worlds, but both have international experience. Pratt will be making his 6th team appearance, though it will be just Bredenbeck’s 2nd time on the team. He played doubles with his brother at the Pan American Championships earlier this year in Bolivia, where they were bronze medalists.

We suggested that the USA would get two or three medals at Worlds last year in Guatemala, and they came away from there with five: Landa’s gold medal in Men’s Singles, as well as silvers in Women’s Singles and Women’s Doubles, earned by Lawrence and the team of Manilla and Rajsich, respectively. Rajsich also got a bronze medal in singles and Landa and Pratt got bronze in Men’s Doubles. Thus, Team USA outperformed expectations (at least ours) last year, and it will be interesting to see how they do this year with many of the same players on the team.

The XXI IRF World Championships begin Saturday August 20 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. There will be three days of group stage matches follow by three days of medal round competition beginning Tuesday August 23 and concluding Thursday August 25. Only the top two players from each group will advance to the medal round, so every group stage match matters. There will also be a team event beginning on August 25 and ending Saturday August 27.

The team event will be a best of three matches: two singles matches and a doubles match. The order of the matches may vary, so, for example, the doubles match may be the first, second or third match between the teams. Player positions may change from the individual events to the team event, so the players who played doubles, for example, in the individual events need not be the players to play doubles in the team event. But once a team roster is set, it can’t change from one round to the next. Team rosters will be determined after the individual events are over.

Follow the bouncing ball…..

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Acuña & Longoria win gold at The World Games 2022

Mexican Paola Longoria successfully continued her string of gold medals at The World Games, as she defeated Guatemalan Gabriela Martinez in the final of The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama, 15-2, 9-15, 15-8, 15-9, on Wednesday. Longoria first won gold at The World Games 2009 and then again in 2013, which were the last two times racquetball has been in The World Games.

In contrast, Andres Acuña became the first Costa Rican to win racquetball gold at The World Games, as he defeated Mexican Rodrigo Montoya, 15-12, 15-13, 15-14, in the men's final. It’s Acuña’s first international gold medal.

But what’s most amazing about Longoria's feat is that she accomplished it after suffering an ankle injury late in game of the match. Indeed, when she gingerly limped off the court, it wasn’t clear that she was going to be able to continue. However, with the medical attention that was on hand for The World Games, she had her ankle taped up and took some pain killers and was able to get back on court.

Asked afterwards how much it hurt on a scale of 1-10, Longoria said “6” in that post match moment with the medicine in her, but at the time of the injury “12.”

Longoria started the match almost flawlessly, steamrolling through game one, when Martinez only served twice. However, in game two Martinez never trailed, and led most of the game. When the injury happened, she was up 9-8.

Longoria took over 11 min of injury time before play continued, and she was clearly not 100% when it did. Martinez was able to close out game two without difficulty, 15-9.

However, in the third game Longoria was able to keep it close early, and then as is her signature move, she pulled away in the mid game, taking the score from 5-5 to 9-5 with three winners and an error by Martinez.

The Guatemalan maintained the same strategy against Longoria after the injury as before, which did work for the first half of game two. Yet, given that the Mexican’s movement was clearly impaired a change in strategy seemed appropriate. But none was forthcoming from Martinez.

Asked afterwards if she was surprised that Martinez didn’t change her strategy after the injury, Longoria said “yes, but I like it.”

Thus, Longoria was able to stand and shoot, as Martinez’s shots and serves were generally straight in and straight out, rather coming at an angle to her opponent. Also, Martinez was often trying to end rallies early rather than extending play, which would have stressed Longoria’s injury more than going to winners with every shot.

Longoria went on to win game three, 15-8, without Martinez getting closer than two points. Game four was more of the same, as Longoria never trailed, and was only tied at 3-3. It made for a relatively comfortable 15-9 win, and a remarkable gold medal performance.

Acuña got off to a great start in the men’s final, as he jumped out to a 7-1 lead on Montoya. But the Mexican battled back, and if he had any sluggishness at the start, it was gone by the end of game one. But that didn’t prevent Acuña from taking the first game, 15-12.

Game two was similar in that Acuña got a big lead at 10-6 and then 14-8. Montoya fought off five game points closing to within one at 14-13. It looked like Acuña won the game on a spectacular shot he hit facing the back wall that went for a pinch roll out. But Montoya showed that the ball was broken, so the rally was replayed. Acuña won game two when Montoya finally made an error, skipping a backhand shot.

Game three was close all the way, and it was Montoya who got to 14 first, as Acuña skipped a backhand shot. But he then denied Montoya the game point with a great backhand pinch serve return that he took out of the air just past the dashed line.

The rally at 14-14 was a slugfest, with balls being hit back and forth. It only ended when Acuña hit a forehand kill shot that rolled out, and was impossible for Montoya to return.

In the men’s bronze medal matches, Andree Parrilla of Mexico defeated Mario Mercado of Colombia, 15-13, 15-10, 15-11, so Mexican men won two medals at The World Games this year just as they did in 2013, the last time racquetball was in The World Games.

The women’s bronze medal was won by Bolivian Angelica Barrios, who defeated Mexican Samantha Salas, 15-4, 15-12, 9-15, 15-12. Barrios’s medal is the first for a Bolivian at The World Games.

The World Games 2022 - Birmingham, Alabama

Men’s Singles - Gold medal final - Wednesday July 13

2) Andres Acuña (Costa Rica) d. 8) Rodrigo Montoya (Mexico), 15-12, 15-13, 15-14

Men’s Singles - Bronze medal final - Wednesday July 13

5) Andree Parrilla (Mexico) d. 3) Mario Mercado (Colombia), 15-13, 15-10, 15-11

Women’s Singles - Gold medal final - Wednesday July 13

1) Paola Longoria (Mexico) d. 6) Gabriela Martinez (Guatemala), 15-2, 9-15, 15-8, 15-9

Women’s Singles - Bronze medal final - Wednesday July 13

5) Angelica Barrios (Bolivia) d. 7) Samantha Salas (Mexico), 15-4, 15-12, 9-15, 15-12

 Follow the bouncing ball….

Longoria defeats Barrios to reach final at The World Games 2022

Paola Longoria of Mexico will have a chance to win a gold at The World Games for a third time at The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama, as she defeated 5th seed Angelica Barrios of Bolivia in the semi-finals Wednesday, 15-12, 15-12, 15-9. Longoria first won gold at The World Games 2009 and then again in 2013, which were the last two times racquetball has been in The World Games.

Longoria’s opponent in the final will be a familiar one: Gabriela Martinez of Guatemala, who defeated Mexican Samantha Salas, 12-15, 15-5, 15-11, 15-7, in the other semi-final Wednesday morning. These two players have met in two Women’s Singles finals at the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships, and they spilt those finals: Longoria winning in 2016 and Martinez winning in 2018.

On the men’s side, Rodrigo Montoya came out on top of a Mexican showdown with Andree Parrilla, 15-9, 15-13, 11-15, 15-9. Montoya will face Costa Rican Andres Acuña, who’s outlasted Mario Mercado of Colombia, 14-15, 15-13, 15-10, 15-10.

Matches descriptions to follow later.

Today’s matches are being broadcast by the rights holders, which in the USA means CBS Sports. So, look to their website and channels for coverage. Also, it might be on the Olympic channel.

2022 World Games - Birmingham, Alabama

Men’s Singles - Semi-finals - Wednesday July 13

8) Rodrigo Montoya (Mexico) d. 5) Andree Parrilla (Mexico), 15-9, 15-13, 11-15, 15-9
2) Andres Acuña (Costa Rica) d. 3) Mario Mercado (Colombia), 14-15, 15-13, 15-10, 15-10

Men’s Singles - Gold medal final - Wednesday July 13

2) Andres Acuña (Costa Rica) v. 8) Rodrigo Montoya (Mexico) - 5 PM

Men’s Singles - Bronze medal final - Wednesday July 13

3) Mario Mercado (Colombia) v. 5) Andree Parrilla (Mexico) - 3 PM

Women’s Singles - Semi-finals - Wednesday July 13

1) Paola Longoria (Mexico) d. 5) Angelica Barrios (Bolivia), 15-12, 15-12, 15-9
6) Gabriela Martinez (Guatemala) d. 7) Samantha Salas (Mexico), 12-15, 15-5, 15-11, 15-7

Women’s Singles - Gold medal final - Wednesday July 13

1) Paola Longoria (Mexico) v. 6) Gabriela Martinez (Guatemala) - 4 PM

Women’s Singles - Bronze medal final - Wednesday July 13

5) Angelica Barrios (Bolivia) v. 7) Samantha Salas (Mexico) - 2 PM

 Follow the bouncing ball….