Saturday, August 16, 2008

2008-09 IRT Season Preview

The beginning of a new International Racquetball Tour (IRT) season is only a month away. The Motorola Racquetball World Championships presented by Verizon Wireless will kick off the 2008-09 IRT season in Denver, Colorado from September 17th to 21st. Most of the matches will be played on the new Lucite court that will be set up in the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver.

Using the Lucite court is a major move for the IRT, and it brings racquetball to the public in a new way. Racquetball events - even Tier 1 or Grand Slam events on the IRT or Women's Professional Racquetball Organization tour - almost exclusively attract people who already know about racquetball, typically because they play the sport.

But if racquetball is going to grow, it needs to attract more people, including people who don't play. Consider that many people who watch sporting events don't play those sports (and maybe never did), but that doesn't stop them from being fans of those sports.

Racquetball can only benefit from having more fans. Bringing the game to potential fans by setting up a racquetball court to showcase the game in public places can only benefit the game.

On Court

But what to expect on court this season? Last season, Rocky Carson emerged as the player to beat. He won 7 of the 14 IRT main events, including two of the three Grand Slam events - the 2007 Motorola World Championship and the US Open - and for the first time in his career, finished the season ranked number 1.

Carson followed that up this summer by winning the World Outdoor Racquetball (WOR) Championships in California and the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championship in Kingscourt, Ireland. Carson is the first player to be WOR Champion, and IRF World Champion, as well as IRT #1.

Carson may be the player to beat this season, but Jack Huczek's not far behind. Huczek won 6 of the 14 IRT main events last season, including the season ending Pro Nationals. Huczek was the number 1 IRT player prior to Carson and surely wants that spot back.

The only other players to reach finals last season were Jason Mannino, who won the Kansas event and was a finalist in Toronto and Seattle, and Alvaro Beltran, who was in the finals of last year's Motorola World Championships.

The Wildcard

The wildcard in the mix is Kane Waselenchuk, who's two year ban from racquetball for a positive drug test ended in May. Prior to his ban, Waselenchuk was the number 1 IRT player, which included a dominant season in 2004-05 when he won 8 of the 12 tournaments he entered.

There's a great deal of speculation as to how Waselenchuk will play when he returns to the tour. He gave some indication of that in June, when he played in the Greenville Open in South Carolina (an IRT satellite event) and won the event defeating Carson in the final and Beltran in the semi-final.

Although he's missed two years, Waselenchuk is only 27, younger than Carson or Beltran who are both 29, or Mannino who's 33. With Carson having a break through season at an older age (he'd only won three IRT main events prior to his seven wins last season), there's no reason to think that age will hold Waselenchuk back.


With Carson and Huczek so close, Waselenchuk's return, as well as Mannino, Beltran and improvement from other players like Ben Croft, Shane Vanderson, and Mitch Williams, the 2008-09 IRT season should be one of the most interesting seasons in years.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Some statistics taken from Boss Consulting.

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