Tuesday, September 16, 2008

IRT Season Kicks Off Thursday

The International Racquetball Tour (IRT) kicks off its 2007-08 season this weekend with the 2008 Motorola Racquetball World Championships in Denver, and it may be the most interesting IRT season ever. But first let's review what happened last season.

There were fourteen main IRT events last season. Below are the results by player and then by event (source: Boss Consulting).

IRT Rank - Player - Wins - Seconds - Semis - Quarters

1) Rocky Carson - 7 wins, 4 seconds, 3 semis, 0 qtrs
2) Jack Huczek - 6 wins, 7 seconds, 0 semis, 0 qtrs
3) Alvaro Beltran - 0 wins, 1 second, 10 semis, 3 qtrs
4) Jason Mannino - 1 win, 2 seconds, 7 semis, 2 qtrs
5) Shane Vanderson - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 3 semis, 10 qtrs
6) Mitch Williams - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 13 qtrs
7) Ben Croft - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 2 semis, 10 qtrs
8) Chris Crowther - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 9 qtrs
9) Jason Thoerner - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 4 qtrs
10) Javier Moreno - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 1 qtr
11) Andy Hawthorne - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 3 qtrs
16) John Ellis - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 1 qtr
19) Polo Gutierrez - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 0 qtrs

Event - Final - Semi-Finalists

Motorola World Racquetball Championships - Final: Carson d Beltran, (8),7,7,11 - Semis: Moreno, Gutierrez
8th Annual Ghost of Georgetown; Kansas City Pro-Am - Final: Mannino d Huczek, 9,9,8 - Semis: Vanderson, Carson
Kentucky Open - Final: Huczek d Carson, 8,6,11 - Semis: Mannino, Beltran
Canadian Racquetball Classic - Final: Huczek d Mannino, 2,1,retired - Semis: Beltran, Carson
32nd New Mexico Invitational Pro Am Racquetball Championships - Final: Carson d Huczek, (9),7,2,2 - Semis: Vanderson, Williams
Choice Hotels US Open - Final: Carson d Huczek, 3,(7),8,6 - Semis: Vanderson, Mannino
California Open - Final: Carson d Huczek, 8,4,4 - Semis: Beltran, Croft
New York City Pro-Am - Final: Huczek d Carson, 8,2,6 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Seattle Open - Final: Huczek d Mannino, 3,(9),3,(3),2 - Semis: Beltran, Carson
San Diego Open - Final: Huczek d Carson, (10),6,(7),10,5 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Florida Spring Break Pro-Am - Final: Carson d Huczek, 8,6,2 - Semis: Beltran, Croft
Mexico Open - Final: Carson d Huczek, 2,5,8 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Dennis Rosenberg Pro-Am - Final: Carson d Huczek, (5),8,8,8 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Motorola IRT Pro Nationals - Final: Huczek d Carson, (8),5,(5),2,6 - Semis: Beltran, Mannino

Rocky Carson made the semi-finals of every IRT event last season. Huczek's record was almost as good, as he was in the final of all the tournments except that he lost in the Round of 16 at the Motorola World Racquetball Championships.

Of note regarding the final matches is that Carson won three of seven tournaments after losing the first game, but he didn't win any in five games. Huczek won all three of his five game matches, twice against Carson.

Ben Croft's results were an improvement on 2006-07 when he only made 1 semi and 4 quarters. At 23, Croft is the youngest of the top 10 players, so he should be looking to improve on last season's performances and perhaps make his first final.

The Second Coming

Croft's improvement would be difficult if the same players were involved this season as last, but it will probably be more difficult as Kane Waselenchuk, a former number 1 player, will be coming back to the IRT after serving a two year ban for a doping violation at the 2006 Canadian National Championships.

How Waselenchuk's return will impact the IRT is anyone's guess, and some are making wild speculations, including suggesting that he could win all the IRT events this season. That's quite unlikely, as even in his most dominant seasons of 2003-04 and 2004-05, Waselenchuk was not undefeated. Moreover, his record in 2005-06 was not nearly as dominant as in those two seasons, and he finished only slightly ahead of Huczek in the final rankings.

Waselenchuk will also have to go through qualifying rounds to start the season. Assuming that he qualifies for the main draws, his impact will vary from event to event as he moves up the rankings, sometimes being on the top half of the draw and sometimes on the bottom half.

There is some evidence to believe that Waselenchuk will do well on tour as he did win the Greenville Open in June, defeating Carson in the final. But is that enough to justify beliefs that he'll win all or even most of the 16 (possibly 18 as two are pending) IRT events this season? Over half of the people responding to a survey on the USA Racquetball site believe so (of 72 responses, 27 believed Waselenchuk would win 8-12 of the IRT events and 19 believed he'd win all of them).

There's really little precedent for such a returning player. Except perhaps in women's racquetball, when Christie Van Hees returned to their pro tour after a couple years of self-imposed exile. Her form was - if anything - better than before, and she shot up the rankings, winning two US Open titles and a World Championship along the way.

Sports results are often unexpected. Who would have thought that the biggest beneficiary of Waselenchuk's absence would have been the 6th ranked player? Yet Rocky Carson, who was 6th two years ago, is now number 1.

That's why they play the games, and why this season's IRT games may be part of its most interesting season ever.

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