Monday, December 15, 2008

IRF : 20th Annual World Junior Championships Begins

Play in the 20th International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Junior Racquetball Championships began today in Tempe, Arizona on the campus of Arizona State University. Two hundred and seventy nine players from 17 countries are competing in both singles and doubles divisions. Seventy four players are from the USA, 44 from Mexico, 31 from Canada, 29 from Bolivia, and 26 from Costa Rica.

The competition begins with three days of preliminary matches with the results producing seedings for an elimination round that will begin on Thursday and run through Saturday.

Play is being streamed over the web at

More Mexican Gold?

Mexico has dominated World Juniors in recent years. Over the past 5 years, Mexicans have won most of the gold medals in each of the three World Cup divisions - 18 & under, 16 & under, and 14 & under for both boys and girls with the exception of Girls 14 & under, which has gone twice to Mexicans, twice to Canadians and once to an Ecuadorian.

Overall, 18 of the 30 gold medals in those divisions have been won by Mexicans with 8 going to Americans, and 2 each to Canadians and Ecuadorians, so it's no surprise that Mexico has won the team competitions in each of the last five years with the USA coming second each time and Canada third each year except for last year when Bolivia was third and Canada fourth.

Mexico wasn't quite as dominant last year as in previous years, as they won gold in only the 18 & under Boys and Girls divisions, Ruben Estrada and Paola Longoria, respectively. Gold in the Boys 16 & under and 14 & under went to Americans Jose Rojas and Marco Rojas, respectively, while Maria Paz Munoz of Ecuador took gold in Girls 16 & under and Frédérique T. Lambert of Canada won the Girls 14 & under title.

Who'll Win?

It's difficult to know who specifically is going to come out on top from one year to the next in junior competitions, as junior players can change dramatically in a year. But the following are some ideas based on previous results.

One safe bet should be Longoria to defend her Girls 18 & under title. It's difficult to see anyone beating her, as she's the #3 player in the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) rankings having won two WPRO tournaments this season and been a finalist in two others.

Girls 16 & under could be one of the more hotly contested divisions, as Munoz is back to defend her title, but she'll have to beat out Lambert, who has moved up to that division, and American Aubrey O'brien, who reached the final of Women's Open at this year's US Open.

Boys 18 & under features three top 75 International Racquetball Tour (IRT) players, including last year's 16 & under champion, Jose Rojas, who's #29 on the IRT. His main competition should come from fellow American Danny Lavely (IRT #53) and Mexican Erick Sandoval (IRT #74).

Americans Bradley Kirch (IRT #64) and Taylor Knoth (IRT #70) should be the players to beat in Boys 16 & under with Mexican Alejandro Cardona (IRT #108) offering the strongest competition.

The 14 & under division may be the most uncertain, so we're hesitant to say anything about what will happen there. However, last year's Boys 14 & under champion Marco Rojas has a chance to defend his title.

Follow the bouncing ball....

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