Thursday, January 1, 2009

Top 10 Racquetball Stories of 2008

We hope you were all in fine voice when you were belting out Auld Lang Syne last night. Now that it's a new year, The Racquetball Blog thought it best to kick off 2009 with a run down of The 10 Best Racquetball Stories of 2008.

11) The Racquetball Blog began. Yes, this top 10 list goes to 11, and in an act of shameless self-promotion, we're putting ourselves at number 11, because we think the beginning of The Racquetball Blog was a significant thing, and it shouldn't be overlooked. No, it shouldn't.

10) Brenda Kyzer defeated Rhonda Rajsich at the US Open. Kyzer's "greatest moment" in racquetball happened on center court in Memphis late on Friday in the quarter finals, where facing an opponent who's been the most dominant player for the last three years, as well as current World Champion, Kyzer played fabulously. Despite losing the first game, Kyzer won the next three and caused one of the biggest upsets in US Open history. Often at a tournament the best matches happen before the finals, and for us, this was the best match in Memphis in 2008.

9) USA's gold medal sweep at the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships in Ireland in August. Americans won men's singles (Rocky Carson) and doubles (Jason Thoerner & Mitch Williams) as well as women's singles (Rhonda Rajsich) and doubles (Jackie Paraiso & Aimee Ruiz). Perhaps we're putting this a little low on the list, but racquetball's not really a team sport. Moreover, given that the US team had the number 1 and 2 men's and women's pro players (resulting in two all American finals in singles), the achievement - while great - was entirely predictable.

8) Veronica Sotomayor. Only 16, Sotomayor has been playing all the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) events with great results including winning the New Jersey Open, a WPRO satellite event, where she defeated doubles World Champion Aimee Ruiz, WPRO #9 Doreen Fowler and WPRO #1 Rhonda Rajsich. Nicknamed "pipsqueak," Sotomayor is almost more remarkable off the court than on, as she's just a little girl. But Sotomayor hits with plenty of power and great accuracy, and has a completely calm demeanor on the court. Currently coached by Dave Ellis, who was the USA team coach in Ireland, things could go from good to great for her in 2009.

7) Lucite Court. Discussed for years, the Lucite portable court that Dave Negrete, commissioner of the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) had been planning debuted at the Pro Nationals event in Chicago in April. It has since been used twice more: at the Motorola World Racquetball Championships, when it was set up outdoors on the mall in downtown Denver, and at the US Open in Memphis. Easier to set up and move around than the previous portable court, it's a big step forward in helping to bring racquetball to the public.

6) Rocky Carson wins the IRT 2007-08 season title. Consider that Carson was #3 the season before, and #6 the season before that. Consider that Carson's career IRT title total is 11, but 7 of those came last season. With those thoughts in mind, you can better understand how remarkable it was that Carson finished number 1 in 2008.

5) IRT matches web-cast via ESPN360.com. The IRT made an agreement with ESPN360.com for live broadcasting of semi-final and final matches from their Tier 1 events bringing racquetball to potentially millions of people across the USA via the internet. To date, the Denver, Kansas City and Kentucky events have been broadcast on ESPN360.com with the added benefit of the Denver event being shown on regular cable TV on ESPN Classic on a tape delayed basis.

4) US Junior Team. In December, the USA junior team won the overall title at the 20th IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships in Tempe, Arizona for the first time since 2001 by winning both boys and girls team titles, which was partly due to gold medal performances by Jose Rojas (Boys 18 & under), Danielle Key (Girls 16) and Jose Diaz (Boys 14), as well as a gold medal sweep in boys doubles and two of three gold medals in girls doubles.

3) Paola Longoria wins 2008 US Open. Longoria becomes the first Mexican - man or woman - to take top prize in Memphis. It's her 3rd career title, and as she's only 19, bodes well for her future. Two months later she successfully defends her 18 & under World Junior title.

2) Rhonda Rajsich wins her first World Championship two months after being assaulted. Reports of Rajsich's injuries caused when two men assaulted her near her home in California and left her hospitalized suggested that her career was in jeopardy. Yet a little over a month later she was competing in the World Outdoor Racquetball Championships, and then winning at Worlds in Ireland. To perform that well after a serious injury is remarkable.

1) Kane Waselenchuk's undefeated return to the IRT. There was a great deal of speculation as to how Waselenchuk would perform when he returned to the men's pro tour after his two year ban from racquetball for a positive drug test. A hint came in June at the South Carolina Open, where he met Rocky Carson in the final, and defeated him. Then the real test at the Motorola World Racquetball Championships in Denver, where Waselenchuk won three qualifying matches to make the main draw and proceeded to work his way to the final, including a victory over Jack Huczek, where he had a re-match with Carson.

That final went to a tie-breaker, and Waselenchuk was again victorious. This added fuel to the speculation that he could win all the IRT tournaments this season, and Waselenchuk stoked the fire by reeling off victories in Kansas City and Bowling Green, Kentucky. Yet despite winning the US Open, where he again defeated Carson in the final, Waselenchuk will not win all the IRT tournaments, because he's failed to play in two of them (the Canadian Classic and the Juarez Open).

That failure is the only shadow on a remarkable return to the pro game. It's difficult to think of parallels in other sports, although perhaps Christie Van Hees's return to the WPRO in 2003 and earlier Cliff Swain's return to racquetball after efforts to crack professional tennis are the most similar experiences.

That's our top 10. If you think we've overlooked something - your tie-breaking victory over an arch-nemisis at a local tourny perhaps? - let us know by leaving a comment on the blog.

Or on Facebook. That's right, folks, The Racquetball Blog has its own Facebook page, so you can become a fan of TRB on Facebook and help spread the word about TRB. Search for "The Racquetball Blog" when you're logged on to Facebook and join up.

We hope that 2009 will be as great a year for racquetball as 2008 was. There are certainly things to look forward to: more matches on the new Lucite court and on ESPN360.com, finding out whether Waselenchuk can continue to be undefeated this season, and racquetball's return to the World Games for the first time since 1993.

Happy New Year everyone!

Follow the bouncing ball....

1 comment:

Leo Vasquez said...

Great reading Evan, I think I would agree on your top 10 stories. Hopefully 2009 will bring even more memories.