Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Racquetball Stories of 2010

We hope that you got all the presents you wanted last week or scored some sweet deals in the post-Xmas sales or both. In between staff rehearsals of Auld Lang Syne for tonight, The Racquetball Blog has compiled its list of the Best Racquetball Stories of 2010.

We tried to whittle this list down to 10, but we felt 11 was a better fit. Thus, here's our Top 11 Racquetball Stories of 2010:

11) US Open in Minneapolis. After 14 years in Memphis, Tennessee the US Open moved to Minneapolis. Moreover, it was right smack dab in the middle of downtown, with the main club the Lifetime Fitness location underneath the Target Center. By all accounts the move was a positive one, so congratulations to US Open Tournament Director Doug Ganim and USA Racquetball for making the transition to a new location so successful.

10) Jack Huczek. Huczek is the #4 IRT player, which would be a great accomplishment for most anyone else. But Huczek's been #1. He's a 3 time World Champion, but not since 2006. Huczek got hurt early in the year and hasn't seemed to be as good since. Yes, he played well at the US Open, winning the first game of his match against Kane Waselenchuk. But he's lost to Alvaro Beltran, Chris Crowther and Rocky Carson this season, as well as losing the World Championship final to Carson in August. Perhaps it is harsh to be so critical of someone who is the #4 player in the world, but Huczek's set a higher standard, and we're starting to wonder if he can reach that standard again.

9) Jason Mannino retires from International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and assumes the IRT Commissioner role full time. Mannino has taken the IRT mantle from Dave Negrete and run with it. There's more Grand Slam and Tier 1 events - including the first Grand Slam outside of the USA, new logo, new website, newsletters, and increased IRT Network coverage. All positive additions. Indeed, it's hard to say where Mannino has gone wrong.

8) Paola Longoria. She maintained her #1 position atop the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) rankings, and was named Mexican Sportswoman of the Year, which is perhaps the highest recognition any racquetball player has even received. There were a couple of bumps on the road for Longoria in 2010 as she lost early on in singles at the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships, and lost the US Open final for the second consecutive year, but she did win the IRF World Championship doubles title with Samantha Salas.

7) Rocky Carson defends World Championship. Carson won the 2010 IRF World Championship in August in Seoul, South Korea, successfully defending the title he first won in Ireland in 2008. This result reflects Carson's continued excellence, and he also won the IRT Corona Open in November.

6) Alvaro Beltran's return. Beltran's absence from the IRT last season due to injury was significant (we put it at #7 on last year's Top 10 list). He's the last man to defeat Kane Waselenchuk, and there was concern over how well he would play upon returning to the IRT. But he got to the semi-finals in his first tournament back, and then went one better on pro racquetball's biggest stage: the US Open, where he reached the final for the first time and took game one from Waselenchuk, who went on to win that match. We're very happy to see Beltran's returned to form.

5) Rhonda Rajsich wins Worlds and US Open. Rajsich successfully defended her World Championship title in August. Only Cheryl Gudinas and Michelle Gould with three each have more World titles than Rajsich. Then in October, Rajsich won her fourth US Open title, which is more than any other woman. Finally to end the year, Rajsich wins the Christmas Classic which should close the gap between her and Paola Longoria and make the WPRO season very interesting in the new year.

4) Paola Longoria and Samantha Salas win Women's Doubles at World Championships. The Mexican team in South Korea did what had only been done once before: win women's doubles. The US had won 13 of 14 women's doubles titles at Worlds, but they didn't win in 2010. Longoria and Salas beat Americans Aimee Ruiz and Jackie Paraiso in the final. It was only the 2nd time Paraiso had not won gold in doubles in 25 international appearances on Team USA.

3) Ben Croft. Croft won the US National doubles crown with Mitch Williams, and then they went on to win the IRF World Championship. Moreover, Croft was a semi-finalist in 6 of the last 10 IRT events as well as getting to the final of the Mexico Open, so he's clearly raised his skill level. He got to the #2 IRT ranking in November, but unfortunately that lasted all of one tournament. However, it provides great promise for Croft's future.

2) Samantha Salas. In addition to being part of the Mexican team to win the Women's Doubles World Championship, Salas won her first pro stop in 2010 at the Puget Sound Challenge. In addition, Salas has reached the semis of each WPRO stop this season, including at the US Open, which was a career best for that event (she hadn't even been a quarter finalist before). Salas's year was very impressive.

1) Kane Waselenchuk. The Racquetball Blog staff have mixed emotions about putting Waselenchuk #1, where we had him in 2009 and 2008. Mixed because on the one hand it seems so obvious as to be boring, but on the other hand how can you deny the newsworthiness of Waselenchuk's continued excellence? The man has not lost in almost two years. He's only played one tie-breaker in that period. It's an amazing record. How long can it continue? With Beltran's return, Croft's rise, Carson's continued excellence, and hopefully Huczek getting back on track, the IRT field should be stronger in the new year, when the tournaments are plentiful. Thus, it would be understandable to think that Waselenchuk's streak will end soon. But no one in the TRB office is betting on it.

There you have it. The top 11 racquetball stories of 2010. If you think we missed something, leave a comment.

Happy New Year everyone! Have some bubbly for us, but not too much. Bubbly hangovers can be doozies.

Follow the bouncing ball....

1 comment:

Neil D. said...

Great post! In fact, everything I read on the Racquetball Blog is interesting. Congratulations and a happy new year to all the staff at the Blog!