Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 IRF World Championships Preview

The 16th International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships begin in a little over a week in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, so it's time for a preview and a review of what happened at the last World Championships two years ago in Seoul, South Korea.

In Seoul, Team USA won three of the four individual competition gold medals as well as gold in both the team competitions (Worlds begins with four individual competitions: men's and women's singles and men's and women's doubles followed by a men's and women's team competitions where countries playoff against each other in a best of three match format involving two singles matches and a doubles match).

The American winners were Rocky Carson (men's singles), Rhonda Rajsich (women's singles) and Ben Croft and Mitch Williams (men's doubles). Remarkably, the USA did not win women's doubles, which was only the second time they failed to so, as Mexicans Paola Longoria and Samantha Salas took gold by defeating Aimee Ruiz and Jackie Paraiso in the final.

However, in the international competitions since then Mexico has come out on top more often than the USA, as Mexico won all but one gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games including the team competitions. The exception was Carson winning men's singles. Thus, the USA could find themselves in tough to repeat their results from two years ago.

Team USA

Also, the American team looks different than it did two years ago. For the men, only Carson is back, and he's joined by three young men: Jose Rojas (singles), Jansen Allen (doubles) and Tony Carson (doubles; no relation to Rocky Carson). Those three are all rookies at Worlds, although each has played on Team USA once before. Allen and Carson were the silver medal doubles team at the 2011 Pan American Championships and Rojas played singles at the 2008 Pan American Championships, losing in the quarter finals to Polo Gutierrez of Mexico.

On the women's side, Rajsich and Cheryl Gudinas are again the singles players. It's the 25th time Gudinas has been on Team USA and the 13th time for Rajsich. But in doubles for the first time since 2000 neither Jackie Paraiso or Aimee Ruiz are at Worlds, as Rajsich and Kim Waselenchuk (née Russell) are the American women's doubles team, as they won the US Doubles Championships this year.

It's the first time Waselenchuk has been on Team USA since 2004, when she and Paraiso won gold at Worlds, and over 20 years since she made her first international appearance with Team USA, as she played doubles with Paraiso at the 1991 Pan American Championships (then The Tournament of the Americas). Overall, it's Waselenchuk's 9th appearance on Team USA.

Team Mexico

We haven't found out the Mexican team roster, but we understand Longoria will play both singles and doubles, with Salas. We're not sure who the other singles player will be. We believe it will be either Jessica Parilla or Susana Acosta.

We're not sure who the Mexican men will be, but they will be at a relative disadvantage, because they did not send a strong team to South Korea two years ago. The Mexican men got a bronze medal in doubles but didn't medal in singles and only finished 8th in the team event. Seedings for this year are based - in part - on performances from two years ago, so the Mexican men's team will be seeded lower than they might otherwise have been if they had sent a stronger team to South Korea.

Team Canada

Team Canada will have the same 8 players at Worlds in Santo Domingo as they had in Seoul, although what they are playing is slightly different. Jennifer Saunders is playing singles, as is Brandi Jacobson Prentice. The Canadian women's doubles team will be Josée Grand'Maître and Frédérique Lambert. On the men's side, Mike Green and Vincent Gagnon will be the men's doubles team with Kris Odegard and Tim Landeryou playing singles.

Other teams

The competitive level of international racquetball has risen significantly, so there are significant players from outside the big three racquetball nations. Players such as Bolivians Ricardo Monroy and Carlos Keller as well as Colombians Juan Herrera and Cristina Amaya are all medal threats and cannot be taken lightly. Also, there should strong players from South Korea and Japan, who finished 4th and 5th in the women's team competition two years ago, but those players are rarely seen in North America, so they could be true wild cards in the draw.

Opening ceremonies in Santo Domingo are August 3 with play beginning on August 4. The four individual competitions use a straight draw format over four days of competition. Then there will be an off day prior to three days of team competition. The team competition finals will be on August 11.

Below are the results from the last IRF World Championships.

15th IRF World Championships - Seoul, South Korea
August 2010


Men's Singles
Gold - Rocky Carson (USA)
Silver - Jack Huczek (USA)
Bronze - Vincent Gagnon (Canada) and Ricardo Monroy (Bolivia)

Men's Doubles
Gold - Ben Croft & Mitch Williams (USA)
Silver - Tim Landeryou & Mike Green (Canada)
Bronze - Cesar Castro & Jorge Hirsekorn (Venezuela) and Alejandro Landa & Miguel Perea (Mexico)

Women's Singles
Gold - Rhonda Rajsich (USA)
Silver - Nancy Enriquez (Mexico)
Bronze - Paola Longoria (Mexico) and Cheryl Gudinas (USA)

Women's Doubles
Gold - Paola Longoria & Samantha Salas Solis (Mexico)
Silver - Aimee Ruiz & Jackie Paraiso (USA)
Bronze - Brandi Jacobson Prentice & Frédérique Lambert (Canada) and Naomi Wakimoto & Toshiko Sakamoto (Japan)

Men's Team Competition - Final Standings

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Bolivia
4. Costa Rica
5. Venezuela
6. Ecuador
7. South Korea
8. Mexico
9. Colombia
10. Japan
11. Dominican Republic
12. Guatamala
13. India
14. Argentina
15. Ireland
16. Tonga

Women's Team Competition - Final Standings

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Mexico
4. South Korea
5. Japan
6. Bolivia
7. Ecuador
8. Venezuela
9. Ireland
10. Guatamala
11. Tonga

Follow the bouncing ball....

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