Thursday, May 16, 2013

Women's US Team Division - Revised draw & more questions - UPDATED

The US Team Qualifying division draw at the USA Racquetball (USAR) Ektelon Nationals in Fullerton, California changed again, and although it's a bit more sensible than previously, it's still inconsistent with the current USAR women's rankings.

As we mentioned in our USAR National Singles preview, we were surprised that the (initial official) draw was so different from the one we had made up based on the USA Racquetball rankings. In that we had Grace Hughes as the seeded above Jacqueline Paraiso and Janel Tisinger, because she's ranked higher than them. However, Hughes was seeded lower than those players.

In the revised draw, Hughes is one position higher, so she doesn't have to play a first round match, but she's still seeded lower than either Paraiso or Tisinger, who are 4th and 3rd seeds respectively.

This begs two questions: how are they coming up with the seeding for this division (and are there similar issues on the men's side)? And how is it that the draw can be changed this close to the start of play? The revised draw was out less than 24 hours prior to the start of play in this division, and actually after the start of play in the tournament in general.

UPDATE: As pointed out to us by Aimee Ruiz via Twitter, the explanation for the seeding is clearly stated on the main page of the USA Racquetball Ektelon Nationals tournament entry page on R2 sports. First criterion is last year's results, so players who were in the quarters last year are seeded in the top 8 this year. We'd overlooked this previously (oops).

We had thought that was the case for the finalists - so Rhonda Rajsich as defending champion is top seed and Cheryl Gudinas as runner-up is 2nd seed. But we didn't know it carried on down to the quarters, so Janel Tisinger and Jacqueline Paraiso are the 3rd and 4th seeds, respectively, as they were quarter finalists last year. As stated on the website, quarter finalists from the pervious year will "normally be seeded someplace in top 8" (as stated on the USAR Ektelon Nationals tournament page).

Past that criterion, "other events are considered - high schools, worlds, national singles, and US Open" as the second criterion with "the last criterion [being] state results, regional, and ranking points." However, that's not necessarily that final consideration as "input from different groups is also evaluated - such as state representatives (especially useful if players are out of state)."

These criterion make sense for a tournament like the USAR National Singles which brings together a broad range of players in a large number of divisions and needs to make some reasonable estimate of seeding those players. And giving more weight to the previous year's results rewards players for attending year after year, which is fine.

Basically, we believe these criteria were created for the USAR National Singles because the USAR rankings may not be reliable when comparing someone from Alaska with someone from Florida and their rankings are around 2000, say, because they likely haven't played any of the same people, let alone each other. That seems reasonable.

But it doesn't seem reasonable to use these seeding criteria for the top division, which is what the US Team Qualifying is - as it's the replacement of the Open division that in previous years named the ultimate National Champion. The players at the top are special cases, because unlike players in the lower divisions, the top players have played all across the country, so their rankings should be the most reliable.

To not use the USAR rankings for the top division at USAR Nationals is saying that you don't trust the USAR ranking system at all, which is really damning your own system. We've written previously about how rankings are tricky, but usually the problem with them is that you don't have enough data to properly compare the players. That should not be a problem with players at the top.

Moreover, the small number of players in the Women's Team Qualifying draw raises an additional concern, as some of your quarter finalists this year will be players ranked outside of the top 10. So by these criteria next year they should be seeded ahead of players who are in the top 10, like Adrienne Fisher, Kerri Wachtel and Krystal Csuk, who have all played this division in the past but aren't this year, as they are only playing in the Ladies Pro Racquetball Tour (LPRT) division.

That's unreasonable.

Again, it's fine to have criteria that allow you to adjust seedings for lower divisions in a way that goes against the USAR rankings, if there are good reasons for doing so. But it's very difficult to defend doing that for the top division without completely undermining the validity of the ranking system.

USAR National Singles Championship - US Team Qualifying
May 16-19, 2013, Fullerton, California

Rhonda Rajsich - BYE
T. J. Baumbaugh v. Michelle Key

Grace Hughes - BYE
Jacqueline Paraiso - BYE

Janel Tisinger - BYE
Da'monique Davis v. Lexi York

Linda Scales v. Elise Wilson
Cheryl Gudinas - BYE

Current USAR Rankings of players in the draw

2. Rhonda Rajsich
9. Grace Hughes
12. Cheryl Gudinas
16. Da'monique Davis
18. Linda Scales
19. Janel Tisinger
20. Jacqueline Paraiso
36. T. J. Baumbaugh
53.* Michelle Key
71.* Elise Wilson
88. Lexi York

* Note: Michelle Key and Elise Wilson do not have a current, active ranking, so using the latest ranking from their respective match histories.

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