Monday, February 3, 2014

Racquetball Dominance: Waselenchuk & Longoria

The day after one of the most dominating displays in team sports it seems appropriate to address the dominance that two players have in racquetball.

Kane Waselenchuk and Paola Longoria have dominated the men's and women's racquetball scenes, respectively, over the last few seasons. Waselenchuk's only lost twice (in completed matches) since September 2008 and Longoria hasn't lost since May of 2011.

They have some similarities and some differences. Both Waselenchuk and Longoria are primarily drive servers, and their serves are phenomenal. It's something that you might not fully appreciate if you haven't seen it live, because on line their drive serves look exactly like drive serves should look: hard and low. Driven with precision to the back corners.

Live, especially if you happen to be on the court, the serves are coming at you really fast. No, REALLY fast.

You can see how important drive serving is from Ben Croft, who's developed his drive serves the past few seasons as the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) switched to a two serve rule, and has commented that he wished he'd done it sooner, and Alvaro Beltran, who primarily drove serve against Waselenchuk in the final of the most recent IRT event in Sioux Falls and got three times more points against Waselenchuk than the first three Sioux Falls opponents.

Also, some players' drive serves look tame in comparison, as Jansen Allen - a fine player and currently ranked 10th on the IRT - hit drive serves against Waselenchuk in Sioux Falls that seemed like they were in slow motion.

Waselenchuk and Longoria differ from other players in their respective game styles. Waselenchuk is so creative as a shot-maker, which is what puts him apart from all the other great racquetball players. Also, he always seems to trying to hit an offensive shot. Rarely does Waselenchuk hit a defensive shot (e.g., hit a ceiling ball).

Longoria's style can be hard to read, because of the unusual way she holds the racquet with her the palm of her hand on the flat part of the handle, as if she was holding it like a frying pan rather than a cleaver.

While we think that Waselenchuk is the best men's player ever, Longoria has clearly had the biggest impact outside of racquetball. She's been named female athlete of the year by the Mexican government, as well as one of the most influential women in Mexico by Forbes magazine, and she's got over 61,000 Twitter followers.

Further, Longoria had a tournament created in her name last December in Monterrey, Mexico. That event was broadcast live throughout Mexico and Latin America. According to Nick Irvine of the IRT Network, racquetball at the Paola Longoria Invitational "felt like a professional sport," and players "felt like celebrities." Furthermore, there were significant dignitaries at the opening ceremonies and sponsor dinner.

Thus, the Paola Longoria Invitational was an Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) event on the level of the US Open, if not higher. And it was all due to Longoria's prominence in Mexico.


People often speculate on who'll be the next IRT #1 player after Waselenchuk. That speculation seems idle to us, as it'll be some time before Waselenchuk gives up the crown to someone else - barring injury, of course, which did see him yield the #1 ranking briefly to Rocky Carson earlier this season.

A far more interesting question is who will succeed Longoria? Longoria's the best player currently, but she's also come along at at time when the best players were over a decade older (Cheryl Gudinas, Rhonda Rajsich & Kerri Wachtel) and some left the scene all together (Kristen Bellows & Christie Huczek).

A new crop of players has arrived on the scene (e.g., Maria Jose Vargas, Cristina Amaya, Frédérique Lambert, Maria Paz Muñoz & Aubrey Kirch) and are creating a threat to Longoria's dominance. It's likely that one of them will be the next player to defeat Longoria, although we also believe that Rajsich still has the ability to do so.

We think that will happen sooner than later, and hopefully it will be more than one, so that the competitiveness of LPRT is kicked up a notch and things, which have been interesting this season, become even more interesting.

Follow the bouncing ball….

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