Monday, June 2, 2014

2014 IRF World Championships Preview

The 17th International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships are set to begin in less than two weeks in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. This is the second time Worlds have been in Canada, but it's over two decades since the last time, which was 1992 when Montreal was the host city.

Two years ago, Mexico won three of the four individual competitions, which was its best showing ever, and the first time the USA won only one gold medal. Rocky Carson was the American gold medalist in men's singles with Mexicans Alvaro Beltran and Javier Moreno winning men's doubles, and Paola Longoria winning singles and doubles with Samantha Salas.

Carson and Longoria have continued to do well, so they are likely to be gold medal favourites again. If Carson wins, he'll set the record for most men's singles championships. He's currently tied with fellow American Jack Huczek with three.

If Longoria wins, she could move into 2nd all time World Championship wins by a woman with four; she currently has one in singles and two in doubles. She'd only be behind American Jackie Paraiso, who's won seven World Championships in women's doubles.

There's a change in the tournament format this year, as there will be no team competition. Previously, there were separate competitions for the individual titles and then a team competition with countries playing off against each other in a best of three match format involving two singles matches and a doubles match.

But this year, there will be a preliminary round of matches with players in groups of three or four players, and then an elimination round. This format has been used in recent Junior World and Pan Am Championship competitions.

Team USA

There are some new faces on the American team this year. Carson is back in men's singles and he's again joined by Jose Rojas, who was a bronze medalist two years ago. Ben Croft returns to the team in men's doubles. He won gold in 2010 with Mitch Williams, but this year is playing with left-hander Thomas Fuhrmann, who's making his first appearance on the team.

The women's is led by veterans Rhonda Rajsich in singles and Aimee Ruiz in doubles, and they are both two time World Champions. Joining them are Janel Tisinger in doubles, who's represented the USA previously, including earlier this year at the Pan Am Championships, and Aubrey Kirch, who is making her first Team USA appearance, although she was the 2010 Junior World Champion so has some familiarity with international competition.

The USA team seems strong, but they are coming off a Pan Am Championships in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where they were held off the podium on the women's side completely. But Jose Rojas did win gold at Santa Cruz, and Carson and Croft are top 6 players on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT), so they look strong on the men's side.

Team Mexico

We're uncertain who the Mexican team will be, but we are certain they will be strong with probably Longoria and Salas in women's singles and perhaps left-hander Susana Acosta in doubles, unless Longoria and Salas play both singles and doubles as they have the past two Worlds.

Alvaro Beltran will likely be one of the Mexican men, as will Daniel De La Rosa, who emerged as one of the strong young men's players on the IRT. Add in Polo Gutierrez and Javier Moreno, and you have a side that could win both men's gold medals.

Team Canada

Team Canada will have a relatively young team, and their veteran players are playing doubles, so they are looking to have the most success there. Frédérique Lambert is coming off a very successful LPRT season, where she finished 6th. She'll play doubles with veteran Jennifer Saunders, who won her 8th Canadian Championship last month by defeating Lambert in the final. In singles, Christine Richardson and Michèle Morissette are making their first appearances at Worlds and it's Morissette's first appearance overall and only the second for Richardson. Their men's players are veterans Mike Green and Vincent Gagnon in doubles with Tim Landeryou and Team Canada rookie Samuel Murray in singles.

Who else?

Two years ago, Maria Jose Vargas was a junior and this year she was the 3rd ranked player on the LPRT. She is definitely a threat to medal in Burlington, where she'll play for Argentina. She won singles and was runner up in doubles with Véronique Guillemette at the Pan Am Championships in April.

Colombian Cristina Amaya was the silver medalist at the World Games last year, and 5th on the LPRT this season, so she's a podium threat. As is Veronica Sotomayor of Ecuador, and whoever Bolivia sends.

Overall, players from over 20 countries will be competing, and the IRF has an agreement with the IRT Network to stream matches live, so you'll be able to see some of the action from Burlington regardless of where you are.

Worlds begins with the opening ceremonies in Burlington June 13 and play begins June 14. There will be three days of pool play followed by an off day and then the elimination round begins leading to the finals on June 21.

16th IRF World Championships - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic


Men's Singles

Gold - Rocky Carson (USA)
Silver - Polo Gutierrez (Mexico)
Bronze - Gilberto Mejia (Mexico) and Jose Rojas (USA)

Men's Doubles

Gold - Alvaro Beltran & Javier Moreno (Mexico)
Silver - Jansen Allen & Tony Carson (USA)
Bronze - Ricardo Monroy & Roland Keller (Bolivia) and Pedro Manolo Sandoval & Edwin Galicia (Guatemala)

Women's Singles

Gold - Paola Longoria (Mexico)
Silver - Jennifer Saunders (Canada)
Bronze - Rhonda Rajsich (USA) and Cheryl Gudinas (USA)

Women's Doubles

Gold - Paola Longoria & Samantha Salas Solis (Mexico)
Silver - Angela Grisar & Carla Muñoz (Chile)
Bronze - Josée Grand'Maître & Frédérique Lambert (Canada) and Aimee Ruiz & Rhonda Rajsich (USA)

Men's Team Competition - Final Standings

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Mexico
4. Bolivia

Women's Team Competition - Final Standings

1. Mexico
2. USA
3. Canada
4. Colombia

Follow the bouncing ball....

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