Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 10 racquetball stories of 2014

We are closing out 2014 today, so make it a good day. Here at The Racquetball Blog we have been reflecting on the past year, and putting together our list of the Top 10 Racquetball Stories of the year. For the first time, we consulted with Restrung Magazine in discussing the year's top stories (here's their list). We agreed on some things, and disagreed on others. Their list is already up, and here is ours.

The Top 10 Racquetball Stories of 2014

11) The Racquetball Blog - Yes, we've taken this list to 11, and put ourselves at 11th, because this year we've published 313 articles (this will be 314), which is more articles than in any previous year. Yay us!

10) International Events - 2014 was a World Championship year, but also there were the annual Pan American Championships and the quadrennial Central American and Caribbean Games, as well as a one off Pan American Sport Organization (PASO) event in August. Four major international events is more than most years have. Several players made their first appearances for their respective countries in 2014, including Americans Jake Bredenbeck, Da'monique Davis, Jose Diaz, Tom Fuhrmann, David Horn, Aubrey Kirch, and Devon Pimentelli, Bolivian Conrado Moscoso, Canadians Pedro Castro, Danielle Drury, Valerie Fallu, Coby Iwaasa, Michéle Morissette and Samuel Murray. The team rosters at the 2016 World Championships could be very different from what they were this year.

9) Young Mexican Women - There are several young up and coming Mexican women, who are starting to have significant results on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT). Players like Alexandra Herrera - the 2014 World Junior U18 champion, who made her first LPRT semi-final in December, Diana Aguilar - the 2014 World Junior U16 champion, who was in the quarterfinals at the US Open, Lucia Gonzalez, also an LPRT quarterfinalist this season, as well as Sofia Rascon and Jessica Parrilla, currently ranked 15th and 23rd, respectively, on the LPRT. This development bodes very well for the future of Mexican racquetball.

8) Sebastian Franco and Alejandro Herrera - Colombians Franco and Herrera won Men's Doubles at the 2014 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships in Burlington, Ontario, which was the first time a South American nation - or any nation that's not the United States, Mexico or Canada - has won gold at Worlds. It's a great accomplishment, and they did it by beating the hometown favourites Mike Green and Vincent Gagnon of Canada in front of a very pro-Canada crowd. It's significant accomplishment, and another mark of how much the quality of racquetball has improved outside of the USA, Mexico and Canada.

7) Rhonda Rajsich - We believed Rajsich could defeat Paola Longoria over the last few years, even though she failed to do so between May 2011 and this season, but we weren't certain if Rajsich believed she could do so. But then in October, Rajsich did do so, defeating Longoria in Stockton, where she had last beaten Longoria back in 2011. It is always nice to see an athlete get rewarded for their perseverance. Rajsich remains a major force in women's racquetball.

6) Daniel De La Rosa - De La Rosa joined the list of International Racquetball Tour (IRT) tournament winners in December with a victory at the New Jersey Open. Mexico has had several excellent junior players in the last decade, but some were critical of them for not breaking through to make the Mexican National Team. But consider some of the men on that team: Alvaro Beltran, IRF World Champion in Men's Singles in 2000 and one of the best players of his generation, Javier Moreno, a three time IRF World Champion in Men's Doubles, Polo Gutierrez, an IRT semi-finalist on multiple occasions as well as a Pan American Championship winner. To get past those guys you have to be a player of significant quality, a player like De La Rosa, who qualified for the World Championships, but missed it due to administrative difficulties, and who won Men's Doubles at the Pan American Championships (with Edson Martinez) and was silver medalist in Men's Singles at the Central American and Caribbean Games. De La Rosa's only 21, so he should be part of the Mexican team for several years to come.

5) Maria Jose Vargas - Vargas has worked her way up to the #2 spot on the LPRT and broke through to win her first tour event in December at the Christmas Classic in Arlington, Virginia. Vargas was also bronze medalist in Women's Singles at the IRF World Championships, and won gold in Women's Singles and silver in Women's Doubles at the Pan American Championships.

4) Rocky Carson - Carson once again responded to the call of his country, and became the first player to win four IRF World Championships in Men's Singles doing so in consecutive competitions. Furthermore, Carson has continued to perform well on the IRT, where he is the 2nd ranked player with three wins on tour this season.

3) Kane Waselenchuk - When healthy, Waselenchuk is the best men's racquetball player on the IRT, and we'd argue the best men's racquetball player ever. However, we're now uncertain of when Waselenchuk will be healthy, as this fall he had a recurrence of his inner ear troubles that he first experienced in the early 2000s. We certainly hope that Waselenchuk is able to find relief from this condition and is able to continue to show how great an athlete he is on court. However, you don't need to look outside of racquetball for a great athlete whose career ended prematurely due to injury, as Sudsy Monchik retired due to back trouble. Father Time defeats all athletes, and Waselenchuk is 33, so he's closer to the end of his career than the start. But we're sure he'll do all he can to make sure it doesn't end soon. But this is all the more reason to go see him play when you can, because we are not likely to see a player like him again.

2) World Racquetball Tour - The World Racquetball Tour (WRT) has raised its level of prize money and increased its number of tournaments. But the big question of interest is not what the WRT is doing but why they are doing it. Our understanding is that the rationale for a second men's pro tour is that some are disappointed with the current structuring of IRT main events, which seed the top 8 players into the Round of 16 and often have an exhausting day of matches to qualify for one of the other 8 spots in the 16s. The WRT has given opportunities for players who are outside of the IRT top 8 or more to play for good prize money. The caution is that when individual sports have had multiple tours things have not gone well (see boxing). Thus, while the rise of the WRT could be good for the players involved, it could lead to problems if, for example, players who compete on the WRT are banned from playing on the IRT.

1) Paola Longoria - Longoria is a sports phenomenon. The #1 LPRT player, she won both Women's Singles and Women's Doubles at the IRF World Championships this year, which was her 2nd singles title and 3rd doubles title. She is huge in Mexico. In this age of social media, Longoria has 137k Twitter followers. 137,000! In comparison, the LPRT has 1,600 Twitter followers, and the IRT 800. The Central American and Caribbean Games were in Veracruz, Mexico, and the media scrums for her were astounding. Larger than anything you've ever seen at a US Open; there could have been more media on one Veracruz day than at ALL the US Opens we've been at. It's incredible. The LPRT is benefitting from this with big money tournaments in Mexico, which is great. If they could figure out how to transfer that over to the rest of the tour - and perhaps to racquetball in general, we'll all be better off.

There are several things to look forward to in 2015, highlighted by the 2015 Pan American Games in July in Toronto. It's the largest multi-sport competition that racquetball is a part of, and the largest multi-sport competition outside of the summer Olympic Games. Longoria and Carson are the defending champions in Women's and Men's Singles, respectively, with Longoria and Salas the defending champions in Women's Doubles and Alvaro Beltran and Javier Moreno the defending Men's Doubles champions.

Follow the bouncing ball....

3 comments:

Dirk Newnam said...

Really a great countdown article Evan. Keep up the good work. Where racquetball is always current. Dirk

Restrung Magazine said...

Great list... racquetball purists!

One thought on #2. Both tours have their positions which are based on valid thinking. The WRT has yet restrict their players in anyway. According to how they've been setting things up, any restrictions on players playing anywhere is contrary to their model.

mike lippitt said...

Hi. I wanted to thank you for your blog and specifically comment on #2 the WRT. My name is Mike Lippitt and I along with a few other passionate racquetball players got together to create a nonprofit foundation whose purpose would be to support the growth of racquetball by helping young men and women players play tournaments to achieve their dream of being a professional racquetball player. After incorporating the foundation and getting its tax exempt status, we partnered with the WRT and LPRT by providing various forms of funding to help the players. We also provided housing support at the U.S. Open for some of these younger players. The players we help are multicultural and play with and for the majority of racquetball companies. The specific comment I'd like to make regarding your post about the WRT is, from my experience after operating the foundation (www.reachingyourdreamfoundation.com, is that particular tour, along with the LPRT, are demonstrating a commitment to the "next" generation of racquetball professionals. Both of those tours are thinking outside the box about getting very young elite players to pro tour stops. Some are as young as 16 years old. In my local area I have help fund multiple IRT stops, and have enjoyed watching the top 8 battle it out. The IRT uses a different model. It focuses primarily on those who have "made" it. That provides great entertainment for people like us who love professional racquetball. However, it doesn't address the need to find and support a rich source of new talent who will invigorate and sustain the sport we love. For that, and among other reasons, I applaud your blog and Restrung for specifically ranking and appreciating the importance of the WRT to the future of racquetball.