Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ten years of IRF World Juniors: 2006-2015

Any athlete’s career is time limited. Athletes have some control over how long their careers are, but injuries and luck can play a significant role in how long athletes compete. For junior athletes, the period of competition is limited by their age.

The International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Junior Championships World Cup competition has players compete in three age divisions: 18 and under, or U18, U16, and U14. World Juniors does have competitions for younger ages, but those are a different competition (the Esprit Cup). Thus, a junior racquetball player has six years of World Cup eligibility, although sometimes a player will play in the U14 division even though they are younger than 13.

The Racquetball Blog staff combed through its records of World Junior World Cup results, and has compiled a list of how players have done over the last 10 years, which is the period for which we have complete records.

To make comparisons, we assigned points for bronze, silver and gold medal finishes. We gave 1 point for a bronze medal, 2 pts for silver and 4 pts for gold. Given that point system here’s the top 10 players over the last decade of World Juniors.

IRF World Juniors Performances 2006-2015


1. Marco Rojas (USA) - 29 points = 6 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze
2. Cristian Longoria (Mexico) - 24 pts = 6, 0, 0
3. Jose Rojas (USA) - 24 pts = 5, 2, 0
4. Carlos Keller (Bolivia) - 24 pts = 4, 3, 2
5. Rodrigo Montoya (Mexico) - 22 pts = 5, 1, 0
6. Jose Diaz (USA) - 20 pts = 4, 2, 0
7. Alejandro Cardona (Mexico) - 18 pts = 3, 3, 0
8. Erik Garcia (Mexico) - 17 pts = 4, 0, 1
9. Javier Mar (Mexico) - 16 pts = 4, 0, 0
10. Taylor Knoth (USA) - 15 pts = 2, 2, 3


1. Maria Jose Vargas (Bolivia) - 30 points = 6, 2, 2
2. Diana Aguilar (Mexico) - 28 pts = 6, 2, 0
3. Aubrey O’brien (USA) - 26 pts = 5, 2, 2
4. Natalia Mendez (Bolivia) - 24 pts = 3, 5, 2
5. Alexandra Herrera (Mexico) - 23 pts = 5, 1, 1
6. Gabriela Martinez (Guatemala) - 22 pts = 4, 2, 2
7. Paola Longoria (Mexico) - 20 pts = 4, 2, 0
8. Ximena Gonzalez (Mexico) - 20 pts = 3, 4, 0
9. Danielle Key (USA) - 19 pts = 4, 0, 3
10. Melania Sauma (Costa Rica) - 17 pts = 3, 1, 3

Over the last decade Maria Jose Vargas has had the best record at World Juniors, followed by Marco Rojas. Cristian Longoria and Diana Aguilar still have junior eligibility left. Longoria has two years, and Aguilar one. Aguilar’s total might have been higher, but she was absent from this year’s World Juniors due to injury. Similarly, Rojas missed World Juniors in 2011 due to injury.

Longoria has been perfect the last three years, winning singles and doubles in U14 once and U16 twice, but as he wasn’t on the team in his first year of U14 eligibility, so he won’t have a perfect record of World Cup outcomes.

Has any junior been perfect?

The data we have prior to 2006 is only for gold medalists, but if we include that data back to 2000, then the highest points are for Longoria’s older sister Paola, who had 48 points on the strength of 11 gold medals and 2 silver medals in seven years of World Cup competition (Longoria won gold in Girl’s U14 Doubles at age 12). But again that’s not a perfect gold medal record. Does anyone have a perfect record in World Cup competition at World Juniors?

Perhaps the player who came closest is Mexican David Ortega, who won gold in boy’s doubles with Ruben Estrada six straight years, and also won gold in his first five years of singles play. But in his last year of juniors, Ortega lost to Jose Rojas in the quarterfinals of Boy's U18, and Rojas was playing two singles divisions that year, as he also played Boy’s U16 Singles that year (2007), and won that title.

In perhaps a bit of irony (or revenge), Estrada defeated Rojas in the U18 final in 2007, which was Estrada only singles title.

Bringing it back to current players, Natalia Mendez also has a year of junior eligibility left, and Gabriela Martinez has three years left, although to maximize her points, she’ll need to make sure she has a doubles partner for all of those years.

Kudos to Erik Garcia of Mexico, who won gold in doubles his last three years of juniors (and 4 of last 5), and he not a left handed player. Also, Costa Ricans Melania Sauma and Sofia Soley have won gold in girl’s doubles three of the last four years. The year they didn’t - 2013 - Soley didn’t compete at World Juniors due to injury.

Does this mean anything?

There is much discussion of kids being the future of the sport, and people projecting junior stars as superstars of the future. But that’s tricky business. Junior sports performances don’t predict adult sports performances very well.

Kane Waselenchuk never won a World Cup division at World Juniors. In fact, he didn’t play many times at World Juniors. But Paola Longoria played a lot, did well, and continues to do so as an adult.

Of the other top International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) players, some did well as juniors, like Vargas, and Rocky Carson, who won Boy’s U18 three times. But other weren’t especially great as juniors. Alvaro Beltran and Daniel De La Rosa never won gold in the World Cup divisions. Michelle Key only won one gold medal at World Juniors, and Rhonda Rajsich three.

Yet some who did well as juniors fade away. There are 270 players in the database from the last decade (plus the gold medalists back to 2000). Many of those players you’ve never heard of or have forgotten about, because they stopped playing after their junior years even if they won multiple championships. We’re not sure if Ortega is still playing, for example. Going back a bit further, Canadian Lisa Kerr won Girl’s U18 twice - in 1997 and 1998 - but she stopped playing a year or two later. Currently, Kerr has taken up an appointment as a law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, proving life can be good after racquetball.

Nonetheless it’s interesting to reflect on recent junior performances. It’s fun that there are five countries represented in the top 10 girl’s of the last decade. The boy’s is a split between Mexicans and Americans with one Bolivian, Carlos Keller, which somewhat supports our point last week about how Bolivians will show up at World Juniors who you’ve never heard of, yet they will still win.

Consider that Mario Mercado arrived at World Juniors last year having never won a World Cup medal, and proceeded to win gold in Boy’s U18, beating Canadian Coby Iwaasa in the semi-finals, and defending champion and fellow Bolivian Conrado Moscoso in the final. Holy coming out of nowhere, Batman!

Surprises of that sort are what makes sport fun, and why people want to keep playing for as long as they can.

Follow the bouncing ball….

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