Thursday, January 2, 2020

2019 Stories of the year

2019 was another good year for racquetball. There was a Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, perhaps the penultimate US Open in Minneapolis, as well as the usual pro tour events, Pan American Championships and World Junior Championships. All of that plays into what are The Racquetball Blog Top 10 Stories of the Year.

Top Racquetball Stories of 2019

10. Natalia Mendez. Mendez finished in the top 10 of the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) for a second time in June, and ended the year with two consecutive semi-final appearances, as well as a quarterfinals finish at the 2019 US Open. Also, Mendez was a triple medalist at the Pan Am Games: bronze in Women’s Singles and Doubles (with Maria Jose Vargas) and silver in the Women’s Team event. She has an unusual swing, but a great attitude, and at 22, Mendez’s future looks bright.

9. International Racquetball Tour. The International Racquetball Tour made changes in 2019, but they were more seamless than in previous years. John Scott, who had been a big presence on the IRT for most of the last decade, quietly left the scene. We understand that some personal issues, including his health, led to the departure, and we hope that he’s doing better. Mike Grisz came in as CEO and Board Chair helped most prominently by Dean Baer as Director of Broadcasting, who in turn is helped by Pablo Fajre. Also, Aimee Ruiz is their Social Media DIrector, which is a smart appointment. So off court, things are good, and there’s more presence on court from players south of the USA, which is where more development is going on. Those player have made the matches better, so on court things are good too, and that bodes well for the coming year and decade.

8. Rodrigo Montoya. We’re maybe underrating this, because Montoya - the current International Racquetball Federation (IRF) Men’s Singles World Champion, won both Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles (with Javier Mar) at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. He’s the 1st man to do that. At 23, Montoya is one of the younger Mexican players who is starting to play the IRT, where he’s currently ranked 10th. But with his international accomplishments, you can only expect his ranking to improve.

7. Alejandro Landa. Landa was our #1 story last year, and he’s continued to play well on tour and is currently ranked #2. Landa won two IRT events in 2019, which is more than anyone not named Waselenchuk. This season he’s been in three finals, winning once, and was also a semi-finalist at the US Open. Landa is now the winningest Mexican player on the IRT, as he has 4 titles, one more than Alvaro Beltran and Daniel De La Rosa. But Landa was also involved in a spot of controversy in 2019, as he was left out the Mexican Pan Am Games team that went to Lima, which did seem odd, as Landa beat Beltran in the final of the Mexican Team Selection Event in February. But Beltran went further than Landa at the Pan American Championships, and apparently that was the basis for selecting Beltran rather than Landa for Lima. Seems harsh, although both Mexican players selected to play at the Pan Am Games - Beltran and Montoya - made the Men’s Singles final, so from that perspective it worked out for Mexico.

6. Bolivia. Bolivia has been making progress on the racquetball scene for some time, and this year they earned their first gold medal at the Pan American Games, as Conrrado Moscoso and brothers Carlos Keller and Roland Keller won the Men’s Team event. Bolivia also swept men’s gold at the 2019 Pan American Championships in Barranquilla, Colombia, where Carlos Keller won Men’s Singles and Moscoso and Roland Keller won Men’s Doubles. At the 2019 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Junior Championships in San José, Costa Rica, Bolivia took home gold in 8 of the 12 World Cup divisions (Boys and Girls U14 , U16 & U18 singles & doubles). They swept gold in all three Girls Doubles divisions and all three Boys Singles divisions. Also, Bolivia hosted a true pro Grand Slam event, with both the IRT and LPRT competing in Bolivia for the first time. Moscoso won the IRT event with a dramatic comeback to defeat Rocky Carson in the final, and Bolivia native Maria Jose Vargas won the LPRT final. It was a great year for a country that really cares about racquetball. Consider that of the 5 medals won by Bolivians at the 2019 Pan Am Games, four were won in racquetball events.

5. Montserrat Mejia. Mejia came into 2019 as the reigning two time U18 IRF World Junior Champion, and proceeded to upset Paola Longoria in the Mexican National Team Event in February, so she went to the Pan Am Championships as the #1 Mexican player, although she lost to Natalia Mendez in the quarterfinals. But she helped Mexico win gold in the Women’s Team event at the 2019 Pan Am Games. On the LPRT this season, Mejia has been a finalist once and a semi-finalist twice. Also, she and Alexandra Herrera won the US Open LPRT Doubles title, as well as the first LPRT Doubles event of the season in San Luis Potosi. She ends 2019 as the 8th ranked player, and should finish the LPRT season in the top 10 for the 1st of what we’re sure will be many times.

4. Conrado Moscoso. People paying attention to racquetball were familiar with Moscoso prior to 2019. He’d won Boys U18 at the 2013 IRF World Juniors and was a silver medalist in Men’s Singles at the 2014 IRF World Championships. But for casual fans, 2019 was the year Moscoso blew up. As mentioned above, he won Men’s Doubles (with Roland Keller) at the 2019 Pan Am Championships and gold in the Men’s Team event at the 2019 Pan Am Games. He also won an IRT event - the 1st Bolivian to do so, and just the 2nd South American. Moscoso capped the year by becoming the 1st South American to reach the 2019 US Open final, and is currently ranked 7th on the IRT.

3. Maria Jose Vargas. Vargas ends the year as the #2 player on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT). She won her 4th and 5th career LPRT titles in 2019, including winning in her native Bolivia in April. In five events this season, Vargas has been in four finals, winning in Virginia Beach, where she defeated Paola Longoria in the final. Vargas was also a triple medalist at the Pan Am Games: silver in Women’s Singles and the Women’s Team event as well as bronze in Women’s Doubles. Vargas also got silver in Women’s Singles at the Pan Am Championships.

1 & 1. Paola Longoria & Kane Waselenchuk. We’re not going to pick between Longoria and Waselenchuk this year. Maybe Longoria should be #1, as she won 5 (!) gold medals in 2019, sweeping Women’s Singles and Doubles at both the Pan Am Games and Pan Am Championships, as well as winning the Women’s Team event at the Pan Am Games, while Waselenchuk doesn’t compete internationally. They both continued to dominate their respective pro tours, but each had a loss on tour as well, which was unusual (yes, they are so successful that it's news when they lose). Both successfully defended their US Open titles in singles, keeping long winning streaks intact (12 straight years for Waselenchuk; 9 for Longoria). Waselenchuk also won doubles at the US Open with Ben Croft. Ten years ago Longoria and Waselenchuk were the #1 players on the LPRT and IRT, respectively, and they are still on top. Will they be 10 years from now? Waselenchuk’s 38 and Longoria 30, so we doubt it, because - as the saying goes - Father Time is undefeated. However, we also wouldn’t want to bet against either of them accomplishing anything they want to in racquetball.

Honorable mentions: Jen Saunders retired as the Canadian Champion in both Women’s Singles and Women’s Doubles, and her 24 Canadian titles make her the winningest player ever. An incredible career for someone who didn’t show much promise as a junior player, but she believed in herself and worked hard to be the best player she could be. Saunders has taken a position with Racquetball Canada, so racquetball hasn’t seen the last of her. Samantha Salas won two gold medals - in Women’s Doubles (with Longoria) and the Women’s Team event - at the 2019 Pan Am Games, as well as gold in Women’s Doubles (with Longoria) at the 2019 Pan Am Championships. She’s the #3 player on the LPRT. Rocky Carson, who turned 40 last year, was the #2 IRT player at the end of the 2018-19 season and won the first event of 2019-20, as well as earning two bronze medals at the 2019 Pan Am Games, which was the 4th Pan Am Games he’d competed at, and he's reached the podium each time. Charlie Pratt was a double medalist at Pan Am Games, and also was finalist in Men’s Singles at the 2019 Pan Am Championships. Alvaro Beltran was silver medalist in Men’s Singles at the 2019 Pan Am Games and also got bronze in the Men’s Team event. He also was a bronze medalist in Men’s Singles at the 2019 Pan Am Championships and ends the year as the #5 player on the IRT. World Racquetball Tour. The WRT seems to be dead, as its creator Pablo Fajre is now working with the IRT. It was a nice series of tournaments while it lasted, but we never really thought there was room for two men’s pro tours, so it’s good that the WRT has effectively been folded into the IRT.

2019 was an action packed year for racquetball, and we expect more of the same in 2020. Internationally, the highlight will be the 2020 IRF World Championships in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Also, 2020 will be Doug Ganim’s last US Open, so you may want to put a trip to Minneapolis on your calendar for early October, because that’s sure to be a special event.

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This is our 12th Top 10 Stories of the Year list. We reviewed the 1st ten lists last year, for those interested about what’s happened in the last decade of racquetball.

But now, on to the future!

Follow the bouncing ball….

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