Saturday, July 17, 2021

Manilla & Rajsich, Carson & Pratt are USAR National Doubles Champions

Erika Manilla and Rhonda Rajsich are the 2021 USA Racquetball (USAR) Women’s Doubles National Champions having won the title on Saturday at the USAR National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, where they defeated Michelle De La Rosa and Sheryl Lotts in the final, 15-8, 15-14. Rajsich said the win felt “amazing, absolutely amazing,” adding she “felt like myself” for the first time in a few years.

”My partner’s a beast!” said Manilla when asked about what it was like to play with the veteran Rajsich. They are good friends off the court, so Manilla said it was easy to play together. Manilla also seemed emotional late in the match, and said “I call it passion” when asked about it.

After dominating in game one, Manilla and Rajsich continued to do so in game two, taking a 7-0 lead. But De La Rosa and Lotts worked their way back into the game to trail by just two at 7-5.

However, Manilla and Rajsich got the next seven points to lead 14-5, and it looked like an easy two game match. But De La Rosa and Lotts got the serve back at that point after Manilla was forced into skipping a shot. They got three points, but then surrendered the serve after De La Rosa tried a behind the back shot that failed.

Still, Manilla and Rajsich couldn’t get the last point, as Lotts hit a winning return and then Rajsich skipped a backhand shot. That led to five points for De La Rosa and Lotts, who got within one at 14-13, causing Manilla and Rajsich to call a timeout.

When play resumed, Rajsich hit a backhand return winner but then skipped a shot that put her opponents on game point at 14-14. The next rally ended when Manilla hit a forehand cross court that Lotts tried to let go past her, so she could play it off the back wall, but unfortunately the ball hit Lotts, resulting in a side out.

She and De La Rosa called a timeout to regroup, as they were going to face their 5th match point. When play resumed, Manilla started the rally with a lob serve down the right side to Lotts, who hit it wide angle cross court. A good strategy but the ball was high, so it gave Rajsich an opportunity off the back wall, and from the center of the court, she hit it to the right side, where it cracked out for the match winning point.

Manilla and Rajsich dedicated their win to Aimee Roehler Ruiz, who wasn’t in Iowa as she has been dealing with breast cancer having been diagnosed in the spring. Both Manilla and Rajsich have played doubles with Roehler Ruiz in the past.

The win is Manilla's second USA Women's Doubles title, as she won in 2019 with Roeler Ruiz. But the pandemic meant there weren't international events following that win, so she'll be on Team USA for the first time when she goes to Worlds this year. For Rajsich, the win means she double qualified, as she won her semi-final match in Women’s Singles earlier in the day. More on that below.

Men’s Doubles

Rocky Carson and Charlie Pratt won Men’s Doubles, as they defeated the brother team of Jake and Sam Bredenbeck, 12-15, 15-4, 11-8. After winning game two to force a tie-breaker, Carson and Pratt went up 10-0 in the breaker and looked like they would cruise to the win. The Bredenbecks had other ideas.

”They never gave up,” Pratt said afterwards, as the Bredenbecks went from 10-0 down to 10-8, fighting off three matches points in the process. There were some crazy great rallies towards the end, including one that ended when Jake Bredenbeck hit a behind the back winner that made it 10-8. It was a “oh, no you DIDN'T!” kind of moment.

Unfortunately, that was the last point they’d score, as Jake Bredenbeck skipped a shot on the next rally, which gave the serve back to Carson and Pratt. On the next rally, Carson ended it with a backhand reverse pinch, sealing the victory for his side.

”It comes and goes,” Pratt said after the match, when asked about playing with confidence. But he added that when it’s there, “you want to hit every ball.” Carson thought the match hinged on “execution,” which he and Pratt were able to do “when we needed to at the end.” Carson also lauded the Bredenbecks saying “they’re class acts on the court” and “fun to play,” adding that he’d be happy to play against them every day of his life.

Finally, Pratt credited their coach, Fran Davis, for her help, saying they “100% would not have won without Fran.” He added that they were thinking of Sudsy Monchik, who wasn’t able to compete this week as he tested positive for COVID 19.

Women’s Singles

In Women’s Singles, it’ll be veteran 2nd seed Rhonda Rajsich versus 4th seed Kelani Lawrence in the final Sunday, as the veteran was able to upset 3rd seed Hollie Scott, 10-15, 15-6, 11-5, in one semi-final with Lawrence upsetting top seed Erika Manilla, 15-13, 15-6, in the other.

Afterwards, Rajsich described herself “like the cockroach that won’t go away” before praising her fellow semi-finalists who are all about 20 years younger than her. She feels Team USA will be in good hands moving forward with Lawrence, Manilla and Scott on the scene. But for now Rajsich's win qualifies her for Team USA for the 27th time, tying Cheryl Gudinas for the most times on Team USA.

Asked whether she felt confident during her match, Rajsich said “yeah, I did,” and explained that confidence came from “trusting myself,” saying I “started my swing and finished my swing” without thinking about it, as she tried to “get my brain out of the way” and let her body do it.

In the other women’s semi, Lawrence led throughout game one, but they were tied a few times, at 6-6, 9-9, 10-10 and 12-12. Then Manilla went ahead 13-12, and it seemed like the game would slip through Lawrence’s fingers. But Lawrence got the serve back and scored three unanswered points to take game one, 15-13.

Lawrence played good defence in game one, but her offensive skills came to the fore in game two, as she stormed out to a 9-1 lead and never looked back. Credit Manilla for not giving up, but the closest she got was six points at 9-3 and 13-7. But it’s a tall task to come back when your opponent is two points from the win, and Manilla wasn’t able to complete that task against Lawrence today.

Men’s Singles

In Men’s Singles, #1 will play #2 in the final, as top seed Rocky Carson defeated 5th seed Charlie Pratt, 15-13, 15-9, in one semi-final and 2nd seed Alejandro Landa beat 3rd seed Jake Bredenbeck, 15-3, 15-11, in the other.

In both matches, the player who lost game one got off to a big lead in game two, yet neither match went to a tie-breaker. Pratt was up 8-2 on Carson in their match only to see Carson get 13 of the next 14 points, and Bredenbeck was up 7-0 and 11-6, but couldn’t score another point after that, as Landa got the 9 unanswered points to win.

Asked afterwards about playing aggressively, Carson answered “you have to play aggressive,” because if you don’t you aren’t going to be very successful. Also, he felt the difference in the match “came down to execution” with Pratt executing well early in the games with Carson executing better later in the games.

The finals

The National Team finals can be viewed via USA Racquetball Facebook page on Sunday at 11 AM for the Women’s Singles final and noon for the Men’s Singles final.

2021 USA Racquetball National Championships
Des Moines, Iowa
US National Team Divisions

Men's US Team Singles - Semi-finals - Saturday

1) Rocky Carson d. 5) Charlie Pratt, 15-13, 15-9
2) Alejandro Landa d. 3) Jake Bredenbeck, 15-3, 15-11

Men's US Team Singles - Final - Sunday

1) Rocky Carson v. 2) Alejandro Landa - Noon

Men's US Team Singles - Final - Saturday

1) Rocky Carson & Charlie Pratt d. 2) Jake Bredenbeck & Sam Bredenbeck, 12-15, 15-6, 11-8

Women's US Team Singles - Semi-finals - Saturday

4) Kelani Lawrence d. 1) Erika Manilla, 15-13, 15-6
2) Rhonda Rajsich d. 3) Hollie Scott, 10-15, 15-6, 11-5

Women's US Team Singles - Final - Sunday

2) Rhonda Rajsich v. 4) Kelani Lawrence - 11 AM

Women's US Team Doubles - Final - Saturday

1) Erika Manilla & Rhonda Rajsich d. 3) Michelle De La Rosa & Sheryl Lotts, 15-8, 15-14

Follow the bouncing ball....

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