Sunday, July 11, 2021

Preview of 2021 USA Racquetball Championships

This week will see the first USA Racquetball (USAR) National Championships since February 2020, because, well, you know. USAR is putting on both the singles and doubles championships as well as their junior championships in Des Moines, Iowa beginning on Wednesday, July 14 and running through Sunday July 18.

The 2020 USA National Doubles Championships were the only USAR Championship held last year, as that went off in February prior to the COVID pandemic shutting down most sporting activities beginning in March. The 2020 National Doubles Champions were Erika Manilla and Aimee Roehler Ruiz on the women’s side and Alejandro Landa and Sudsy Monchik on the men’s side.

Landa and Monchik will be in Des Moines, as will Manilla, but not Roehler Ruiz, who announced in April that she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had hoped to be ready to compete, but it seems that she’s not there yet. That’s led to Manilla teaming up with Rhonda Rajsich for doubles.

The team of Rocky Carson and Charlie Pratt could be Landa and Monchik’s greatest opponent. The two teams faced off in 2020 with Landa and Monchik eking out a win via an 11-9 tie-breaker. The other men’s team to watch will be brothers Jake and Sam Bredenbeck. Jake Bredenbeck and Jose Diaz were runners up to Landa and Monchik last year, and - like Carson and Pratt - lost an 11-9 breaker.

On the women’s side, Manilla and Rajsich will be most challenged for the title by the teams of Hollie Scott and Kelani Lawrence, and Michelle De La Rosa and Sheryl Lotts. De La Rosa and Lotts are only playing doubles, so they are throwing their chance to get a spot on Team USA for the 2021 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships on doubles alone.

In men’s singles, we can only imagine that the USAR rankings will be used to seed players, as the common USAR practice of seeding last year’s champions and runners-up 1st and 2nd doesn’t really apply, because there wasn’t an event last year. Going back to 2019 seems too long ago, but they might do that.

If they use rankings, then Carson should be the #1 seed, but if they go by 2019 results, then he’d probably be #3, as he didn’t compete in National Singles in 2019 since he’d already won doubles with Pratt. Jake Bredenback was the 2019 National Singles champion, beating David Horn in the final.

Horn won’t be in Iowa, but Pratt, who was 3rd in 2019, will be. So, if they use 2019 results, maybe Jake Bredenbeck will be 1st seed, Pratt 2nd and Carson 3rd with Landa 4th? Using current rankings would put Carson #1, Landa #2, Bredenbeck #3 and Thomas Carter #4 with Pratt #5. Regardless of exact seeding, those are the most likely contenders to be the 2021 USAR Men’s Singles Champion.

There’s similar uncertainty on the women’s side, as the 2019 winner was Lawrence with Scott runner up. But in the current rankings, Manilla is highest with Rajsich 2nd, Scott 3rd and Lawrence 4th. Those are the four most likely candidates to be 2021 USAR Women’s Singles Champion with Linda Tyler and Lexi York having outside chances for the title, but perhaps more importantly Tyler and York could be more likely to cause an upset early depending on who they face based on how the seedings are determined.

Will streaks end?

Rocky Carson and Rhonda Rajsich have represented the USA at every Worlds since 2000 and 2002, respectively. Will those streaks come to an end this year? Both are former World Champions in singles: Carson five times and Rajsich twice. But both are now 42 (though Rajsich will turn 43 later this year), and as they say, Father Time is undefeated. Will this be the year Time defeats them?

There are likely three opponents in singles for both Carson and Rajsich who could keep them off the team, and they will probably only play two of them at most, so it may not be likely for them to miss out on Worlds, but it’s certainly a possibility.

In doubles, Carson is playing with Charlie Pratt, and they will likely play the Bredenbeck brothers, Jake and Sam, in the semis. They’ll be favoured in that match, but they Bredenbecks are no slouches, so it will be a test. If they pass that, defending champions Landa and Monchik likely await them in the final. The champs would be favoured, but were narrow winners last year, so Carson has a decent chance to keep his Worlds streak alive by winning doubles with Pratt.

Rajisch and Manilla played together at last month’s Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour event in Kansas, although not successfully, as they lost their first round match to Cristina Amaya and Adriana Riveros. De La Rosa and Lotts also played in Kansas with a similar fate, but Scott and Lawrence won their first match before losing to top seeds Paola Longoria and Samantha Salas. If Rajsich is going to qualify for Worlds in doubles, she and Manilla will need to beat at least one of those teams, and maybe both. That could be a tall task, though not impossible.

If they do qualify for Team USA, Carson will be wearing “USA” on his back for the 19th time and Rajsich for the 27th time, which would put Rajsich into a tie with Cheryl Gudinas for most appearances on Team USA.

Shouldn’t there be more players?

One aspect of these championships that may be surprising is that the fields are not large, and several players are missing. Some absences may be due to the pandemic with players not feeling like they have had adequate time to prepare depending on court availability in their area.

Still several young players on the men’s side from 2019, when the Singles Championship was last held, won’t be in Iowa, including 2019 finalist David Horn, and semi-finalist Adam Manilla, as well as Robert Collins, Dylan Reid, Jose Diaz and Nicholas Riffel. What up, boys?

The Wimbledon tennis championship concluded Sunday, and commentators were bemoaning the lack of US men of enough quality to be contenders to win a tennis Grand Slam event, like Wimbledon. Similar things seem to be happening in US men’s racquetball, which does not bode well for the USA at international competitions. Reminder that the 2018 IRF World Championships was just the 2nd Worlds that did not have USA winning gold in men’s singles or doubles (1st was in 2000).

We’ve noted the small size of the women’s field at US Nationals for several years (e.g., in 2014), and it bears repeating. However, this year is a bit different from even five or six years ago, as in this year’s women’s field the ages of the players is lower. In 2014, two of the eight players in the doubles draw were under 30, but this year six of the 10 players in singles are under 30 (we are uncertain of some players’ ages, so it may be more than six). That is moving in correct direction for developing new Team USA players.

Watch the action

USAR will be streaming matches from Des Moines via their USA Racquetball Facebook page. So check that out beginning Wednesday.

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

Men's US Team Singles - Field*

1) Rocky Carson
2) Alejandro Landa
3) Jake Bredenbeck
4) Thomas Carter
5) Charlie Pratt
6) Maurice Miller
7) Sam Bredenbeck
8) John Goth
9) Blake Hansen
x) Charles Rankin
x) Alex Zamudio
x) Carson Marshall

Men's US Team Singles - Field*

1) Alejandro Landa & Sudsy Monchik
2) Rocky Carson & Charlie Pratt
3) Jake Bredenbeck & Sam Bredenbeck
4) Maurice Miller & Troy Warigon
5) John Goth & Blake Hansen

Women's US Team Singles - Field*

1) Erika Manilla
2) Rhonda Rajsich
3) Hollie Scott
4) Kelani Bailey Lawrence
5) Linda Tyler
6) Lexi York
7) Graci Wargo
8) Annie Roberts
9) Jessica Chen
10) Stephanie Synhorst

Women's US Team Doubles - Field*

1) Erika Manilla & Rhonda Rajsich
2) Hollie Scott & Kelani Lawrence
3) Michelle De La Rosa & Sheryl Lotts
4) Linda Tyler & Lexi York
5) Jessica Chen & Graci Wargo

* - Note: seedings in the singles fields are based on USAR rankings. The doubles rankings are an estimate. Thus, they are all unofficial, as the brackets have not been released yet.

Follow the bouncing ball....

No comments: