Monday, August 31, 2009

IRT 2008-09 Season Review & 2009-10 Preview

Next week, the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) kicks off its 2009-2010 season in Denver with the 2009 Motorola Racquetball World Championships. Thus, it's time for The Racquetball Blog to review what happened last season, as you might have forgotten some of the details over the summer.

There were thirteen main IRT events last season. Below are the results by player and then by event.

IRT Rank - Player - Wins - Seconds - Semis - Quarters

1) Kane Waselenchuk - 10 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 0 qtrs
2) Rocky Carson - 2 wins, 5 seconds, 4 semis, 1 qtrs
3) Jack Huczek - 1 win, 5 seconds, 5 semis, 2 qtrs
4) Alvaro Beltran - 0 wins, 2 seconds, 8 semis, 3 qtrs
5) Jason Mannino - 0 win, 0 seconds, 4 semis, 6 qtrs
6) Shane Vanderson - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 2 semis, 8 qtrs
7) Mitch Williams - 0 wins, 1 seconds, 0 semi, 10 qtrs
8) Ben Croft - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semis, 9 qtrs
9) Chris Crowther - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 9 qtrs
10) Andy Hawthorne - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 3 qtrs
11) Jason Thoerner - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 0 semis, 4 qtrs
19) Javier Moreno - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 1 qtr
24) Jose Rojas - 0 wins, 0 seconds, 1 semi, 0 qrts

Season by Event - Finalists and Semi-Finalists

Motorola World Racquetball Championships
Final: Waselenchuk d. Carson - Semis: Mannino, Beltran
9th Annual Ghost of Georgetown; Kansas City Pro-Am
Final: Waselenchuk d. Huczek - Semis: Beltran, Mannino
Kentucky Open
Final: Waselenchuk d. Beltran - Semis: Carson, Huczek
Canadian Racquetball Classic
Final: Huczek d Carson, - Semis: Mannino, Beltran
13th US Open
Final: Waselenchuk d. Carson - Semis: Huczek, Vanderson
Juarez Open
Final: Carson d. Huczek - Semis: Mannino, Croft
California Open
Final: Carson d Beltran - Semis: Rojas, Waselenchuk
New York City Pro-Am
Final: Waselenchuk d. Huczek - Semis: Carson, Beltran
Seattle Open
Final: Waselenchuk d. Huczek - Semis: Carson, Beltran
San Diego Open
Final: Waselenchuk d. Huczek - Semis: Carson, Beltran
Florida Spring Break Pro-Am
Final: Waselenchuk d. Carson - Semis: Huczek, Beltran
Dennis Rosenberg Pro-Am
Final: Waselenchuk d. Williams - Semis: Vanderson, Huczek
Motorola IRT Pro Nationals
Final: Waselenchuk d Carson - Semis: Beltran, Huczek

At the top

Unless you've gotten a great deal of sun this summer, you likely haven't forgotten how dominant Kane Waselenchuk was last season. There have been few, if any, seasons as good as Waselenchuk had. But it raises questions as to what will happen this season.

Will Waselenchuk's dominance continue? He seemed to have something to prove after sitting out two seasons due to his suspension. But will he be able to sustain that dominance in the coming season?

How will the other top players react to the beatings they took last season? Both Rocky Carson and Jack Huczek pledged to work hard over the summer to be able to compete better this season. But they both played in the World Games in July and Huczek got married in August, so they may not have had as much time to work on their games as they really need to beat Waselenchuk.

Is Mannino still a contender?

One thing you might not have realized - we hadn't - is that Jason Mannino has not made a semi-final since last November's Juarez Open, which was one of the events Waselenchuk skipped. Mannino only made two semis in events that Waselenchuk played in, and those were the first two events of the season.

Mannino at 34 is the oldest of the top players, and his physical game style has likely taken a big toll on his body over the years. It's an open question whether he can still be a threat to win on tour. Given his ferocious competitiveness we wouldn't want to bet against Mannino, but the evidence is not favorable.

Other contenders - Can someone step up?

Was Mitch Williams's surprising run to the final in the second last event of the season something that will be a blip or will he step up his level of play and go deep in the draw on a regular basis. The Racquetball Blog believes Williams has the serve to pressure with the top players (read: Waselenchuk) but he needs to be solid in the rest of his game. At 28, Williams is not a youngster, so he needs to do it now.

Alvaro Beltran, the only player to beat Waselenchuk last season, and Shane Vanderson have on occasion shown that they have the talent to win events, but they have yet put enough of those occasions together to get to the winner's circle. Thus, consistency is the question mark with them as it is with Williams.

Performance through commitment

We hope that players who are trying to make a breakthrough this season understand that talent is only one aspect of performance, and that talent alone is not enough to achieve your maximum potential. You also need to consider physical training, mental training, nutrition, technical training (i.e., sport specific skills), and biomechanics (i.e., movement analysis). If you ignore any of these aspects, you will not be achieving your potential.

It's a big commitment to attend to all of those aspects. But if you want to win, then that's what you have to do.

This season we'll see which IRT players have made that commitment, and which haven't.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Season Schedules

That zipping sound you heard recently was the summer of '09 going by. Sad though that is it means we're only a couple of weeks away from the start of the 2009-2010 racquetball season. There are three pro tournaments next month. Two men's events on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) and one Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) event.

IRT Season

The IRT season kicks off September 9-13 with the Motorola World Championship, a Grand Slam event, in Denver, where they will again be playing in public on the Lucite portable court, which will be set up in Skyline Park.

Last year, Kane Waselenchuk had the best comeback in racquetball history, as he won all but one of the events that he entered after being away from the game for two seasons due to a banned substance suspension. He'll be looking to continue that success, which includes a 6 tournament winning streak.

The IRT season will continue the following week in Terre Haute, Indiana, as the Lawler Sports Pro Am will take place September 17-20.

The complete IRT schedule is below. It's similar to last season, although there is some uncertainty with a few events (some dates pending).

IRT Main Events - 2009-2010 Season
(GS = Grand Slam, T1 = Tier 1)

T1 September 17-20 - LAWLER SPORTS PRO AM- Terre Haute, IN

T1 October 8-11 - KENTUCKY OPEN - Bowling Green, KY
GS October 21-25 - US OPEN - Memphis, TN

T1 November (TBA) - JUAREZ OPEN - Juarez, Mexico

T1 January 7-10 - CALIFORNIA OPEN - Los Angeles, CA
T1 January 14-17 - NEW YORK CITY PRO AM - Long Island, NY

T1 February 18-21 - SEATTLE OPEN - Seattle, WA
T1 February 25-28 - SAN DIEGO OPEN - San Diego, CA

T1 March 11-14 - FLORIDA SPRING BREAK - Sarasota, FL
T1 March - BOSTON MA (date pending)

T1 April 8-11 - DENNIS ROSENBERG PRO AM - Allentown, PA
T1 April 15-18 - MEXICO OPEN - Tijuana Mexico (date pending)
T1 April 23-25 - CANADIAN RACQUETBALL CLASSIC - Kitchener Canada (date pending)

GS May MOTOROLA IRT PRO NATIONALS - Chicago, IL (date pending)

WPRO Season

The WPRO season kicks off at the end of September with a new event: the 2009 Ektelon WPRO Texas Open in Dallas, which has a spiffy website and logo.

The WPRO season also looks similar to last year with 8 events, although there's no set place for the WPRO World Championships, which are scheduled for next May.

Paola Longoria emerged as the player to beat last season, as she finished #1 at season's end. However, she was beaten by Kristen Bellows in the WPRO World Championships, as well as Rhonda Rajsich earlier in the season and Cheryl Gudinas Holmes in the Pan American Championships. So while Longoria is #1 there are several rivals for that position.

WPRO Main Events - 2009-2010 Season
(GS = Grand Slam, T1 = Tier 1)

T1 September 25-27 - Dallas, TX - 2009 Ektelon WPRO Texas Open
GS October 21-25 - Memphis, TN - US Open Championships
T1 November 6-8 - Wilmington, NC - East Coast Championships
T1 December 11-13 - Arlington, VA - Christmas Classic

T1 March 12-14 - Gaithersburg, MD - Terrapin Shootout
T1 March 26-28 - York, PA - Miller Lite Open
T1 April 22-25 - Burlington, ON - Canadian Racquetball Classic
GS May 6-9 - WPRO World Championships

Follow the bouncing ball....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Best wishes to Jack and Christie

Jack Huczek and Christie Van Hees were married Saturday in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada - Van Hees's hometown. They currently reside in Dallas, Texas, though Huczek is originally from Michigan.

Huczek and Van Hees have been two of the best racquetball players in the last decade. They have both been #1 on their respective pro tours, and won the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championship multiple times.

Huczek has three IRF World Championships to Van Hees's two, but Van Hees has captured the US Open - racquetball's most prestigious pro event - three times while that title remains the only one that has eluded Huczek.

The Racquetball Blog wishes them all the best and looks forward to seeing them compete this season.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Olympic selections for 2016

Golf and rugby will be going into the Olympics for 2016 if the full International Olympic Committee (IOC) agrees with the recommendation the IOC Executive Board made on Thursday. Squash, softball, baseball, karate and roller sports were the other hopefuls for inclusion in the 2016 Games.

In an IOC press release, IOC President Jacques Rogge said golf and rugby "would add the most value” to the Games. The release also stated that "The key factors in determining a sport’s suitability for the Olympic programme include youth appeal, universality, popularity, good governance, respect for athletes and respect for the Olympic values."

“Golf and rugby scored high on all the criteria,” Rogge said. “They have global appeal, a geographically diverse line-up of top iconic athletes and an ethic that stresses fair play.”

You'll note, racquetball fans, that racquetball wasn't under consideration.

To Dream the Impossible Dream

It is the dream of all small sports, and yes, Virginia, racquetball is a small sport, to become big sports. The ultimate notice of achieving big sport status is the Olympics. The Racquetball Blog has addressed racquetball and the Olympics before, so we apologize to anyone who chokes a little on the dust rising from the horse we're beating.

Squash wasn't chosen, although it was under consideration and spent considerable funds on lobbying to be included. But it remains with racquetball: out of the Games. However, squash is farther ahead of racquetball in terms of the criteria cited above, especially universality. For example, there are squash courts in Africa. Indeed, three of the top four men's squash players are Egyptian, including #1 Karim Darwish.

But as far as The Racquetball Blog knows there are as many racquetball courts in Africa as there are in Antarctica. That is to say, none.

Also, you'll note that having a strong professional league isn't one of the IOC criteria. The major leagues didn't help baseball stay in the Olympic movement or get back in. Indeed, it may have hindered baseball's Olympic dream as the lack of the best players participating in the Games - due to their major league obligations - has been cited as a reason for the sport being dropped from the Olympic program.

Racquetball's international events haven't always featured the highest ranked men, although that has changed in recent years. We're sure Dave Negrete, commissioner of the International Racquetball Tour (IRT), wouldn't stand in the way of any player competing internationally, although we don't think the IRT and its players were always so internationally minded in the past. For example, Jason Mannino and Cliff Swain in all their racquetball accomplishments have never played for their country.

But if racquetball was to get in the Olympics the IOC would want racquetball's best players participating. That would mean Kane Waselenchuk, although his relationship with his country's national sport organization is rocky at best.

Note that good governance is an Olympic criterion, and here's where we should all be concerned about the conduct of the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) as that can impact on the Olympic dream. We're encouraged by the IRF's success at the World Games and the possibility of further development in Asia, but concerned about relations and development in Europe.

For now, the Olympic dream remains just that for racquetball but perhaps it may one day become reality.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

PASO Coaching Clinic

Guadalajara, Mexico hosted world leaders in more ways than one this past week. Sure, the Mexican, Canadian and USA heads of state were there the last few days. However, several of racquetball's top coaches were there last week for a Pan American Sport Organization (PASO) coaching clinic.

Organized by Gary Mazaroff of the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) and hosted by the Mexican Olympic Committee the five day event was attended by coaches from Argentina to Uruguay. In all, 14 countries were represented, although not the United States despite PASO funding for one coach from any eligible country in the Americas who applied. Thus, there was a Cuban coach in Guadalajara but not an American one.

The instructors for the course were Ron Brown of Canada, Dave Ellis and Jo Shattuck of the USA, Jorge Rodriguez and Fernando Rodriguez of Costa Rica, and Mexicans Javier Moreno Arroyo and Fabian Parrilla in addition to Mazaroff. Topics covered included service strategies, seasonal planning, rules of the game, including information about the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations from a Mexican expert, as well as demonstration games with participants assigned to roles as head coach, assistant coach, referee, and line judges.

The impetus for this event is the 2011 Pan American Games, which will be held in Guadalajara. The clinic's on court activity was held at the venue that will be used for the Games, a five court facility featuring two courts with side wall glass.

There had been two previous clinics like this: in Albuquerque in 2002 and in Colorado Springs in 2006.

Key for development

To develop racquetball excellence, you need to have courts and then you need coaches. Coaches come before players, because committed coaches will seek out players to develop through lessons and instruction. Also, if you have a racquetball facility, you want to have people playing the sport, which means introducing people to racquetball and encouraging them to play. The people who best do that are coaches.

Europe would do well to have a clinic such as this to help develop the sport there. However, such an event would be costly. The funding for the Guadalajara event came from PASO, because of the Pan Am Games. However, there is no event in Europe like the Pan Am Games, a multi-sport event held every four years.

The Asian Games are similar to the Pan American Games. Given that racquetball is already played in Japan, seems to be on the rise in Korea, and there's a legacy court in Taiwan from this year's World Games, racquetball may be more likely to expand in Asia than in Europe. In fact, racquetball representatives from India and Mongolia were at the World Games last month in Taiwan.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Europeans still out of IRF

The European Racquetball Federation's (ERF) Annual Congress was held during the European Championships last week in Nanterre, France. At that meeting the ERF discussed rejoining the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) from which they had withdrawn last year at the IRF Congress in Ireland.

The ERF decided not to rejoin the IRF at this time.

Erik Meyer, ERF President, cited three reasons for this decision in a message to IRF President, Keith Caulkins.

One reason was that nothing had changed in the year since the separation with the exception of the IRF's Strategic Planning Meeting in February. However, while Meyer acknowledged that meeting was positive, he stated the ERF have seen "no real results 6 months after this meeting."

Second, according to Meyer "the ERF members don't see any reasons to be part of the IRF and don't see how the IRF can be of any help to promote racquetball in Europe."

Finally, Meyer suggested that "if the lingering issues are not addressed in a more efficient and quicker way the ERF will take further steps to obtain better results" which may include "discouraging ERF members [from participating] in IRF events."

As we've stated before, this split does not serve the sport well. A potential decrease in countries participating at the World Championships would be unfortunate.

It would serve all racquetball players better if racquetball organizations could cooperate and all pull together. At the international level, this means having all the national and international racquetball organizations working towards the same goals.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Montserrat defends title, Consegal wins first as Catalonia sweeps 2009 European Championships

Victor Montserrat of Catalonia successfully defended his European Championship by defeating countryman Carlos Oviedo, 15-13, 15-13, in the Men's Open division at the 15th European Racquetball Championships in Nanterre, France, just outside Paris.

Both Montserrat and Oviedo needed tie-breaking third games after dropping the first games of their semi-finals. Montserrat defeated Oliver Bertels of Germany, 14-15, 15-5, 11-4, while Oviedo beat German Eric Gordon, 13-15, 15-7, 11-7.

Elisabet Consegal made it a sweep for Catalonia as she defeated German Yvonne Kortes in a tie-breaker, 13-15, 15-8, 11-7 in the Women's Open final. Catalonia also won the men's and women's team competitions earlier in the week.

In the semi-finals, Consegal also needed a tie-breaker against Andrea Gordon of Germany before winning, 15-11, 4-15, 11-10. Kortes had an easier time in the semis, as she beat Majella Haverty of Ireland in two straight games, 15-13, 15-7.

It's the first time players from the same country have won the mens' and womens' European Championships since 1993, when Germans Joachim Loof and Andrea Gordon were champions of Europe.

In doubles, it was all Ireland. In fact, the women's doubles final was an all Irish battle, as Antonia Neary and Geraldine Byrne defeated Haverty and Katie Kenny, 15-6, 13-15, 11-6. In the men's final, Adam Neary and Joe Farrell won by injury default over Germans Gordon and Bertels.

2009 European Racquetball Championships - Nanterre, France

Men's Open Final
Victor Montserrat (Catalonia) d. Carlos Oviedo (Catalonia) 15-13,15-13

Victor Montserrat (Catalonia) d. Oliver Bertels (Germany), 14-15, 15-5, 11-4
Carlos Oviedo (Catalonia) d. Eric Gordon (Germany), 13-15, 15-7, 11-7

Women's Open Final
Elisabet Consegal (Catalonia) d. Yvonne Kortes (Germany) 13-15, 15-8, 11-7

Elisabet Consegal (Catalonia) d. Andrea Gordon (Germany) 15-11, 4-15, 11-10
Yvonne Kortes (Germany) d. Majella Haverty (Ireland) 15-13, 15-7

Men's Open Doubles - Final
Adam Neary & Joe Farrell (Ireland) d. Eric Gordon & Oliver Bertels (Germany), Injury default

Women's Doubles Open - Final
Antonia Neary & Geraldine Byrne (Ireland) d. Katie Kenny & Majella Haverty (Ireland), 15-6, 13-15, 11-6

Follow the bouncing ball....

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Catalonia are Champions of Europe

The European Racquetball Federation is reporting on their website that Catalonia has won both the men's and women's team competition at the 15th European Racquetball Championships in Nanterre, France, just outside Paris.

In both finals, Catalonia was up against Germany, and in both they split the singles matches, so the doubles match decided the winner. Catalonia came out on top to win their first ever European Team Championships. Victor Montserrat of Catalonia won the individual title two years ago.

The 2009 championships were to be played in Barcelona, Catalonia, but the new facility was not ready. The win bodes well for the development of racquetball in the region.

The European championships' individual competitions continue through Saturday.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Sunday, August 2, 2009

RB instruction : Shot selection

Today's installment in The Racquetball Blog instructional series is going to address something that we learned from watching the pro men play. But we're not going to talk about how you should do what they do. No, we're going to talk about how you shouldn't do what they often do, and neither should they.

Yes, boys and girls, we're talking about shot selection.

If you want to win, then you need to take the right shot at the right time. You'd think the pros would always do this, but they don't. And it costs them.

A case in point came at the 2008 Motorola World Championships in Denver during the semi-final match between Jason Mannino and Rocky Carson. Mannino was up 10-8 in the fourth game, and needed to win it to force a fifth game.

Carson hit a ball that came high off the back wall bouncing far into the front court, and rather than doing the simple thing - a straight kill or down the line pass - Mannino tried a touch shot into the front corner, which he left up. That allowed Carson to get to it and win the rally.

Mannino did end up winning that game, but it took several more rallies and the energy Mannino used up in winning that fourth game (e.g., during one rally he threw himself towards the back wall in a futile attempt to keep the ball in play) meant he had nothing left for the fifth, which Carson won 11-1. Not taking the right shot could well have cost Mannino the match.

In general, the best place for you to put the ball is the back corner closest to where you are positioned. Thus, if you're on the left side of the court, you want to hit the ball to the left back corner. This would be a down the line shot.

There may be times when it's good to play the balls into the front corners, but that's a lower probability choice and misses will leave the ball in a good position for your opponent. Thus, down the line is the money shot. Period.

What's that you say? Down the line's boring? Too much like squash? You say you're playing racquetball, so you want to splat and kill and pinch the ball, 'cause that's racquetball! Boo-yah!

The Power of Seduction

It's true that racquetball is a power and speed game, and with no barrier to hit the ball over (i.e., a net or tin), it's possible to hit spectacular shots that roll away flat from the front wall. All the pro guys can hit these kind of shots, and you want to do that too. Fair enough.

But understand that they try to hit spectacular shots too often, as in every time they swing at the ball. This is a mistake, and it limits their success.

Spectacular shots are low percentage shots, which means that they are only successful a low percentage of the time. If you're trying to hit a spectacular shot every time, how much success are you going to have? A low percentage.

The possibility of a spectacular shot is the Siren call of racquetball. You're on the court, and the ball is moving close to the side wall, and it calls out to you: "splat me! splat me!"

When you hit a side wall-front wall shot, there are three things that can happen, as a coach we know often says, and two of those things are bad. Either the ball skips, or it comes off the front wall into the middle of the court giving your opponent a perfect opportunity to win the rally.

But occasionally you hit a winning shot. Splat! This successful outcome varies across the times that you try these shots, which reinforces the behavior in the same way gambling behavior is reinforced: the success sometimes happens but not in a regular pattern, so to get more of that success you increase the number of times you perform the behavior.

So all the pro guys try to be spectacular all the time, but none of them have the game style to back it up, save one. Kane Waselenchuk has a spectacular game style, so he can try a bunch of crazy shots and make them work a good percentage of the time. But as the saying goes, "don't try that at home."

In the 2003 US Open final, Derek Robinson hit a ball to the back left corner. Waselenchuk went over to retrieve it, but when he got close to it, it took an unexpected bounce. Most of us mere mortals would have been hooped, or perhaps flailed at the ball in an attempt to hit it off the back wall.

That's not what Waselenchuk did. He threw his left arm up, twisted around, and hit a pinch shot into the front right corner that rolled out flat. It was unbelievable.

But that's the kind of thing that all the pros want to do. Now, when I say "pros" here, I mean "male pros," because the women aren't seduced by power like the men are. That may be a function of them having less power, but nevertheless no man has the same game style as, say, Christie Van Hees, who pounds the ball straight in time after time wearing down her opponents.

But who among you wouldn't want to have Van Hees's success?

Psychology of shot selection

You might partly be going wrong due to the belief that you need to hit a better shot (read: more spectacular shot, read: lower probability shot) to win a rally than is really necessary. This can especially occur as you play more skilled players, because they're hitting more spectacular shots, so you think you need to do that too.

But it's better to win a rally hitting three 80% shots than one 25% shot, because too often you're going to be on the losing end with that 25% shot. Even if someone's retrieved your down the line shot twice, they might not get it the third time. Yet even if they do, the effort in doing so will take its toll over the course of the game and match.

Thus, patience is required. The best example of that is Rocky Carson, whose game style is to hit a number of loopy shots that put his opponents off balance. He's waiting for his opportunity to hit a high percentage winning shot.

It's a strange strategy, but Carson's successful with it, because it takes advantage of the fact that other racquetball pros aren't patient enough to wait for their opportunity. Similarly, Mannino's strategy of frequent diving to keep the ball in play works because in letting his opponents hit more balls Mannino's often simply giving them more opportunities to make mistakes that he can take advantage of.


You want to play the ball to the back corners, and do so often. Have confidence that this is the right strategy, because who among you wouldn't want your opponent always trying to hit the ball from one of the back corners 38 feet from the front wall?

Follow the bouncing ball....