Saturday, July 28, 2012

Racquetball in the Olympics - REVISITED

With the start of the London Olympics, we thought it was be a good time to link to the piece we wrote on racquetball in the Olympics four years ago.

The piece generally holds up, although perhaps we'd say now that racquetball's well supported on two continents - North and South America, rather than just one.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 IRF World Championships Preview

The 16th International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships begin in a little over a week in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, so it's time for a preview and a review of what happened at the last World Championships two years ago in Seoul, South Korea.

In Seoul, Team USA won three of the four individual competition gold medals as well as gold in both the team competitions (Worlds begins with four individual competitions: men's and women's singles and men's and women's doubles followed by a men's and women's team competitions where countries playoff against each other in a best of three match format involving two singles matches and a doubles match).

The American winners were Rocky Carson (men's singles), Rhonda Rajsich (women's singles) and Ben Croft and Mitch Williams (men's doubles). Remarkably, the USA did not win women's doubles, which was only the second time they failed to so, as Mexicans Paola Longoria and Samantha Salas took gold by defeating Aimee Ruiz and Jackie Paraiso in the final.

However, in the international competitions since then Mexico has come out on top more often than the USA, as Mexico won all but one gold medal at the 2011 Pan American Games including the team competitions. The exception was Carson winning men's singles. Thus, the USA could find themselves in tough to repeat their results from two years ago.

Team USA

Also, the American team looks different than it did two years ago. For the men, only Carson is back, and he's joined by three young men: Jose Rojas (singles), Jansen Allen (doubles) and Tony Carson (doubles; no relation to Rocky Carson). Those three are all rookies at Worlds, although each has played on Team USA once before. Allen and Carson were the silver medal doubles team at the 2011 Pan American Championships and Rojas played singles at the 2008 Pan American Championships, losing in the quarter finals to Polo Gutierrez of Mexico.

On the women's side, Rajsich and Cheryl Gudinas are again the singles players. It's the 25th time Gudinas has been on Team USA and the 13th time for Rajsich. But in doubles for the first time since 2000 neither Jackie Paraiso or Aimee Ruiz are at Worlds, as Rajsich and Kim Waselenchuk (née Russell) are the American women's doubles team, as they won the US Doubles Championships this year.

It's the first time Waselenchuk has been on Team USA since 2004, when she and Paraiso won gold at Worlds, and over 20 years since she made her first international appearance with Team USA, as she played doubles with Paraiso at the 1991 Pan American Championships (then The Tournament of the Americas). Overall, it's Waselenchuk's 9th appearance on Team USA.

Team Mexico

We haven't found out the Mexican team roster, but we understand Longoria will play both singles and doubles, with Salas. We're not sure who the other singles player will be. We believe it will be either Jessica Parilla or Susana Acosta.

We're not sure who the Mexican men will be, but they will be at a relative disadvantage, because they did not send a strong team to South Korea two years ago. The Mexican men got a bronze medal in doubles but didn't medal in singles and only finished 8th in the team event. Seedings for this year are based - in part - on performances from two years ago, so the Mexican men's team will be seeded lower than they might otherwise have been if they had sent a stronger team to South Korea.

Team Canada

Team Canada will have the same 8 players at Worlds in Santo Domingo as they had in Seoul, although what they are playing is slightly different. Jennifer Saunders is playing singles, as is Brandi Jacobson Prentice. The Canadian women's doubles team will be Josée Grand'Maître and Frédérique Lambert. On the men's side, Mike Green and Vincent Gagnon will be the men's doubles team with Kris Odegard and Tim Landeryou playing singles.

Other teams

The competitive level of international racquetball has risen significantly, so there are significant players from outside the big three racquetball nations. Players such as Bolivians Ricardo Monroy and Carlos Keller as well as Colombians Juan Herrera and Cristina Amaya are all medal threats and cannot be taken lightly. Also, there should strong players from South Korea and Japan, who finished 4th and 5th in the women's team competition two years ago, but those players are rarely seen in North America, so they could be true wild cards in the draw.

Opening ceremonies in Santo Domingo are August 3 with play beginning on August 4. The four individual competitions use a straight draw format over four days of competition. Then there will be an off day prior to three days of team competition. The team competition finals will be on August 11.

Below are the results from the last IRF World Championships.

15th IRF World Championships - Seoul, South Korea
August 2010


Men's Singles
Gold - Rocky Carson (USA)
Silver - Jack Huczek (USA)
Bronze - Vincent Gagnon (Canada) and Ricardo Monroy (Bolivia)

Men's Doubles
Gold - Ben Croft & Mitch Williams (USA)
Silver - Tim Landeryou & Mike Green (Canada)
Bronze - Cesar Castro & Jorge Hirsekorn (Venezuela) and Alejandro Landa & Miguel Perea (Mexico)

Women's Singles
Gold - Rhonda Rajsich (USA)
Silver - Nancy Enriquez (Mexico)
Bronze - Paola Longoria (Mexico) and Cheryl Gudinas (USA)

Women's Doubles
Gold - Paola Longoria & Samantha Salas Solis (Mexico)
Silver - Aimee Ruiz & Jackie Paraiso (USA)
Bronze - Brandi Jacobson Prentice & Frédérique Lambert (Canada) and Naomi Wakimoto & Toshiko Sakamoto (Japan)

Men's Team Competition - Final Standings

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Bolivia
4. Costa Rica
5. Venezuela
6. Ecuador
7. South Korea
8. Mexico
9. Colombia
10. Japan
11. Dominican Republic
12. Guatamala
13. India
14. Argentina
15. Ireland
16. Tonga

Women's Team Competition - Final Standings

1. USA
2. Canada
3. Mexico
4. South Korea
5. Japan
6. Bolivia
7. Ecuador
8. Venezuela
9. Ireland
10. Guatamala
11. Tonga

Follow the bouncing ball....

Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy 23rd Birthday Paola Longoria!

In your brief time on the planet, you've become one of the world's best women's racquetball players. You regained the #1 ranking on the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) tour last season by going undefeated. Only two other women have been undefeated in a season: Lynn Adams (1985-86) and Michelle Gould (1995-96, 1997-98).*

You've won two US Opens, four Pan American Championships, and gold medals in singles, doubles (with Samantha Salas) and the women's team event at the 2012 Pan American Games. You also won doubles (with Salas) at the 2010 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships. Your 22 pro wins put you 5th all time behind Adams (45), Gould (41), Cheryl Gudinas (39) and Rhonda Rajsich (25).

Only one title has eluded you: a singles world championship. But you'll have the chance to put that on your resumé next month in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic at the 2012 IRF World Championships.

It would make a nice belated birthday gift.

(* Note: TRB's all time women's pro statistics are incomplete)

Follow the bouncing ball....

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy 47th Birthday Marci Drexler!

You were the second ranked women's racquetball player for two consecutive seasons - 1992-93 & 1993-94 - behind Michelle Gould. Those were two of the 11 seasons you finished in the top 10 on the women's tour, which ties you for 5th most career top 10s with Lynn Adams and Kerri Wachtel.

You won multiple times on tour with your first win a five game victory over Caryn McKinney back in 1987. The Racquetball Blog's (incomplete) tournament records have you with 5 wins in 13 final appearances. Five wins is the 12th most by a woman, and given you were a contemporary of Adams and Gould, two of the greatest women racquetball players of all time, that many wins is quite remarkable.

That total doesn't include your 1984 US Nationals victory, which you won as an 18 year old, defeating Cindy Baxter in the final. The win got you a mention in the June 18, 1984 Sports Illustrated, as one of their Faces in the Crowd, where you were identified as a "snack bar attendant."

This season you made a return to competition and proved you can still play well, as you defeated Laura Fenton in the California Championships and played a tight match against Jackie Paraiso, losing 15-12, 15-13.

You played doubles with Fenton in this year's US Doubles Championships and finished 4th, defeating Danielle and Michelle Key before losing to Krystal Csuk and Cheryl Gudinas in the semi-finals and then to Aimee Ruiz and Paraiso in the 3rd place match.

You had a fine racquetball career and it's nice to see you playing competitively again.

Follow the bouncing ball….

Friday, July 13, 2012

Women's Racquetball Action All Off Court

There's been developments off court in women's pro racquetball, as a new organization has been announced: the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT). Organized by Andy Kulback and T.J. Baumbaugh, the LPRT will be a player run organization.

The Racquetball Blog talked to Kulback, and he indicated that LPRT events would be open to all players. They are in the planning stages for their tournament schedule, but they hope to have 10-12 events next season. The idea is to "retrench" and create "a solid foundation" before figuring out their "growth path," according to Kulback.

We pointed out that there aren't a lot of regular tour players in their 20s, and Kulback indicated their growth path would mean some player development. To that end, he suggested that some collegiate players have indicated they will be playing more events this coming season.

Also, Kulback suggested they'd like to see some of the young talented players from Central and South American play on tour more often. One way to do this may be to schedule events closer together in time so as to help such players who travel to the US to play a chance at playing a couple or three events in one visit. Colombian Cristina Amaya played the last three events of last season without returning home, but that was a span of six weeks, which is not a brief time.

Having some events in Mexico, which the LPRT is exploring as a possibility, could also help the Latin American players.

Kulback and Baumbaugh are organizing the LPRT now, but there will be a search for a commissioner and a Board of Directors will be created. But he emphasized "the players will be the owners of the tour" even though they won't necessarily be involved in day to day decisions.

Asked about sponsorships, Kulback said many of the usual supporters within the racquetball community have been approached and they would like to look outside the racquetball industry as well, but they need to "get our own house in order first" before reaching "outside of the sport to find sponsorship opportunities." Kulback states "the initial response from the racquetball community has been very positive and the LPRT is looking forward to working with those supporters and building those relationships."

The Racquetball Blog also contacted Gigi Rock, Commissioner of the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) about this development, but she declined to comment on it at this time.

Too many cooks?

When The Racquetball Blog first heard that a new women's tour was in development, we were concerned, because it's a situation we've seen before in racquetball (with the Catalina tour in the men's professional game back in the early 1980s) and in other sports (such as boxing) and one that usually is not good for the sport in question.

It's fine for there to be separate national organizations, but it's best for there to be one organization overseeing professional competitions, as golf or tennis have. Hopefully, the LPRT and WPRO could make some sort of reconciliation so that there would be no split of players between the two. Such splits lead can lead to confusion among fans if one organization's #1 player or champion differs from the other, which has happened in boxing over the past few decades and in our opinion contributed to that sport's decline in popularity.

One thing is clear. People care about women's racquetball and want to see it succeed and grow. However, there are differences about how to accomplish that.

Hopefully, those differences won't end up being counter productive to women's racquetball.

Follow the bouncing ball….

Saturday, July 7, 2012

And Now We Are 4

The Racquetball Blog began four years ago today with the purpose of providing "independent writing and reporting on racquetball."

During that period Rocky Carson and Rhonda Rajsich have won two World Championships (will they make it three each next month?), Mexicans Paola Longoria and Samantha Salas have won three straight women's doubles titles - Worlds, Pan Am Games and Pan Am Championships, and Kane Waselenchuk has won just about every tournament he's entered.

We've been to the last four US Opens and watched countless hours of racquetball over the web via ESPN 360, UStream and, of course, the IRT Network. Web-casting has been a tremendous help to us.

Over the last four years, some people have arrived on the scene: Jose Rojas, Charlie Pratt, Krystal Csuk, Gigi Rock, and some have left: Jack Huczek, Mitch Williams, Dave Negrete, Brenda Kyzer, Jo Shattuck, Shannon Feaster, and still others left and came back: Alvaro Beltran and Kristen Bellows.

It's called The Racquetball Blog, but it could have been called The Racquetball Journal or Racquetball Reporter, which perhaps would have given a better indicator of what we're trying to do here. Because we're not about stirring the pot with indefensible claims or unfairly biased opinion or SHOUTING hyperbole. A lot of sports coverage uses that approach. We don't.

The tone here is respectful and fact based, although not always conventional. Our model is The Economist, which is part of the reason for using the "we" construction, not "I". Also, the facts or arguments should stand for themselves, and using "I" might get in the way.

Despite the straight up approach, we've apparently still annoyed people on occasion. Clearly, you can't always please everybody. So it goes.

But we hope that if you care about racquetball, as we do, that reading The Racquetball Blog will be pleasing more often than not. Feedback is welcome. You can make comments on each post or email us - - and you can follow us on Twitter @racquetballblog.

We look forward to more "independent writing and reporting on racquetball," and hope you do too.

Follow the bouncing ball….

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What training requires

One of The Racquetball Blog staff recently met up with a racquetball coach we know. Coach is a gruff old guy, and this is how the meeting went.

"Hey coach! How's it going?" 

"Still getting up in the morning," he said. "What are you doing to improve your game?" Never one to beat around the bush, coach.

"Well, you know, it's summer, so I'm running a bit and working out." 

"Do you not understand English? I asked what are doing to improve your game? Be specific!"

"Uh, well, I'm running a couple of times a week and ---" 

"How many times a week? For how long? How far? At what pace?"

"Well, about half an hour, twice a week, and-- uhhhh...." 

"You don't really know, do you?" Coach asked, and our guy sheepishly shook his head. "Well, then you're not training. Do you know what training involves?"

"Oh sure! There's doing cardio and pumping weights and all that stuff!"

Coach sighed, "yeah, yeah, smart guy. But what training needs is this," and he pulled a little book and a pencil out of his pocket.

"What's that?" 

"What the hell's it look like? It's a pencil and a notebook. Tell me you're not as dumb as you look."

"I'm not as d--- No, wait, how's that going make me a better racquetball player?" 

"If you're training, then you need to be making progress. It's fine to be going for a run, or doing yoga or pilates or whatever the activity of the week is now - lord knows more people should be doing something instead of sitting around on their backsides. But really if you're only doing that, then you're just treading water, because you're not making progress. Training means progressing. And to know if you're progressing you need to keep a record. That's where this comes in," he said waving the pencil and notebook in the air.

"Oh, I see." 

"Do you? 'cause it sounds like you don't. Understand, you need to know what you're doing this week, so that you can do more next week. That's what progression means. Doing more later than you are now. But you won't know if it's more unless you have a record of what you're doing now."

"Well, I can just remember. I've got a good memory." 

"Well, ain't you special. People forget stuff. Believe me; they do, especially stuff they do a lot, and if you're training, you should be doing a lot of stuff, which means you should be writing it down--"

"I got an iPhone! Can I use that keep my records?"

"Sure tech-boy, use your iPhone. Write in the clouds, if you want, or open a vein and write in blood. Whatever. Just keep a record."

"Sure, coach!" 

"All right. I'll want to see that record later. Make sure you're actually making progress not just piddling about."

"Sure, coach!" 

Coach's eyes rolled, and he said "right. Well, it's lunch time and I'm hungry, so I'm going to go eat. Good-bye."

"See ya coach!"  

Follow the bouncing ball….