December 16th, 2006 by Adam Katz
Greetings from Tempe, AZ, home of the 18th Ektelon International Racquetball Federation Junior World Championships.
The teams have arrived and they used today to practice at the Student Recreation Center on the campus of Arizona State University. Twenty teams will be contesting this year’s individual and team championships beginning Saturday morning at 8:30am.
I watched most of the teams practicing today and as is always the case, I walked away very impressed. Team USA, in the words of Assistant Coach Shane Wood, is relaxed and confident, and from what I saw, I have to agree.
Team Mexico is looking strong once again and will certainly be a force as they attempt to win the Team title for the fifth straight year.
Team Canada also was very impressive in practice today, and I am hopeful that I will be able to report on the names of some of these players as the week progresses.
One player whose name I do know is Ecuador’s Veronica Sotomayer. I was able to catch a few minutes of her practice time early this morning, and she is playing extremely well.
As for the US team, they are led by Girl’s Captain Ashley Wilhite from Oregon. Many of you will recall that Ashley won the World title in the Girl’s 16s two years ago in San Luis Poteci, Mexico, but was unable to play in the 2005 Junior Nationals due to injury. Well she is back and ready to challenge for the Girl’s 18 Singles crown. Also playing in the Girl’s 18 Singles is current National Champion, Michelle Key from Arizona. Many of you will recall that Michelle was pulled from the Junior Worlds last year at the last minute due to a hamstring injury. She has used that as motivation and is hoping to be able to use the home court advantage as she is now a Freshman at Arizona State University. The Girl’s 18 doubles team consists of Kara Mazur from Connecticut and Samantha McGuffey from Ohio. These two are amongst the toughest racquetball competitors that I know and I am looking forward to their matches this week.
In the Girl’s 16s, the singles players are Sharon Jackson from Indiana and Sheryl Lotts from Ohio. Both these young ladies are looking to add a world title to their racquetball resumes after strong showings at this past summer’s Junior Nationals where Sharon rolled through the tourney and double qualified. She teams with Ohio’s Holly Hettesheimer in the doubles and Sharon is aiming to match her feat of gold medals in both events at these World Championships.
In the Girl’s 14s, California’s Aubrey O’Brien hopes to add a World Championship to her National title from June. Aubrey surprised everyone outside of California last year at Junior Worlds when she knocked off an American point earner in the girl’s 12 singles. She isn’t sneaking up on anyone anymore. Danielle Key of Arizona earned the second singles spot with another strong showing at Junior Nationals where she double qualified. She’ll team with Ohio’s Lily Berry in the doubles and she is hoping to claim both gold medals.
The Boy’s are led by Captain Allan Crockett from Alabama in his first year in the Boy’s 18s. At Junior Nationals he took out last year’s finalists in the semis and the finals to earn the crown and is now on a mission to help end Mexico’s run at the team title. Chris Coy from Oklahoma has double qualifed and is displaying quiet confidence currently. I talked briefly with Chris at the Opening ceremonies earlier tonight and he tells me that he’s ready. Chris will be teaming with Ohio’s Zach Apperson in the doubles.
The Boy’s 16s will see California’s Jose Rojas and Ishmael Aldana play both singles and doubles as they attempt to sweep this division. Jose earned the title in the 14s last year in Juarez, Mexico, and he has that same look in his eyes that was prevalent then and again last summer at Junior Nationals in Lansing, MI, when he rolled to the title.
The Boy’s 14s was a true US strength last year as the boys swept the singles and doubles and they will be looking to repeat that this year. In the singles, Oregon’s Taylor Knoth leads the way and New York’s Brad Kirch will be right there with him. Taylor double qualified and will team with Minnesota’s Jake Bredenbeck in the doubles. At the Junior team camp in Colorado Springs back in August, the 14 year olds definitely made a strong impression on Coach Kelley Beane and her staff.
On the Espirit Cup side (that’s the 12 and under age divisions for everyone out there), the Girl’s 12s have Samantha Rosado from Connecticut and California’s Devon Pimentelli playing as the point earners in singles and Mercedes Arias and Ines Lecland, both from Michigan, will be earning points in the doubles. As a reminder, the Espirit Cup is played using the Olympic format so point earners and non point earners are combined in the draw.
The Girl’s 10s has Oregon’s Hollee Hungerford and Ohio’s Abbey Lavely playing singles, and Abbey will team with Colorado’s Elizabeth Vargas as the point earners in the 10 Doubles.
The Girl’s 8s features another Ohio/Colorado connection as Colorado’s Erika Manilla looks to add a world title to the 6 and under crown she claimed last year in Juarez. Ohio’s Christina Lavely will also be in the hunt looking for the gold.
On the Boy’s side in the 12s, Marko Rojas and Jose Diaz, both from California, will play both singles and doubles and earn points in both events.
In the Boy’s 10s, Colorado’s Adam Manilla leads the way as a double qualifier. California’s Bobby Sehrgosha will earn points in the singles, and Florida’s Sean Cooperrider will partner Adam and earn points in the doubles.
In the Boy’s 8s, Ryan Francis from New Hampshire will be aiming to have Coach Kelley Beane carrying his bags around again as Coach Beane promised him that she would do that at Junior Nationals if he brought home the gold. I haven’t confirmed that deal existing for this tourney, but I believe that I have heard rumors that it is true. Also earning points in the 8s with be Jake Birnel from Washington.
The action starts bright and early and I will get an update out to everyone as soon as I can tomorrow night.
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Entry Filed under: IRF