Just as I logged in to www.racquetballonline.tv to catch some of the action for the 2008 USA Racquetball Junior Nationals, I noticed that Pablo and Angela have also been hard at work publishing some new content to the Video on Demand section of the site. If you’ve got some free time, I’d HIGHLY recommend checking out some of the action from the the 2008 USA Racquetball National Singles Championships. So far, they’ve got the Men’s Finals (Rocky Carson def. Jack Huczek), Men’s Semifinal 1 (Jack Huczek def. Mitch Williams), and Men’s Semifinal 2 (Rocky Carson def. Shane Vanderson).
I decided to go back and take a look at the finishes of the IRT players for the 2007-2008 season, and below you will find a summary table for all Tier 1 and Grand Slam Events – 13 in total (**except two quaterfinalists from Allentown, PA where the draws are completely MIA). The rankings you see are from about mid-season, so the actual year-end rankings are not accurate. There is a definite trend for the top 7 or so players, with the 8th spot up for grabs at each of the events. The top two athletes also dominated throughout the season, with Jack and Rocky only giving up a single tournament win to another player.
The latest updates are in the 2008 National Singles Photo Gallery.
There were also a few other photographers in Houston taking photos. Julian Gomez, from 801Creative in Salt Lake City, was helping me with USA Racquetball duties, and Adam (Aaron?) Clark, a local player from Houston, was sharpening his skills with his new camera. I’ll be in contact with Julian to see if he intends to post anything online, and Adam has already added some photos to the Racquetball Group on Flickr. As always, the photo situation on the courts at the Houston YMCA is VERY challenging, with low light, dots on the glass, and lights that cycle resulting in color shifts in all the photos (not to mention that racquetball is one of the hardest sports to shoot!). Hats off to anyone who gets decent shots (of which Adam and Julian both accomplished!!).
If anyone else at the event has pictures you’d like to share, I’d HIGHLY recommend posting them to www.Flickr.com, and then adding them to the Racquetball Group on Flickr. In fact, I’d recommend adding ANY racquetball photos to that group so the world can see!!
Through some discussions with Mike Boatman, I learned that the IRT was distributing IRT Pro Player Trading Cards at the 2008 IRT Pro Nationals in Chicago! It looks like the top 10 players were included, but it’s not clear if they are intended to be for the 2007-2008 season or if they are more of a “one time thing”. These cards will apparently be sold through the IRT Store, however they weren’t listed on the site at the time of this post. I’m very curious to see the details (like cost and how many are available), so if anyone has an inside line, please comment below!
Although Double Donut Studios did not attend the 2008 IRT Pro National Racquetball Championships, veteran racquetball photographer Mike Boatman was onsite. Besides being all all-around great guy and talented racquetball photographer, Mike is an accomplished national photographer based out of Memphis, TN. Here are a few “teasers” – head over to the galleries for the complete 145 photo set.
**** All photos Copyright 2008 Mike Boatman – www.MikeBoatman.com. ***** (please contact Mike Boatman directly for licensing inquiries)
The 2008 IRT Pro National Racquetball Championships finished this weekend, with defending champion Jack Huczek(2) defeating Rocky Carson(1) in a LONG 5-gamer. Although a BIG win, Rocky Carson still sealed the deal for a year-end IRT #1 ranking with his second place finish. There were TWO huge additions to this year’s event – a new portable court with 4-wall glass, and LIVE video streaming via www.espn360.com.
The court looked great (from what I saw on the live ESPN feed), and it appears the front wall was covered with the IRT Pro Nationals logo. There were also two logo banners on either side wall of the court. The commentators made some comments about “the dark left wall”, where players were having some troubles immediately seeing the ball. It will be interesting to hear further reports from players who spent some time on the court this weekend. From what I understand, this will be the court used for all future IRT Grand Slam events.
The streaming on www.espn360.com was great! As with any internet feed, there was some intermittent “pauses” in the audio/video, but the overall quality made it easy to follow the action. It was exciting to see the ESPN logos around the video score banners and other areas This could be a HUGE relationship for the IRT, and I hope to see ESPN bring racquetball to people who haven’t experienced the sport. The matches from this weekend are currently available in the “archive” section of www.espn360.com, and I HIGHLY encourage anyone to spend a few minutes checking them out!
Lots of racquetball action coming up in the days and weeks ahead. First, the Choice Hotels US OPEN from November 2007 starts airing with Quarterfinal #1 tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb 6) at 9pm Eastern Time on the Tennis Channel. If you get the Tennis Channel, check it out!
Update: The Tennis Channel has revised their scheduling and the Choice Hotels US OPEN will not air tonight as previously reported. The first installment is now scheduled to air on Wed. Feb 20 at 9pm Eastern Time. Check out the following link to better track the schedule on the Tennis Channel.
As a reminder, Jacqueline Paraiso and Aimee Ruiz are the defending champions in the Women’s Qualifying Division and there is plenty of stiff competition as they try to repeat. Current WPRO #1 Rhonda Rajsich will team with Janel Tisinger once again, WPRO #2 Cheryl Gudinas Holmes will team with former Junior Team member, Shannon Inglesby, Kristin Walsh and Kim Russell-Walselenchuk will also be in the hunt.
The Men’s Qualifying Division has some interesting pairings as the defending champions, Ben Croft and Mitch Williams will split up and play with their usual partners, Woody Clouse and Jason Thoerner, respectively. It’ll be interesting to see how the seedings play out as 2006 champions, Rocky Carson and Jack Huczek return looking to regain the crown. Also in the fray will be John Ellis along with Junior Team Member Jose Rojas, fresh off his gold-silver performance at Junior Worlds in the 16s and 18s respectively.
Not playing in the Qualifying division, but still returning to competitive play will be one of the legends of the sport as Cliff Swain has entered the Men’s 40s and the Mixed Open.
Closing out a very busy February, the IRT will be at the Washington Athletic Club for the Seattle Open Feb 21-24, check out their website for further information at:
The USAR Junior Nationals will run June 25-29 at the Big C Athletic Club in Concord, CA. At the current time, I am uncertain of my attendance as I am trying to go to Beijing this coming August for the Summer Olympics.
Team Colorado will be raffling off a framed jersey autographed by one of the following Colorado sports players: Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, or Joe Sakic in order to help pay for the trip out to Junior Nationals. At the current time, I am not sure which jersey will be made for raffle as I won’t be getting those until early March during a dinner at the Pepsi Center. Once details are finalized I will let everyone know how they can obtain tickets.
By the time Rocky and Jack took to the court, the capacity crowd at the Racquet Club of Memphis had been treated to some absolutely fantastic racquetball. First, by Ruben and Woody in the CPRT Finals, won by Ruben in 5, then by Rhonda and Cheryl in the WPRO finals. So Rocky and Jack had a lot to live up to as they entered the stadium court at the 12th Choice Hotels US OPEN. Luckily, they didn’t disappoint.
Rocky came out on fire and simply could not miss. Most people around me were saying that he was “in the zone” and I would heartily agree. While Jack was playing well, he simply couldn’t keep up with Rocky in the first game and the 11-3 scoreline is both a testament to how well Rocky played and how tough a competitor Jack is…the fact that he was able to score any points with the way Rocky was hitting proves that Jack is truly worthy of his Number 1 ranking.
Further proof was delivered in the second game. The crowd was definitely feeling a Rocky sweep after that first game, but Jack refused to allow that to happen. He changed things up and kept attacking Rocky every chance he got. Although Rocky was still playing very solidly, Jack just refused to lose this game. They were together throughout until Jack closed it late to tie things up 11-7 to Jack.
Now the crowd decided it would be best to settle in and just enjoy the moment. Getting riled up for the TV Cameras seemed to have pumped up both of the competitors as they were definitely playing some amazing racquetball.
As the third game started, it was pretty obvious that both players were going to try and impose their will on this game in order to get the 2-1 lead and obtain the better odds of clinching the title and having their name etched on the Champions Cup of the Choice Hotels US OPEN. Points seemed very hard to come by as both players spent a lot of time diving and hitting to the ceiling to keep the ball in play. When the dust settled, though, Rocky had strung together enough at the end to squeak out the game 11-8.
At this point, Rocky could sense his time was coming. However, Jack has earned that number 1 ranking and he wasn’t about to potentially give it up without a major fight. Both players traded points early in the game until Rocky went on a run that would bring him to the verge of the title. He got the score to 10-5 and then he stalled…or more appropriately, Jack really turned his own game up. Rocky served for the match at least 6 different times, but at the same time, he only gave up one more point himself during this long stretch of time. Rocky did have one moment when he thought that he had finally ended it with a dive in the right side front court, but side Referee, Andy Hawthorne called it two bounces and so the celebration was postponed. Each time Rocky stepped into the service box, the crowd started chanting, “Rocky, Rocky” so when he finally ended things it was only natural that the theme song from the movie would boom out in the stadi um court area.
As to my earlier report on the women’s final, I did see Rhonda as I was leaving the club for the airport and she mentioned that on that tough play in the 3rd game, when she hit Cheryl on her backswing, it threw her off quite a bit and after she had hit the ball, her own racqet came up and caught her in the nose. All I can say is that it was very bloody.
This concludes my Choice Hotels US OPEN experience.
The US Junior Team heads to Cochabamba, Bolivia for the IRF Junior Worlds in about 3 weeks. A few of the team members made the trip to Memphis and they all appear very eager to get down there and start playing. I will do the best I can to get updates out to everyone as I receive word from those that will be there.
Next up for me, potentially, will be National Doubles in February in Tempe, AZ. Still not 100% certain, but we’ll see.
Anyway, I just got home, and I haven’t had a chance to upload the pictures that I did take from my camera and won’t be doing that tonight. When I have, I will send some out to everyone…I am not a Geoff Thomsen or Mike Boatman by any means, so please keep that in mind.
In the meantime, I hope everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving this coming week!
Cheryl began this match with a short serve, and that gave Christie a little momentum out of the gate. Jumping ahead 2-0 and then 5-2, it looked like Christie would be more than happy to relive last year’s final. However, Cheryl had other ideas and came back to tie the score each time. Tied at 5, Christie decided it was time to take one more lead and once she had it she closed it out.
That only served to fire Cheryl up. She’s been playing very well in recent events and that certainly continued today. The players took turns grabbing one point leads early in Game 2 until Cheryl led 4-3. At that point, there was a close call on the left side wall. That particular call went Christie’s way, but Cheryl used that and regained the momentum quickly. She built her lead to 7-3 before Christie was able to get the service back. Cheryl then kept the pressure up and built her advantage to 10-5. Christie then went on a run to bring it back to 9-10, but that was as close as she would get. Cheryl closed it out on her next service to even the game count at 1.
Each player knew they needed game three to put additional pressure on their opponent, and both players came out firing. Cheryl built a quick 2-0 lead, but Christie came right back and strung together five points for a 5-2 lead. Cheryl then pushed it up to another level and stormed back with nine straight points to close it out.
Cheryl now sensed her moment, but Christie came out for a quick 2-0 lead. Cheryl erased that right away with four straight points. At that point, they started trading points with some amazing shots. At 10-8, Cheryl served another short serve, but quickly regrouped with a side out. She would end in on her next serve and now looks forward to another championship final on the stadium court at the 12th Choice Hotels US OPEN.
Rhonda Rajsich versus Angela Grisar
This one started fairly slow as both players adapted to their surroundings on the stadium court. Eventually Rhonda put a run together to grab a 7-1 lead, but Angela started to calm her nerves and got back into the game at 4-7. Playing on the stadium court seemed to hinder Angela’s usual precise shots as she had a few serves go out of bounds on the fly for side outs and Rhonda continued to take advantage. Building her lead, very slowly Rhonda inched her way to game one 11-7.
Game two was a back and forth affair as Angela was able to grab her first lead of the match. Playing very controlled and smooth, she built a 7-3 lead before she stalled. Rhonda increased the pressure with some incredible diving kills and was able to end the game with an 8-1 run.
Rhonda’s momentum seemed to be building but Angela refused to go down without a fight. She grabbed a quick 2-0 lead, but now Rhonda sensed her opportunity. She knew she didn’t want to let Angela get comfortable and she moved the score to 2-2 with another great show of athleticism. Angela briefly grabbed a 3-2 lead, but once Rhonda got the lead back, she wouldn’t give it up. 11-3 to Rhonda and onward to the finals here at the 12th Choice Hotels US OPEN Racquetball Championships.
Rocky Carson vs Jason Mannino
Rocky came into this one very focused. Brimming with confidence from his recent win in Albuquerque combined with his first Grand Slam title in Colorado Springs, he could see the ultimate prize out there and he decided to grab it. keeping Jason on the defensive from the outset, Rocky stormed out to a 2 games lead. But Stadium Court at the Racquet Club of Memphis is like a second home for Jason and he wasn’t about to let some outsider in. Being the only former champion in the draw, he didn’t want to see someone else’s name go on the Silver Champions Cup and he blitzed Rocky in the third game 11-1. The crowd started to sense a comeback, but it was not to be. Rocky regrouped and managed to pull out a point for point battle in the 4th game to take the match and earn his second successive Choice Hotels US OPEN Final berth.
Jack Huczek vs Shane Vanderson
Shane had another amazing battle with Alvaro yesterday, and that seemed to take something out of him. And when you have to play the number 1 player that’s not a good thing. Jack took advantage of a slightly sluggish Shane and closed this one in 3. Shane did put up a good fight and probably should have won the second, but Jack proved that his ranking is a true reflection of his character. He’s onto the final tomorrow of the 12th Choice Hotels US OPEN.
The 2007 USA Racquetball Junior Olympic Championships concluded hours ago on Tempe, AZ. Thanks to www.racquetballonline.tv, I was able to watch several of the featured matches live from Portland, OR! I don’t have the complete list of champions from each age division, but I do know that the winners of the 18 and under divisions for boys and girls were Jose Rojas and Michelle Key.
And just when winning the toughest boys division in the event isn’t enough, Jose also won a gold in the boy’s 16 and under as well. There are only three juniors in the history of USA Racquetball to have accomplished the feat of winning both 16′s and 18′s in the same year:
2007 Jose Rojas (Calif.)
2002 Adrienne Fisher (Ohio)
2000 Jack Huczek (Mich.) - 2007 #1 Men’s Player in the World
There are also two champions who won 18′s three years in a row, which means that they were 16 when winning their first title. These athletes most likely did not compete in both 16′s and 18′s during their first 18 and under championship season:
Elkova Icenogle (Calif.), 1990, 1991, 1992
Michelle Gilman (Ore.) 1987, 1988, 1989 **** Jack Huczek won three 18′s titles (2000, 2001, 2002)
**** Adrienne FIsher won three 18′s titles (2002, 2003, 2004)
Chris Crowther proved he has what it takes to hang with the big boys, but ended up being no match for the number two player in the world, Jack Huczek. Jack chased down everything on the court, and kept things under control with his amazing consistency.
Jack Huczek takes advantage of a pinned Chris Crothwer, and forces him to the air. Photo: Geoff Thomsen
Chris Crowther smashes a serve to Jack Huczek in
the first quarterfinal match. Photo: Geoff Thomsen
Quarterfinal 2 – Shane Vanderson def. Andy Hawthorne (15-8, 15-7)
Shane started this match missing some shots he was previously killing in the 16′s. Andy came out strong, and with his AWESOME getting ability he kept the scores close for most of the game. Shane’s THUNDER backhand and forehand serve returns proved to be too much to handle, and he took the match in two straight games.
Shane Vanderson blasts a photon past Hawthorne. Photo: Geoff Thomsen
Andy Hawthorne gets some hangtime to cover a
backhand rocket delivered by Vanderson. Photo: Geoff Thomsen
Quarterfinal 3 – Jason Thoerner def. Mitch Williams (15-14, 14-15, 11-7)
Let’s just say that this was the match of the event. Both players giving 110%, both on top of their game, and neither willing to give up on a single rally. The first game ended with Thoerner on top at 15-14, over an hour after the start of the match. After an entire game of controvertial calls (just ask Thoerner), Mitch leaves the court the victor of game 2 at 15-14. Just so there was no doubt, Jason leaves the court shouting “2 against 1 .. 3 against 1 … I WILL NOT BE DENIED” refering to the refs who didn’t see things his way. The tie breaker followed the same path as the previous two games, with both players in it till the end. Jason made a few crucial shots late in the match to seal his spot in the semifinals.
Jason Thoerner refuses to let the forehand pass go, and
makes an incredible return in the back court. Photo: Geoff Thomsen
Put another “check” in the “hustle” box for Mitch Williams, as another
kill from Thoerner is scraped off the court. Photo: Geoff Thomsen
After amazing upsets over Doug Ganim and John Ellis, Micah started this match with nothing to lose. Whether out of gas from the previous rounds, or simply out-classed in these quarterfinals, he couldn’t get things started against Rocky. Carson simply flat killed every serve return, and made sure no rally went more than 2 or 3 hits. Carson would end both games quickly, and have plenty of gas left in the tank for a semifinal matchup against Jason Thoerner.
Rocky Carons hustles down a ball in the front court. Photo: Geoff Thomsen
Micah Rich gets ready for a forehand setup during his
quarterfinal match with Carson. Photo: Geoff Thomsen