Mid November and racquetball season is full on in it. Clubs are busy with shootouts and regular seasonal groups are swinging. The major tours have been busy with stops and info trickling in a broader view. (My personal view or season peaks at the UnitedHealthcare US Open, the sport's biggest event, where for the last 4 years it's been a glass-close perspective. It has provided me with an opportunity to see how the sport's top players actually move and perform... super close. You can find some of my images in this video. Something I use to add towards whatever bit of insight I may have to chart following. And like someone who just loves to play, I fall into my place of just showing up to play with my group, even if that sub-group may be removed from mainstream racquetball. At the end of the day, I'm just a guy who loves to swing his racquet and who also prefers a broader view of racquetball.)
World Junior Championship
I'll start with the International Racquetball Federation's 2015 World Juniors Championship in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. These events are so important for the sport of racquetball growth. They facilitate international competition and provide a good look at what the future of racquetball performance and rankings will look like. Trending talent so to speak, and the potential trends are leaning heavily on the side of Mexico and Bolivia. The Racquetball Blog does a good job of finding getting info and results, without having to jump through hoops. Get the results breakdown here and a quick relevant history here. Two names jump out. Erik Garcia grabbing a Gold Medal and Cristian Longoria winning 16's. Cristian is only 16? Man he's good. "Gordo" as he is affectionately called, causes fits on the WRT when he plays.
Seeing Erik Garcia's name leads me to this thinking: USA Racquetball does its job of getting American players to these international events. (You can read the daily blogs here.) These players get a life event in the travel and engagement with players from other countries. It's priceless. Yet, the results should be something that USA Racquetball takes to heart. No so much for results, the USA doesn't have to develop the best players. That is not what these games are truly about, in my view. It's about access. The result may or may not get better down the road. But what I do know is that without a critically tasked increase in younger players infusing direct energy into the sport of racquetball, USA Racquetball will continue to run at the status quo. Address access and fast. Community centers, after-school programs and targeted places where they don't have "traditional" racquetball courts.
(New USAR board elections coming up? Address that too. Would you always eat sushi at the airport? Think about it.)
International Racquetball Tour
The International Racquetball Tour will be heading into its 5th Tier one this weekend, finishing up the first half of the season. I love the idea that is deep inside this event. It's being held in tandem with the Missouri High School Racquetball Association. It adds on 450 high school players and 14 divisions to the IRT's 2 divisions, Pro Singles and Open Doubles, all in the same event. I can only imagine the possible positive effect interacting with the pros and attending short clinics by them will do for their view of the game. They'll be sharing that between themselves virally like crazy. They may deepen their interest in pursuing the game with more zeal afterward, which is always a plus for the sport. I happened upon this GoFundMe site and I couldn't help but think, that I wish this kind of thing wasn't a reality in order to fund Tier 1 IRT stops... where people who truly want to see pro racquetball didn't find this kind of thing a necessity. (Maybe someday - my attempt at optimism.) But the stop is happening. Someone got things done.
(Yet, It's disheartening to think that a major IRT event in my area may have been dropped in an attempt to keep one that has a longer run going. The NYC Open is on the schedule and apparently there is a real need for more sponsors, or just those with deep pockets to hit the mark. It takes a minimum of $17,500 to run an IRT Tier1 event.)
Kane Waselenchuk who took his 11th US Open in October will more than likely be securing his spot on top, this weekend despite missing one Tier 1 event. (How many Grand Slams has he won all together? Evan?) He also missed the Galaxy Printing Pro-Am also, but it's hard to tell from here whether it was a Tier 1. Held during what I called the IRT's Indian summer, Waselenchuk's absence opened the door for Alvaro Beltran to take his 2nd Tier 1. (Is it a T1 on paper?) - Post release amendment: The IRT website now reflects the Galaxy Printing ProAm to be a Tier 1. Alvi has 2.
Right now, Kane is still Kane. GOAT aside, there has been some very interesting movement on the tour. Daniel De La Rosa made the final at the US Open. Big showing. Progressive considering he made the semis last year. Though, progressively, he's been sliding the last few IRT events, due to injury. As I look at the current IRT rankings, I see Ben Croft's injury has affected the top 8 standings. But I'm imagining that this year, the bottom half of that 8 may not look like it does now, especially with eight T1's scheduled in the second half of the season. There is a trend with some players, who you would think should be playing the World Racquetball Tour, but have deliberately chosen to concentrate their efforts on the IRT. You can't blame them really. As a professional, right now, it's not about winning money these days as it is about becoming the best you can be. You will never really know where you stand unless you are playing the best players in the world, right? And the best players in the world are currently still playing on the IRT.
I haven't seen much video prompting me to try and watch the IRT Network's stream. I don't keep an IRT Network pay subscription. Sure, I may come across a late FB feed saying it's live, but the timing of when they may actually drop in my personal feed doesn't work for me. Neither do the "free" rounds actually work for me. It's been friction with no access for me. And anything I've seen to date in the form of a viral video looks like a security camera took it. They do have however begun releasing a match a week on the IRT YouTube page. Something the World Racquetball Tour does with more frequency and in better quality. I'll check those out. Especially with an interesting match up, like seeing a player like Sebastian Franco, who is one of those types of players I mentioned in the previous paragraph playing someone like Rocky Carson. (Sebastian also plays Outdoor quite frequently now, which is plus on my follow list.) But honestly, I just kind of skim through them looking for crazy action or something like controversy that can grab me but I'll drop it quick if I don't find it.
I believe that if you truly want to support what the IRT Network does, you should show it with a subscription. I know John Scott passionately works hard to keep racquetball going on the Enetlive service. Yet, after a few years of building, the friction has proven just too much for me personally, and in this distracted online world, I find my time somewhere else. Even the free doesn't work for me. I can never get through the friction. I liken it to what happens with me with Netflix. At first it's great. But unless I'm actively seeking to watch a series or am feeling fanatical about seeing older movies, I find my time somewhere else. But the service is crispy and convenient. So, I'll find stuff when I want, making it worth the keep. But I don't play racquetball like the professionals on the IRT do this time of year aside from maybe a visit to an indoor court here and there. I do like to watch highlights. I'm not generally interested in watching full matches, unless there is something real going down. (By "real" I mean significantly attractive in the way of buzz.) And then I end up feeling resentful for lack of ease to see it. Even when they are posting "FREE" during the early rounds. (Maybe I'm exed out from those...) As of right now, I'm not watching. And have to settle for trying to follow on Facebook when I have time, looking at scores and the occasional phone discussion with friends.
Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour
The Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour has just come off back-to-back events with the name Paola Longoria in front of them. The Paola Longoria "Experience" and The Paola Longoria "Invitational", the latter being a Grand Slam event. The LPRT is embroiled in some excitement in Mexico. Where this is great in the way of player experience, I'm not so sure that opportunity is being fully realized by anyone other than Paola Longoria herself. She's just completely swamped with opportunity and influence. Heck, she could conceivably start her own tour now if she wanted. If the LPRT isn't concerned about how much bigger she is than the actual tour is, it should be. They should be working hard to not just be present, but actively working outside of what she has proved them and creating value for the tours and the other players, rather than just showing up with a camera and video feed and pointing to it. It's wildly interesting to me from here. Shoot, I've never seen a top tier WTA event named after Serena Williams, let alone a trophy she's won with her likeness etched in glass. (I know this is a bit of a stretch in comparison... but I think it points to something valid.) Let me state, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Longoria is indeed creating her own world with racquetball. She knows what works in Mexico. She operates accordingly.
I will say, that it is really nice to be two taps away from seeing what's happening at LPRT events. (Without having to download the Livestream app.) Last weekend, the feed I saw on my phone Saturday night was pretty clear. This type of streaming works really well with my phone. Though as I watched, I almost felt embarrassed listening to some of the kitschy back and forth. (Do potential sponsors need to know about which commentator is scarfing down Doritos?) Get seriously professional and fast. But when will the LPRT be on all glass again...? But they do have a full Tier 1 line up on their schedule, so that points to some LPRT strength. Providing us with plenty of time to see exciting things happen in the rankings.
Focusing on the players... I am looking at the current Doubles rankings and see surprisingly that Samantha Salas holding the top spot in Doubles over Paola. Maybe I missed some events that Paola didn't play Doubs, but I do know she's been winning them. And a serious kudos to Sheryl Lotts and Rhonda for taking the semi away from Samantha and Paola in Monterrey. (Rabit-trail... right around the moment the Rousey-Holm fight happened. Wow.) Samantha can be a dominant court presence in doubles. I noted with Fran Davis at the US Open how she takes center court, even so much as forcing Paola out and keeping her stuck the back left corner. But that also means she is there controlling tempo of the match. Sheryl was really good at sliding into the center, keeping her back and flattening out the straight kill to the right side. Masterful. And congrats on the event win.
On the LPRT Singles side of the rankings, I think the top 8 will hang in this group until the end of the season. Though there may be some movement coming up in the 2, 3 and 4 spot. And glad to see Sofia Rascon slipping back in there. She's been showed at two key outdoor events this season, so, I'd like to say, that has only helped her game.
The World Racquetball Tour
The World Racquetball Tour has been relatively busy also before and after the US Open. Alex Cardona has won the last 4 events that he has played in. He hasn't lost on the WRT since June, where he lost early to Alvaro Beltran. (The depth of that chart proved to be a bit much for Alvaro in June, where he subsequently lost to Jake Brendenbeck.) From here, it looks like the normal players have settled in their hierarchical places, with Cardona just looking like he knows he's going to beat his compadres.
The WRT is continuing with it's higher quality streams and continues to release a number of matches after stops on their YouTube channel. One thing they do, that will show up in my mailbox is post a video of the last point of the final at events. While this is cool and I may or may not click on it, I'd be 10 to 20 times more likely to click on it if they were event breakdowns, with highlights of key plays in key matches. Sort of like this one they did a year ago, preferably of the whole event. You can also get their matches easily on their website, which is a great and direct way to watch their product. But I can't find a rankings section. How important is it to have them? Well, if you're a true blue professional tour, it should be pretty important. They may not feel that way though. It may be to them, and their supporters, that the most important thing is to reach groups normally not reached by the IRT Tour.
There has been quite a bit of rumbling the last few weeks about the tour stop dates falling on the same weekends as IRT T1 stops. Some have voiced that this might be a deliberate thing being done, while some smartly argue that there are only a few available weekends during the season. Now, for me, while I feel there is a freedom you are granted by doing your own thing, sometimes, this comes at the expense of having players make a choice as to which stop they want to attend. Initially, I felt, sort of like, "so what". It's great for the sport. But I'm not so sure. Something I feel deserves it's own entry... maybe a comprehensive look at the landscape, which I will do very soon.
World Outdoor Racquetball
Daniel De La Rosa
Paola Longoria / Photo: Courtesy Joe Hall-Splathead
Well the big news in the end of season was Daniel De La Rosa taking the big 3 Wall Ball singles title from Rocky Carson in convincing fashion. Paola also showed up at 3 Wall Ball after 4 years. She won both Pro women's singles and Doubs with Michelle Key. There were undoubtedly way more stories for Outdoor, but 3 Wall Ball solidifying as probably the biggest most important event of the season is definitely one of them.
This year it was bigger and better with easy access to matches on ESPN. This year's 3 Wall Ball event was impressive and has progressively gotten bigger each year. They even take a poke at the US Open in Minneapolis with while posting some links to some drone videos to their website.
I want to touch base about something that may or may not be coming up in the New Year. Whether World Outdoor Racquetball will allow Ektelon's longer length racquets to be used in sanctioned events. They released a statement putting that decision off until the new year/season. My guess is it may be a 50/50 shot from here. Outdoor lends itself to more room. USA Racquetball was very quick to post their reasoning regarding keeping things as they are with racquet length. Then put out a short list of non-conforming racquets.
In my groups, I've seen people jump at the chance to buy them. I've seen them though I haven't seen too many of those people using them. No one I play with would complain. So, I can see where WOR could justify allowing it, in some way, maybe on specified courts, like courts over a certain size. Where this might work, I'm of a mind that they shouldn't be allowed. I've thought about this some, giving myself time to see how I feel about things. Although I believe in an open market, at some point there needs to be a real effort to work together to get to a certain place. They should be certainly free to manufacture them, but WOR should be progressive enough to better aggregate the sport, by meeting it where it is first. Sliding a rule change like this, without first comprehensively stabilizing the various rule differences first, would only make that first mandate much harder. There may be underlying concerns and pressure for WOR. Or not. Though in either case, they should continue the really good work they've been doing and keep unifying people who swing a racquet outdoors.
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