2015 began with some serious professional racquetball action. Two weeks into the second half of the season found players hungry to get on the court after the long layoff. The International Racquetball Tour hit NYC for one of it's most popular Tier 1s of the season, an event that players gear up for.
The on court action was engaging and if you're interested in knowing what happened with the draw, (More info than knowing that Kane took the prize again,) check out the IRT's website for a breakdown and the The Racquetball Blog.
Something that I'm noticing of my interest lately, is that I'm drawn into what is happening in the round of 16 and the quarters. It's in these rounds that we will see what things will look like in the next few seasons. Ben Croft is solidly taking his place as a regular in semifinals along with Daniel De La Rosa, things seem set to change for a number of players. The players I'm specifically thinking of are Alvaro Beltran, and the Rojas brothers. With Alvaro, it's more a matter of staying healthy and motivtion, having been on the tour for a long time now which is cut and dry. With the Rojas brothers, it's in these rounds that is saying more about where they will be in say, two years or so.
Both Jose Rojas and Markie Rojas are well known from being products of Stockton's 209 camp, held down by the Ellis family. For a time now, their names are being included every time the future of the IRT is being discussed. As they are maturing into what they are now, there increasing independence is manifesting some notable tendancies. Good and bad. I believe at some point, some independence is necessary for personal and professional growth. Though my feeling now is, that, if they don't attend to some important details that have snuck up on them, those details could adversely affect their potential, effectively keeping them journeymen throughout their careers.
Before I address this, I feel I need to point out an important dynamic on the IRT, that is, what happens between points. There is an allowance for way too much delay and and interaction between players and the referees. It's common for players to initiate prolonged game delays that fall well outside of what is allowed by the rules. Addressing calls, stalling during floor toweling the floor and way too much gamesmenship has created a court environment that requires players to either buy into what has become the norm or have that norm adversely affect what their true potential can be on the court. Now, I'm not talking about adversity here, which I understand is something professional players must learn to deal with. I'm talking about the on court culture. I won't give opinion one way or another how things should be right now. I'm pointing this out to give notice to what I see is happening with the Rojas brothers.
Jose and Markie have two distinct personalities on the court. Jose is a straight forward hard work and drive type of player. He is physically tenacious. He doesn't seem like he wants to engage in the current on court culture and I'm finding that he is beginning to do so more and more. Jose is a momentum player and can have drastic swings with making and missing. This weekend saw him in a brutally long 5 gamer with Daniel De La Rosa. Daniel has an easy going body language and seemlessly can flow from aggressively engaging a referee and getting into rallies. It's harder to see the effects perceived bad calls and adversity (this time - a strained groin) translating into his game. And that is what won him the match, even though for all rights, Jose, at one point could have been in a position to seal the deal. One thing that is noticable in his body language in this match, is just what he was thinking about some of the calls. At one point, he just couldn't contain it. The court culture got the best of him. For Jose, its going to be a battle with the culture on the IRT, that will dictate how (if) he manages to solidly find the #1 spot in the future.
For Markie Rojas, it's less about the culture and more about understanding who he is and a fight with self entitlement. Now, I'll start here with his skill. Markie has it. He's long and lean, deceptively fast and technically sound. He has also had a lot of attention during his junior career and seriously has differentiating himself from Jose. They have different on court personas. He faced Rocky Carson, who is notorious for on court gamesmanship. Markie set the tone early in the first game for what he could do. It was less about Rocky coming out flat and more about Markie putting it down. But Rocky being Rocky began employing his game, and as that happened, Markie's personal feelings where hard to miss on his face and in his on court walk. What doubles the difficulty for Markie, is his own (perceived by this writer) entitlement. He looks like he feels he should already be getting more respect on the court by the ref and opponents. And that contempt seems noticable. I could be wrong. And if I am then good for Markie. But if I'm right, he will be keeping himself from having his full potential materialize in the shorter run by significantly affecting where he finds himself at the end of the draw on a regular basis.
All this to say, that in my opinion, body language will be the single most defining factor on whether the Rojas brothers become a fixture in semifinal and final rounds or the quarters. And they both have different issues to address here.
While I'm addressing professional play this weekend and body language, I want to point out Jake Brendenbeck and his first ever World Racquetball Tour win. He deserves it. It should of came sooner, he has that much potential and is that good. He also has an issue with adverse body language and some technical issues. The on court culture is nowhere near as embroiled in personal attitudes as it is on the IRT. It yet remains to be seen if this will continue as their stops grow, their top tier ranks diversify and their money becomes bigger. But for now, it's a good thing for Jake that it isn't. So for now, he's in a good position to build on his professional career from this weekend's win.
You can easily watch the mentioned IRT matches here.
The WRT matches here.
Know more about the Rojas Brothers: USA Racquetball article.