While the International Racquetball Tour was in Austin this past weekend for the Longhorn Open, one of the longer continuously running events in the land was happening back in my neck of the woods, with an IRT Tier 5 draw plus a solid Women’s open draw that saw some great matches and contributed to some great Mixed Open play.
Here’s a wrap-up of the 2020 Wintergreen Classic from Laurel, Md this past weekend.
Seeds when chalk to the semis, where the top four seeds advanced in #1 Maurice Miller, #2 MoMo Zelada, #3 Troy Warigon and #4 David Austin. We saw all these players in action in Laurel when the IRT visited in September, and they were all back here for this event.
Other notables in the draw: LPRT touring pro and Momo’s wife Masiel Rivera Oporto competed in the draw, upset the 5th seed and fell in the quarters. Top east coast junior Dylan Pruitt, who represented the USA playing doubles in the World Juniors last November, was the 6th seed and fell to home-town player Warigon in the qtrs.
In the semis: – #1 Miller defeated New Jersey’s #4 seed Austin 5,7 – #2 Zelada went tie-breaker with #3 Warigon as they often do, with Zelada coming out on top again 11-4.
In the final, Zelada outlasted Miller for the third time in the last year in east coast events, blanking him in the breaker to take the title.
————— Women’s Open:
Virginia’s Kelani Lawrence was the 3rd seed of three LPRT pros in this round robin, but beat both Valeria Centellas and Masiel Rivera in dominant fashion to take the title. It was definitely a statement by Kelani, who has now broken into the LPRT top 20.
Interesting side note: Centellas’ home town in r2sports was listed as Buenos Aires, Argentina. I had heard rumors that she was considering a country switch from Bolivia to Argentina and I wonder if it is now official. This is an interesting development for the international game; Argentina has long been represented by two top LPRT pros in the international game (Maria Jose Vargas and Natalia Mendez, ironically themselves both Bolivian-born and naturalized as well). We’ll see if this gets officially announced at some point.
—————- In Men’s Open Doubles; the 2nd and 3rd seeded singles players Miller and Warigon teamed up to dominate long-time Virginia-based tourney players Ross Weinberg and Raul Berrios in the final. Good showing by the veteran team to oust the #2 seeded youngsters of Pruitt/Austin to advance.
—————- In Mixed Open Doubles: the presence of a number of top women’s players made the Mixed Open draw fabulous.
In one semi, #1 seeds Warigon & Lawrence took out top dc-area doubles players Weinberg and Kristen Junkin Jones, and in the other semi #2 seeds Miller and Centellas defeated Rivera and Pruitt.
In the final, the reigning world doubles champion Centellas helped spur her team to victory, with Miller/Centellas winning a tight two-game match against Warigon/Lawrence.
There was a 14-man IRT Tier 5 event at the LPRT Xmas classic; here’s a recap of that and some of the other amateur events that went on.
A ton of the LPRT pros played Mixed Open, there was a solid Women’s Open draw, and a few Men’s Open teams as well.
In the IRT Singles draw: – #1 Maurice Miller took out top VA amateur #4 Thomas Gerhardt in one semi, and then #3 Troy Warigon defeated #2 Mauricio Zelada in the other. The 2/3 match was pretty special; the two home-court players played the perfect match: 14,(14),10. – In the final, MIller overcame a game-1 loss to defeat Warigon for the title.
In Men’s Open, the two singles finalists teamed up to take the Open Doubles title over #3 seeds Dylan Pruitt and Jersey native David Austin.
In Women’s Open: Carla Muñoz Montesinos made up for her quarters loss in pros to take the singles Open title over Lexi York.
In Mixed Open, the two Mens singles finalists advanced again to the finals, and there Miller teamed up with Natalia Mendez Erlwein to take the title over #2 Warigon, who played with Virginia native Kelani Lawrence.
This made Miller the rare triple-winner on the weekend.
The IRT returns to Laurel, MD for the second year in a row for the 2019 Valentine Open, named after its tournament director Tracie D Valentine and her daughter Imanii Valentine. The tour is back at one of the legendary east coast venues of Sportfit Laurel for this event.
Lets preview the draw. there’s 33 players entered this year including a ton of internationals and some MD/VA/PA locals. As noted last week, there’s some movement in the top 8, notably Parrilla taking over 3rd and Montoya moving into 7th … but the “flip” seeding is in place here so the 5-8 seeds are jumbled from their normal spots.
Missing top players: The biggest name missing is #6 Daniel De La Rosa who misses the event sandwiched in between 3-wall in Vegas and a major pickleball event, so he may have had to take a schedule break. We’re also missing a lot of tour regulars from last season in the 11-20 range, including #11 Jose Diaz, #13 David ” Bobby” Horn, and #18-20 Charlie Pratt, Jansen Allen and Felipe Camacho. Two tourneys missed in a row for these guys: it look like maybe there’s a changing of the guard on tour.
Here’s some round of 64 matches to watch for:
– MoMo Zelada versus Kyle Ulliman: Zelada plays on his home courts and gets the traveling Ulliman, who returns to Laurel for the 2nd year in a row. Could be a tight one. – MD native Jamal Harris takes on The Ref, Scott McClellan in an opener. Hopefully McClellan doesn’t have any avoidables taken away from him… (inside joke on a FB discussion after last event). – Veteran Bolivian Kadim Carrasco takes on 18U local player Dylan Pruitt also playing on his home courts. – Justus Benson takes on a tough lefty from Pennsylvania Geoff Heskett.
Projecting the 32s: – #16 Eduardo Garay Rodriguez vs #17 Carlos Keller Vargas; 16/17 matches are always tough, and this South American battle will be no different. Garay was just crowned Colombian Champ, while Keller is the 2-time reigning Pan American Racquetball Championships winner. I like Garay in a tie-breaker and I like seeing him make a push on tour early. – #9 Mario Mercado vs #24 Zelada: just another night at the club for these two native Bolivians, who both lived in the DC area for a while and got more than a few local tournament match-ups. Mercado has been playing solid lately and will look to advance. – #14 Andres Acuña vs #19 Carrasco: another international flavor match between two guys who have never managed to meet. – #15 Thomas Carter vs #18 Benson: Just like the 16/17, the 15/18 meeting will be tight as well. I like Carter here to return to the 16s in Laurel.
Projecting the Main draw: assuming seeds hold in the qualifiers, here’s some fun 16s to look for: – #1 Kane Waselenchuk vs #16 Garay: I can’t wait to see Kane taking on a good young hard hitting player like Garay. If its Keller instead, we’re talking about a solid tactician unmoved by power play given how much he plays @Luis Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo back home. Either way, a great round of 16 that’s likely on the show/streaming court. – #8 Rodrigo Montoya Solis vs #9 Mercado; Montoya missed a chance in the 8/9 match last tourney … now he gets a match against a guy who beat him in Lima just a few weeks ago. Look for a solid match but Montoya to advance. – #6 Samuel Murray vs #11 Lalo Portillo; upset warning: Portillo beat Murray in California in Jan 2019 and has done nothing but improve since. Portillo continues his push for the top 10. – #7 Alvaro Beltran vs #10 Jake Bredenbeck; A nice match-up; Bredenbeck was nursing an injury earlier this summer that reportedly kept him out of the season opener; if he’s not 100% he’ll struggle to beat Beltran, who continues to impress even as he approaches his 41st birthday.
Projected Quarters: – #1 Kane vs #8 Montoya: would love to see this one; power v power. Montoya has just two meeting with Kane, both pretty dominant wins for the World #1. – #4 Alex Landavs #5 Sebastian Franco; Franco gets Landa on his (Franco’s) home courts. Franco made the semis last year and will be looking for an upset; these two always seem to play tight, and Franco beat Landa to win his sole pro title. Watch out for the upset here. – #3 Andree Parrilla vs #6 Murray; if Murray gets past Portillo, he runs into a tough one in Parrilla, who lost 11-10 in the quarters last year in Laurel and won’t want to lose his #3 ranking at this juncture. – #2 Rocky Carson vs #7 Beltran. These two have met no less than 49 times on tour; they’re more than familiar with each other and played a rather testy tiebreaker in their last meeting in January. This is no cakewalk for Carson. Combined age: more than 81 years between the two of them.
Semis: – Kane over Landa: these two seem to play the same way each time: Landa keeps it close up to about 10-10, then Kane breaks away for a 15-10 win. Look for a two game victory with the scores like 10,8 – Carson over Parrilla: So here’s the interesting match up. These two met in the quarters of this event last year, and Parrilla had match point on his racquet and blew a simple cross court into the ground before losing 11-10. Then they didn’t play again until last weekend’s Atlanta final (a 13,8 win for Rocky). I like Andree’s chances here of pushing for a tie-breaker on these slower courts but won’t predict a win.
Final: Kane over Rocky, yet again.
That’s how I see it for this weekend. I’ll be at the club all day thursday to take in the 64s and 32s before jetting back home. Hope to see you out there, and maybe we’ll do some test broadcasting later thursday night.
Welcome to US Junior Nationals, 2019, held this year in Portland, Oregon. Its the first time they’ve held this event in Portland since 2011 (though Portland basically holds every other HS national championship right now).
——————————– We have several 2018 winners back to defend championships, and we’re guaranteed to have some new winners especially at the older levels thanks to graduations from the Junior ranks.
Cayden Akins is #1 seed; he was 3rd place in 18U and 2nd place in 16U last year, and represented USA at World Juniors in 16U, losing in the qtrs.
#2 seed is Antonio Rojas, who made the semis two years running in 16U, being eliminated last year by #1 seed Akins. Rojas is the reigning US High School champ and will be looking to make it a double (or triple) this weekend.
#3 Ben Baron made the qtrs of 16U two years running, then missed his first 18U tourney last year. #4 seed Dylan Pruitt made the semis of both 16U and 18U last year, losing the 3rd place game to Akins. #5 Micah Farmer made the qtrs of 18U last year, losing to Pruitt, and setting up a possible rematch in the qtrs of this year’s event. #6 Lucas Shoemaker made the qtrs of both 16U and 18U in 2018 and will be looking to improve. #7 Ivan Hernandez and #8 Cody Boucher will be looking to improve on qtr and round of 16 results last year.
Girls 18U: #1 Briana Jacquet is the defending champ and will look to defend her title. #2 seed Nikita Chauhan was also the #2 seed last year and lost in the final to Jacquet. #3 Graciano Wargo was also #3 last year, lost in the semis but represented USA at Junior Worlds (losing in the qtrs). #4 Megan Carver will be looking to improve on last year’s qtrs appearance.
——————————– 16-U Draws:
Boys 16U: #1 Antonio Rojas (who is the #2 seed in 18s) leads the way and is looking for his first title since 2016. #2 is Timmy Hansen, who won 14s last year and is moving up an age group. #3 is Andrew Gleason, who made the finals of 14U Junior Worlds last November. #4 is Krish Thakur, who has 3 US jr titles but none since 2016. Other interesting players in the draw include #6 Julius Ellis, son of John Ellis and the latest from the Stockton junior pipeline.
#1 Annie Roberts is back to defend her title; and she’s also the reigning High School national champ. #2 Erin Slutzky was also the #2 seed in 16s last year, losing in the final to Roberts. Both represented the US in Junior Worlds and ended up meeting again in the knockout stages, where Roberts advanced before losing in world quarters.
Trying to knock the top two players off will be the likes of #3 Heather Mahoney, last year’s 14U champ and losing finalist in 14U worlds. Mahoney has 6 US Junior titles to her name and will be gunning for the top players here. #4 Shane Diaz made the semis of 16s and the qtrs of 18 last year and will be a tough out.
——————————– Other defending champs back to defend titles include:
– Boys 14U: Timmy Hanson, graduated to 16U and is the #3 seed – Boys 12U: Nikhil Prasad, graduated to 14U and is #1 seed – Boys 10U: Eshan Ali, graduated to 12U and is #2 seed there – Boys 8U : Ashton Guiraud, graduated to 10U and is #2 seed there. – Boys 8UMB: Ayan Shama graduates to 8U.
– Girls 14U Heather Mahoney; entered 14s and 16s – Girls 12U: Ava Kaiser: graduated to 14u, where she’s #3 seed – Girls 10U: Lilian Ford-Cirmi: graduated to 12U and is the #4 seed – Girls 8U: Alea Guiraud graduates to 10U and is #1 seed
———————————- Other names of note playing: – Ellis’ kids Jordan Ellis and Julius. – Tyler Aldinger, son of top PA amateur Travis Aldinger – Olivia Baer, son of IRT board member and broadcasting afficionado Dean DeAngelo Baer, who undoubtedly will be cheering her on and asking her to hit more “flattys.” – California rball enthusiast Knox La Rue‘s daughter Tess in 14/16s. –
———————————- Look forward to Leo Ray Vasquez broadcasting all weekend; follow USA Racquetball on facebook for streaming and interviews.
Happy Holidays! During this little break in the tournament action, here’s some content for everyone to argue about. 🙂 This is my current Men’s World Top 50. Thanks to the ever-widening popularity of the sport, multiple tours and the inability for some top players to play the International Racquetball Tour regularly, the IRT rankings do not really give a full picture of the current state of the world game. This attempts to do so.
I have rankings divided into “groups” so this isn’t a hard and fast 1-50 necessarily, as I’ll explain as we go.
Usual caveats: this is my opinion. No offense intended if you think someone is too high or too low. This is for entertainment purposes only. Its mostly stat/match result based. Its tough to do pure 1-50 b/c of game style match-ups (i.e., a guy in the 30s always beats a guy in the 20s for some reason, but can’t beat anyone in-between). Also, one big win over a top 10 player does not make you a top 10 player … i’ve noted solid wins for players below the top of this list, but look for consistent results over and again before rising up the ranks.
I hope you enjoy!
1. Kane Waselenchuk Large Gap to #2: Kane is head and shoulders ahead of anyone else.
2. Rocky Carson Smaller Gap to #3-6; Rocky still has a lead over the next group and continues to demonstrate it on the court.
I have these guys 3-6, and they’re constantly changing positions. Up until the Mexico Open I had Landa above Montoya, but then Montoya got him H2H. Honestly, I think they’re a coin flip for #3 and #4 right now. Meanwhile, DLR is 3-6 H2H against Landa across senior events so i’ve got him just below Landa … just beat Parrilla and Montoya to win in Monterrey, but lost to Montoya at Mexican Nats earlier this year. Parrilla beat Landa at the past US Open but for me day in, day out is slightly below these other three. On any given Sunday though, these four can all put losses on each other. It is not a surprise that these four were then fou semi-finalists in Monterrey earlier this month.
Moscoso has wins over the guys ranked 3-6, but just lost to Montoya at Worlds and lost to Murray at US Open. I know some people think he should be higher (ahem, Sudsy 🙂 ) but i’ve got him just a hair below. Mar is an enigma; he’s demonstrated the ability to beat all the guys ranked 3-6 and has in the last couple of years, but not quite consistently enough to break into that group. Murray has wins over Montoya, Landa and Moscoso in the last few events; he’s becoming much more consistent winner as of late. Lastly you have Alvaro, who has been showing his age but then turns around and trounces the likes of DLR in Portland. He’s still a tough out, week in and week out but has been consistently slipping down this ranking over the past couple of years.
One last comment on my current top 10: a quick breakdown by country:
And the one American player is nearly 40. The next generation of dominance in our sport is coming from south of the US border.
I call this group the “retired but could still make noise if they weren’t” group. Jose retired after three straight finishes at #5 on tour, and he didn’t retire because he was losing suddenly. Mejia hasn’t played in a while, enough that we may want to remove him, but when we last saw him playing WRT events he was beating consistently those ranked just behind him in the next grouping. Marco Rojas retired after two 7th place finishes on tour, and has winning career records against DLR and Landa, and against guys in the next grouping (Horn, Jake), so its no surprise he’s still this high. Lastly Tony Carson consistently demonstrates he can continue to win, with wins over DLR and Parrilla in the last two IRT events he’s entered.
Here’s where it starts getting tough. This group here is a mix of international players we rarely see, leading World Racquetball Tour players, and mid-ranged IRT players. You may argue that I have Polo too high; but every time he plays an IRT event he makes noise. He’s coming off an elbow injury and is 35 though, so he may be slipping. Horn has some wins against higher ranked players and won 2018 US Nationals in a draw that included Jake, Pratt and Jose Rojas. Pratt has some h2h wins over players in this group, over Beltran, and beat Mar en route to the 2017 Pan Am final. Franco has recent wins over Landa and DLR, and has a solid argument to be higher. Mercado too; he’s 2-2 vs Murray career but just 1-5 against Horn and this feels about right. Iwaasa took several years off, but has not lost his touch, taking Mercado to the edge at Worlds twice and making the Finals in the WRT Canada event in a draw that featured several guys in this group. Keller Vargas won the 2018 Pan Ams over Montoya and Horn, but lost to Franco at Worlds; I used to have him much higher and wonder if he’d be a top 10 player if he played the tour regularly. Lastly Jake; he’s one of the few players to have wins over Kane, DLR and Rocky ever, but has struggled to beat players in this group or the grouping above lately and has been slightly slipping down in this ranking after having some early IRT season struggles.
Croft is pretty much retired, so not much recent to go on; he beat Horn but lost to Jake in a singles event in Denver earlier this year. Estrada, Natera and Ochoa are all rising Mexican players to watch out for. Estrada beat Landa at Mexican world selection event, just beat Beltran in Monterrey and has played Montoya tough twice this fall. Natera has recent wins over Mar and others in this grouping. Ochoa has recent wins over Beltran, Parrilla, and Mar and may very well be higher. Cardona used to be in the next group up as the reigning king of the hill in the WRT but has been losing ground to the likes of Horn and Jake and the youngsters rising up in Mexico over the past year or so.
Sudsy made the semis of the US Open last year by beating Allen, then beat Diaz but lost to Jake in an WRT event so this seems about right (thought I wouldn’t argue if you thought he was higher). Allen has had some solid wins against the likes of Beltran, Mercado, Murray lately, and beat Diaz in the Laurel season opener, and may be a bit higher. Lastly you have the younger Rojas, who has consistently beaten players below here but not too many above and who has the game to start breaking through and moving up.
This grouping could benefit from more head to head meetings; would Allen beat the likes of Estrada, Natera and Ochoa if they played? Here’s hoping for some more IRT events held in Mexico to get more full draws.
32. Cliff Swain; even though he hasn’t played in more than a year, I still think he could beat anyone listed below here. I’m hoping he plays some more pro events and tries to break some of Ruben Gonzalez‘s more amazing feats of reaching the end stages of pro tourneys at advanced ages.
As with the group above, its tougher in this area to really rank guys sequentially because there’s not a lot of h2h to go on. Gerardo Franco probably has an argument to be higher, with recent wins over Sebastian Franco, over DLR and Jake in Cincy18, etc. I’ve got Lalo just ahead of Sebastian on account of his h2h win at Junior Worlds, but Lalo has lost multiple times to Gerardo Franco in the last year so this trio feels right. Martell has great wins (Landa, Jake, Horn), but then also has early tourney losses in recent WRT and amateur events. Garay has wins over guys in this grouping and against the likes of Parrilla and might be higher. Alonso plays the guys in this grouping tough, has wins over Parrilla in the past but needs more consistency.
Landeryou has h2h wins over both the next two guys below him hence the ranking, but not much else to go on. Reid has a win over Mercado and a US Open title in Men’s open in a draw that featured many players in this group or just below, so this ranking makes sense. Green has reigned over Canada racquetball for two decades but may be retiring and most recently lost to Landeryou at Canadian Nationals. Longoria has some wins over the likes of GFranco and Estrada and may have a case to be a bit higher. Lastly Manilla just took out Mercado in Laurel18 and has had a promising start to the new season, so this seems about right.
Herrera is a long-time IRT vet, just took the 2018 US Open Men’s Open draw over Acuna in the final and beating several Honorable Mention players along the way. Acuna has some solid wins recently (Portillo, Camacho, even Horn at the US Open) and may have a good argument to be higher. Rios doesn’t have much to go on recently but has good wins internationally in the past. Garcia is the 16U reigning world champ who has beaten a few of the HM players in limited adult tourneys. Mollet is the Cuban #1 who makes noise whenever he enters (beat Camacho h2h at Central American games in 2018 for example). Camacho has some wins over higher players (Fernandez, Allen) but has losses to players right in this group so this feels about right. Bousquet had some solid wins over HM players in 2017.
And it should be noted, there’s a slew of HM players below who might very well be in this group, or slightly higher. In fact, as I typed this I wondered if any number of the below players shouldn’t be in this 40-50 range.
Honorable Mentions: I can’t tag more than 50 players per post, so nobody below is tagged, but here’s the players just outside the top 50 by category:
———————— HM Int’l players: Fernando Kurzbard, Jose Daniel Ugalde, Juan Salvatierra, Francisco Troncoso, Andres Gomez, Teobaldo Fumero, Luis Perez, Christian Wer, Hiroshi Shimizu, Lee Connell, Set Cubillos, David Garcia
HM Mexican Players: Edson Martinez, Rodrigo Garay, Rodrigo Rodrigez, Alejandro Almada, Edwin Galicia, Miguel Rodriguez Jr., Daniel Neri, Erick Cuevas Fernandez, Alan Palomino
HM USA IRT Regulars: Thomas Carter, Robert Collins, Scott McClellan, Troy Warigon, John Wolfe
HM USA periodic players: Taylor Knoth, Nick Montalbano, Majeed Shaheen, Matthew Majxner, Maurice Miller, Brad Schopiery, Luis Avila, Brent Walters, Tim Prigo
HM USA Up and comers: Kevin Vasquez, Erik Garcia, Jordan Barth, Nick Riffel, Mauricio Zelada, Wayne Antone IV, Justus Benson, Danny Lavely, Lukas Le,Dylan Pruitt, Kyle Ulliman, A.J. Fernandez, Sam Bredenbeck, Sunji Spencer
HM retired pro players: Alex Ackermann, Gilberto De Los Rios, Kris Odegard, Ricardo Monroy, Anthony Herrera, Shai Manzuri, Javier Moreno ——————————
Phew. Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone; let me know in the comments if you think I did. Look forward to your commentary. Happy Holidays!