USA National Singles Preview

Rajsich looking for her 9th straight title this weekend.

Its the week before Memorial Day Weekend, which means that its time for USA Racquetball National Singles!

r2sports link: https://www.r2sports.com/portfolio/r2-event.asp?TID=30549

This year’s version of event is the 52nd iteration of the event, and is as far as I know the longest running racquetball tournament in existence. It was first held in 1968 in Milwaukee, where two legends competed in the final (Bill Schultz defeated Hall of Famer Bill Schmidtke in the final).

Here’s a list of every Men’s Open champ since 1968: http://rball.pro/896B5B.

In 1970, the first Women’s national champion was crowned: Fran Cohen won the first Women’s national title in St. Louis.

Here’s a list of every Women’s Open champ since 1970: http://rball.pro/A75737

Record holders for Most National Titles?
 Rocky Carson holds 7 National titles, winning his first in 2000 and his most recent in 2017. Interestingly, despite still being ranked #2 on the pro tour, Rocky did not compete in the 2018 version, nor is he in this weekend’s draw.

– Rhonda Rajsich holds 11 National titles, winning her first in 2004. She’s also the defending champ, the #1 seed this weekend and has won the last eight National events.

Your defending champs are David Horn and Rajsich. I’m not entirely sure how Horn drops to the #3 seed behind Jake in particular (who he has bested round for round in the last few national qualifying events)., but would have had to play Pratt in the semis regardless so its a minor seeding nit.

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Men’s Singles:

Lets preview some of the match-ups i’ll be looking for:
In the 16s:
– #8 Luis R Avila vs #9 Robert Collins; 8/9 match-ups are always tough, and this should be no different. Lefty touring pro Collins versus the defending outdoor 3-wall champ Avila, who periodically comes indoors and has some good wins on his resume. This is a good test for both.
– #5 Adam Manilla vs #12 Woody Clouse; Woody Clouse back in action competing for the National team … for the first time since 2006. Clouse qualified for the team in 2005 and represented the US in the Pan American Games in April 2006, losing in the final to Canadian Kris Odegard 11-9. He also had several top 10 pro tour finishes during the deep mid 90s tour days. Now he’s back at age 53, playing in his home town. He faces off against fellow lefty Manilla, fresh off of a second top 20 season on tour with some good results. I think Manilla moves on but it’ll be a fun L vs L match.
– #6 Thomas Carter vs #11 Nicholas Nick Riffel; two IRT regulars meet up; they faced each other 3 times in 3 months in early 2018, with Carter taking 2 of 3. Riffel had a tough end to his 2018-19 tour, forfeiting out of Syosset with an injury. Meanwhile Carter had a nice run at the end of the season, getting a couple of solid wins and making the main draw in both Florida and NY. Advantage Carter here. 
– #7 Dylan Reid vs #10 Jeff Stark; two West Coasters who have played more than a few times meet up in the first round. I think the podcasting Reid is favored here but they know each other’s game.

Man, lots of Lefties in action. At least four, maybe more. Something in the water in Denver maybe.

Projecting the Qtrs:
– #1 Jake Bredenbeck vs Avila: Jake struggled with upsets all season … then blew it out in NY, taking out Pratt, Daniel De La Rosa and nearly beating Andree Parrilla. So which Jake shows up? 
– #4 Jose Diaz vs #5 Manilla: they’ve only played a couple times, but both matches were 3- or 5-game tiebreakers. I like Diaz here … in a tiebreaker.
– #3 Horn vs #6 Carter: I don’t think they’ve ever played in a top-level event … so a first for everyone. Horn should win this one in two closer games.
– #2 Charlie Pratt vs #7 Dylan Reid: another match-up of two upper northwestern guys, both hailing from Portland. Fly all the way to Denver … have a repeat of your tuesday night game. Pratt’s solid and advances here.

So i’m predicting Chalk to the semis … and then for some upsets to happen.

Semis:
– #4 Diaz over #1 Jake: they’re pretty even career-wise h2h, but havn’t played in a year and a half. I like Diaz here. Diaz had the better season, nearly slipping into the top 10 and jumping Jake in the rankings. 
– #2 Pratt over Horn: They played in December in Portland, a close 2-game win for Pratt, and I like the year Pratt is having so far.

Final:
– #2 Pratt over Diaz. head to head, Diaz has never lost to Pratt. But something tells me Pratt is on a mission this year.

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Women’s Singles: just 9 in this draw, but some good match-ups towards the back and one incredibly poor seeding job:

In the Quarters:
– #1 Rajsich over #8 Cassandra Cassi Lee
– #5 Kelani Lawrence over #4 Sheryl Lotts; here’s a seeding question. Lawrence made the Women’s singles final of the 2018 qualifier at Nat’l doubles, made the finals at 2018 Nationals, and made the finals at the 2019 Qualifier at Nat’l Doubles. So that’s basically the last three major National events…. how exactly is she seeded 5th in this event?? What more does she have to do to demonstrate that she’s basically the 2nd best American woman player right now?
– #3 Hollie Rae Scott over #6 Adrienne Fisher Haynes
– #2 Erika Manilla holds off retired LPRT legend Cheryl Gudinas

In the semis:
– #1 Rajsich takes out Lawrence in a rematch of the last three major US national team final, instead of in the final like it should be
– #3 Scott takes out #2 Manilla in a rematch of this year’s Intercollegiates semis.

In the final: Rajsich takes her 9th straight US title over Scott.

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Lastly, a note on attendance. There’s some separate conversations about the # of participants this weekend going on. Here’s a list of the participation numbers for the last 14 National Singles events (these are the “# of participants” from the r2sports page and should indicate unique players, not # of draw entrants):

2019: 191 Highlands Ranch/Denver
2018: 221 Pleasanton
2017: 243 Tempe
2016: 268 Highlands Ranch/Denver
2015: 377 Highlands Ranch/Denver
2014: 292 Fullerton
2013: 435 Fullerton (also IRT and LPRT pro stop)
2012: 559 Fullerton (also IRT and LPRT pro stop)
2011: 514 Fullerton (also IRT stop)
2010: 535 Houston
2009: 501 Houston
2008: 523 Houston
2007: 528 Houston
2006: 515 Houston

The event held steady in the low 500s its last five years in H ouston, then spiked during its Fullerton years thanks to simultaneous IRT and LPRT events (some of the pro draws from those years were amazing; 70+ mens pros competing). But we’ve seen a precipitous drop in attendance over the last few years, including a 100+ attendee drop from 2015 to 2016, now not even able to clear 200 players this year. 191 players isn’t even close to what National Doubles got this year (306) and that number is basically halved from the beginning of the century.

I know there’s some fundamental industry issues that are driving down these numbers. But this is the NGB’s marquee event. You can’t turn back time and make it the mid 2000s again (to say nothing of the mid 1990s), but you can strategize other aspects of the event to make it more appealing to a larger audience, and I hope to see some turn around in the coming years.

Best Family Combos in Racquetball History

Andree Parrilla is part of two of the best family-pairs in the sport’s history.

Here’s a fun one to discuss during this slight break in the rball tourney schedule; what’s the best Father/Son combo in our sports’ history? How about Husband/Wife or Brother/Sister?

Here’s some opinions on each category from yours truly, with others that I considered. Did I forget someone? Am I totally wrong? Feel free to chime in.

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1. Best Husband/Wife combo: Jack Huczek and Christie Van Hees
Only husband-wife team where both sides have won tour championships. Both retired way too soon; I would bet money Jack in particular could still be making the back end of pro tournaments if he was still playing (he was born in 1983, so hes younger right now than Kane/Rocky/Alvaro).

Honorable Mentions:
– Kane Waselenchuk and Kim Waselenchuk
– Sudsy Monchik and Vero Sotomayor
– Daniel De La Rosa and Michelle De La Rosa

There’s actually a slew of Racquetball playing couples with pro experience on both sides … i limited this to just the best and the top 3 honorable mentions. If you want to include the Pratts, Fowlers, Wachtels, Kirches, Hawthornes, or others, I wouldn’t blame you.

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2. Best Brother/Sister combo: Jessica Leona Parrilla and Andree Parrilla

Honorable Mentions:
– Paola Longoria and Christian Longoria
– 
Coby Iwaasa and Alexis Iwaasa
– 
Adam Manilla and Erika Manilla

Another category where there’s lots of honorable mentions; I left out the Paraisos, the Doyles, Kerrs, and Odegards in particular. I sense there’s a lot of younger players in the junior ranks that could qualify here too.

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3. Best Brother/Brother: has to be the Pecks: Dave Peck and Gregg Peck

Honorable mentions:
– Jose Rojas and Marco Rojas
–  Armando Landa (or Roman) and Alex Landa
– Tim Landeryou & James Landeryou

Lots of good examples of brothers playing right now. Bredenbecks, Murrays, Kurzbards, Garays, Kellers, Acunas, etc. And there might be more in the Latin Americas that i’m not aware of, since there’s so many players with common surnames.

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4. Best Sister/Sister: Jacqueline Paraiso-Larsson and Joy MacKenzie

Honorable mention:
– Michelle (Key) De La Rosa & Danielle (Key) Danielle Maddux.

Am i missing any good sister acts? I could only really come up with a couple here.

From here on, its slimmer pickings…

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5. Best Father/Son: Fabian Parrilla and son Andree Parrilla

Honorable Mention:
– ?

I thought of a few other father/son combos where at least we knew both sides played at a high level (examples: Schopiearys, Ullimans, Elkins). But I couldn’t think of a single instance of a top pro from our entire sport’s history who has a son playing at a high level right now.

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6. Best Mother/Daughter: Malia Kamahoahoa Bailey and daughter Kelani Lawrence.

Honorable mentions:
Gerry & Kerri Stoffregen Wachtel
Debbie & Janel Tisinger-Ledkins

Could also include the Keys here. Karen-Darold Key entered the very first US Open ladies pro draw when her daughters were just 8 and 5.

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7. Father/Daughter: The Parrillas again: Fabian and Jessica.

Honorable Mention:
Dennis Rajsich & Rhonda Rajsich

Father/Daughter combos are hard to come by … but not as hard as the last category.

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8. Mother/Son: literally the only example I could find where a mother and son both had pro experience is … Goldie Hogan and Marty Hogan.

That’s right: Marty’s mother entered a number of the very earliest Ladies pro draws in the early 70s at the same time her precocious son Marty was starting to win events as a teen-ager.

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So, did I miss anyone? Do we have any top pros with younger kids making their way up the junior ranks?

Editor note: I mistakenly thought that Armando Landa was Alex’s father; they are brothers. This post has been edited following corrections.

PRS Current top 50 Men’s World Rankings

No surprise who #1 is. The intrigue starts a bit later.

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!

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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.

3. Rodrigo Montoya Solis
4. Alex Landa 
5. Daniel De La Rosa
6. Andree Parrilla

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.

7. Luis Conrrado Moscoso Serrudo
8. Javier Mar
9. Samuel Murray
10. Alvaro Beltran

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:

  • 2 Canadians
  • 1 Bolivian
  • 1 American
  • 6 Mexicans

And the one American player is nearly 40. The next generation of dominance in our sport is coming from south of the US border.

11. Jose Rojas
12. Gilberto Mejia
13. Marco Markie Rojas
14. Tony Anthony Carson

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.

15. Polo Polito Gutierrez
16. Bobby David Horn
17. Charlie Pratt
18. Sebastian Franco
19. Mario Mercado
20. Coby Iwaasa
21. Carlos Keller Vargas
22. Jake Bredenbeck

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.

23. Ben Croft
24. Javier Estrada
25. Alan Natera Chavez
26. Ernesto Ochoa
27. Alejandro Alex Cardona
28. Sudsy Monchik
29. Jansen Allen
30. Jose Diaz
31. Mauro Daniel Rojas

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.

33. Gerardo Franco Gonzalez
34. Eduardo Portillo Rendon
35. Sebastian Fernandez
36. Jaime Martell Neri
37. Eduardo Garay Rodriguez
38. Jordy Alonso
39. Tim Landeryou
40. Dylan Reid
41. Mike Green
42. Christian Longoria
43. Adam Manilla

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.

44. Alejandro Herrera Azcarate
45. Andres Andres Acuña
46. Fernando Rios
47. Diego Garcia Quispe
48. Maikel Mollet
49. Felipe Camacho
50. Nick Nicolas Bousquet

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:

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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 
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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!