2nd Annual Montana Winter Classic Recap

Kane wins in Montana Photo US Open 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

There was an IRT Satellite event last week in Billings Montana, which did a great job putting pro racquetball in the state for the first time last year and was able to do it again this year.

r2sports site for brackets: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=41762

Here’s a recap.

In Pro Singles, there were 8 regular touring players, including #2 @jaJake Bredenbeck , #4 Andree Parrilla , #6 @Kane Waselenchuk , and #7 @Adam Manilla playing in Montana. This is consistent with the long-standing tour rules that only four of the top 8 seeds can enter a non-tier1 at any time. In addition, top 20 players Alan Natera , Carter Thomas , @Sam Bredenbeck and @JJim Douglas were on hand to compete.

There were no unexpected upsets to the quarters (#8 Douglas was upset by top Canadian #9 @Lee Connell but otherwise seeds held). In the quarters, Natera got a solid win in the 4/5 seed match, topping lefty Manilla in a tie-breaker.

In the semis, #1 @Jake Bredenbeck topped Natera in two, while #3 Kane Waselenchuk “upset” #2 Parrilla in two to setup a hard-hitting final.

In the final Jake hung with Kane for stretches but the GOAT overcame, winning 8,10 to claim the title. Satellite events do give points to the players, but they only count if there’s enough tier 1s to even the playing field. Right now we’re short on IRT events, so it remains to be seen if this event eventually makes a difference in the standings.

Other draws in MT:

– in Open Doubles, @Sudsy Monchik and Mark frank took the title in a walkover.

– Mystery Mixed doubles was taken by jake and Kelly Grimley, with Jake topping his brother in the final.

– Canadian Tanner Prentice took the Pro drop/down consolation division

– last year’s LPRT pro champ @Montse Mejia took the LPRT exhibition event over Lexi York and .. a rare appearance from Rhonda Rajsich .

Thanks to Sudsy and Leo for broadcasting all weekend.

Next up in the world of Racquetball is the Boivarian Youth Games, with a rball component, and then at the end of the month we get an LPRT event in San Antonio.

IRT 2024 Shamrock Shootout Wrap-Up

Kane takes the title and looks like he’s 100% “back.” Photo Md19 by Ken Fife

Congrats to your Pro winners on the weekend:

– Singles: Kane Waselenchuk

– Doubles: Andree Parrilla & Adam Manilla.

Kane wins his 126th tier1 event and looks like he’s 100% back. Adam and Andree win their 2nd doubles title of the new season together and solidify their spot as the #1 doubles team on tour.

R2 Sports App home page for event: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=41791

——————

Let’s review the notable matches in the Singles draw.

Singles Match report in the PRS database: https://rball.pro/pyk

—————-

In the 64, there weren’t any real upsets, but we did see a couple closer matches. Jaime Mansilla , the latest in the Chilean Mansilla playing family, took out Canadian @Christian Pocsai in a tie-breaker/tune up for PARC next week. Bolivian @luLuis Antonio Aguilar had a come-from-behind victory over Ohio-an Victor Migliore in a solid match. Most of the rest of the round was one-way traffic for the favorites.

—————-

In the 32s: We got some surprise results.

– Alan Natera advanced in the expected dog-fight over veteran Mexican WRT champ Alejandro Cardona 13,8.

– John Goth upset a mid-teen touring pro for the second straight event, this time topping Bolivian @Kadim Carrasco in a breaker to get to the round of 16 for the second event running.

– Jordy Alonso became just the second man to even take a game off a top-8 seed in the round of 32, stretching #4 @Andree Parrilla to a breaker. Being honest, if Alonso toured regularly, he’d probably be ranked in the 10-12 range, so this wasn’t that surprising a result.

– @Robert Collins had to go 11-9 in the breaker to advance past young Mexican Neito Oscar .

– Jaime Martell put down his own young Mexican up-and-comer in @Diego Gastelum .

However, the result of the event, and of the last season and a half, was #30 @Jhonatan Flores upsetting #3 @jaJake Bredenbeck in two games, 15-5, 15-7. Flores is the reigning 18U world Junior champ from Bolivia, and there’s a pretty good history of World 18U champs going on to big and better things in the sport. Here’s a quick list of the last 10 junior world 18U champs: Flores, Sebastian Hernandez, Trujillo, Miranda, Portillo, Mauro Rojas, Christian Longoria, Montoya, Mercado, and Moscoso. That list includes your current #1, #2, #10, and #12 players, along with a guy in Mercado who was a mainstay in the top 10 before stepping back this year. These two played in Minnesota a couple weeks ago with Jake winning 5,10, so a reverse score-line of 5,7 is shocking. I didn’t see the match and can’t find a stream, so it’s hard to comment on the “why” of this loss for Jake (but I heard someone say he was injured). I thought in my preview this might be closer than the Minnesota result, but not a heavy loss. Flores as the #30 seed becomes the highest seed to get into the 16s since the World Singles& Doubles event, and frankly has a good shot of getting to the quarters.

—————-

In the 16s, we got a couple of interesting results:

– The players expecting to see the back end of the draw cruised in two easy games, including Moscoso, Kane, Montoya.

– Natera got a great win, stopping the Trujillo train in its tracks 7,7. He earns his 3rd career QF.

– Flores, as expected advanced with relative ease over Collins 7,4 to secure a quarter final matchup with King Kane. If he could beat Jake 5,7 (even if Jake was hobbled), then he can beat a lot of the regulars on tour by similar score lines. He reaches the quarters as a #30 seed, and that’s the 6th highest seed on record to EVER reach a pro quarter (see https://rball.pro/swo for report).

– #10 @Thomas Carter really pushed #7 Andres Acuna for a couple of games, then the Costa Rican pulled away 11-2 in the breaker.

—————-

In the Quarters

– #1 Conrrado Moscoso handled Natera 6,11 to move on. Being #1 on tour has its privileges; he has more or less cruised through the first three rounds.

– #4 Parrilla took out his doubles partner #5 Adam Manilla in a topsy turvy tiebreaker

– #6 Waselenchuk ended the Cinderella run of Flores, but not without him making it interesting. Final score: 3,(13),7. The first game seemed to be butterflies of an 18yr old kid playing the best player the sport has ever seen. Game 2 saw Flores calm down and really shock Kane to jump ahead 6-1, a score-line that included three straight aces that Kane barely moved for. Flores’ serving game was on, going to Kane’s forehand with success. I thought Kane was a little “off” this match, leaving balls up uncharacteristically, which contributed to the closeness of the match, but all credit due to Flores for his play. The tiebreaker was back and forth, and he got to about 7-8 when Kane blasted a backhand return of serve and ran the table to win 11-7. Great match, great showing from Flores for sure.

– #7 Andres Acuna shocked the #2 seed Rodrigo Montoya in a breaker to earn just his second ever career pro semi-final, 11-9 in the third.

—————

In the Semis, two anti climactic results as the two expected finalists each advanced without much fan fare. Moscoso over Parrilla 12,5, Kane over Acuna 4,11.

In the Finals, whatever rustiness that Kane showed earlier in the event seemed to have been fine-tuned out of existence on the hard courts of Lombard. Kane’s serve was crisp and his shot selection was spot on, and he dominated the final. Final scores, 9,6 though the actual match wasn’t nearly as close.

—————-

Points Implications of results

(standard caveat: I don’t work for the IRT, so this is an educated guess. Sometimes they do weird things with the rankings, sometimes I’m not privy to the actual point values of events).

Assuming Lombard was a standard Tier 1 (which may not be right; they had $31k of prize money, so it could be a tier1 plus), we’re going to see some movement in the top 10 for sure. Nothing changes in the top5, but Kane should move to #6 in the rolling 365 rankings. With DLR’s likely absence in the next event, that means Kane could be in the top-half of the draw, pushing the inevitable Moscoso-Kane meeting earlier. Murray’s absence drops him to #9. This allows Acuna to move up to a career high #8 on tour. Portillo’s ranking continues to drop; he’ll fall to #13 as it seems he may be officially moving on from the tour unfortunately.

The “season to date” point race is much more interesting. Kane now has a 300 point lead on Conrrado in season to date (that’s the equivalent of a tier 1 final). Acuna is now #5 in the 2024 race and Trujillo #8. Meanwhile, Jake is #11, DLR is #23, and Lalo is #24 in the 2024 race, showing how much work there is for these guys to make up to stay relevant. With DLR and Lalo stepping back, Landa done, Beltran & Carson hanging it up last year, and Mercado seemingly done as well, that’s a huge chunk of your top 10 from just a few years ago now done. It’s definitely a generational year on tour.

—————-

Doubles review

Match report in the PRS database: https://rball.pro/hud

The doubles draw came down to the two top seeds. Trujillo is serving as an able replacement for Javier Mar, but the #2 seeds Montoya/Trujillo fell to #1 Parrilla/Manilla. The lefty-righty pair wins its second title of the season, while Parrilla has now captured all three pro doubles titles this season.

—————-

Open Singles, other notable draws

– A huge 30-man open draw was taken by Gastelum, who topped IRT darling Flores in the final. Flores got h2h wins over Ulliman, Alonso, and Ramirez in the open draw to cap his weekend.

– Team Ohio (Ulliman and Migliore) took the Men’s Open draw.

– @Victoria Rodriguez took the Women’s Open draw

—————–

Thanks for all the streaming on the weekend, especially from broadcasters Favio Soto, Pablo Fajre and the IRTLive crew

——————

Next up?

Per our handy master racquetball calendar …

https://docs.google.com/…/1V6OTid6rZ356voXVkoV2sN7KMMb…/

We’ll recap Beach Bash and Intercollegiates later this week, then its IRF PARC time.

——————-

tags

@International Racquetball Tour

39th Annual Papa Nicholas39th Annual Papa Nicholas IRT Shamrock Shootout Preview

Can Parrilla make some noise on tour? Photo 2019 US Open via Kevin Savory

The IRT returns to Chicagoland for its annual visit to the Glass Court facility in Lombard. This is the 39th annual iteration of this event, for years hosted by the legendary Goeff Peters, now hosted by Dan Jaskier and the regular Chicago crew. This is the 9th year in a row that this event holds an IRT component, but the IRT’s history in Chicago is rather rich.

Chicago has held more than 40 top-level Men’s Pro events since the mid 1970s, including the 1978 DP/Leach Nationals, where @Marty Hogan won his first ever pro title. It also hosted the DP Nationals in 1982 and Catalina Nationals in 83 when “Nationals” meant massive prize money, huge crowds, and TV broadcasts. Former IRT commissioner David Negrete was (is) a Chicago native, and for years the famous Halloween Classic was a staple on the IRT tour. Then, from 2005-2009 it was the host of the Motorola Pro Nationals, a massive money tournament that took over the moniker “Pro Nationals” from Mike Coulter and Las Vegas when the host club closed.

Since 2015 though, its been Shamrock, and the event has seen some great results. It is the site of @Andree Parrilla ‘s first ever tour win in 2018, and Parrilla always seems to play well here. Lastly, this event was the last event of the covid-ended 2019-20 season, with the tour just barely squeaking out the tournament before the country shut down for the virus.

This event looked for a while like it would be really badly impacted by the fixture congestion of this month, but a slew of players entered at the last minute, so there’s more than 40 IRT pros in the draws competing for more than $31k of prizemoney.

R2 Sports App link: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=41791

The draws are up at r2sports; go to the above link to see them and read along.

Top-20 players missing: 3-time defending pro champ Daniel De la Rosa is not here; he has a competing PPA tour event in Austin. Also missing are #7 Murray, #10 Portillo, #18 Landa (retired), and #20 Sam Bredenbeck. The loss of DLR and Murray has a huge impact on the draw, as it elevates #8 ranked Waselenchuk to the #6 seed, meaning he’s on the opposite side of the draw from #1 Moscoso.

——————————

Let’s preview the draw. Here’s some notable qualifying matches that i’m looking forward to:

In the Qualifying, we get a ton of internationals who rarely play the tour, but who had the opportunity to fly to the US a week before PARC starts to get some top-level matches. Look for the likes of Bolivians Luis Aguilar, Jhonatan Flores, and Hector Barrios to make some noise this weekend. Each of them may not be household names, but they’re all accomplished Junior worlds players.

——————————-

Projecting the 32s, here’s some fun matches to watch:

– Alejandro Cardona versus Alan Natera . Two solid Mexican veterans face off; its Juarez vs Chihuahua.

– Erick Trujillo versus @Mauricio Zelada : MoMo usually hangs with top 10 talent for at least a game or two, but expect the young Mexican to advance.

– #5 @Adam Manilla faces off against U21 Bolivian @Luis Antonio Aguilar . He’s the losing finalist of 2023 U21 and 2022 U18 and has some wins internationally. Adam should move on, but this is a tough round of 32.

– @JJohn gotti versus @Kadim Carrasco . Barn burner; Goth still gets wins, as we saw in Sioux Falls. Upset watch here.

– #4 @Andree Parrilla versus @Jordy Alonso . Brutal draw for Parrilla, who gets the very under-rated Alonso. Jordy can get wins: he beat Jake in Chicago two years ago, and beat Andree the last time they played. But, that was in 2017, and Andree shouldn’t slip up here.

– #3 @Jake Bredenbeck takes on, for the 2nd straight event, reigning 18U world junior champ Jhonatan Flores . Jake advanced 5,10 in Minnesota, so should be able to repeat the feat here.

– #22 Diego Gastelum versus #11 Jaime Martell . Oof, tough opener for Martell, drawing the reigning U21 world junior champ, a guy who’s got h2h wins over Trujillo and the whole crew of up-and-coming young Mexicans. Upset watch here.

I also think there will be several upsets by seed that aren’t really upsets by talent; look for the likes of Nieto and Sendrey to move on as well.

Remember: a top 8 seed on the IRT has yet to lose in the round of 32 since the format change, and only one has even gone tie-breaker. Will that trend continue this week? I count at least three top 8 seeds who I wouldn’t be shocked if they lose. In any case, a ton of really compelling 32 matchups.

——————————-

round of 16:

– #9 Trujillo over the winner of Natera/Cardona: another all-Mexican battle, and a great way for Trujillo to test where he is. I think he’s improved leaps and bounds this season, and this will be another solid test.

– Parrilla vs #20 Cole Sendrey: Cole isn’t favored in his opener but is the better player by talent levels. Can he do much with Parrilla?

– The winner of the Martell/Gastelum match feeds into #6 @Kane Waselenchuk for what should be a spirited blow-out loss.

——————————

Projected Qtrs:

– #1 @Conrrado Moscoso over Trujillo. This should be a shooter’s paradise to watch.

– #4 Parrilla over #5 Manilla. If this meeting comes to pass, it’ll be a rematch of two weeks ago at this same juncture, a three game win for Parrilla that was one-way traffic after game one.

– #3 @Jake Bredenbeck versus Kane: I predicted Jake would come out on top in Minnesota over Kane. That was before seeing the current state of Kane’s game, which looks fantastic. It was still a 13,8 loss, close, but not really that close. Can Jake rebound and make it closer? Maybe. Still a kane win.

– #2 Rodrigo Montoya versus #7 Andres Acuna . Montoya’s first two rounds won’t trouble him much, and I don’t think Acuna will either.

———-

I’m projecting the exact same semis we got in Minnesota, and (spoiler) the same eventual outcome.

Semis:

– Moscoso over Parrilla; this is a rematch of Minnesota’s semis. Parrilla has a couple of career wins over Conrrado, so it can be done. For me, I don’t think Moscoso loses this match unless Kane wins ahead of time and he looks past the scrappy Andree.

– Also a rematch of MN semis, Kane takes on Montoya. Montoya can take games off kane; he’s got the serving prowess and the ability to extend rallies like few others, forcing that one extra shot that often makes the difference. Montoya’s loss in Minnesota was heaily due to a loss of focus in the breaker; if he can stay focused and stay on his game, he has a chance to win. Kane will have to be a bit “off” to do so, which doesn’t happen often. Still thinking Kane advances.

Finals; Kane vs Moscoso. Which Conrrado shows up? The one who beat Kane in Pleasanton/pushed him to 15-13 in Minnesota? Or the one who capitulates to a 15-2 game two loss in the final two weeks ago? It’s anyone’s guess. Moscoso may be #1 on tour, but international titles are more important to him, so is he looking ahead to PARC? One add’l wrinkle: Moscoso won’t be jet lagged all to hell here, since he stayed in the US after the Hall of Fame event, so he’ll be fresher in Chicago.

All that said, it’s Kanes to lose right now. He looked too good two weeks ago.

——————————-

Doubles review

Defending pro doubles champs Manilla & Parrilla get the #1 seed, since tour doubles #1 Montoya is missing his regular partner. Instead, Montoya picks up Trujillo to form a very formidable #2 team. The rest of the draw is filled with internationals getting a tune-up ahead of PARC. The likely Bolivian PARC team of Moscoso & Carrasco is the #3 seed, but I still like Montoya/Trujillo in the final against Parrilla/Manilla. From there, hard to root against the lefty-righty pair.

———————————

Look for Streaming in the regular places; follow the IRT on Facebook and sign up to get notifications when they go Live. Look for Favio Soto, Pablo Fajre and the IRTLive crew all weekend on the mike, calling the shots!

Associations

International Racquetball Tour

IRT Minnesota HoF Event Wrap-Up

Kane is back. Photo credit: unknown

Congrats to your Pro winners on the weekend:

– Singles: Kane Waselenchuk

– Doubles: Andree Parrilla and Adam Manilla

Kane returns to the winner’s circle, winning his 125th career title. It has been nearly two years since Kane stood in the winner’s circle of the IRT, as he’s gone through quite a journey of injury recovery. He also, at the age of 42 years and 114 days becomes the oldest player ever to win a tier 1, besting Ruben Gonzalez’ former record by a year and a half.

R2 Sports App home page for event: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=41775

——————

Let’s review the notable matches in the Singles draw.

Singles Match report in the PRS database: https://rball.pro/8de

—————-

In the 32s: we got a couple of compelling matches and one real upset.

– #21 John Goth got the biggest upset of the round, taking out #12 @Robert Collins in a breaker. I thought this result might be in play, but it’s been more than 10 years since Goth made his surprise run to the USA Nationals final. But clearly, he’s still got it. He makes the main draw of an event at age 42, not quite a record but still impressive (see here for list of “oldest players to…” do stuff, something that will come up again later in this event: https://rball.pro/cr4 )

– #13 Jaime Martell was taken to a breaker by veteran Guatemalan @Juan Salvatierra , though the scores seem to indicate that Martell “turned it up” after losing game one. Final score: (13),1,2.

– Reigning 18U world champ @jhonatan Flores held his own against #3 @Jake Bredenbeck , losing by the relatively respectable score-line of 5,10.

– #26 @Mauricio Zelada pressed #7 @Alan Natera in game one but then the Mexican cruised. Final score 11,3

– #10 @Erick Trujillo perhaps was looking past his first round opponent and was shocked in game one against Guatemalan Edwin Galicia 15-4. He rebounded to take the next two 13 and 2 to move on and avoid the upset.

In a recurring theme, the top 8 players all won in two straight games, and as a reminder there has been just one tiebreaker and zero upsets of a top 8 player since the tour went back to a full 32 draw. Scores of your top 8 seeds in order: 3&4, 6&5, 5&10, 10&3, 8&4, 7&4, 11&3, and wbf-ns. A little better than the last event for the lowest ranked players, but I attribute that to the unusually large presence of internationals in this draw who are a bit better than their seeds.

—————-

In the 16s, two upsets by seed, though neither was surprising:

– #11 @Kane Waselenchuk topped #6 @Andres Acuna with ease 2,6. Kane enters this event looking like he’s lost a little weight and is moving around pretty darn well, especially for someone north of 42.

– #10 @Erick Trujillo beat #7 @Alan Natera 7,9 and makes a statement about the current pecking order of Mexican racquetball. Trujillo, who burst onto the scene a couple years ago and then kind of scuffled against his like-aged competitors, has really stepped it up this year on tour.

—————-

In the Quarters

– #1 Conrrado Moscoso made fast work of #8 Thomas Carter.

– #4 @Andree Parrilla held on to east past his doubles partner this weekend #5 @Adam Manilla in a breaker. After losing the first game 13, Parrilla found another gear and won going away 3,2.

– #3 @Jake Bredenbeck was not able to find his mojo against Kane, and lost 13,8. The match was close at times, but there was no letup from the King this time around. I predicted that Jake would have a good shot to win here, based on his results against Kane earlier this season, but it wasn’t to be. After a great run all last season of making the back end of events, Jake’s 2024 so far is a Loss in the qtrs, a Loss in the 16s, and now another loss in the quarters. After being in the mix for the title all the way till the death last season, Jake’s chances are now mostly kaput of winning #1.

– #2 @Rodrigo Montoya was pressed by the young Trujillo but held on 4,14.

—————

In the Semis

– #1 Moscoso returned to the final and guaranteed that he’ll greatly extend his lead at the top of the tour by topping #4 Parrilla 10,11.

– #11 Waselenchuk played a fascinating match against #2 Montoya. The first game was back and forth, a great contest between two of the better power servers the game has seen. Kane’s method of operations is to use his pinpoint accuracy to end rallies on balls where he can set his feet, but Montoya time and again made fantastic anticipating or diving gets to extend rallies. Kane held on to win game one 15-14 but Montoya countered with a relatively dominant game two win 15-7 to push it to the breaker. Early in game 3, a call went against Montoya that he didn’t like and he seemed to drift focus-wise for a few points. Suddenly it was 7-2 down before he called time out and the damage was done. Kane put his foot on Rodrigo’s throat and closed it out 11-2. You can’t lose focus for one second against Waselenchuk and you have to play perfect ball to beat him. To this observer, Kane looks as good as he has in several years.

In the Finals, we got another fantastic matchup against the former King and the likely future King of the sport. Moscoso, who has returned to his foot-faulting ways, was forced to deal with a line judge in the final (at Kane’s request) and had multiple calls go against him. Kane went up huge early, but Moscoso fought back. A very entertaining and competitive game came down to just a few moments; I noted in the comments of the video during game one how similar the two players really were: both have huge serves and drive a ton of pressure from them, and both really penalize weak service returns to do 3-shot rallies. The real difference between them right now to me is this: Kane plays smart, while Moscoso plays risky. When Moscoso makes his low-percentage shots (on top of everything else in his game) you see him run to 15-4 game wins. But when he misses … it’s just enough to give the game to the steady Kane 15-13. Also as noted … Moscoso is a notorious front runner, and often capitulates in heavy game two losses after close game one wins … and that’s exactly what happened here. Game 2 was a waste, one way traffic that was just the two players playing out the string at the end. Kane wins 13,2

—————-

Points Implications of results

I’ll caveat this points analysis as I probably always should: sometimes I’m not privy to oddities that go on in the IRT rankings system, since it runs through R2 and includes little offities that even the tour owners aren’t always aware of. What I believe will happen, if I have my xls right, is this: because there’s fewer than ten tier1s in the last 365 days, all satellite points are dropped and the tour is just adding together the results from the tier1s.

Moscoso has opened up a sizeable lead at the top of the tour; he now leads #2 Montoya by nearly 500 points. Meanwhile, Daniel remains in 4th but now trails the top by nearly 900 points … it happened just that fast. DLR missed Chicago last year so he won’t drop too much further for a while, but the writing is on the wall. By mid-summer he may be entirely out of the top 10. He won’t be in Chicago either.

Kane should move up to #8, a spot he secured once he made the final. Portillo is just barely hanging onto the top 10, Natera gets dumped down to #12, and Trujillo now pushes for the top 10. Landa loses a ton of points from this event last year and now is barely clinging to a top 20 spot. With the win, Kane is in the lead for “season to date” points, which by the end of the year will be the only thing that matters.

However curiously, as of this writing Kane is not entered into the next IRT event (Shamrock Shootout in Chicago in two week’s time). He’s also not entered into the competing Beach Bash, which he likely would have played if it wasn’t a competing event. My guess is that he’ll go to chicago and we may get another couple of showdowns like we saw this weekend. (update: he entered Chicago earlier today). Thanks to DLR’s absense, we won’t be forced with Moscoso-Kane in the quarters … so we have a good shot of getting another Kane-Moscoso final in two weeks.

—————-

Doubles review

Match report in the PRS database: https://rball.pro/vti

The doubles draw saw top ranked Montoya carry Cullen into the final by beating #2 Moscoso/Carrasco, but they played just a handful of points before the final was called off due to injury. #1 Manilla & Parrilla cruise to the title.

—————-

Open Singles, other notable draws

– Alan Natera, seeded 7th but ranked just outside the top 8 so by contract he can play Open, took the Open draw, topping Bolivian junior Flores in the final. Barth and Galicia semi finalists.

– Home town team of Jordan Barth / Mike Klocker took Open doubles, taking out Pando & Meinerz in the final.

– Ava_Kaiser & Barb Hoffner took women’s doubles.

– Sponsor extraordinaire Keith Minor and Rebecca Bowman took Mixed Open.

—————–

Thanks for all the streaming on the weekend, especially from broadcasters Favio Soto, Pablo Fajre, guest commentators and the IRTLive crew.

——————

Next up?

Per our handy master racquetball calendar …

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1V6OTid6rZ356voXVkoV2sN7KMMbIP9SZd0MssH_nPGU/

We’ll recap the LPRT and USAR HS Nationals in the next couple of days. After that, we get a break until the next uber-busy 3/17 weekend.

——————-

tags

International Racquetball Tour

IRT McNamara Minnesota Racquetball Hall of Fame Tournament Preview

Montoya is the defending champion Chicago: can he repeat? Photo Kevin Savory 2022 Portland IRT event

Welcome to the 35th annual (and 2nd time in a row that it’s had an IRT component) Minnesota Hall of Fame event. If you want to read why its called “McNamara,” go to the r2sports home page where the tourney organizers have a little history lesson that goes a long way to showing why Minnesota is one of the best supporting states for racquetball out there.

R2 Sports App link: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=41775

There’s 32 men in this draw, including a slew of internationals that we don’t normally see in IRT draws. This generally happens just ahead of international competitions, and with PARC in a few weeks we see confederations like Canada, Chile, Bolivia, and Guatemala (still listed as “Zambia” in r2sports thanks to Guatemala’s non-recognition right now by IOC) sending their players here to get a tune-up.

There’s been a huge shake-up in the rankings since the end of the last event. The Feb2023 Atlanta grand slam expired off the books, and the results of the top four players from that event dropped off with major implications. When we last left off, the top 4 (and their points from Atlanta) were:

1. De la Rosa (600; won Atlanta)

2. Jake (450: finalist in Atlanta)

3. Moscoso: 0: missed Atlanta)

4. Montoya (135 – quarter final loss in Atlanta)

After Atlanta expired, your new top 4 (and the top 4 driving the seeding here) became:

1. Moscoso: rose up quickly w/o any points to defend.

2. Montoya: had relatively few points to lose

3. Jake

4. DLR

So Daniel sees his ranking plummet … and he’s missing from this event. It’s not due to a PPA conflict, so he must have another event or is making a conscious choice to not be here. After his 16s loss in the last event and missing this event, along with the distinct lack of IRT events on the books, his chances of repeating as #1 are basically over.

Also noteworthy: Kane has jumped up from 17 to 14, again having zero points expiring from Atlanta. And, thanks to three players in the top 13 missing (DLR, #6 Murray, and #8 Portillo), Kane gets an #11 seed here. #11 is a great seed to have if you’re in the mood for upsets (just ask George Mason, who raced to the final four as the #11 seed).

——————————

Let’s preview the draw. Here’s some notable qualifying matches that i’m looking forward to:

In the 32s:

– #5 Adam Manilla gets up and coming Bolivian former junior world champ #28 Hector Barrios in what looks like the most competitive possible top 8 match in the 32s. The last time Barrios played an IRT event, he beat Sebastian Franco along with Wer and Cuevas, so he can get wins.

– #12 @Robert Collins gets the always-tough Minnesotan John Goth , who has more than a few tour scalps on his belt. Goth regularly plays with the Bredenbecks and stays sharp despite not touring regularly, but beating a tour vet is a little different than training with one.

– #3 Jake Bredenbeck faces off against Bolivian junior @Jhonatan Flores , who just won the world 18U junior title last November without dropping a single game. It’ll be interesting to see what Flores can do against a top pro like Jake.

– #15 Sam Bredenbeck gets a fun one against #18 Chilean national team member Rafael Gatica

——————————-

round of 16:

– The 8/9 match, which has seen Acuna vs Natera a bunch of times lately, gets us @TCarter Thomas and Kadim Carrasco . At #8 this is Carter’s highest ever pro seeding (he was #9 a few times in the past), and at #9 this is by far Carrasco’s highest ever seeding (previously best was #14). so we’re definitely seeing some impact to the departure of a slew of long-time players in the seeds. I like Carter here.

– 5-12 gives us a rare lefty-lefty between Manilla and Collins.

– #11 Waselenchuk gets #6 Andres Acuna in the 16s. These two played recently and Acuna got the first game before falling; can he repeat the task and set down Kane early? Not likely, but Acuna will have gained confidence from his game-plan success the last time they played.

– #10 Erick Trujillo will fancy his chances to upset #7 Alan Natera , who like many here this weekend has his highest ever IRT seed. Trujillo has the hot hand though and I like him to get to the quarters.

——————————

Projected Qtrs:

– #1 Conrrado Moscoso , who has a very easy first two rounds, should cruise past #8 Carter to move to the semis.

– #4 @Andree Parrilla should advance past Adam Manilla . They’ve only played 3 times, Andree is 2-1, but is coming off a big-time win at Mexican Nationals.

– #3 Bredenbeck vs #11 Kane. Tough one to predict. They played in Boston last November and Jake beat a tiring Kane in the breaker, but had to save a match point against to even get past game 2. Since then, he’s taken a couple of uncharacteristic losses on tour (losing to Andree, Lalo, and Trujillo). Meanwhile, Kane has struggled since his return to make it through events: In Boston last Nov he tired in the semis losing to jake, then in Pleasanton after beating Conrrado game one he got blasted 4,4, then he retired in South Dakoda due to a leg issue. I think Jake can win here.

– #2 @Rodrigo Montoya over Trujillo: these two just played in the semis of Mexican Nats, a 6,6,9 relatively straight forward win for Montoya. Rodrigo will be looking to bounce back from his missing out on the Mexican team for this cycle. Montoya was the winner her last year (his first ever win), and has the most points to defend, but seems well positioned to at least get to the semis.

Semis:

– Conrrado over Parrilla: there’s a gulf between these two right now.

– Montoya over Jake: Amazingly, they havn’t played since Oct 2022 despite being seeded right next to each other for a while. Montoya leads 5-4 career and has won their last 2 meetings. Montoya likes these courts and is the defending champ. Last time they played it was 13,14 … so not much between them. Flip a coin and I’ll go Rodrigo.

Finals;

– I think 2024 is Moscoso’s year, and without having to face Kane until a possible final at the end of a long weekend (even if it was Kane in the final) is advantage Conrrado. He wins again and stretches his lead at the top.

——————————-

Doubles review

No Javier Mar, so no #1 Montoya/Mar pairing at the top. Montoya picks up Canadian Cullen and probably loses early, clearing the way for newly crowned Mexican champ (paired with Adam Manilla here) to cruise into the final. They’ll have to contend with likely the Bredenbeck brothers to get there. From the bottom, nothing should stop Bolivian national team Moscoso/Carrasco. The final will see Carrasco get isolated and Parrilla/Manilla taking the title.

———————————

Look for Streaming in the regular places; follow the IRT on Facebook and sign up to get notifications when they go Live. Look for Favio Soto and Pablo Fajre and the IRTLive crew all weekend on the mike, calling the shots!

Associations

International Racquetball Tou r

IRT Sioux Falls Lewis Drug Pro-Am 2024 Wrap-Up

Murray claims his 2nd ever tier1 title. Photo 2019 US Open Kevin Savory

Congrats to your Pro winners on the weekend:

– Singles: Samuel Murray

– Doubles: Eduardo Portillo and @Andree Parrilla

Murray runs a pretty amazing gauntlet of matches to claim his second ever Tier 1 title. Lalo and Andree save match points against to claim the doubles title.

R2 Sports App home page for event: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=41883

——————

Let’s review the notable matches in the Singles draw.

Singles Match report in the PRS database: https://rball.pro/kju

—————-

There were three trivial round of 64 play-ins that had no real shocks.

In the 32s…

– #1 @Daniel De la Rosa was pushed to the limit by #32 Coby Iwaasa, winning in three 10,(14),8. Of course, Iwaasa is not your typical 30-something pro seed, the clear-cut #2 player in Canada and a past winner on the WRT who just doesn’t tour regularly.

I harp on this point often, when it comes to having the top 8 seeds play the 32s, but here’s a fun fact; Pablo and the IRT changed the competition structure in February 2023. just ahead of Minnesota, to abolish “top 8 seeds get byes into the 32s,” a structure that had been in place for regular Tier1s since August 1991. Since the return to full 32s, not only have the top 8 seeds won every round of 32 match played so far… DLR’s was the first time a top 8 seed was even stretched to a tiebreaker. Most of these 1v32, 2v31, etc matches are complete blow outs in the 15-4, 15-2 variety where the top pro is just going through the motions.

I continue to maintain that lower seeded players are far better served by the prior structure. Instead of Iwaasa playing DLR in the 32s, under the old structure, he would have played #33 in the 64s (Roman Haller), to then play #16 seed in the 32s (Sam Bredenbeck) to play into DLR in the round of 16s/aka the money round. Instead, Iwaasa goes home with no prize money. You have to think Iwaasa would have liked his chances under the old structure, a match against Sam versus straight to DLR. Anyway, it is what it is, and unless the lower level players figure this out instead of maintaining the illogical belief that its somehow more “fair” to get blasted by a top seed in the 32s on Thursday afternoon to eliminate any chance of prize money, we’ll continue to see this situation on tour.

– #17 Kane Waselenchuk took out #16 @Sam Bredenbeck 10,10 in a streaky match that looked like it was going a different way in each game. Both players ran off long streaks of points at times, but neither player stayed consistent long enough to put the game away fast. Kane is #20 ranked but #17 seeded by virtue of three players ranked above him pulling out last minute (Cuevas, Carson, and Landa), so he plays right into #1 DLR.

– #3 Conrrado Moscoso got pushed a bit by fellow Bolivian Mauricio Zelada before advancing 5,11

– #14 Kadim Carrasco got taken to a breaker by #19 @Carlos Ramirez before advancing.

– #11 Thomas Carter held on against Junior national team member Cole Sendrey 12,9. Sendrey had an impressive win in the Kelley tournament earlier this month, but playing a top 15 IRT pro is a little different than playing a top east coast amateur.

– #15 @Erick Trujillo got a very solid win over Mexican veteran Javier Mar 12,13 in the 15-18 seed matchup. I routinely believe Mar is one of the top 8 players in the world … but he’s struggled for two years now to maintain that lofty status. This is the turning point for me.

—————-

In the 16s, we got a slew of upsets.

– #17 Kane took out #1 DLR 8,9 in a match that probably was not as close as the score line indicated. I watched the match closely and my analysis is pretty simple: DLR could not get his drive serve working. I’ve never seen him serve so badly. I did a quick count of drive serve effectiveness in game 1 to illustrate this point: Kane drove 26 times, making 19 of them (73%) while DLR drove 17 times and only made 9 of them (52%). The ineffectiveness of a solid first serve cannot be understated: When I’ve done detailed match tracking in the past, a first serve in led directly to points 66% of the time, whereas that point ratio dropped to just 33% when hitting a second serve. It isn’t a coincidence that DLR got 9 drives in and scored 9 points in the game, while Kane got 17 drives in and scored 15.

The key to beating Kane right now is to limit how often he can shoot while setting his feet. And the definition of a second serve lob is allowing Kane to stand there and shoot with his feet set. Meanwhile, Kane served his typical 70%+ effective drive serves where he wanted them, getting aces and 3-shot rallies as expected, and that was that. By the end of the second game DLR had completely abandoned the drive serve and was lobbing on first serve … amazing to think about when playing the best player of all time. I also think DLR was rather devoid of ideas; when his drives failed, he didn’t think about hard Zs or any variation; he just nicked lob serves to Kane’s forehand, which he buried over and over. DLR remains winless for his career against Kane, takes a round of 16 loss (which probably buries his chances at the 2024 title already)

Now, all this being said, Kane played lights out. He executed his typical game plan, wasn’t making errors, kept the pressure on, and generally got the rallies he wanted here. It was vintage Kane, reminiscent of a match from 10 years ago. All credit to him. Kane improves to 19-1 all-time against DLR … and that 1 loss was a forfeit.

– #6 and #11 @Adam Manilla and Thomas Carter had an all lefty battle, which went to the death 11-9 for Adam.

– #7 Samuel Murray took out #10 Eduardo Portillo in a breaker in a match that was not an upset by seed, but probably and upset by talent. Lalo’s time away from the court continues to take its toll and I wonder how long he’ll remain a factor on tour.

– Lastly, the other big news of the round: #15 Erick Trujillo , who already got one career win in this event, got easily the best result of his career with an 11-10 win over #2 Jake Bredenbeck . The end of this game featured multiple turns by each player at 10-10, a questionable/argued hinder call, and a no-doubt buried winner for Trujillo to take it. As with DLR, this round of 16 loss is a dagger for Jake’s chances to take the year end title, given the headwinds that the competitors to the throne are starting to show (more on that later).

– The other top 8 seeds each advanced without really breaking a sweat; Acuna over Natera, Parrilla over Collins, Montoya over Martell, Moscoso over Carrasco. Each in two games, each game of the single digit variety.

So, both #1 and #2 out in the 16s. How often does that happen? Uh, not very often. Since seeds started being hyper tracked in 2009, I can’t find a single instance where both #1 and #2 lost in the 16s. I feel like it’s happened recently but I can’t find it. Perhaps someone’s memory is better than mine.

—————-

In the Quarters, more interesting machinations.

– Done with the #1 seed, one would have expected Kane to blow past #8 Acuna, but that’s not what happened. Acuna (unlike DLR) made a high percentage of his drive first serves and ground out a game one win 15-13. Kane rebounded and was more or less controlling game 2 when he took an awkward step to his right to retrieve a serve and crumpled to the ground. It did not look good on the stream but he rebounded to take the game and the tiebreaker hobbling around to advance to the semis.

– #4 Montoya renewed his frequent rivalry with #5 Parrilla, winning this round 11-9 breaker.

– #3 Moscoso destroyed #6 Manilla 1,5 and seems like he’s on a freight train towards another matchup with Kane in the final now that both #1 and #2 are out.

– #7 Murray came from a game down to top the upset-minded Trujillo in three. Erick’s career tournament was cut short when he seemed to run out of gas in the breaker.

—————

In the Semis

– Kane’s injury proved too much for him to test, so he gave #4 Montoya a walk-over into the final. Kane did hang around to do commentary on the other semi, which was fortuitous because it turned out to be an amazing match.

– #7 Murray improved to 6-4 lifetime against Moscoso, stunning the Bolivian in a match that will be remembered for a while. After Conrrado ground out a game one victory 15-13, he raced to a massive lead in game two and had match point on his racquet at 14-3. Murray saved that match point against, then ran off 12 unanswered points to stun the Bolivian 15-14 in game two. In the breaker, Conrrado scored a couple of quick points … but then Big Canada ran off 11 straight unanswered points to win 11-2. Just an amazing match from Murray.

In the Finals … I thought “Advantage Montoya” for sure. Montoya was fresher and had the career H2H advantage. Well, that’s why you play the matches. Murray stuck to his game plan, played smart, patient shots, waiting out Montoya’s go-for-broke game style, and took game one. Montoya bounced back in game two, but Murray bided his time and took a massive lead in the tiebreaker. Sitting at 10-6 with match point, Montoya saved multiple match points-against with fantastic diving gets and great shots. Multiple rallies at the end featured questionable calls, hinders, arguments for avoidables that went for naught, arguments about down balls, etc … so it was only fitting that a chaotic rally ended with an avoidable hinder against Rodrigo to give Murray the match 11-10.

This unexpected tourney win for Murray reminds me of his first win, an out-of-nowhere Jan 2021 win in Atlanta, the first coming back from Covid, where Murray reportedly wasn’t even going to attend b/c he has so little playing time. I thought Murray would struggle to beat Portillo in the 16s, let along run off four straight tiebreaker wins over Portillo, Trujillo, Moscoso, and Montoya. Bravo to Big Sam for your second career tier 1 title.

—————-

Points Implications of results on the Singles rankings

There will be some interesting point machinations that will happen in the short term on the IRT. Despite losing in the 16s, Jake will return to #1. That’s because there was no Longhorn Open in 2024 (which DLR won in 2023) and DLR had more points to defend from last year’s Lewis Drug. Montoya meanwhile will rise to #2, a career high … and if he had won that last point he’d be the new #1. DLR will drop to #3 and Moscoso will drop all the way to #4. Murray bumps up from 9 to 6. Kane will improve slightly, from #20 to #17 with his semi finals appearance, and will continue to be a thorn in the side of a top 4 opponent heading into the 16s until he can get himself into the upper teens.

So, when the points were published, the lack of 10 tier 1s in the last 365 days led to some different machinations to the IRT points than my private worksheet supports. The latest rankings “seem” to follow the formula of, “all Tier1s in the last 365 days without satellites and without dropping events,” except that this formula doesn’t support the totals of Moscoso, Parrilla, or Natera in particular. So i dunno. It’s early in the season so it doesn’t really matter, but later on we’ll reconcile our working document so we don’t report the wrong information.

—————-

Doubles review

Match report in the PRS database: https://rball.pro/a40

Well, lets just say my prognosticating on the doubles draw was … a little off. I thought for sure that the presence of the Canadian National team (Murray & Iwaasa), who won 2022 PARC and made the final of 2023 Pan Am Games would make a difference here. Nope: they got beat in the 16s by Collins and Trujillo, not exactly household names on the international doubles scene. This cleared the way for the presumptive #1 doubles team in the world Montoya & Mar to cruise into the final.

From the bottom half, the surprise team of Beltran & Manilla had themselves quite a barn burner against #2 DLR and Landa, in a match filled with undertones. DLR and Beltran of course were long-time partners and friends who had a falling out in late 2022, while Beltran and Landa are good buddies. Landa is notoriously passionate on the court, while Beltran is notoriously a cut-up. These two immoveable forces ran right into each other towards the end of the tiebreaker of their quarter, when Beltran got an avoidable call at 6-10 down against Landa that Alex disagreed with. To me, it was a pretty easy avoidable call; Landa hit a ball right back at himself that Beltran didn’t really even have to move towards to take a shot. He held up and the point was given. Landa went ballistic, surprisingly not getting a technical for his antics … but when Beltran lampooned Landa’s reaction the two got face to face, and not for a short while. IRT Commissioner Pablo Fajre had to separate them on the court, and they went right back towards each other again, having to be separated again. Both teams were assessed a technical, so now the score was 6-9 … and wouldn’t you know it, Beltran and Manilla ran off 5 more points to take the match 11-9. DLR was knocked out of both draws by Friday mid-afternoon. The last time i saw Beltran and Landa … they were eating dinner together in Vegas, and Beltran basically said this was just boys being boys on social media the next day, so much ado about nothing.

Despite their solid win, Beltran & Manilla couldn’t get past the strong partnership of Portillo & Parrilla though, so we got an all-Mexican final. Montoya took the court for the doubles final about 10 minutes after a completely demoralizing 11-10 singles loss and for a big chunk of the match seemed to just be going through the motions … but still led his team to a game one win and a match point in game two. Lalo and Andree saved it, took the second game, then took the tiebreaker for the doubles win.

—————-

Open Singles, other notable draws

– Cardona shows he’s still got it, beating Gastelum, then Iwaasa and Martell for the Men’s Open title.

– Natera and Mark frank took the Men’s Open Doubles.

– Meadow Barth and Vallana Perrault took the Women’s Open doubles RR.

– Meadow and brother Jordan Barth took the Mixed Open doubles (bummer not to see Jordan playing singles this weekend).

—————–

Thanks for all the streaming on the weekend, especially from broadcasters Favio Soto, Pablo Fajre and the IRTLive crew

Thanks to the Tourney Director Mark Gibbs for putting this event on!

Thanks to the Tourney Sponsor Lewis Drug . Without you, we do not have a pro sport.

——————

Next up?

Per our handy master racquetball calendar …

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1V6OTid6rZ356voXVkoV2sN7KMMbIP9SZd0MssH_nPGU/

After a weekend off, the first weekend of February features USA Nationals and the Canadian Winter selection event.

——————-

tags

International Racquetball Tour

@Racquetball Canada

USA Racquetball

IRT Lewis Drug Pro-Am Preview

Kane versus DLR in teh 16s could be epic. Photo US Open 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

Welcome to one of the IRT’s main-stays, the 44th annual Lewis Drug Pro-Am, hosted by one of the IRT’s co-owners and long-time tourney sponsor Mark Gibbs at the Sioux Falls YMCA (and a couple other clubs) in sunny Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

This event has been a fixture on the IRT calendar in January for years, and has held a special place in the players’ hearts for years. There has often been supplemental prize money offered, travel expense assistance, and an annual banquet at this event.

From a competitive stand point, this tourney has given the tour all sorts of surprises over the years. In 2017, Current #1 @Daniel De La Rosa got the win here, only his 2nd ever on tour, but one that propelled him into the top 4 of the tour, where he’s stayed ever since. In 2018, @Alejandro Landa got his first career win here, a thrilling 11-10 win over DLR. In 2023, after taking two years off, the tourney saw a fantastic final between the tour’s two top players @Conrrado Moscoso and DLR, with Moscoso taking the first shot of the new season across DLR’s bow, winning 9,12.

R2 Sports App link: https://www.r2sports.com/website/event-website.asp?TID=41883

There’s 35 players in the draw, a very solid draw from a top 20 perspective, with 17 of the top 20 players here.

——————————

Lets preview the draw. Here’s some notable qualifying matches that i’m looking forward to:

There’s just a couple of play-ins to get to the full round of 32 where everyone is starting these days. One of the things I like about Sioux Falls is that the Canadian National team members usually show up, meaning all sorts of top Canada players pouring into the draw.

——————————-

Projecting the 32s: here’s some possible matchups, though the depth of this draw could make for some upsets and make these predictions moot:

– #1 DLR versus Coby Iwaasa : just about as tough a round of 32 as the #1 player could want, the #2 Canadian player who has gotten all sorts of random wins over name brand players over the years.

– #9 Alan Natera versus John Goth : Natera should advance here, but Goth has always been a dangerous player who can surprise if you look past him.

– #8 Andres Acuna versus #25 Diego Gastelum: Upset watch here. Gastelum is right behind Acuna on my personal world rankings list and for good reason; he’s one of the best Mexican Juniors out there.

– #5 Andree Parrilla vs #28 Alex Cardona : well, if it was 2016 this might be a WRT final, but here on the IRT its a round of 32.

– #22 Cole Sendrey gets a great test of his current status against touring regular #11 Thomas Carter .

– IRT legend Alvaro Beltran has entered singles for the first time since September but runs into #10 Eduardo Portillo , who has seen his seed slip as he splits time between the tour and flight school.

– the 15/18 match is two Mexicans at different stages of their career, @Javier Mar and Erick Trujillo . On paper this should be Mar, but Trujillo could surprise.

——————————-

round of 16:

– Well, you couldn’t ask for a better, more intriguing round of 16 match than #1 DLR versus #16 seeded @Kane Waselenchuk . Kane, ranked 20th, got bumped up a couple spots in the last week thanks to a couple of withdrawals, and now suddenly he’s looking at #1 DLR in the round of 16.

What to make of this matchup? Well, its early enough in the draw that Kane won’t be fatigued by too many matches, which is advantage Kane. He may be 42 but he can still fire in aces with pinpoint accuracy, which most players would struggle with. How much has DLR been focusing on racquetball based on his new PPA pickleball contract? Is he rusty? If so, then this is a huge red flag for his chances of becoming a 4-time tour champ. A loss in the 16s would be devastating given the fact that he’ll be missing events and since his competitors will be advancing further.

We saw a very focused DLR go up against Kane in Vegas, playing very lights out in the two mixed doubles finals where they went head to head, as if DLR was making a point about who was the better player on the court. But outdoor is outdoors, and indoors is Kane’s territory. So, I expect a close game, and I expect DLR to grind out a win.

– In the 8/9, Acuna and Natera projected to play for the 3rd straight event, and Acuna still holds the upper hand.

– #2/#15 Jake Bredenbeck gets a possibly tough Javier Mar who can catch top players off-guard.

– The rest of the draw looks relatively predictable; I do like Montoya-Martell and Portillo-Murray as close matches.

——————————

Projected Qtrs:

– DLR over Acuna without much trouble

– Montoya takes back control of his rivalry with Parrilla

– Moscoso over Manilla with ease

– Jake takes out Lalo but it goes tiebreaker.

Semis:

– I think DLR owns Montoya right now.

– Moscoso is better than Jake right now, even if seeded behind him.

Finals: another Moscoso over DLR final like we saw in Pleasanton. I think 2024 is Moscoso’s year and he’s going to take another step towards the title here.

——————————-

Doubles review

The presence of Iwaasa here means the Canadian #1 Doubles team of Murray/Iwaasa can play doubles … and since they never play pro they’re set to play into the #1 seeds Montoya/Mar. So, basically the final of most international tourneys lately will be buried in the pro quarters here in Sioux Falls on 2pm Friday afternoon. A great match nonetheless. The winner of this should play Landa/DLR in the final for the title.

———————————

Look for Streaming in the regular places; follow the IRT on Facebook and sign up to get notifications when they go Live. Look for Favio Soto and guest hosts all weekend on the mike, calling the shots!

Associations

International Racquetball Tour

IRT 2023 Season: News recap and looking forward to 2024

Here’s the last in my end of season series, taking a look at the seminal events of the season and then looking forward.

– 1/5/23: IRT and Gearbox officially announce what has been rumored for a few weeks: Gearbox has replaced Head/Penn as the official ball and official equipment manufacturer of the IRT. This ends a nearly 20-year agreement Penn had to provide the official IRT ball. Gearbox’s balls are known to be more “durable” and “more consistent” … but are also known to be noticeably slower than other balls in the sport. How does this end up changing the pro game? For this observer, on panel courts, the portable court, and places not at altitude, the game plays significantly slower, which highlights a need for accuracy and shot making. At altitude and/or on cement, the ball plays more “normally” and power players do not appear affected.

– 1/9/23: Despite losing the Longhorn Open final, #3 Conrrado Moscoso ascends to the #1 spot on tour. This is the first time a player from outside the Big-3 countries of the sport has achieved #1, and is a seminal career moment for the Bolivian.

– 1/20/23: For the 2nd time in three years, Rodrigo Montoya is given the

Teporaca de Oro by his home state of Chihuahua for his accomplishments in the sport. Unfortunately he has to miss the Lewis Drug Pro/Am to get the award, costing him valuable ranking points. By season’s end it doesn’t really impact where he ended up; he finished well behind Jake for #3.

– 1/26/23: #12 Mario Mercado is given the inaugural Mark Griffin Sportsman of the Year Award at the Lewis Drug Pro-Am. Griffin first started the Lewis Drug Pro/Am tournament in 1978, and it is the longest running pro event in the country. The award will be presented annually to the player who most exemplifies the spirit of fair play and outstanding athletic performance of Men’s IRT tour professionals. Ironically, Mercado doesn’t play an event the rest of the season.

– 2/19/2023: the IRT has pivoted away from its tiered qualifying system and is going to a straight draw; no more byes into the 16s for the top 8 pros. Everyone starts in the 32s or the 64s if the draw is large enough. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but this seems to me to be an anti-player move, especially for the top 8 guys. Remember, top 8 players sign an agreement that purposely limits their ability to enter non-IRT sanctioned events, and in return they (for nearly 20 years) got protected seeding in return. Without the protected seeding, why agree to limit your own earning potential? It is also an inarguable fact that tiered qualifying is better for lower ranked players as well, for reasons i’ve covered many times in this space. Uninformed observers are convinced that this is a good thing, but you can count on one hand the number of round of 32 matches top eight players have played this year that were even remotely competitive.

– 2/19/23: #1 Moscoso skips the Williams Accounting Open in Atlanta to be part of the festivities of the celebration of Carnival in his home country. Its the only event he misses all season, but it proves to be a massive absence. De La Rosa wins the event and its valuable 600 ranking points, while Moscoso eventually finishes 2nd by just 226 points at season’s end. A semi’s finish or better in Atlanta would have changed the season ending rankings.

– 3/5/23: Rodrigo Montoya becomes the 45th man to ever win an IRT event, topping his doubles partner Mar in the 16s, then topping the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd ranked players (Portillo, Moscoso, and De La Rosa) to win the title in Minnesota. This is finally enough to catapult Montoya, who has long been one of the best players in the world but was never ranked accordingly, into the top 4 where he belongs.

– 3/16/23: despite being in a nip and tuck battle for #1 on tour, DLR skips the Chicago Open to compete instead in a PPA pickleball event in Austin that happened the same weekend. By season’s end, it becomes clear that DLR’s move here is immaterial, but it was a gamble at the time.

– May 2023: Thanks to the large anticipated 2023 slate of events and the distance we’ve now put ourselves from Covid, the tour will be moving away from the rolling 11 tier 1s and back to a rolling 365-day calendar.

– May 2023: a couple of shots across the bow of the IRT player contract are made, as DLR & Landa play in an “Open” tournament in San Antonio while Portillo skips an IRT event (along with Acuna, who is outside the top 😎 to play in the Asian open. Both actions seem to be in violation of the IRT player contract, which stipulates that top 8 players may not play ANY non-IRT event and only a limited number of IRT satellite events per season. A bit later, Portillo takes to Facebook to complain that he had been fined $500 for the action, though the post is later taken down. It does beg a question as to the fairness of the IRT player contract, but the players can’t really do anything until the new year.

– Aug 2023: World singles & Doubles happens in Denver thanks to two years of planning from Jim Hiser, and with the loss of the US Open this is the defacto US Open of the season. It has the biggest draws of the season by far.

– Aug 2023: With the cancellation of the Portland Tourney of Champions as a Tier 1, the tour will have exactly 10 tier 1s/Grand slams by the end of 2023. Per the player

contract, the year end title will be determined by the sum of these 10 events. The 3 competitors for the title (Jake, DLR, Moscoso) each face different challenges in the race to #1: Moscoso missed the Grand Slam, DLR missed Chicago, and Jake has a ton of late 2022 points to defend.

– Sept 2023: Alex Landa announces in a Facebook post that he’ll be retiring as of the last event of the 2023 season from professional racquetball.

– 11/12/2023: Kane Waselenchuk, who had not played professional singles since his Achilles heel tear in September 2022, enters the Boston singles event with little fanfare and advances to the semis, beating #11 Robbie Collins, #6 Adam Manilla, and most notably #3 Conrrado Moscoso with relative ease. He nearly beats #2 Jake Bredenbeck in the semis, but seemed to pick up an injury that hampered his movement, losing in a tiebreaker. Still, its an amazing return to form for the 14-time pro tour champ, and his defeat of Moscoso had huge implications for the year end race.

– 11/13/23: Jake Bredenbeck ascends to #1 ranking on tour for the first time with his finals appearance in Boston.

– 11/20/23: the tour race for #1 is going to be closer than it has been for nearly a decade, so much attention is paid to the machinations of the two remaining events. Thanks to Moscoso’s upset loss in Boston, DLR’s semi final appearance, and Jake’s final’s showing … the end of year race becomes clear. Moscoso cannot win the title. Jake can win the title, but he needs to win Pleasanton and hope that Daniel loses relatively early. DLR can sew up the 2023 title with at least a semis appearance in Pleasanton, or a quarter’s appearance if Jake loses before the final.

– 12/9/23: A Jake Bredenbeck loss in the quarters of the Golden State Open sealed the 2023 title for De La Rosa before he even took the court for his critical quarterfinal against Acuna. Daniel won that match and his semi to resolve any question as to his #1 status, though he ended up losing the finals badly to #2 Moscoso.

– 12/10/23: In the post-game interview after the Golden State Open final, Daniel De La Rosa announced that he will not be “touring full time” in 2024, alluding to his

commitments to “another sport.” There’s little surprise here; he signed an 3-year contract with the Professional Pickleball Association in August which guarantees a salary, benefits, and expense reimbursement to play professional Pickleball. His main sponsor Pro Kennex and Mike Martinez tried to manage the situation on social media by noting that DLR is a “multi sport” sponsored player and has expectations of continuing to play and compete in racquetball, but as they say, we’ll see how it goes.

————————-

Now for some commentary on the state of the IRT at the end of 2023 and heading into 2024.

Despite having 10 tier 1s in 2023, the tour saw a pretty steep decline in overall participation. In 2022, there were 245 players who competed in one of the IRT’s events; that number dropped to just 133 in 2023. That’s more than 100 players who didn’t travel or didn’t enter an event who had a year prior. Draw sizes were way down; at the beginning of 2022 draws were routinely in the 40s; by the end of 2023 the tour was struggling to get 25 players. Denver and the portable court helped bump things up (those two events got 56 and 48 players respectively) but there’s a big gap of players missing.

We’ve definitely seen a changing of the guard as long-time touring pros step back (Carson, Beltran, Landa, Franco, Mercado). We’re also seeing younger players who were touring relatively full time in 2022 stop touring (Fernandez, Keller, Garay). But we’re also seemingly missing a lot of the international guys who frequently traveled to every event, and we’re not seeing the younger Mexican’s coming over the border as much as we have in year’s past. So, that’s a problem.

A bigger problem is the loss of events. Here’s a quick list of IRT tier 1 stops that we seem to have “lost” just in the last couple of years:

– Longhorn Open in Jan

– The Lou Bradley in Feb

– Williams Accounting/Suivant Consulting in Feb

– Where’s the SoCal Open, usually in April?

– The Syosset Open in NY in May

– World Singles/Denver won’t happen in August 2024

– The Capital Classic in Severna Park in Sept.

– The US Open is not likely to happen in 2024

– We used to have an Arizona Open in Oct

– The Sarasota Open/Dovetail in Nov?

– Pelham ToC went down to a satellite this year in Dec.

Not to mention events we used to have regularly in St. Louis or Cincinnati or San Antonio or in Canoga Park. The tour has picked up some new events (Tracktown, Pleasanton, Boston) but not enough to offset all these losses. And it makes me worry about the 2024 season. Will the IRT even get to 6 events this coming year?

I’m not sure what the answer is. But the tour may be in some existential trouble. Many of the tour’s investors were also its regular tourney directors, and they’ve stepped back from sponsoring events. The IRT depends on local tourney directors to raise funds and make these events happen, and the decline of tournaments in general has fed into t his issue. DLR said he’s stepping back from touring … but if there’s just a handful of events, and he manages to make them all while playing the PPA tour full time … he could end up having the best of both worlds.

Lots to sort out in 2024. But I think its fair to say we havn’t seen the men’s tour face this many question marks since the fall of 1988 when it completely collapsed.

IRT 2023 Final Season Player analysis: Outside the top 10

Landa hangs them up Photo US Open 2019, Photographer Kevin Savory

Here’s a look at notables who finished outside the top 10 this year, with some thoughts on who could be making a move in 2024.

– #11 Alejandro Landa : Landa retires from full time touring with an impressive career resume. He’s 35, but really didn’t start touring full-time until 2017. From there he ripped off four seasons in the top 3, won four events, made another four finals, and steps away with a career W/L of 158-93. He’ll make for an interesting hall of fame case some day, but for now the tour loses one of its most passionate players. For me he’s always a “what if” he had played the tour full time for his entire 20s, not just the last couple of seasons. I suspect he’d have a career more like what DLR has now in terms of total wins. Could he have won a year end title? Maybe; he has a winning career h2h over DLR (10-8 across all competitions) but would have still been in the Kane era during his own peak. Bigger question; does he play US Nationals in Arizona in February? Or is he “done” done?

– #13 Javier Mar continues to play the tour part time, around his “real job” and periodically wreak havoc on draws. This season he got wins over top 10 players like Parrilla, Landa, and Acuna to shake up draws and played Moscoso tough in a 10,12 semis loss in Austin for his best result. #13 is his career best season ending ranking, but is this as good as we can expect from Mar? He dealt with a hernia injury for a big part of the year as well, meaning he probably could have been even better. If he played the tour full time, I have no doubt he’d be in the #6-7 range. But he never has, so mid-teens seems like what to expect.

– #15 Jaime Martell had his career best showing, finishing #15 on the back of several main draws and one quarter final result. He has a niche reffing the back end of the events and has connections to IRT commissioner @Pablo Fajre from their WRT days. I could see him making more events in 2024 and pushing up a few spots in the rankings.

– #16 Erick Trujillo missed just one event in 2023 but never advanced past the round of 16, which puts his #16 rank exactly where he should be. He’s still in the 21U division, but has losses to his fellow 21u countrymen Ramos, Gastelum, and Nieto lately and didn’t qualify for Junior Worlds this year. And none of those guys are as good as the current Mexican 18U champ Jorge Gutierrez Ortiz. What’s next for him? He seems likely to stay in this general range 15-16.

– #20 Rocky Carson played in just three events this year as he stopped touring full time; he played in the two California events plus Denver. He shook up the Pleasanton draw a bit, taking out Mar and Parrilla before being downed by Montoya. He’s a sure-fire hall of famer, just waiting a couple years to become eligible. I’m guessing he’ll continue to travel to WOR events (where he gets paid) and to California-based events (where his costs are limited) for a while. I could also see him back at Nationals since its in AZ and it’s not a total one and done for him.

– #22 @Kane Waselenchuk returned to the singles court more than a year after blowing out his Achilles heel tendon, and he made an impression for sure. In Boston he waxed #6 Manilla before shocking #3 Moscoso, then ran out of gas in the semis against Jake. Then in Pleasanton different court conditions and an opportunistic Moscoso led to a (10),4,4 defeat. Kane has to be happy though about his status: he’s shown that even at 42, his pinpoint serving accuracy and remaining power can take him past most players on tour without breaking a sweat. The bigger question will be, what happens when he runs into the top 4 regularly? We had too small of a sample size this season to really know (a win over Moscoso, a loss to Jake and a loss to Moscoso). If Kane plays all the events in 2024, I have no doubt he’s finishing in the top 4, but I doubt he can consistently get past Moscoso, DLR, or Jake. But i’ve been wrong about him before, so we’ll see. 2024 prediction: #3 or #4

– #24 @Diego GarcĂ­a . Garcia has taken over the title of, “Best player who doesn’t tour full time.” Mar had the belt for a bit, Montoya before him, then Landa for a while, then before Landa it was probably someone like Polo or Mejia. They join a group that included guys like Sweeney and Muller back in the 1990s. As for Garcia now, he beat Portillo twice this year, had a couple other wins over tour regulars when he did show, and took Montoya to a breaker in the quarters of Denver. But Garcia’s problem is money; he doesn’t have enough to travel up here to play full time. If he did, I have no doubt he’d be top 6. But as it is, we’ll see how many events he can get to.

– #25 @Sebastian Franco only played 2 events this year, and after being a mainstay at the back of the top 10 for the better part of the last 10 years seems to have made the understandable decision to focus his efforts on earning a living for his wife and two kids.

– #27 @Mario Mercado , like his fellow Maryland-resident and Colombian teammate Franco, also has stepped way back from touring after 10 years of playing. Mercado’s knee deep in @Formulaflow.

– #33 Carlos Keller Vargas continues to be a force internationally, but after peaking at #12 two seasons ago has stepped back to his prior pattern of traveling up for just one or two events a year. Meanwhile, he continues to dominate internationally, making the finals of PARC and the semis of the Pan Am games, with wins over Garcia twice, Acuna, and Murray. Hope to see more of him.

– #39 @Elias Nieto only played two IRT events, but continues to impress internationally and could push for a mid-teen ranking with enough events given his h2h record against Trujillo. Same for #42 @Diego Gastelum ; both players have big time promise and hope to see them more.

– #40 @Cole Sendry continues to get reps on tour and internationally in the 18U space, and seems like one of the best bets for the next USA player to matriculate out of juniors.

– #45 @Alvaro Beltran has had father time catch up to him w/r/t singles; he’s still out there playing doubles when he can.

– #54 Gerson Miranda is a great 21U junior from Bolivia, the latest in a long -line of Bolivian junior national champs who could make noise. But, as with many of his countrymen, lack of funding makes it hard for him to tour regularly.

– #70 Sebastian Fernandez quietly stopped touring, which is a shame given the promise he showed while hanging around the top 16.

– #72 Jordan Barth certainly had vocal supporters upon his return from pro baseball; the former dominant junior national champ played one event this year.

– Two former touring pro regulars based in Oregon Charlie Pratt and @Tony Carson

played one event in their hometown and finished tied for #100.

– LPRT #4 Erika Manilla finished at #108 after entering a satellite and going a round or two.

– Bringing up the rear of the standings: Scott McClellan , former lead ref on tour, who entered the Longhorn Open in his home town and going one-and done.

—-

That’s it for the player recaps. Next post will catch up the news from the year and then talk 2024.

IRT 2023 Final Top 10 Standings Analysis

De La Rosa captures his 3rd straight year end title. Photo Golden State Open, Ken Fife.

Hello racquetball fans and Happy New Year! We’ve come to the end of the 2023 season, so here’s my regular end of season deep dive into the players and the tour in general.

I’ll do this analysis in three parts: first (today) will be the top 10. Next will be notables from the players ranked 11th and onward. Then I’ll finish up with a recap of the news events from the season along with some editorialization. Along the way I’ll offer predictions for 2024.

Without further ado.

#1: Daniel De la Rosa finished #1 for the third straight season, tying him with Charlie Brumfield on the all time list of pro title winners. DLR played in 9 of the 10 events on the season and showed some pretty good consistency: 3 wins, 4 finals, and 2 semis. Zero early round upset losses; basically he was a lock to make the semis the moment he showed up. He went 30-6 on the season. He now has 12 career tourney wins (12th all time) and his career W/L now sits at 221-98 (15th all time). However, the elephant in the room (like it is for a lot of racquetball fans) is PIckleball. DLR is committed to the PPA tour for 2024 and beyond, with guaranteed salary, stipends for health insurance, and travel expenses. Its too good of a deal to pass up, and if there’s a competing event to a 2024 IRT event, DLR likely misses it. There aren’t too many IRT events on the books yet for 2024, but we know for sure there’s a conflict for March’s Shamrock shootout. Because of this, DLR has already hedged his bets and let people know he’s not going to tour “full time” to manage expectations. I predict he’ll miss enough events to knock him out of the top spot but he stays in the top 4 by season’s end. 2024 prediction: #3 or #4, depending on how many events he makes.

#2: Conrrado Moscoso : Conrrado had an excellent season: 4 wins (1 more than DLR), 2 finals, 1 semi and 2 quarter final losses, but its the one event he missed that crushed him in the end; he skipped the one grand slam event the IRT had in 2023, costing him significant points. He finished 2nd by around 266 points, but a semis finish at a grand slam is worth 330 points. He also suffered two quarter-final losses, which are tough to overcome when your rival for the top spot is essentially unbeatable prior to the semis. Nonetheless, Moscoso is well positioned for 2024. He now sits 5th overall in career W/L percentage at 80-22 (behind only Kane, Marty, Sudsy, and Brumfield) and he now sits tied for 14th ever in Tier1 wins. Both of these figure to be improved upon in 2024, as Moscoso beat #1 DLR in three of their four meetings in 2023 (all finals). Most pundits believe Conrrado is the world’s best player, and I believe he’ll ascend to #1 in 2024 and stay there. 2024 Prediction: #1

– #3 @Jake Bredenbeck had a season for the ages. After grinding out the tour for years at the fringes of the top 10, Jake flipped a switch this year and vaulted himself into the top 4. For nearly the entire season, his only vanquishers were the two men ranked above him, and his consistent results pushed him to the #1 ranking by November. In fact, he still maintained a shot at the year end title going into the season’s final event, something that even Moscoso couldn’t say. Jake may have slipped to #3 on points with the upset loss in the Pleasanton quarters, but he’s now a force to be reckoned with for the time being. Jake’s biggest issue going forward will be his age: he’s now 32, and is entering a critical age for pro racquetball players, especially big guys. I think he’ll hang on for 2024, especially given his commitment to fitness. 2024 prediction: #2.

– #4 Rodrigo Montoya After years and years of being “the guy nobody wanted to run into early,” Montoya finally pushed his way into the tour’s top 4 and seems set to stay there as long as he can. In 2023 he became the 45th man ever to win a Tier 1 and had a consistent set of results: 1 win, 1 final, 4 semi-finals. He has kept his “bad losses” to a minimum, and seems set to stick as a top seed. Montoya is the rare player who’s had success against Moscoso in the past (he’s 5-8 against him across IRT and IRF events, though Moscoso has had the upper hand lately), meaning a weekend matchup between the pair guarantees fireworks. My 2024 prediction for Montoya kind of rests on his schedule: he’s has a full time career that has always made it tough for him to make 100% of the events. I’ll bet he misses one here or there and finishes #3 or #4 again.

– #5: Andree Parrilla took a distinct step back this season, starting it ranked #2 and ending it at #5. Parrilla did get a 3rd career win, but it was an anomaly for him this season. He lost in the 16s or quarters 7 out of 9 events this year, getting a couple of really unlucky round of 16 matches against Carson and Mar. But the real story for Andree was the bugaboo of his quarter final matchups; all season he found himself losing at the QF stage to players who he had previously better success. In this respect, #5 makes perfect sense for his year end ranking, and it seems like a pretty good guess for 2023; he’ll continue to run into top four players at this juncture and there’s now a talent gap between them and the rest of the tour. Parrilla will be “the best of the rest” again in 2024 and finish #5 again.

– #6 Adam Manilla : after years of sitting outside the top 10, Manilla rather quietly put together a really consistent season and launched himself to the #6 spot by year’s end. He did this on the back of 7 quarter final appearances in 10 events, overcoming a few round of 16 upsets and staying the course. Adam’s challenge is, those seven quarter final losses were all to the top 3 players on tour: he lost to Moscoso 3 times, DLR 3 times, and Jake once. In order to move up, Manilla needs to get wins over these top guys, and that doesn’t seem like its in the cards right now. I think #6 was as far as he can get and he may very well slip a bit depending on what the guys ranked 7-10 manage to do next year. 2024 prediction: #7.

– #7 Eduardo Portillo slipped from last season’s #4 ranking down to #7 as he missed several events as he continues to work on his commercial pilot training. He also took a step back this season in terms of his finishes: he’s made at least one tourney final in each of the previous three seasons, but never made it there this year. In this respect, he’s had better finishing than the rest of the guys in the 5-8 range, but his absences keep him back. I don’t know what his work situation will be in 2024, but I suspect a full-time airline pilot is not going to have the same kind of schedule flexibility as a pre-college kid. Without knowing anything else, i’m going to guess he continues to hang around in the 7-8 range due to missed events.

– #8: Andres Acuna just finished his best season ever, making six quarterfinals a season after getting past the quarters just once. However, like Manilla and Parrilla above him, he never got any further. To make matters worse he’s mired in the #8/#9 seed slot, routing him into the #1 seed tourney after tourney and making it tough to move up. However, he’s clearly taken a step up on tour, and seems set to make all the events and continue to compete. I’m going to predict he hangs around in the top 10 and finishes #8 again.

– #9 Alan Natera was basically an unknown on tour a year ago, finishing 25th. Not this year; he played every event, made every satellite, and got himself into two quarter finals to finish in the top 10 for the first time. He’s a hard worker and has been improving, but Its hard to see him getting past the Acuna/Manilla/Portillo bunch ahead of him. I predict he finishes 8 or 9 in 2024.

– #10: Samuel Murray took a distinct step back on tour this year, missing three events (the first he’d missed in years) and slipping from #6 last year to #10 this year. He’s still a threat to make the semis, when he’s on, but now that he’s on the wrong side of 30 one has to wonder if he’s destined to push for the top 10 regularly anymore. He continues to rule in Canada though, ensuring his national team spot for the 11th straight year, so he’ll continue to play. If he doesn’t miss events in 2024, I can see him getting back into the 6-7 range. 2024 prediction: #6.

We’ll review notables outside the top 10 in the next post.