#1 Kane Waselenchuk defeated #2 Rocky Carson 11-3, 11-3, 11-8 at The 25th Annual Garden City Turkey Shootout for his fourth title of the 2015-2016 IRT season.
Blog by Tim Prigo
Kane Waselenchuk and the courts of the Garden City Family YMCA continued their perfect union into Sunday’s final. He faced off against a Rocky Carson who looked very impressive in his previous semifinal. Neither player had dropped a game thus far in the event. Indeed Waselenchuk had the best shots of the tournament but even more effective than that is the pace he was able to put on the ball. The all cement court played, what must of felt like a dream, to Waselenchuk. Though he regularly hits harder and scores more aces than any player on tour, the ball seemed to be moving at an even greater velocity than normal. Throughout the event, Waselenchuk’s opponents were fighting to get their racquets squarely on the ball and today was no exception. It is dually impressive when you figure in that Carson has some of the best hand eye coordination in the game and that he was struggling to hit shots off the back-wall. The first two games saw Waselenchuk bombing in hard drive serves to both sides of the court many times acing Carson who could do little more than stand in place. When Carson did return the shots he either popped them up to the ceiling or hit right back to Waselenchuk in the box. Waselenchuk had no trouble putting away his set-ups, winning 11-3 and 11-3. The third game went similarly. At 10-3, Waselenchuk was serving for the match but Carson was able to mount a comeback. Carson needed to start this earlier, before match point. He was able to fight back all the way to 8 but with Waselenchuk only needing one more point it was an inevitability. Waselenchuk eventually found the left corner for the match winner.
#1 Kane Waselenchuk will meet #2 Rocky Carson in the finals for the third time this season at The 25th Annual Garden City Turkey Shootout Championship Final.
Kane Waselenchuk d Rocky Carson 11-3, 11-3, 11-8
Blog by Tim Prigo
Kane Waselenchuk has a tendency to improve each day of a tournament but it is hard to imagine him playing any better than he did in the first semifinal of the day. Waselenchuk went down 1-2 to Sebastian Franco early in the first game but never relinquished the lead at any time during the match once he went up 3-2. He crushed Franco 11-2, 11-2, 11-0 and Franco could have easily not scored a single point after the 2 minute mark of the match as up 10-0 in the second Waselenchuk made mistakes to put him on the board. The total match time, including timeouts, appeals and commercial breaks tallied just under 33 minutes. Waselenchuk hit the ball with such pace that even when he missed his mark, Franco often time would whiff the ensuing shot. His serves were so incredibly deceptive, low and fast that Franco could do little more than hope for a fault. Between games 1 and 2 Waselenchuk went on a 21-0 run. Waselenchuk skipped very few balls and put down 16 of his 19 setups from the back-court down for photon roll-outs. His short game was also deadly as when Franco could return serve the ball went back to Waslenchuk in the service box. This allowed him to touch the ball into the corners while Franco was still 30 feet behind. Waselenchuk was able to roll a ball from the back court, behind his back all while looking and holding up his arm towards the referee for a screen call. Franco did not play particularly well, never putting any meaningful pressure on the world #1 but he did for the first time step into the court with Waselenchuk. This in itself can be a very valuable eye opening experience for the young Colombian.
In Mexico a grand slam woman’s pro stop is underway, in the Dominican Republic the Junior World Championships are holding their closing ceremonies and across the United States countless regional “Turkey Shoots” tournaments are in full swing. Waselenchuk’s play today further elevated him into the status of myth. For all the racquetball played in the world on this day, Waselenchuk proved that he is quite literally playing a different game. Waselenchuk’s influence on every competitive player in the world is very real as he has set a new standard within the game. It would be hard to argue that any player stepping onto a racquetball court for tournament play has not been in some way melded by Waselenchuk’s greatness. His play and dominance within the sport should not be underestimated nor should the fact that no player in racquetball history has influenced his peers so greatly. His match today was only indicative of these statements but what is perhaps most important is that he has shown the international racquetball community that play at such a high level is possible.
Familiar on court foes Rocky Carson and Alvaro Beltran faced off in the other semifinal. Carson maintains a slight edge in the odds as he is fitter and has won many more Tier 1 events than Beltran though their head to head percentage is very even. Carson served the ball exceptionally well all match. He was able to harness his power off the cement front wall to score many aces to both the right and left side. Carson took large demonstrative swings on his serves, opting for power over position. This proved a winning recipe as Beltran struggled to find footing in the rallies, having to go on the defensive immediately and offering up set-ups. This, in part, was the reason that Carson killed so many more balls throughout the match. After winning the first game in commanding fashion, Carson went up big in the second, 8-2. As if on cue, Beltran started re-killing hard passes into the corners and chipping away at Carson’s lead. The Garden City crowd was not to witness another classic Beltran-Carson five gamer as, in the smartest decision of the match, Carson called a timeout at 8-7. This allowed him to reset and stop the hemorrhaging of points before Beltran could really settle into his rhythm. When time resumed Carson was able to regain serve and run out the second game in consecutive points, 11-7. The third game was all Carson, never allowing Beltran the looks he needed to get his swing properly calibrated. One major factor of the match is that Carson made far less errors than Beltran who too often hit the ball into the floor.
The 25th Annual Garden City Turkey Shootout Semifinals features the top three ranked IRT players in Kane Waselenchuk, Rocky Carson and Alvaro Beltran along with #15-ranked Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athlete Sebastian Franco.
Kane Waselenchuk d Sebastian Franco 11-2, 11-2, 11-0
Rocky Carson d Alvaro Beltran 11-4, 11-7, 11-5
Blog by Tim Prigo
Charlie Pratt made his first quarterfinal of the year, but seeing as he was matched up against #2 Rocky Carson, making his way into the semifinals was going to take a heroic effort. Pratt quickly found himself in a deficit at 2-6 and called a timeout. This proved useful for the Portland, Oregon native as he started chipping away on Carson’s lead, scoring 2 or 3 points per Carson’s every one. At 25 minutes into the first game the score was 8-7 in Carson’s favor but it was Pratt who had the momentum. A key missed setup by Pratt on his forehand, put Carson in the box instead of tying the game. This was a crucial point in the game and perhaps the match as Pratt was never again able to score consecutive points against the #2-ranked player in the world. That was the final cue needed for Carson as he never lost the serve and ran out the game, 11-7. The same easy setup that Pratt missed in the first game continued to haunt him into the second. Besides the skips, Carson was cutting everything off in the frontcourt forcing Pratt to shoot from the back. Pratt was able to regain some traction late in the game as he put down several low percentage shots from the backcourt. Carson, seeing his opponent gaining confidence, reverted to his tried and true method of ‘junk ball.’ Carson hit high hard wrap around z-shots, purposefully extending the rallies and making it hard for Pratt to shoot from less than shoulder high. This strategy once again thwarted Pratt’s momentum and Carson took the second game, 11-7. Pratt needed to win one of the first two games as Carson proved by ripping through his opponent in the third, 11-3.
Kane Waselenchuk was back in action and faced off against Jose Rojas. These two have had intense battles in the past and seeing how Waselenchuk missed the last tournament due to shoulder issues and Rojas made his first finals of the year last weekend, the otherwise lopsided odds might show more balanced. Waselenchuk was not hitting the ball as well as he had earlier in the season but he still managed to maintain a game one lead. He did this due to the blistering pace of his shots. From his serve to his setups, Waselenchuk was hitting the ball harder than any other pro on tour. Though not always finding their mark, Rojas could barely fend the ball back to the front wall on many rallies where he otherwise would have made a solid return. Waselenchuk was also aided by his supreme anticipation. Many times throughout the first and second game, Waselenchuk was camped out on down-the-lines and cross courts. For any players looking to better understand footwork and shot anticipation, viewing this match is a lesson of the highest order. Though losing the first game, Rojas, jumped out to an early lead in the second. He did this by hitting great serves, the vast majority to Waselenchuk’s forehand. At 8-2 it appeared that Rojas had the game in hand, but as he went to serve for his ninth point something changed. Rojas tightened up and began to dink the ball in place of hard and full swings. He began to play ‘not to lose’ rather than ‘to win.’ Waselenchuk had no problems coming back with 6 points of his own and tying the game at 8-8. Rojas readjusted and played looser, getting back on track but by this time he had Waselenchuk breathing down his neck. Rojas was able to get to 10, but was never able to serve for the game, once again showing that he needed to close out the game far earlier, losing 10-12. The third game ran parallel to the second. Rojas went up 8-4 and was playing great ball but then lost his momentum and succumbed to the tidal wave that is Waselenchuk, 11-9.
Marco Rojas has been agonizingly close to having a breakout performance, losing in last weekend’s quarterfinals to Rocky Carson in five. He now was faced with the task of taking on Mexico’s best player and world #3 Alvaro Beltran. The match began like many of Beltran’s do, seemingly effortless, smooth and lackadaisical yet in control. Rojas was putting some solid shots against the front wall, but Beltran ruled the frontcourt corners, splatting his way to an 11-6 victory. Rojas looked exceptionally fit, and seemed ready for the challenge of a long match as he ran down many would be winners and was able to extend the rallies. This coupled with the fact that Rojas was putting down almost all of his back-wall setups caused a disparity in the score-line early on in the second. Rojas stayed consistent and commanded game two for an 11-6 win. In the third game, Beltran had picked up on a key weakness in Rojas’s game, his backhand. Many fans expected Beltran to continue his perfected right-wall high lob wallpaper serves but instead he opted for high nick lobs to the Rojas backhand. Not only did he serve to the backhand of Rojas but he was also intentionally pulling many of his shots to the left side of the court during the rallies, forcing Rojas to hit backhands. This proved an effective strategy as Rojas skipped many, losing 3-11. Game 4 was Rojas’s best. He served well, placing Beltran on the offensive immediately in the rallies and was extremely agile. Furthermore, Rojas forced Beltran to lay out for many diving gets, draining the veteran’s energy. As Rojas continued to impress, Beltran made a surprising decision to throw the game and save his energy for the tiebreaker, being intentionally aced. This controversial decision would either prove folly or veteran brilliance. The last game was tight throughout, with Beltran maintaining the slight lead. Beltran led via serves to the backhand and also by cross-court kills that he was able to step into in the frontcourt. Rojas down 6-9, did not wilt under pressure and made many impressive kills from deep in order to claw back to 9-9. Whether it be nerves, veteran intuition or happenstance, Beltran was able to come up with the shots when it mattered most taking the match 11-9.
Scott McClellan was the surprise quarterfinalist of the event as he took the forfeit victory over an injured Daniel De La Rosa to reach the final eight. Sebastian Franco on the other hand could not of had a tougher Round of 16s, having to defeat a battle tested Jansen Allen. Franco and McClellan competed in a very close first game with Franco the victor 12-10. Franco would go on to win 11-3 and 11-7. The narrative of the match however does not come across in the scores as Franco made some big mistakes en route to his second semifinal of the year. Franco knew he was the better player and apparently felt that he could give minimal effort for the victory. This lead to a match that was very slow paced and rather than asserting his dominance, Franco opted to dink balls, push soft passes and hit slap drive serves. This worked out well in the sense that he got the crucial win without expending much energy but had he interrupted his own excellence that he showed in the Round of 16s. Tomorrow he will face the best player in the world and he will need to have all of his thrusters burning at full force to stand a chance.
Rocky Carson d Charlie Pratt 11-7, 11-7, 11-2
Kane Waselenchuk d Jose Rojas 11-2, 12-10, 11-9
Alvaro Beltran d Markie Rojas 11-6, 6-11, 11-3, 4-11, 11-9
Sebastian Franco d Scott McClellan 12-10, 11-3, 11-7
Round of 16s Results
Rocky Carson d Brad Schopieray 1-11, 11-0, 11-1, 11-1
Charlie Pratt d Felipe Camacho 11-1, 9-11, 11-2, 11-9
Kane Waselenchuk d Troy Warigon 11-4, 11-1, 12-10
Jose Rojas d Robert Collins 11-1, 11-7, 11-8
Alvaro Beltran d Mario Mercado 11-4, 11-5, 11-7
Markie Rojas d Mauricio Zelada 9-11, 11-2, 11-8, 11-2
Sebastian Franco d Jansen Allen 9-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-1
Scott McClellan d Daniel De La Rosa WBF – No Show
Round of 32s Results
Troy Warigon d Nicholas Riffel 11-7, 6-11, 4-11, 11-7, 11-9
Mario Mercado d Logan Reese WBF – No Show
Brad Schopieray d Brian Pineda 11-4, 11-0, 11-0
2015 Garden City Turkey Shootout Aims To Please
The men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) will travel to Kansas for a second time this season for the Garden City Turkey Shootout November 12-15 after being on the road the past three weeks in Texas, Atlanta and Michigan.
Located in Southwest Kansas about 400 miles from Kansas City at the Garden City YMCA, the 25th annual event became an IRT Tier 1 in November 2013. “We started as a really small tournament and then we had really great local support,” Garden City YMCA Chief Operations Officer Jackie Regan said of the core group of racquetball supporters. “They are the big volunteers that make this possible.”
“Without their support we wouldn’t be able to have a Tier 1,” said Garden City YMCA Healthy Living Director and Turkey Shootout Tournament Director Steven Lynch.
Regan added that the former Garden City YMCA director laid the groundwork for the Turkey Shootout with relationships and grew the tournament seven years ago.
So what makes this event unique and set it apart from the rest of the tournaments on the IRT schedule? “One thing we get from all the pros is the hospitality,” Lynch said. The combination of the home cooked meals including the turkey Thanksgiving Sunday lunch and the family atmosphere at the Garden City YMCA makes it a one-of-a-kind experience. “We want the players to feel like they’re family here,” Regan said. “We know they are on the road a lot. We just try to welcome them and make them realize we are a smaller community but we have a lot of support and we like to see them.”
Besides racquetball, Regan and Lynch expect the Garden City YMCA to be booming with other sports throughout the weekend. “We almost always have other big activities going on,” Regan said. “During the tournament we will have a girls basketball league, adult soccer league and youth soccer league.”
Another distinctive aspect about the Garden City YMCA is that all four of their courts are named instead of identified by numbers. Turkey Shootout competitors will play on Match, Hinder, Finnup and Spratt. Finnup and Spratt are named after donors from their capital campaign and Hinder is one of the oldest cinder block courts in Kansas.
As of this writing, Kane Waselenchuk enters the sixth tournament of the 2015-2016 IRT season with two titles after he won the season opener, Novasors Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City Open, and his 11th UnitedHealthcare US Open Title. Waselenchuk hasn’t won at Garden City because of injuries. He withdrew from the tournament in 2013 after suffering an injury at the US Open and last year he forfeited his quarterfinal match after his inner-ear problem worsened. Carson on the other hand comes in to the tournament as the two-time defending Garden City Turkey Shootout Champion after he won the first Tier 1 in 2013 over Alvaro Beltran and last year’s tournament over local favorite, Ben Croft. “I think Rocky has a good chance at it but Kane is always tough,” Lynch said.
By Eric Mueller
Eric Mueller started working with the IRT after joining the 2014 UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships Media Team, where he garnered coverage for top racquetball pros and amateurs in their hometown media while also helping to provide updates to the racquetball community during the tournament. With a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Mueller also brings experience in sports reporting and news writing for newspapers like the Pioneer Press in St. Paul as well as the Southwest Journal and the Downtown Journal in Minneapolis. Mueller has also worked in marketing and public relations for the St. Paul Saints professional baseball team, Gopher Athletics at the University of Minnesota and the 2015 Cowles Cup Champion Chicago Bandits professional softball team.