Two days after the MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm, Ben Croft’s first men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) Tier 1 championship title hadn’t sunk in. “I don’t know if it ever will,” he said while working his desk at his other job, as Business Manager for Racquetball Warehouse. “It’s been a such huge goal and accomplishment that it’s hard to imagine my name in a category among such an elite group of people.”
He recalls growing up playing racquetball and asking for autographs from those who had preceded him. Now that he’s a top touring pro, he’s asking, “Where did the time go?” He joined the tour in 2002 with an immediate goal of making a living from the sport, earning his paychecks by playing into the quarterfinal round. While the ultimate goal was winning the tournament, after reaching his #3 rank (and hovering around #2 last season), he shot for at least a semifinal finish during every event. Bowing out in the round of sixteen during last month’s Cactus Salon NYC ProAm was simply an unacceptable result for his goal for the 2011-2012 IRT season.
“I hate losing one-hundred times more than I like winning.” That’s a feeling that proved a strong motivator to train harder. “It’s been tough to train after an eight-hour day. I’m a morning person anyway. But, I don’t want to feel a loss in the 16’s so if I’m tired and want to go home, I suck it up and do the work.”
The dim light of a potential win in the finals had turned into a beacon with the absence of a brick wall on the way to the title—Kane Waselenchuk. “I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way, especially myself,” Ben said, referring to his reputation as an emotional player. The temperament that’s propelled him near the top of his sport also earned him a reputation as an emotional player along with a relatively high number of technical warnings and deductions. Have his emotions gotten the best of the world’s third-ranked pro? “Probably. But, I’ve seen other players do the same thing without getting the same calls. I’m not complaining. I’ve built a reputation so that’s going to happen. All in all, I’ve achieved a fair amount of success.”
For victory at the MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm, Ben stuck with a game plan of hitting to #2-ranked Rocky Carson’s weaker forehand, avoiding the clear glass wall along the left side of the court, and keeping any outbursts in check. He seemed confident going into the match, until Carson put him on the defensive and he dropped the first game (4-11). Croft came back strong to win game two (11-7) as both players hit hard and
fast, demonstrating world-class professional racquetball for the crowd, which was solidly in the match. Ben’s third game win (11-5) meant he only needed to win the next game for the championship. Carson fought back, with both pounding the ball and making great plays, but also missing opportunities. Carson took game four (11-5) to bring the Saturday evening final into a tiebreaker over an hour into the match. The two competitors exchanged serves and slowly gained points until Croft nailed a down-the-line backhand to take the two hour and twenty-two minute match, along with his first tier 1 championship title.
Afterwards, the elevated atmosphere during Saturday night’s Party with the Pros had more to do with the celebration after the finals than the high-altitude location of the event. From growing up playing racquetball to joining the elite group of professionals who have won a Tier 1 event. Ben has demonstrated that he has focus along with his talent. “That’s the thing that I’m most proud of from the entire event. Without Kane in the draw, everyone was more focused on making a win happen. The question was, ‘who’s going to step up and do it?’ I’m happy with how I played all weekend. I wasn’t going to stop until I had accomplished what I’d come to do.”