Marty Hogan. Jason Mannino. Kane Waselenchuk. Daniel De La Rosa? The 21-year-old Mexican is on the right track to continue the trend of ProKennex players holding the top ranking on the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT). Michael Martinez, President and CEO of ProKennex, hopes so, after De La Rosa became the newest member of another list: the IRT Tier 1 Champions Club.
“I am very thankful and feel very blessed to have accomplished one of my goals when I did,” De La Rosa said after winning the ROLLOUT New Jersey IRT Open, which closed out the first half of the season last December. “I feel that win was the first of many to come and it holds a special place in my heart.”
In order to win his first tour title he had to beat Jansen Allen in the quarterfinals, Rocky Carson, ranked second, in the semifinals and #3-ranked Alvaro Beltran in an all-Mexican final. “He showed the desire and the will to win that tournament,” Martinez said.
So who is the newest member of the IRT Tier 1 Champions Club, besides one of the youngest faces on the pro tour?
De La Rosa started playing racquetball at the age of four and competed at his first Mexican Nationals tournament as a six-year-old. “One of my favorite early racquetball memories has to be my very first Nationals,” he said. “I was six years old and won four championships that tournament.”
De La Rosa still takes a lot of pride in representing his home country. He won gold at the Pan American Championships in 2011 and 2014 and this past February De La Rosa placed second behind Beltran in both singles and doubles at his country’s nationals (Campeonato Nacional Selectivo 2015 in Boca del Rio). He will compete in the Pan American Racquetball Championship in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic at the end of March in pursuit of a top ranking for the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada in July.
“There are no words that come close to being able to express the love I have for representing my country,” De La Rosa said.
Martinez first heard about De La Rosa when he was 14 years old and ventured South of the border to Tijuana to watch him compete at a Mexican event where the teenager exceeded expectations. “I just saw a young, energetic, very aggressive, all offense player that had very good racquet skills,” Martinez said. “Pure competitor and he was having a great time on the court, always smiling and having fun. It’s a good combo that he displays in his matches.”
ProKennex started sponsoring De La Rosa in 2009 and he started playing on the IRT part time at age 16. Three years later in 2012 at age 19, he began playing full time on the tour.
De La Rosa began his ascent on the pro tour, ranked 19th in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 season. The next season (2012-2013) he finished ranked 9th and last year he ended the season at 5th. This season he is currently ranked 4th behind Beltran, Carson and Waselenchuk and hopes to continue his upward incremental movement in the rankings.
“The future looks pretty bright for young Daniel,” Martinez said. “He is doing all the things that he’s needed to do to get to where he wants to be so far. Every year there has been progress and that’s the measurement you’d like to see.” Martinez anticipates the day when there will be an all ProKennex final in a tier one tournament. “It’d be a beautiful scenario if there was a nice handoff from number one (Waselenchuk) to number one (De La Rosa) for ProKennex,” he said.
How does one beat Waselenchuk? “Wait and see, I will show you on the court!” De La Rosa teased.
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, 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. He has also worked in marketing for the St. Paul Saints professional baseball team and for Gopher Athletics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Mueller currently works as a Public Relations Intern for the Chicago Bandits professional softball team.