In a fiery match pitting crisp and quick shotmaking alternately with wall-hugging momentum-switching ceiling shots, one of toughest rivalries in racquetball played out for the 24th Annual Garden City Turkey IRT Shoot Championship. #2 Rocky Carson defeated #4 Ben Croft in four games, earning his second Garden City Championship and third tier one title in a row. Click to read the match recap, those along the road to this final, and other updates.
Final Round: Match Recap
Rocky Carson d Ben Croft 11-9, 9-11, 11-4, 11-9
Game One- Croft came out firing his drive serve, something that had been working for him throughout the tournament. He was able to push for a fast tempo, getting an early lead on Carson, 6-3. After two hinders were called in a row against Croft, Carson captured the opportunity to slow down the game and subsequently Croft. Carson methodically mounted his comeback and, at 7-7, a frustrated Croft took a time out. When time resumed, Croft hit a beautiful down-the-line pass to return to the box. But as Carson has proved time and again, he is a momentum slayer. He used ceiling balls that all seem to wallpaper the side walls to take advantage in the rallies. He won almost every point for the rest of the game through weak returns from his ceiling ball. Carson took game one, 11-7.
Game Two- Croft sensed that a fast-paced game favored him, and tried to shorten the time between serves as much as possible. He jumped to a 5-1 lead. As in the first game, his drive serves kept Carson off-balance. Croft played very offensively, putting the ball down. However Carson, in his usual fashion, started chipping away at Croft’s lead and eventually took the lead at 7-6. Croft hit a strong pinch for the serve, and then took a timeout. When play resumed, Croft hit a rocket down-the-line kill. This shot seemed to throw Carson off of his game and he began skipping. Croft grabbed hold of the lead, up 10-7. Carson wasn’t out. At game point he won the ralley, and hit drive forehand z-serves that earned weak returns. At 9-10, Carson hit a bottom board shot that was called bad, and this frustrated him to the point of pleading his case to the referee in dramatic fashion. Croft scored the next point for game two, 11-9.
Game Three- Carson came out hitting photon drive serves. Croft was unable to do much with the return. At 4-0, Carson scored an ace. 5-0. Croft struggled to make effective serve returns for a chance to serve. Croft eventually scored his first point of the match: a hopeful ace serve to Carson’s backhand. A comeback wasn’t in order as Carson controled center court, keeping Croft on the defensive. Carson took game three, 11-4.
Game Four- Croft again came out fiery with a crisp down-the-line pass for a quick point. Each racked up points, keeping the game very close. Croft pulls ahead at 6-6. He went for low-percentage offensive shots that all seemed to work in a testament to his ability to kill the ball. A overhead down-the-right kill to Carson’s forehand put Croft up 9-6. The game seemed Croft’s for the taking. Carson earned a sideout and proceeded to engage his opponent in a long rally. Croft skipped the ball on a setup, breaking his strings. Equipment timeout. While Croft retrieved a new racquet, Carson stayed in the court, hitting shots. The ball broke, indicating it might have actually broken during the previous rally called a skip against Croft. A broken ball requires a reply. Referee Charlie Pratt called the replay rather than a skip against Croft and a point for Carson. Carson adamantly disagreed, and requested a ruling. Jason Mannino, IRT President overturned the call, citing two facts: Croft never checked the ball to see if it had broken on the rally, and that the rules allow hitting the ball during timeouts. The decision obviously did not sit well with Croft, which perhaps helped lead to Carson running out the game. Carson stayed in the service box for the rest of the game, scoring from a 7-9 deficit to an 11-9 win.
Semifinal Round: Match Recaps
#4 Ben Croft and #2 Rocky Carson will repeat their 2013 Garden City semifinal matchup, this time for the 2014 Garden City Championship at 11:00 am CST on Sunday. To get there, #4 Ben Croft defeated #8 Tony Carson in 3 games. #6 Jansen Allen showed why he made his first trip to a top-tier semifinal, pushing #2 Rocky Carson to 4 games before the defending 2013 Garden City Champion ended Allen’s run. Read on for match recaps.
#4 Ben Croft d #8 Tony Carson 11-8, 11-1, 11-4
Game One- Croft came out hitting blistering drive serves to take an early 3-0 lead. His drive serves relentlessly provided him with point after point, not allowing Carson to get in the rally. Croft hit a total of 4 ace serves this game. It wasn’t until 0-7 that Carson entered the box, scoring an ace of his own to get on the board. It was not enough to shift momentum as Croft stepped back in the driver’s seat and ran the score up to 10-2. Carson mounted a come back by hitting some very nice hard kills. At one point, he and Croft got entangled in center court. Croft, visibly frustrated and perhaps a bit rattled, allowed a Carson rejuvenation, climing to 6-10. Then he delivered an ace, 7-10…down-the-line, 8-10. Croft was able to rally back narrowly escape with the game-one win, 11-8, after Carson missed a big setup.
Game Two- This game appeared to start pretty evenly. Both players traded sideouts without much scoring. Croft got on the board first with an ace, then a serve-return-kill rally, for 2-0. Carson seemed to lack patience on many of his shots as he tried to drive many shoulder high balls, bottom board. Croft dominated the rally via his drive serve, putting Carson completely on his heels or scrambling for the ball. Croft up, 6-0. Carson struggled to get his drive serve in. At 7-1, he called a timeout. The break seemed to do more good for Corft who returned and killed everything from backcourt hardkills and soft pinches in the front. There would be no Carson come back during this game, 11-1 Croft.
Game Three- Carson came out looking stiff and gave up the first point of the game by putting it into the ground. Croft appeared very collected, with a machine-like forehand which Carson couldn’t get past. 4-0, Croft. Carson switched to a backhand drive z-serve. A penalty hinder against Croft roused emotions in both players. Croft dove for a ball near the feet of Carson. The two collided. Carson kicked away Croft’s racquet that had landed near their feet causing referee Charlie Pratt to step in the court and talk to both players. Carson found his groove for a 4-point run to momentarily frustrate Croft. Down 4-5. Croft weathered the storm and got back in the box for two serve-return-and-shoot rallies, 6-4 Croft. This small run thwarted Carson’s comeback. He began to put balls unnecessarily into the ground. Carson did have opportunities late in the game but didn’t capitalize on them. Croft ran away with the game and the match, 11-4.
#2 Rocky Carson d. Jansen Allen 11-2, 3-11, 11-2, 11-5
Game One– Carson started with a backhand lob-z to score first, 1-0. Allen chose to go off-speed drive serves to both sides, the same serve which he delivered so much success in the quarters. Once Carson decided to hit hard drive serves, he also started scoring in bunches to put him up 4-1. An excellent wide-angle pass got Allen back in the box. He was unable to score. Carson earned the serve and two more in quick succession. 6-1. At 8-2, Allen took a timeout. Allen was not able to gain footing, skipping balls, and taking a timeout. Carson ran out the game, 11-2.
Game Two- Allen was able to start the game with two good killshots. Carson skipped his first two set-ups, which were his first skips of the entire match. 4-0. Allen gound his zone and began to put everything down. At 1-7, Carson took a timeout. After time resumed, Allen displayed soft hands in front court to put him up, 8-1. Allen couldn’t seem to miss a shot. iAt 10-3, he hit a crisp crosscourt pass for the win, 11-3.
Game Three– Allen continued to stay hot for the first part of game three, striking first, 1-0. Momentum swings on a door hinge, quite literally, as Allen unluckily had two of his setups sabotaged by funny bounces off of the door. With no court hinders in pro racquetball, that raised the score 2-1, Carson’s favor. Both players were playing very well, and the only points scored were from winning killshot or passing shots. It was hard to imagine Allen sustaining his excellent play as Carson wasn’t making very many mistakes. After being at a 2-2 stalemate for many rallies, Carson pulled ahead at 5-2. Even though Allen continued to play well, patiently waited for the ball to drop, and made smart shot selections, Carson proved too much. Placing most of his shots down-the-line, Allen was unable to do much with the ball. Carson jetted out to a 7-2 lead. Allen called a time out to try and regain momentum, but no such thing happened. Carson marched to 10-2 lead, wining the game with frontcourt pinch off of the back wall. 11-2.
Game Four- Allen again came out playing well, much like the second game, scoring first to a 2-0 lead. Carson soon found his drive serve, which came across the line with ball-warping velocity resulting in tough bounces. He scored point after point for a 7-3 run. After Carson hit his third ace of the game for an 8-3 score, Allen took a timeout. Carson was able to either score an ace, get a weak serve return, or coax Allen into long drawn out rallies heavily favoring Carson’s style of play. 9-3 Carson. Allen had some excellent return-of-serves to fend off Carson for a while, but eventually succumbed on an ace hard-z for the match, 11-5 Carson.
Quarterfinal Round: an Upset and a Forfeit Shake up the Semifinals:
#6 Jansen Allen defeated #3 Jose Rojas for his first semifinal appearance. Afterwards, Rojas said he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. “My health wasn’t up to par to face a player like Jansen,” Rojas said. “I felt like I was fortunate enough to win in my previous match against Bradly Rogers. I have been fighting terrible stomach issues since last week in Michigan… I haven’t recovered from it. I lost at least 10 pounds. I felt fatigued and weak. The challenge was to truly give enough energy out there or to maintain that energy at a high level. Although sick, I still gave it my all for the fans.”
#6 Jansen Allen d #3 Jose Rojas 11-8, 11-7, 11-8
Game One- Both players came out hitting the ball well, and traded sideouts. It appeared as if Rojas was getting the best of the exchanges for the first few rallies, countering Allen’s shots to end the rally. Allen however, got his off-speed drive serve working and began to put down setups fed to him from Rojas. After a lethargic forehand skip from Rojas that puts Allen up 6-2, a timeout was called. Rojas hoped to settle himself or unsettle Allen, but had no such luck. When time resumed, Rojas treated Allen to a flock of poor shots that Allen cleanly put down. Rojas’ backhand seemed hesitant as his pinches stayed up and not with very much pace. He also appeared to bend over on many of his shots instead of bending his knees and getting low. Allen exhibited his excellent forehand by punishing Rojas every time he went to that side on a serve return. Game one 11-7, Allen.
Game Two- Allen continued to impress with his forehand, as he expertly pinched to both sides of the court for the first two points of the game. Allen continued to hit off-speed drive serves, something he had success with all day. Rojas, perhaps not yet adjusted to the cement front walls, struggled to find his drive serve rhythm. Many of his first serves flew off of the back wall, setting them up for Allen. At 4-4, the game stalled and the two players traded side outs for about 15 minutes. Rojas cracked first, skipping his forehand shot to put Allen up 6-4. The rallies were long as both players struggled to put the ball down. Allen began to connect on some soft pinch winners. Rojas appeared to lose confidence, and missed forehand set ups. Down 6-9, Rojas took a timeout but was unable to find the lift he so badly needed. He continued to skip and left the ball up for Allen who won the game 11-7.
Game Three- Allen was really working his off-speed drive serves that continued to garner high returns from Rojas that resulted in 3-1 lead for Allen. Rojas’ forehand again disappeared on him. Allen lead increased to 5-1. Rojas took a timeout. He was able to mount a small charge to 3-5, but Allen answered back with more excellent forehand shots to jets away to an 8-3 lead. A red-hot Allen took the game 11-6, for the match in 3 games.
#8 Tony Carson d #1 Kane Waselenchuk – WBF-Inj
#1 Kane Waselenchuk forfeited his quarterfinal match after his inner-ear problems worsened from competing in the Round of 16 after a nine-hour drive to the event. “It’s impossible for me to explain how it feels to track a racquetball at 170+ mph while experiencing equilibrium difficulties.…I’m very disappointed that I’m unable to move on in this tournament, and look forward to recovering. I want to thank all the sponsors and fans for their support,” said Kane.
“I noticed Kane wasn’t himself this morning after his match,” said IRT President Jason Mannino when asked about Kane’s situation. “But I kept it to myself. However I am not surprised he’s unable to play. Quite frankly, I was pleasantly surprised that he drove the nine hours, given the severity of his condition, in order to give it a shot. That effort goes to show the kind of guy he is. I’m appreciative of his commitment to the sport.”
Kane’s forfeit sent #8 Tony Carson to his third semifinal appearance, and first since the FL Spring Break IRT ProAm last March.
#2 Rocky Carson d #10 Jose Diaz 11-7, 11-3, 11-5
Game One- Carson came out out serving hard drives to the Diaz backhand. The cement walls coupled with Carson’s strength make it difficult for Diaz to adjust his timing. Carson took a 3-0 lead. Diaz began getting into the rallies. Although he missed many of his first serves, he put down almost every backhand setup he attempted for the first half of the game. As the longer rallies continued, they favored Carson. Carson, the aggressor, forced Diaz to become the retriever. Diaz was able to tie the game at 6-6. Carson scored the next two. Diaz took a timeout. After the timeout, Carson ran his score to 10. Diaz’s resilience staved off Carson for many points. Eventually, a strong drive serve followed by a forehand down-the-line pass, pushed Carson to victory, 11-7.
Game Two- Diaz had trouble finding his first serve while also dealing with Carson’s overwhelming power. This again put Diaz in a defensive position. At 5-2, Carson’s advantage, Diaz took a timeout. Diaz had trouble rejoining the match competitively as Carson’s power looked to make a big difference. Diaz missed a lot of shots because he was unprepared for the speed of the ball. He always seemed to be hitting the ball from behind him. When Diaz did score in this game, it came from off-speed pinch-kills. 11-3, Carson won.
Game Three– Diaz came out strong in game three with a lot of energy, scoring two quick points. It wasn’t long however, before Carson found his tempo with blistering drive serves that Diaz was unablet to jump on top of. Carson took the lead, 4-2. The best rally of the match happened midway through the third game, as Diaz had some incredible diving gets that led to him eventually winning the rally. This rally was representative of the match, as it displayed how Diaz was always chasing the ball and Carson was controlling center court. Diaz appeared tired in the home stretch of this match, no doubt from Carson forcing him all over the court for the previous two game. At 4-7 Diaz took a timeout, but was unable to regain any sort of momentum. Game went to Carson, 11-5, for the match.
#4 Ben Croft d # 5 Marco Rojas 5-11, 11-4, 11-8, 11-3
Game One- The first game was very tight and both players were playing solid ball, staying neck-and-neck. Rojas was very consistent and played within himself, his composure under pressure was particularly distinguishing in this first game. At 5-5, things took a definite turn in favor of Rojas as he began scoring in bunches. Russ Mannino, IRT Network announcer, commented that towards the end of the game “…he really took it to Ben.” Rojas won, 11-5.
Game Two- If it was Rojas who impressed in game one, Croft shined in game two. Relentlessly drive-serving both his first and second serves, this game was all Croft as he came out hot and stayed that way. Croft forced Rojas into many unforced errors and flipped the first game on its head for an 11-4 win.
Game Three- This is was most exciting and closest game of the match. Both Croft and Rojas were playing very well. Sensing how important this pivotal game three was, each rose to the occasion. Neither player had many unforced errors. Rather, individual excellence prevailed to win points. The turning point in the game and ultimately the match was at 8-8 when Croft delivered an ace serve followed by two serve-return-kill rallies to capture the game, 11-8.
Game Four- Croft carried his momentum over into the fourth game. This game was all Croft, and the least competitive of the match. Crof was able to dominate Rojas from the serve on. Croft’s experience held true while Rojas’s inexperience was evident. 11-3 game and match, Croft.
Round of 16:
#10 Jose Diaz captured the only upset in the Round of 16, defeating #7 Charlie Pratt for Diaz’s first quarterfinal appearance since the FL Spring Break IRT ProAm last March.
#1 Kane Waselenchuk d #16 Jacob Matthews 11-2, 11-2, 11-0
#8 Tony Carson D #9 Matthew Majxner 8-11, 11-1, 11-5, 13-11
#5 Marco Rojas d #12 Daeyong Kwon 11-8, 11-0, 11-1
#6 Jansen Allen d #11 Robert Collins 11-5, 11-4, 11-1
#10 Jose Diaz d #7 Charlie Pratt 11-4, 11-7, 12-10
#2 Rocky Carson d #15 Nichola Riffel 11-3, 11-2, 11-2
#4 Ben Crof d #13 Tim Landeryou 11-6, 9-11, 11-2, 11-2
Kane’s In, Beltran and De La Rosa are Out; Risking Rankings
#1 Kane Waselenchuk’s return to the draw was accompanied by two notable absences: #3 Alvaro Beltran and #5 Daniel De La Rosa. A scheduling conflict with the International Racquetball Federation forced Mexico’s top players to miss Garden City – and potential tier-one ranking points.
“Both players are disappointed they can’t make it to Kansas,” explained IRT President, Jason Mannino. “They were surprised to learn they had to leave a day earlier than expected to make the opening ceremonies. Since the IRF Central American Games are a qualifier for Mexico’s National Team, the decision was out of the players’ control.”
The decision hits particularly hard for the two, as Beltran, the 2013 Garden City finalist, was within 29 ranking points of #2 Rocky Carson until his loss to Carson in the Red Swain Shootout last weekend saw the spread increase to 290 points.
De La Rosa risks watching his 208 point advantage over the #6 and #7 players errode. In particular, #7 Ben Croft, a “regular” in Garden City long before it elevated to tier one status last year, is in position to rise up the ranks after making two semifinals in the first two events and the quarterfinal round in the next three despite injuring his shoulder at the Turkey Shootout last November.
Earlier this week #1 Kane Waselenchuk announced he’d compete despite a lingering inner-ear injury that grounded him from flying and forced him to the sidelines of the last two events, Pete Pierce’s Party with the Pros in St. Louis and the Red Swain Shootout. He decided that he couldn’t miss Garden City, and would play with his impairment. “I love playing racquetball so much; I really miss it. My fans and IRT event directors have been so supportive that I want to do everything in my power to make it to events, and play my heart out.” His loving wife, Kim Rusell Waselenchuk will chauffeur him to Kansas.
Garden City: The Small Town with Big City Passion
By Tim Landeryou
If you asked someone what Garden City, KS is most famous for, the response might be, “Where?” Indeed the tiny community of 25,000 which lies just under 400 miles west of Kansas City, is by far the smallest to hold a Tier 1 stop, but more than makes up for it with a core of passionate and enthusiastic individuals that is rare to find, even in big cities.
Jackie Regan, the Garden City Family YMCA’s Chief Operating Officer, describes some of the key facility personnel who have made this event successful: “Chad Knight (YMCA CEO) is a racquetball fanatic, who has driven his staff to really ebrace this event. We have also had two previous Healthy Living Directors who did a great job building this event and building strong relationships with participants.”
Indeed the love for racquetball is so deep in this community that they hold annually two separate International Racquetball Tour (IRT) stops; the Turkey Shoot, which occurs in November, leading up to Thanksgiving, and the Carl Myers Memorial Tournament held in February. Up until last year, both tournaments were Tier 2 or 3 events, which have slightly lower points and prize money to offer the hungry maws of touring pros, so last year the Garden City crew upped the ante, promoting the Turkey Shoot to Tier 1 status, and has brought the event, along with its Tier 1 status, back this year.
“We have received support from our local Convention & Tourism Bureau to provide prize money, as well as local donors who stepped up to enable us to be a Tier 1″ said Jackie Regan. The continued support for this event shows no signs of slowing down. When asked about the prospect of bigger and better happening in the future, YMCA Chief Executive Officer Chad Knight offered the now-expected level of enthusiasm “YES! We will try to make it [the Carl Myers event] a Tier 1!” along with voicing the intent to build a stadium court with 3 glass walls down the road!
The overwhelming enthusiasm from the hosts was somewhat belied by their extremely polite prediction(s) for who might capture the title this year. “I predict a great time for all the players and won’t pick a favourite” said Regan. Knight was a bit more forthcoming “Well, we always have to go for our favorite in Ben Croft, he has won our event for many years and been a great supporter“, and added, “I would like to see Rojas. He had an interesting match with Alvaro“. Top hometown favourites to watch are Croft and Beltran “I think as a group we love our regulars– Ben has supported every year and Alvaro has been here quite a few times” said Regan, “Obviously, Ben and Alvaro. We also like Tony Carson. Tony has been a big supporter in the past. Charlie Pratt is another one”, added Knight.
The location promises even more qualities that make it a unique experience for the pros. Where most players would expect to find numbers on the courts to differentiate them, the Garden City YMCA has given their courts names instead. Players will be competing on the concrete-walled battle grounds of courts Match, Hinder, Finnup, and Spratt over the weekend, the latter two named after donors and supporters of racquetball and the facility, and Hinder has to also be one of the few remaining cinder block courts left in the state, if not the country! So while many would likely say a court’s a court, it’s clear that the facilities in Garden City are sure to give players and fans alike an experience unlike any other on the IRT.
“Our tournament is second to none in hospitality and food, I guarantee you! We just need people to experience this tournament for the first time and then they will be hooked!” says Chad Knight, and it’s difficult not to be infected by his enthusiasm.
By Tim Landeryou