Historic Davison, MI Hosts Red Swain IRT Shootout
Players had a few weeks to recover physically and mentally from the US Open in Minneapolis before heading to Michigan. The Red Swain Shootout is the only Tier One memorial tournament on the schedule, bringing awareness to the memory of Cliff Swain’s father while raising money for The Angel Fun, a charity supporting patients with ALS disease. The Red Swain is one of the final two major tournaments before 2012, so the players looked to make one of their last impressions of the year before heading into the holiday break.
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Kane Waselenchuk, #1 in the world has done it again. Waselenchuk has managed to win again and continue his streak to 126 straight matches. Prior to this match, Chris Crowther has played like a champion in his own right by defeating #2 Rocky Carson and beating #3 Ben Croft the very next day. Crowther would be feeling the pressure of Finals Sunday for the first time this season. On the other hand, Waselenchuk has not lost a single game this entire tournament.
While a lot of fans realize that Kane and Rocky will probably face each most finals this season, they also want to see somebody else get a shot at ousting Kane in the final. While Rocky’s style consistently works against every other player on tour, it doesn’t work against Kane. Fans sometimes think it is better to send a shooter like Jose or Shane against Kane, but it seems like a better idea at the time until they actually play and the results appear no different. Then fans think that a scrappy player and retriever might be a better option like Croft, Pratt, or Hawthorne, until the match-up happens and the fans realize, again, there is no difference. Fans still remember Alvaro as the last one to take a match off Kane and pushed him to the brink before that win, but we haven’t seen the post-surgery Alvaro able to produce that challenge. The fans, left with no other option, look to pure power, and Chris Crowther with his tremendous frame and leverage appears to be the only player capable of matching Kane in raw, unadulterated power.
So, on finals Sunday the crowd was excited about seeing a new match-up instead of the standard Kane and Rocky show. Maybe Chris would be able to continue the serving clinic he had shown the tournament. Maybe Chris would be able to overpower Kane and knock his uncanny touch. Maybe…maybe…maybe not. Kane showed up on Sunday ready to prove a point. He did. The odds were against Chris for many reasons, but not facing Kane recently meant that Chris was going to have to learn on the fly and make quick adjustments to try and grab control of the match. Kane had different ideas, and returned seemingly ace serves from Chris with perfect returns that left us all scratching our heads. “Wow. Did he really just do that? Yes. He did.” Kane made quick work of Chris, not allowing him to get in a groove, and countering every great shot with a better shot in reply. Sunday was over in a quick three games with Kane winning 11-2, 11-2, and 11-4.
Finals Match Recap By IRT Intern Seth Brody
Waselenchuk d Crowther (11-2, 11-2, 11-4)
Waselenchuk never gave up more than 7 points.Coming into this tournament, he has only lost 2 games this entire season thus far with a game-winning percentage of 93.10%, the highest on tour. Crowther though, with a game-winning percentage of 73.91%, has only lost 6 games prior to this event, making him second in games lost right behind Waselenchuk (third in game-winning percentage after Carson who has 75.56%).
With Crowther coming off huge wins this weekend and just returning from the Pan American Games with a silver medal, he was bound to run out of steam at some point. The Kane Train would be just warming up. Games 1 and 2 were quick and painless as Waselenchuk scored 11-2 in both putting Crowther on the ropes. Game 3 would look the same until Crowther finally got on the board while Waselenchuk was 2 points away from winning the match. Crowther used that last ditch effort to rack up some more points in the longest rallies of the match. Crowther could only gain 4 as Waselenchuk would close the books in Michigan and win 11-4. The Kane Train moves on and raises his game winning percentage to 95.12%. Will he continue to shatter the tracks or will the engine lose steam? Next Stop…Seattle.
The semi-finals were set to feature a couple of pairings that we’ve seen before: Kane vs. Jose and Ben vs. Chris. Kane has absolutely owned Jose during all of their prior meetings. In fairness, Kane appears to own most opponents the past several years, but it is different with Jose. Aside from being pushed to a 12-10 victory in the 2009 US Open, Kane typically keeps Jose under five points a game in any recent match-up. This tournament was no exception with Kane showing no mercy and dismantling Jose in a quick three games, 11-1, 11-3, and 11-4.
The second scheduled semifinal was a bit more intriguing. There is a little history between Ben and Chris. Granted, most of their match-ups have been testy, but they carry a relatively even record in head-to-head match-ups in Tier One events during their careers. Chris won their last match-up, as recently as the US Open only three weeks prior, and in three games. Chris battled for every point and blistered missiles to win game one 11-8. Ben rebounded and played much better in game two to turn the tide and win 11-5. Game three was tight, but Ben kept his lead over Chris to hold onto an 11-8 win. Game four was pushed to the max and Chris gritted through for a 12-10 win in extra innings. That brought it all down to game five to see which player was going to make it to his first final of the season. Chris’ serve caught fire again and he rode that to an 11-6 victory in game five to give us our first non-Rocky/Kane final of the year.
Semifinal Match Recaps - by IRT Intern Seth Brody
Crowther d Croft (11-8, 5-11, 8-11, 12-10, 11-6)
With #6 Chris Crowther coming off an upset against #2 Rocky Carson and Ben Croft playing a hard fought 5-gamer with Charlie Pratt, this semifinals matchup was expected to be a well played, hard shooting match. Turns out, the expectations were right. The last time these two played was in the quarterfinals of the US Open where Crowther overwhelmed Croft in 3 games. This time, Croft was looking to apply some more pressure on the big man. To add some statistics into the mix, it would show that Crowther has been giving up fewer points per match than Croft. Crowther has averaged 6.26 points given (PG) while Croft has an average of 8.5 PG.
Game 1 was in full control and ownership by Crowther while Croft was managing to pick up as many balls as he could. Still managing to score 8 points, Croft would answer big in the next games. Game 2 began with Crowther still smoking out the end of his racquet, but Croft would find is stride and control his shots to get them by the massive reach of Crowther allowing Crowther only 5. Game 3 was still in the hands of Croft as he took an early lead. Crowther took his time to recharge and score some points but it would not be enough to break Croft’s great “get” ability. Game 3 was over at 11-8, leaving Crowther with a pivotal point in this match to regroup and try again. Game 4 was tight all the way through the game. It went back and forth as they kept the range within 3 points. Tying it up at 10-10, Crowther would find himself in need of 2 points more than ever before. Crowther scored, and the game was his for the taking. Game 5 was it, and both players wanted to see the finals, but only one can move on. Crowther needed to win big points very quickly in order to keep Croft from keeping the ball in play. Crothwer hung in tough and went to a 9-1 run. Croft, struggling, found his last push and made it to 6 points. Crowther wouldn’t have that. He took what he was given, and Crowther took the game and match in dramatic fashion.
This was a great match to witness. With one player (Croft), who has amazing speed and agility to get to the ball, and another (Crowther), who has the crushing ability to break balls as often as points played. Crowther had times where he would seem exhausted and done for, but taking his time and slowing the game down, allowed his body enough time to reenergize some energy stores and push through to the end, no matter what! This was definitely a match for all racquetball players and athletes to watch and learn.
Waselenchuk d Rojas (11-1, 11-3, 11-4)
After just witnessing a great 5-game match between Chris Crowther and Ben Croft, this match would be another spectacle to see. Whenever #1 Kane Waselenchuk steps on the court, there are several things that could happen. We could witness a complete destruction, a long match from an unexpected underdog, or even a loss that would end a 124 match win streak. Statistically, Kane Waselenchuk has a “dominance ratio” of 3.172 which when interpreted into words means that on average he scores 3.172 points for every 1 point he gives up. Jose Rojas has a ratio of 1.228, which still falls above the average of the top ranked 25 players at 1.165. (More on these numbers to follow).
With the young gun, #4 Jose Rojas, anything could happen. Rojas has been playing unbelievable ball so far this season. However, we would be witnessing another firework show from Waselenchuk as game 1 and 2 were over in a flash 11-1, 11-3). Rojas is a professional and knows better than to just give up. Game 3 was in Rojas’ hands for a short while as he started out with a 3-0 lead. Rojas played well and had some great shots that were irretrievable for even Waselenchuk to get. Yet, as the match continued, the greater player would outplay his opponent. Waselenchuk went on a run and scored 11 to win game 3 (11-4) and the match.
The quarterfinals featured the usual suspects. The match-ups all looked interesting: Kane Waselenchuk vs. Andy Hawthorne, Jose Rojas vs. Shane Vanderson, Ben Croft vs. Charlie Pratt, and Rocky Carson III vs. Chris Crowther.
While Andy probably beat the Vegas over/under on the match, Kane continued to dismantle his opponents with frightening efficiency, winning 11-7, 11-4, and 11-4.
When Rocky and Chris face off, it is typically a battle as the big boys wrestle for court positioning. Rocky took advantage of Chris getting off to a slow start and won the first game 11-5. However, Chris locked in his serve and started firing some major heat to upset Rocky by winning the next three games 11-6, 11-4, and 11-6.
The crowd anticipated a great potential match between Rojas and Vanderson, who were the respective #4 and #5 seeds coming into the tournament. Both players are natural shooters, but they basically took turns getting hot. They flip-flopped games with Jose eventually coming out on top winning the match 11-4, 5-11, 11-8, 5-11, and 11-4.
The Croft-Pratt match was another one that had the crowd buzzing. While Croft was the #3 seed and Charlie was #6 coming into the tournament, Charlie has been playing some really good ball over the last year and giving the upper seeds lots of trouble. Couple that with Ben struggling the first round, and the crowd was destined for a five-game battle. All the games were tight. Both players were neck and neck, trading great shots and great gets. The players traded games with Ben winning game one 11-7, Charlie winning game two 11-6, and Ben winning game three 11-7. Then, the guys pushed it into extra innings. Charlie won game four 12-10, and Ben outlasted him in game five to win game five and the match 12-10.
Quarterfinal Match Recaps by IRT Intern John Beninato
Chris Crowther d Rocky Carson 5-11, 11-6, 11-4, 11-6
What an upset at the Red Swain Shootout! It was looking like it would be another win for Rocky based on the first game of this match. Rocky had a comfortable lead on Chris and was getting points with his drive serves to both sides of the court. He took the first game 11-5 and it seemed that he was not going to let up on the pressure. However, as game 2 started, Rocky was not looking as crisp out there. Crowther got a 6-0 lead and was putting away the ball, while Carson was having trouble avoiding skips. Crowther took this one easily, 11-6. As game 3 began, Chris kept the pressure coming and made it incredibly hard for Rocky to string together points. Carson was losing his focus and was unable to execute critical shots. He also dropped this game, 11-4. Fans were hoping that Rocky was going to start making the shots he needed and force a game 5, but Crowther and his blistering drive serves kept Rocky off balance. Carson started to get some points later in the game and was trying to build up some momentum, but Crowther did not let up and ended up winning the match in 4 games, 11-6. Crowther has finally gotten a win against Carson on tour and is no doubt enjoying this hard fought win.
Kane Waselenchuk d Andy Hawthorne 11-7, 11-4, 11-4
Andy came out shooting in game 1 and had a few good points off of Kane. Waselenchuk was having a lot of unforced errors and gave up some points that he normally would have won. Andy managed to get 7 points in this game, but Kane took the first game. Once the second game started, Kane was looking more and more like the top player on the tour. He stopped giving up points and took this game, 11-4. Game 3 was more of the same from Kane. He was playing incredibly well and was making Andy hit the floor with his drive serves down the glass wall. Hawthorne was fighting hard for points and was doing anything he could to make Kane play defense, but it proved to be ineffective as Kane won this game and the match, 11-4.
Ben Croft d Charlie Pratt 11-7, 6-11, 11-7, 10-12, 12-10
This quarterfinal was a long and hard-fought battle between these players. Croft started the match looking very solid and was executing shots very well. Both players were using lob serves at the beginning and it was very back and forth until Croft took the first, 11-7. Game 2 started and this matchup seemed to be very even with each player hitting great kills and passes. Ben started to skip some shots towards the end of this game and got frustrated as he dropped this one, 11-6. Croft stepped it up in game 3 and got an early lead on Pratt. Charlie started to miss shots and got upset as he lost this one, 11-7. Charlie stepped back into the box for game 4 and was doing all that he could to get a tiebreaker. Pratt was up 10-7 in this game, but had a tough time closing it. A few skips brought Ben to 10-10 and it was looking like game 4 would be the last game. However, Charlie dug deep and forced a fifth game by winning, 12-10. The audience knew that game 5 was going to be just as much of a battle as the other games were. Croft took an early lead and was speeding up the pace of the game to keep Pratt off balance. It was clear that Charlie was not going to lie down and let Ben take this match from him because he fought to tie it up. This game went to 10-10 as well, when an injury after a long point caused Ben to leave the court. Croft came back limping and it hard to watch him fight through the pain. He knew that he was close to victory and did not want to give up. Croft gave it everything he had and won this game and the match, 12-10.
Jose Rojas d Shane Vanderson 11-4, 5-11, 11-8, 5-11, 11-4
Round of Sixteen
All the regulars were in the mix for the tournament except Alvaro Beltran. There were a couple interesting match-ups with Tony Carson facing off against Andy Hawthorne and Cliff Swain set to battle Jose Rojas.
All the top seeds advanced, most in three quick games. The Carson-Hawthorne match-up started out lopsided with Andy rolling to an 11-1 victory in game one, but the next two were tight with Andy winning the second 11-8 then losing 9-11, before locking back in to finish game four and the match 11-3.
Cliff showed flashes of his play from yesteryear, but produced inconsistently. Jose played well to show he is a legitimate force on tour winning 11-6, 11-5, and 12-10.
Ben Croft had trouble finding his groove in his opening round match against Canadian James Slamko. Slamko is no slouch and has considerable game. Unforced errors from Ben plus mounting frustration kept this match close throughout. Ben dropped the first game 5-11, and then went on to win 11-8, 11-7, and 12-10.
Old school professional racquetball is back at the Davison Racquet and Fitness Club, where 6-time and current #1-ranked world racquetball champion, Kane Waselenchuk, will defend his record-setting 122-match unbeaten as he tries to top the year-end record set by local resident, tournament host, and 6-time #1 ranked pro, Cliff Swain, who won the title when the IRT last competed at the club in 1993.
The Red Swain Shootout Tier 1, held 10/25-10/30 is named in honor of Cliff’s father and will include a charity fundraiser for The Angel Fund, which supports those with ALS disease. “It had such a amazing atmosphere,” recalls Swain. “The fact that a club like that still exists is really cool. I remember that back then you’d have a hard time getting a seat, except on the floor or looking over someone’s shoulder. I’d love for it to be like that again.” The club is still owned by the Minto family. Current owner and Guinness World Record holder, Randy Minto, played the sport for 102 hours, 13 minutes, and 42 seconds in 1978 for charity.
Co-Tournament Director, Tom Blakeslee, has been involved with the Racquetball Association of Michigan for fifteen years remembers former pro stops, when top players like Mike Yellen and Marty Hogan played there. With an easy-viewing stadium court among the twelve on-site along with an in-house restaurant, there’ll be plenty of space for fans and players even with the large turnout expected, according to Tournament Director, Don Schopieray. “That’s what I like about it—the place is on fire. People are excited the come, calling from all over the place. Those who were around during the old pro stops and our core members, who are racquetball players, are all asking what they can do to help. It’s awesome.”
A highlight of the event will be a silent auction to raise money for The Angel Fund, a charity Swain describes as supporting patients with ALS disease to “make them more comfortable since it’s always terminal.” Pro players will donate autographed gear to be auctioned during the weekend and will attend a VIP event Thursday night, with all of the top pro players mingling in the lounge.
Among the likely attendees will likely be Schopieray’s son, local rising star, Red Swain Award winnner, #30-ranked pro and IRT Collegiate Scholarship Winner, Brad Schopieray, who has graduated from high school at the end of last season to focus on playing the pro tour. Don realizes he has a lot of work to do. “At this level, every player is good. If they lose a game, they figure out what happened and make a correction. They’re going to take their knocks.”
Unique to the Red Swain Tournament will be a paddleball tournament, which Schopieray describes as “ping pong on steroids.” With plenty of courts to support the addition, they’re excited to be involved with the National Paddleball Association, based in nearby Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It’s interaction and connection the organizers are encouraging, according to Don. “What drew me to the sport was that it’s a family event. We’re hoping the Red Swain Shootout will have more of that feel – where people can get a great workout but way have a way better time. I really do hope that everyone brings friends and has a blast when they come.”
For more information, visit the www.IRT-Tour website for updates during the event.