IRT Converges on Chicago as Season Enters Final Stage

kane waselenchuk championship 2016 shamrock shootout

Top ranked Kane Waselenchuk repeated as Shamrock Shootout Champion with his 11-2, 11-4, 11-2 victory on #5-ranked Daniel De La Rosa in a rematch of the 2015 UnitedHealthcare US Open Finals. 

Shamrock Shootout Pro Draw

2016 Shamrock Shootout Tournament Schedule

Championship Final 

Kane Waselenchuk d Daniel De La Rosa 11-2, 11-4, 11-2

Championship Final Recap

Blog by Tim Prigo

Kane Waselenchuk exists in a world apart from the rest of racquetball. He departed from the rest of the pack some time ago and now he sits comfortably and alone, lording over the entire sport. He is technically more skilled than anyone else, he kills more balls and hits better serves but he also now mans an equally devastating weapon: the throne. His singularity of excellence has made the moniker ‘King Kane’ into a formal title. He knows he belongs there and so does the rest of the field. He only allowed 11 total points against leading up to the finals, never dropping a game. In fact he has only dropped two games this entire season. As he enters every match, Waselenchuk, along with his opponent, know that it is easier to perpetuate the status quo than to break it. Daniel De La Rosa, to his credit, may very well be the second best player on the planet at age 22. He also operates with an inviting confidence on the court, which helps him to settle into his shots easier than most veterans.

De La Rosa did not appear shaken at the prospect of playing Waselenchuk but was having trouble finding the front wall, skipping many shots in Game 1. Waselenchuk served masterfully, making De La Rosa guess almost every time. The sheer power combined with an uncanny deceptiveness set up Waselenchuk every time from the serve. Waselenchuk, when he did get into the rally opted for kills instead of passes. He breezed his way through the first game, 11-2. De La Rosa served more the second game with four times. He chose to use a standing half drive down the right hand line. He was able to double his points to four in this game but it was largely the same story. Waselenchuk looked completely relaxed and in the zone, scoring the game winning point on an ace lob. By the third game De La Rosa had all but resigned from a genuine attempt to win as he abandoned traditional shots in favor of crowd-pleasing 38-foot dinks. Better he perhaps thought to hit one or two exceptionally tricky shots than have his normal style once again pummeled. No time-outs were used as the third game came to a close 11-2, Waselenchuk.

Waselenchuk is undoubtedly king. He is more than just the world’s best player he is an institution. In some ways, to take on Waselenchuk is to challenge the state. The task must weigh heavy and feel overwhelming to those in his sights. Waselenchuk winning is now tradition and breaking from tradition requires more than skill, it will take defiance and the obscene belief that one man can cause a paradigm shift. Which is to say, the very same belief that Waselenchuk himself must hold.

Semifinals Recaps

Kane Waselenchuk d Alvaro Beltran 11-2, 11-0, 11-0

Alvaro Beltran looked sluggish after rolling his ankle in the first game of his quarterfinal match last night, serving and scoring first by mixing up drive serves to both sides. Kane Waselenchuk took center court at 0-2, and despite a few skips and words about calls, Waselenchuk got the serve and kept Alvaro on the run in the back court and on the defensive, taking Game 1, 11-2.

In Game two Waselenchuk remained dominant, controlling center court and forcing Beltran to swing on the run and skipping uncharacteristic shots. Game point, Beltran had Waselenchuk on the run with a soft kill he thought was a winner, but Waselenchuk was too fast, putting it down for the win, 11-0.

Game 3 Beltran served first, but continued to struggle with moving around the court. Waselenchuk solidly in control, he placed and paced the ball to keep Beltran out of position. At 0-10, Beltran’s prayerful hands earned a chuckle from the crowd, but not a point as Waselenchuk won Game 3 11-0 to win the match.

Daniel De La Rosa d Jake Bredenbeck 11-7, 11-7, 11-7

The 31st Annual Shamrock Shootout Upset Artist, #15 seeded Jake Bredenbeck, who defeated #2-ranked Rocky Carson and #6 Jansen Allen, came out shooting hard to the corners, earning his first point and also giving Daniel De La Rosa a first point after Bredenbeck skipped an attempted kill from the back corner. De La Rosa had answers of his own, mixing soft touch shots with backcourt kills that had him tying Brendenbeck at 2-2, and then pulling away. Bredenbeck was hitting hard, but De La Rosa kept him on the run until Bredenbeck called a timeout at 6-2. At 3-6 Bredenbeck tried switching his speed up which De La Rosa put away to return to the service box. De La Rosa’s finesse game had the #5-ranked player pulling away until he skipped several points in a row giving Bredenbeck a score of 6-8. At 8-6 De La Rosa stepped back into the serve box when Bredenbeck called his second timeout, and worked his way back. In the end finesse won out, as De La Rosa’s behind-the-back flip of the racquet shot took Game 1, 11-7.

In Game two Bredenbeck seemed even more focus and determined to pound every shot. With De La Rosa also missing some shots up front, Bredenbeck took a 2-0 lead hitting hard from every spot on the court. De La Rosa won rallies with pinch kills that left Bredenbeck standing in the back of the court, but only put two together leaving the two players stuck at 2-1 and then 3-1, before Bredenbeck expanded his lead to 6-2. The two continued to exchange rallies, side-outs and a few points. While Bredenbeck’s game plan seemed to be hit it hard, De La Rosa’s became hard pinches to the corners or soft hands upfront, which helped him to claw back to tie the score 6-6. Bredenbeck called a timeout. On roll, De La Rosa pulled ahead 8-6, 10-7 and took the game, 11-7.

Game three (again) started close with Bredenbeck up 2-1 and a double-fault serve gave De La Rosa the serve and then his second point to tie the game 2-2. Bredenbeck pulled ahead, 4-2. Both players might have given a demonstration on how to make pinch kills from the backcourt, as they tied the score again, 4-4, and after De La Rosa’s lob serve died in the back corner for De La Rosa’s 5-4 lead. Bredenbeck came back and pulled ahead, but De La Rosa tied at 7-7 and pulled ahead 8-7. A Bredenbeck timeout wasn’t enough to stop De La Rosa’s roll, who won the third game 11-7 for the match.

Semifinals 

Kane Waselenchuk d Alvaro Beltran 11-2, 11-0, 11-0

Daniel De La Rosa d Jake Bredenbeck 11-7, 11-7, 11-7

Quarterfinals

Jake Bredenbeck d Jansen Allen 12-10, 11-4, 9-11, 11-8

Kane Waselenchuk d Markie Rojas 11-2, 11-1, 11-3

Daniel De La Rosa d Jose Rojas 11-4, 7-11, 11-9, 11-9

Alvaro Beltran d Sebastian Franco 12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-9 

Quarterfinals Recaps 

Blog by Tim Prigo

Jake Bredenbeck has been the talk of the tournament. In the Round of 16s, Bredenbeck achieved the biggest upset of the year, besting #2-ranked Rocky Carson in a five game thriller. Bredenbeck entered his first ever quarterfinal with momentum on his side but the question lingered: What remained? Allen, on the other hand, who is exceptionally fit and does not ever seem to expend large amounts of energy, would be entering the match unquestionably ready. Allen started strong, getting out to a 6-0 lead. Allen’s deceptive quickness and soft touches disrupted Bredenbeck’s timing. Allen, instead of cruising to an easy Game 1 victory, was himself disrupted by Bredenbeck’s aggressive play. Bredenbeck’s style, demonstrative serves and fast yet wide swings, can only be described as jarring. He roared back, acing, hitting hard down the lines and swiveling Allen in the backcourt with well-placed wide angle passes. For the next game and a half, Bredenbeck was undeniable. He came back to win Game 1 and dominated Allen in Game 2. Allen, seeking to regain composure in Game 3, found success with high lobs and though he went on to win this game, Bredenbeck had regained impetus and almost came back to steal the game. Allen looked more shocked when the large framed Bredenbeck shuffled lightly on his feet to get to balls only reserved for the fastest on tour than he did at the 170 plus MPH serves. Allen appeared more frustrated than normal, often throwing up his hands toward the ref. Surprisingly, he earned a technical late in Game 4 that signaled the end of the match as Bredenbeck closed out the game to keep his dream run on track.

Kane Waselenchuk and Markie Rojas met for the 11th time in the second quarterfinal. Rojas had lost all 10 times, and today would be no departure. Though the match went as closely to script in the score line as it could, there were a few things of significance. Rojas did well to read some of Waselenchuk’s shots and was able to jump on the ball, especially in the corners, allowing him to stay in the rally longer. Of exceptional note, were Waselenchuk’s serves. He served better or as well as he ever has. Not only was he serving at the highest level, he sustained the effort for not merely a game but the entire match. It becomes hard to see how anyone could have returned the vast majority of his services with any purpose. When Rojas was able to get into the rally and hit smart shots, Waselenchuk would thwart his rhythm by stepping into the ball and killing it.

Daniel De La Rosa and Jose Rojas never disappoint. Two of the most dynamic players in the world once again squared off in the third quarterfinal, and from the get go, excitement tailed. Rojas was moving very well and looked spry and powerful on his feet. Of the two, Rojas seemed to have the upper hand in mobility, but this was offset by De La Rosa’s skilled hands. In the first game, De La Rosa’s shots outmatched Rojas’s get-ability. Though De La Rosa can take flight on a second’s notice, lethargy and sloppiness are the enemies of any racquetball player. De La Rosa blew a big second game lead as Rojas’s hustle outlasted his opponents high risk – high reward strategy. The third game had elements of marshy footwork and poor shot selection but was amongst the most exciting to watch as both players continuously hurled their bodies across the hardwood. De La Rosa found the shots first and closed Game 3, 11-9. The fourth game was similar and the slight edge maintained in the Rojas corner. The decisive factor, and what ultimately lost Rojas the match were a series of late game skips. Though both players are explosive, this match revealed something large, namely that De La Rosa kills more balls. Rojas skipped a couple frontcourt shots late in the fourth game to lose the match, 11-9.

Alvaro Beltran and Sebastian France played the nightcap. Most had Beltran picked to win the match but certainly minds changed when, early in Game 1, Beltran rolled his left ankle. He took seven minutes of his injury time to tend to his injury. Beltran stepped back on the court, the oldest player in the draw, now with a bad left ankle in addition to his wrapped right knee. Beltran struggle to move laterally at moments, and would from time to time give up on balls. This did not mean however, that Franco was winning. To the contrary, Franco had a difficult time gauging where his wounded opponent might be and made many wrong shot choices. Beltran, sensing that he was losing mobility as time went on, opted to drive everything an inch from the ground. This played to his advantage as he killed more balls than any other quarterfinalist of the day. Franco had a tough time finding his game against such an unorthodox style. Franco shined bright, making many re-kills from his knees, in the third game. Beltran however grinded out each point and the fact that he only lost one game, injured as he was, is remarkable. Beltran won in four games and is questionable at best for his next round.

Round of 16s

Jansen Allen d Mario Mercado 11-7, 11-6, 11-8

Jake Bredenbeck d Rocky Carson 11-1, 11-7, 7-11, 6-11, 11-7

Kane Waselenchuk d Alejandro Herrera 11-1, 11-0, 11-2

Markie Rojas d Robert Collins 14-12, 11-5, 11-3

Jose Rojas d Scott McClellan 11-1, 16-14, 11-1

Daniel De La Rosa d Mauricio Zelada 11-2, 11-6, 11-7

Alvaro Beltran d Matthew Majxner 11-6, 11-3, 11-7

Sebastian Franco d Felipe Camacho 11-8, 12-10, 3-11, 11-8

Round of 32s

Sebastian Franco d Juan Martinez III 11-9, 9-11, 11-5, 11-2

Alejandro Herrera d Andree Parrilla 11-9, 2-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-4

Matthew Majxner d Keith Minor 11-9, 11-5, 11-5

Scott McClellan d Jonathan Justice WBF – No Show

Mario Mercado d Kyle Ulliman 11-3, 11-3, 11-5

Jake Bredenbeck d Thomas Carter 11-1, 11-5, 11-2

Robert Collins d Geoff Goldblatt 6-11, 11-5, 11-2, 11-3

Mauricio Zelada d Juan Herrera 11-5, 11-13, 12-10, 11-9

Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athletes competing at The Shamrock Shootout this weekend are Robert Collins, Jake Bredenbeck, Sebastian Franco, Mauricio Zelada and Mario Mercado.

Round of 64s

Geoff Goldblatt d Jorge Ortiz 13-11, 8-11, 11-3, 11-5

IRT Converges on Chicago as Season Enters Final Stage

SHAMROCK_2015_ILjpgThe upcoming 31st Annual Shamrock Shootout March 10-13 at the Glass Court Swim and Fitness Club in Lombard, Illinois will be the second consecutive year the Chicago-area tournament hosts the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) in a Tier 1 event that promises to have an impact on the Tour’s top final season-end rankings.

With five more Tier 1 pro stops remaining before the 2015-2016 IRT Season ends, the top two positions currently are dominated by Kane Waselenchuk (4,821.33 points) and Rocky Carson (3,738), but there is a battle brewing for spots three through six.

Alvaro Beltran (2,582), Jose Rojas (2,537) and Daniel De La Rosa (2,463.73) are separated by only 120 points in the struggle for all-important top rankings, with Jansen Allen hanging close to the leaders with 1,999 points. Markie Rojas rounds out the top seven ranked players at 1,834 points.

Rankings points are accumulated based on many factors, including how many tiers a player can move through in a tournament (round of 16s, quarterfinals, semifinals and finishing first and second), so the Shamrock could be a pivotal tournament for those seeking higher rankings and prize money.

“Most people get caught up in the race for the number one ranking, but there is a tight battle for spots three through six going on for the moment,” said Jason Mannino, IRT President. “This, and the following tournaments, not only have ranking implications but also will have an impact on players’ bonuses. Thus should be a fun race to watch.”

Waselenchuk defeated Carson 11-8, 11-5, 11-3 to win the 2015 Shamrock IRT title, winning all four of his matches in straight games and giving up a total of 48 points in 12 games – an average of four points per game. This season Waselenchuk has been no less dominating as he seeks his 11th IRT number one year-end ranking, winning all seven IRT pro stops he has entered. He did not enter two events, the Galaxy Custom Printing IRT Pro/Am and the Red Swain Shootout. Beltran and Carson won those two tournaments, respectively.

With Waselenchuk an odds on favorite to take home another first place finish, accumulating points by taking second place or making it into the semifinals or quarterfinals becomes paramount in the race for third place in year-end rankings. All players mentioned above have had their share of success in that regard: in nine pro stops this season (including the 2016 UnitedHealthcare U.S. Open, a Grand Slam event) Carson has finished second six times with two additional semifinal appearances and a victory; De La Rosa has one second place and three semifinal appearances; Jose Rojas has two second places and three semifinal appearances; and Beltran has one win and three semifinal appearances.

What does this mean? Only that the round of 16s, quarterfinals and semifinals will have a lot at stake, and that competition should be keen.

Also, six weeks will have elapsed between the Lewis Drug Pro/Am and the Shamrock, giving the players plenty of time to prepare for the stretch run of the IRT season. Mannino said the break was due to many national and international events scheduled during February. “We wanted to be respectful of those events. Some players will have time off, but others will have played in national events; however we should expect the guys to be fresh for the Shamrock!” Mannino said.

A handful of local and regional players are expected to take part in pro qualifying, including Brian Simpson (currently ranked 44th), Keith Minor (85th) and Geoff Goldblatt (105th), as well as competitors new to the IRT Tour including Tournament Director Doug Halverson, Illinois State Open Runner-up Clint Hickman, Juan Martinez III, and Filip Vesely, according to tournament officials. Minor, of KWM Gutterman, one of the tournament’s primary sponsors, said he is excited to see the pros return to the Chicago and the venerable Glass Court Club. “The Glass Court Club has meant a lot to Chicago area players for many years, and Chicago deserves to have the top pros playing here every year,” said Minor, who recently won three gold medals in the USA Racquetball National Doubles Championships in Tempe, Arizona. “As a sponsor I am happy to be able to help make this Tier 1 event possible.”

Odds are against qualifying locals making it to the round of 16s or further, but Minor will give it his best shot.

“Really, I don’t have many realistic expectations of advancing very far, but it will be good to get on the court with the pros and also watch them, many of whom I know personally from playing over the years,” Minor said. “I know I can still play competitively, pretty much hang with anyone for a while, but the pros are so consistent. They play at that level the whole time, so I plan on having some fun with it. Plus, many are a lot younger than me now.”

Having the IRT’s top players on hand will mean a lot not only to top amateur players entering the qualifier and other amateurs registered for various amateur levels of the tournament – which dates back to the early 1980s — but to local juniors and beginners as well. There will be a juniors clinic conducted by the pros on Saturday morning on the club’s glass court. Last year’s clinic drew almost 30 attendees, according to Geoff Peters, tournament director.

“Last season four pros held the clinic and Daniel De La Rosa was the most popular because he looks so young, and the kids really related to him,” Peters said with a chuckle. “This program really benefits our Junior Illinois team.”

Having the world’s best racquetball players on hand for the tournament can only help to promote racquetball in Chicago, long a racquetball hot bed, officials say. “Chicago has a deep history in professional racquetball,” Mannino said. “Some great players like Jack Newman, Tim Sweeney and Ben Croft are from Chicago, and the city is known for hosting one of the most fun events of the year due to the tournament’s great hospitality and exuberant fans.”

The Shamrock has been a cornerstone tournament for local players for decades and is considered one of the area’s top draws for amateur play. “The Shamrock Shootout is a highlight of the Illinois tournament season, and we can’t wait for the pros to take center stage here at Glass Court,” said Cheryl Kirk, the tournament’s operations director. “In this 31st year of the Shamrock Shootout, and the second consecutive IRT pro stop at this event, excitement is running high. Thanks to Dan Jaskier of Glass Court, along with Geoff Peters, Doug Halverson and many generous sponsors, our amateur players and fans again have the chance to view the top players in the world as they continue in their quest for this season’s top spots on the IRT.”

NOTES

  • Glass Court Club is located at 830 E. Roosevelt Road, Lombard, IL
  • Pro play will be aired on The IRT Network
  • A FREE juniors clinic – instructed by IRT players – will take place at 9 a.m., Saturday, March 12 on the facility’s glass court
  • The club sports eight competition racquetball courts, with its signature court providing glass side walls and back wall
  • 31st Annual Shamrock Shootout Gold Sponsors include: KWM Gutterman, Platt Hill Nurseries, Anthony’s Pizza, Papa Nicholas Coffee, JAM Trucking, Kirsten’s Danish Bakery, Mitchell’s Ice Cream as well as a host of local sponsors
  • This year the event will feature Gold Club seating for VIPs and sponsors along the left side wall
  • Tournament players, Juniors and Glass Court Members can enjoy the pro action free of charge
  • Tournament ball is the Penn HD Purple
  • The tournament’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day Party will take place in the club’s lounge on Saturday night, including a corned beef and cabbage dinner
  • Four Tier 1 IRT pro stops are scheduled following the Shamrock Shootout: 2016 Raising Some Racquet for Kids (March 31-April 3, Huber Heights, Ohio); Florida IRT Pro/Am (April 28-May 1, Sarasota); Pro Kennex Tournament of Champions (May 12-15, Portland) and The Coast to Coast California IRT Open (May 19-22, Reseda, CA).

By Don Grigas

Don Grigas is an award-winning journalist who grew up on the south side of Chicago and is now living in Bolingbrook, IL, where he first developed a passion for racquetball. In 1979 Don played his first game of racquetball at the Bolingbrook Park District Racquet and Health Club. Within two years Don rose from a Novice to an Open player, and shortly thereafter became the club professional at the Naper Olympic Fitness Center for more than 20 years until that facility closed in 2007.  After winning three state championships in doubles, Don retired from active playing and now writes for the IRT as well as working on other freelance projects.