IRT Hits the Rio Grand: Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internatcional

KMPII_2015_Logo_revThe Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internacional will bring the world’s elite pros to the Health & Kinesiology Club of the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas, where #2-ranked Kane Waselenchuk defeated top ranked Rocky Carson 11-4, 11- -1, 11-3 to win the Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internacional title at the University of Texas–Pan American in Edinburg. Click for draws, recaps, and updates below.

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Championship Match Recap

By Tim Prigo

Game one- Both players traded sideouts many times before Carson was able to score 2 consecutive points. Carson started with hard straight in drive serves to the  Waselenchuk backhand. Carson seemed to be building momentum as he scored 2 more off serve-return-kill rallies but this was cut-short when  Waselenchuk found his serve.  Waselenchuk scored 5 consecutive points, 3 from ace serves, before Carson sided him out. As was the case in his previous matches, Waselenchuk’s serves were speeding off the front wall, appearing a blur at times. When  Waselenchuk got in his first serve there was hardly anything Carson could do, if he was able to get a racquet on the ball it would be only just, and  Waselenchuk would put away the set-up. Carson tried a few cut drive serves to Waselenchuk’s backhand. Waselenchuk killed every one. Carson never scored after the 5 minute mark. Waselenchuk kept his laser beam drive serves rocking as he closed out the game 11-4. 

Game two- Waselenchuk continued his unanswered-point run with a 4-0 start in as many minutes. He aced Carson on his second serve numerous times during this game, which was problematic for Carson because he was only able to sideout his opponent during the first game on Waselenchuk’s second serve.  Waselenchuk’s game continued to improve as the match went on, demonstrating a Midas touch by turning everything his racquet that touched into points.  Waselenchuk played with a sense of urgency, pouncing on Carson’s returns aggressively, charging the ball, and putting it down.  Waselenchuk, now up 9-0, had gone on a 20 to 0 point run since the first 5 minutes of the match.  Waselenchuk earned another point from a serve-return-kill rally and Carson called time. Carson was called for a technical during the timeout, reducing his score to -11 against Waselenchuk’s 10. When time resumed, Carson’s antics had annoyed  Waselenchuk enough for him to be visibally upset. Waselenchuk killed the ball on the next rally for the game-two victory. Waselenchuk had gone on a 22-0 run to win the second game, 11 to -1.

Game three- Waselenchuk was clearly impassioned with anger as he did not take kindly to Carson’s game-two theatrics. Carson finally broke his scoring drought by finding two good serves that garnered setups from Waselenchuk. 2-0, Carson took the lead. Carson did well to anticipate Waselenchuk’s photon drive serves in the third game and was able to hold his opponent from going back onto a scoring run. This was only a brief reprieve, however, as Waselenchuk started to score, working for points with  his serve. Now on a 27-2 match run and up 7-3 in the third game, Waselenchuk began to coast. Carson could not stop skipping and Waselenchuk put away all the setups Carson offered. Waselenchuk won 11-3 for the title and hope that he’d regained the #1 ranking in the world. 

Semifinal Match Recaps

Saturday’s semifinals featured the top four ranked players on the tour. #1 Rocky Carson defeated #4 Daniel De La Rosa 12-10, 3-11, 11-9, 11-2 after a one-hour thirty-three minute match. #2 Kane Waselenchuk defeated #3 Alvaro Beltran 11-7, 11-6, 11-3 in semifinal #2. 

by Tim Prigo

#1 Rocky Carson d. #4 De La Rosa 11-10, 3-11, 11-9, 11-2

Game one-  De La Rosa came out hitting his backhand flat giving Carson an early lead. Carson was using his wingspan to take up space on his shots, forcing De La Rosa to start the retrieval process in the back corners of the court. Down 3-5,  De La Rosa took a timeout. After the break,  De La Rosa looked reinvigorated and began to shoot well and earn points. His backhand, which he had trouble finding early on, heated up to pressure Carson. The two went back and forth for most of the game, neither gaining a sizable lead. At 8-8, Carson skipped two key shots to give  De La Rosa his first game point.  De La Rosa’s opportunity was lost when Carson won the ralley and quickly scored two points to tie up the game at 10-10. Carson’s sped up the pace of the game, the uncharacteristic style perhaps pointing to De La Rosa’s vulnerability. This proved to be a smart decision as De La Rosa skipped the next rally to give Carson his first game point. At 11-10, Carson hit a drive serve to the forehand that cracked out against the sidewall for the ace and game-one victory. 12-10, Carson.   

Game two- Carson continued the momentum from the second game and hit the ball crisply, passing and pinching to a 3-0 lead. De La Rosa’s body language spoke of foreboding and potential defeat early on, but he was able to pick himself up mentally to work back into the game. De La Rosa shot pass-kills midcourt directly to Carson. Fortunately for De La Rosa, the shots were hitting the bottom board and Carson could not dig them out. De La Rosa enjoyed a 6 to 0 run in points. At 9-3, De La Rosa looked in complete control of the game, maintaining center court. Carson tried to slow the game down and work De La Rosa into a grinding halt but De La Rosa was already too far ahead. He scored the next two before Carson had the time to cool him off. Game two 11-3, De La Rosa. 

Game three- De La Rosa picked up where he left off in the second, continuing to kill balls, and jumping to a 3-0 lead. De La Rosa was upset about an encroachment call that went against him, and this seemed to throw him off his game. Carson saw a crack in De La Rosa’s composure, and went to work scoring multiple unanswered points, evening the score with  De La Rosa at 5-5. Both Carson and De La Rosa were unable to find points. Although Carson kept a slight edge entering the second half of this game, he searched for a potent offense. The game came to a screeching halt when neither player scored a single point for over 15 minutes. Carson eventually inched to a 10-8 lead, forcing a De La Rosa timeout. De La Rosa regained the serve with a plum setup: 8 inches from the front wall and an out-of-position Carson. However in a flash of mental lapse, he skipped what should have been an easy shot. Carson took game two, 11-8.

Game Four- Carson continued his slow march towards victory and seemed to have the upper hand the whole game. Carson lulled not only the crowd, but more importantly,  De La Rosa, to sleep. Carson took advantage of long towel timeouts and fault serves to silently score point after point. To his credit, Carson skipped very few balls and De La Rosa had trouble finding any passing shots that Carson could not get an offensive racquet on. 11-2, Carson. 

#2 Kane Waselenchuk d #3 Alvaro Beltran 11-7, 11-6, 11-3

Game one- Beltran scored the first point of the match but this was not to be indicative of how the first part of the game would go. Waselenchuk earned the serve on the next rally by way of a 38-foot backhand and scored 8 unanswered points primarily from three-shot rallies. Waselenchuk looked as if he were going to be impenetrable, much like in his previous rounds. Beltran took a timeout, which proved to be a good call for the Mexican star as he worked himself back into the game. He went on a four-point scoring run via lob serves to the Waselenchuk forehand. This strategy, though risky, compounded Waselenchuk’s frustration over some calls on top of his opponent shooting lights out. Beltran displayed his wheels, making multiple diving gets. This pressure seemed to shake up Waselenchuk, as he looked for the first time in recent memory, flustered. Beltran had moments of brilliance in the first game but still trailed late in the game, down 7-9. Waselenchuk broke the ball on a rally-winning shot, which undiscovered to IRT referee, Charlie Pratt, until after the score was called. Pratt argued that since the score was called the rally would stand and the point to Waselenchuk. Understandably, this frustrated Beltran, and he sought a ruling from IRT President, Jason Mannino. Though Beltran got the call overturned to a replay, Beltran had lost his groove.  Waselenchuk proceeded to finish out the game quickly, 11-7.

Game two- Beltran came into the court looking confident and his desire was made clear as he jumped out to a 5-0 lead.  Waselenchuk was skipping his shots more than fans and opponents usually see. Beltran did well to mix up his serves, although he mainly scored from setups or lob serves to the forehand. Before Beltran could completely run away with game two, Waselenchuk rediscovered his offense, and scored six straight points. Beltran called a timeout but failed to stop the point hemorrhage. Waselenchuk notched 3 more points when play resumed. Waselenchuk’s huge scoring tear was only interrupted when one of the players stepped out of the court to plead the case on a call or express frustration for the referee. Beltran only scored 1 more point after leading 5-0. Waselenchuk won game two, 11-6.  

Game three- Beltran started the game with a large amount of frustration as a few close calls did not go his way. He was visibly upset after every missed point and looked worse for wear. He was no longer moving as well as he did in the previous two games. His fatigue combined with Waselenchuk’s offensive weaponry meant he scored very little and seemed more focus on the calls than on the game itself. He switched to his left hand for one point and then tried to hand the referee his racquet. His mind was clearly out of the game and his body followed suit. Waselenchuk rolled to victory, 11-3.

Quarterfinal Match Recaps

by Tim Prigo

Kane Waselenchuk def. Marco Rojas 11-2, 11-0, 11-0

Game one- Waselenchuk started the game with a serve-return-kill rally. It was evident early on that Waselenchuk’s drive serves were jumping off the paneled front wall with astonishing pace. He was able to throw Rojas off early by hitting thunderous 180mph drive serves followed by 5mph ‘dinks’ into the corners. At 5-2, Rojas was able to side-out Waselenchuk many times but could never find the serve to capitalize on his efforts. After two consecutive Waselenchuk aces, Rojas called time-out. Waselenchuk never looked back and closed out the game with two more aces upon time resuming. 11-2.

Game two- Waselenchuk began game two with an ace. This was followed by two serves that Rojas put into the ground. 3-0.  Waselenchuk cruising, working every point off his serve, was not only carrying over the momentum from the first game but also building on it. At 6-0 Rojas tried to put some water on the red hot Waselenchuk by taking a time-out but had no such luck. Waselenchuk continued his onslaught of drive serves to both corners. Ace after ace continued to fall. Waselenchuk closed out the game to the tune of 11-0. He did so with six aces and three serve-return-kill rallies, meaning he only rallied twice.

Game three- The master class display continued into game three as Waselenchuk touched, passed and splatted kill-shots from everywhere on the court. Young Rojas looked deflated and perhaps a bit out of his element, as he had no answers to any of Waselenchuk’s shots. The most impact he made on the match is when he took his time-outs. At 7-0, Waselenchuk hit an ace to the Rojas forehand followed by an ace to the backhand. At 10-0 Rojas looked as if he wanted to be off the court and Waselenchuk obliged him by hitting an ace to the backhand side. Rojas scored only one point the entire match, serving only a handful of times. The question now would be, with Waselenchuk in such form; can anyone give him a game, much less a match? 11-0, Waselenchuk.

Rocky Carson def. Charlie Pratt 11-1, 11-9, 11-6

Game one- Carson started the match with four easy points as Pratt struggled to find his footing, putting a number of his set-ups into the ground. Though Carson was not doing anything particular spectacular in the first game, he did not skip and kept the pressure on Pratt with good gets and hard down the line passes. Pratt, unable to find any sort of groove, took a time-out down 7-1. Carson shot better after the time-out and much to Pratt’s dismay scored points at a faster rate. Carson ran away with game one against a frustrated Charlie Pratt, 11-1.

Game two- Pratt was the one who came out firing at the start of the second. He had turned some of the first game frustration into focused energy and was clearly hitting the ball with purpose to go up 4-0. Pratt, though not acing Carson, was able to earn defensive ceiling ball returns from many of his serves. Carson did not let the game get away from him as he reverted to his tried and true method of stretching out the game. Meaning he took longer between serves to ready himself and then would purposely hit defensive shots like his ‘around the worlds’ in order to lengthen rallies and work himself back into the game. This strategy proved to have high potency as it forced a Pratt time-out after Carson scored four consecutive points to tie the game, 4-4. Pratt was able to persevere through Carson’s stall tactics and found his offense again to score points. At 7-7, Carson hit a number of drive serves to Pratt’s backhand that garnered weak returns. This serving flourish was enough to give Carson the lead at 9-7. On the following rally, Pratt was able to get the side-out by hitting a dink kill shot sliding into the ball on his knees. Pratt now found the serving rhythm, banking two points of his own from hard passes. At 9-9, it was Carson who struck first, finding a serve-return-kill rally and then closing out the game with a backhand ace. 11-9, Carson.

Game three- Carson continued to play solidly and got up to a 4-1 lead. Pratt again appeared frustrated as Carson continued to mount steam. Carson was able to set himself up from slap z serves to the left hand side. Pratt was able to score a few points when his backhand woke up but he was never able to fully control center court. Carson had Pratt on the run for most of the third game and skipped only two balls. This led to a game three and match victory in favor of the California native, 11-6.

Alvaro Beltran def. Jansen Allen 9-11, 11-2, 11-4, 11-5

Game one- Both players traded blows for much of the first game. Beltran depending on his high lob wallpaper serve and Allen relying on his half upright casual drive serve. Though not high in intensity, both players executed well in the first game. Allen did well to put Beltran in uncomfortable positions, often time mirroring Beltran’s style. He also did this by copying Beltran’s lob serve towards the end of the game. At 9-9, Allen hit a slap pass down the right hand side for his first game point. In the next rally Beltran gave him a wide-open set-up in the backcourt for the game that he skipped. This left many thinking he might have blown his chance to clinch this very important game one. But Allen showed his resilience and was able to hold Beltran at 9, regain the serve, and close out the game from a backhand splat. 11-9.

Game two- Beltran came out on the offensive, scoring quickly. He employed a drive serve to Allen’s backhand and increased the velocity of his shots by what appeared to be at least 50 percent. Beltran played impressively, from his serves to his offense to shooting everything hard and having a strong mental game. He was in complete control of the second game, winning in dominant fashion, 11-2.

Game three- This game was characterized by long, slow, methodical rallies. Though silently, Beltran had certainly found his sweet spot, as evidence from the second game. He continued to play with a brimming intensity. Mixing up his serves and rarely resorting to defensive shots Beltran was able to pull in front at 6-2. Allen made the game interesting by crushing shoulder high shots into the corners for winners in impressive manner. The total time of this game topped off around the 30-minute mark. This was much to Allen’s credit as though he trailed the entire distance, he hit many rally lengthening shots. He sided out Beltran at least 20 times. Beltran eventually overcame, 11-4.

Game four- Another highly contested, long start of a game. Allen continued to look strong but left many more of his shots up for Beltran to put away than in previous games. Allen, down 7-4, and sensing that he was in danger of losing the match, called a time-out. Allen’s body language left few of his thoughts to the imagination as his shoulders began to wave the white flag. Beltran, started slowly. No surprise there, but what was interesting in watching the match develop was that Beltran was able to play at a high level consistently throughout the match from game two on. At 8-5, Beltran hit a running reverse pinch off the backhand, from an over-hit Allen pass. Beltran won the game 11-5 to move onto the semifinals.

Daniel De La Rosa def. Jose Rojas 11-5, 11-8, 11-10

Game one- As anticipated, the two looked equally seated to begin the match. Neither De La Rosa nor Rojas could go up by more than a point or two. This was much to the delight of the onlookers as they were treated to some highly contested diving get rallies. De La Rosa looked his usual calm, yet springy, self and Rojas proved his quickness early on, making some diving off the back wall gets. The first break in the action came after Rojas skipped two important balls that put De La Rosa up 8-5. Time-out called. This time-out was the correct call as Rojas was able to regain the serve. De La Rosa seemed to be leaving the ball up slightly more after the time-out as well, but Rojas was unable to seize the moment and close out on any points. De La Rosa eventually tightened up and put the game away. 11-5, De La Rosa.

Game two- Rojas started the second game red hot. Making bold attempts to bring down balls from chest high and hitting a shot between his legs. All these attempts came out for winners as the momentum was now with the dictating Rojas. De La Rosa looked perhaps a bit flat compared to the first game but it was his opponent’s excellence rather than his misses that put him in the hole. At 5-2, Rojas found success with high lobs to the De La Rosa forehand. He was able to get 3 points out of these exchanges. It appeared that Rojas was going to run away with this game but by the time he hit 8-5, De La Rosa stalled him. A fire was lit underneath the young Mexican star as he began to change the tide of the game. One important turning point for De La Rosa was during a rally that he had two back-to-back amazing diving gets on. This pressured Rojas as he left the ball up the following shot and De La Rosa put it away. This would have put Rojas up 9-5 but instead it brought De La Rosa to the box where he scored a devastating nine straight points against a clearly stunned Rojas.

Game three- Rojas shot out to a 3-0 lead and much like in the first game he could only hold this lead a short time before De La Rosa’s excellent play began to gain steam. De La Rosa went on a five point run, working off his ‘walking’ drive serve, where he would take two steps forward before hitting the ball. Rojas fought back valiantly, not wanting to lose in three, dialing in his forehand to score four straight points. The score now read 7-5 Rojas. It looked like Rojas might be able to close this game as he scored yet another point from a commanding backhand off the back wall. Rojas cooled and skips ensued. Rojas skipped, with the exception of one De La Rosa kill, his opponent’s lead went from 5 to 9. Would Rojas let another game get away from him? He regrouped quickly enough to reach 10 first, but before he could close it out De La Rosa met him there. At 10-10, Rojas delivered a huge skip to De La Rosa for his first match point. De La Rosa did not hesitate to put the next point away as he hit the right hand line hard for the match winning shot. 12-10.

Round of 16s

Rocky Carson def. Eduardo Garay 11-5, 11-4, 11-0

Charlie Pratt def. Robert Collins 11-8, 11-6, 11-5

Jose Rojas def. Scott McClellan 11-0, 11-2, 11-0

Daniel De La Rosa def. Eddie Sada 11-4, 11-3, 11-0

Alvaro Beltran def. Javier Mar 5-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-5

Jansen Allen def. Coby Iwaasa 11-9, 11-5, 4-11, 9-11, 11-8

Marco Rojas def. Tim Landeryou 11-3, 11-5, 0-11, 11-2

Kane Waselenchuk def. Jody Morris 11-2, 11-0, 11-4

Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internacional brings the IRT to The Rio Grande Valley

By Don Grigas

The Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internacional will bring the world’s elite pros to the Health & Kinesiology Club of the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. Pro matches start streaming at 10 am Friday CST on the IRTNetwork.com. Notably missing from the draw is #5 ranked Ben Croft, who is recuperating from shoulder surgery.

The “H & K Club” boasts a strong international flavor as many players will cross the border from Mexico to compete with the professionals. “There is a strong racquetball community in the Rio Grande Valley, which is in southern Texas, pretty far away from other racquetball hot beds in the state like San Antonio, Austin, or Dallas,” said JoAnna Reyes, Tournament Director and Director of ProKennex Player Operations. “I have been traveling there for the last 10 years, and it has a great nucleus of players. Many top players from Mexico have played in the H & K Club amateur tournaments, including #4-ranked Daniel De La Rosa, who has been very instrumental in promoting racquetball in the region.”

It’s hard to mention promoting racquetball in the state without mentioning others who make it happen. 9-time #1, Kane Waselenchuk, has offered public clinics, like one for 120 Brownsville high school students in 2008 and, together with his wife, Kim Russell Waselenchuk, spearheading the effort to bring the Krowning Moment Pro Invitational, a tier 1 tournament and fundraiser held in tandem with the Bobcat Open in San Marcos, Texas, opening the 2014-2015 season.

“I am an ambassador for racquetball no matter where I am. I want to see the sport get the coverage it deserves,” Waselenchuk said. “Calling Texas my home the last 13 years means I would do anything to make Texas racquetball better. It is nice to see pro racquetball back in Texas.”

Edinburg may seem a remote racquetball outpost, but world-class facilities and the group of supporters help make it happen, including Dr. Zasha Romero, Mary Lou Trindad, Eddie Sada, Guillermo Quintanilla, Aby Throttiyil, Michael Perez. “There is a real buzz around Edinburg about the upcoming pro stop,” said Romero, racquetball advocate and advisor to the H & K Club of University of Texas-Pan American, a community service club that will benefit from the event. “This is a tremendous venue for a tournament. Between the university’s eight courts and the three at the nearby Wellness & Recreational Sports Complex we have great capacity for hosting tournaments,” Romero said.

The amateur tournament has grown from a few dozen players several years ago to about 60 or 70. “It has been a pleasure to see racquetball grow here like it has,” said Romero, who served in the U.S. Navy and was an avid racquetball player until a few years ago. Romero credits the hard work of Reyes for bringing the pros to the H & K Club Amateur Open, and says the exposure to top-flight racquetball and having local amateurs rub elbows with the pros will be a shot in the arm for South Texas racquetball enthusiasts.

“I know the dedicated players are really looking forward to watching the pros because not many have the time and resources to drive to San Antonio or Dallas. Perhaps just as important is the opportunity for those who have never played racquetball, or only played recreationally, to see the very best players in the world compete,” Romero added.

Highlights of the weekend also include a Clinic with Coach Jim Winterton in the Hospitality Village for players, a clinic for students and faculty with Kane Waselenchuk, and a free raffle ticket for your pick of an autographed racquet from your favorite top-8 IRT pro during the Saturday night “Meet and Greet the Pros” gathering.

For those at the top of the ranks, the Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internacional could go a long way in determining who eventually will be the number-one ranked player on the International Racquetball Tour – and lay claim to the title “World Champion” — once the 2014-2015 season ends. Two more tier one pro stops are scheduled following the Krowning Moment: the ProKennex Tournament of Champions and the Fresno IRT Summer Kickoff Pro/Am.

Going into south Texas, Rocky Carson holds a razor-thin two-point edge over Kane Waselenchuk, and a win for either player could provide the momentum needed to claim the top spot next month. Waselenchuk has been the Tour’s number-one ranked player each of the last six seasons, and the nine-time world champion makes it no secret he is motivated to re-claim the top spot entering the Internacional after missing tournaments last fall due to an inner-ear issue. Carson won three that Waselenchuk missed, and finished second to Waselenchuk in six other finals. Aside from withdrawing from a tournament due to injury after winning his first match, Waselenchuk has won every tournament he entered this season.

“I missed three events this season. Without missing those events, I can confidently say that I’d be number one right now. But it is what it is. All I can do is play and win and let the rest fall into place,” said Waselenchuk, a resident of Austin, TX.

Professional play will begin Thursday, April 30 and conclude with the finals on Saturday, May 2. Amateur players can tailor their weekend for doubles on Sunday or singles on Saturday. Organizers schedule the divisions in groups so all of the final matches are held before the pro final on Saturday night. All amateur tournament entrants will be able to watch pro matches, free of charge, via standing room only or live streaming on the IRTNetwork.com.

By Don Grigas 

Men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) contributor, 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 and works on other freelance projects.

Media Coverage

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