Top ranked Kane Waselenchuk defeated #5 Jose Rojas 12-10, 11-1, 11-6 in the 38th Annual Lewis Drug Pro Am Singles Final to sweep the first two tournaments of the second half of the 2015-2016 IRT season and win his third straight Lewis Drug Pro Am Title.
In The Lewis Drug Pro Am Doubles Championship Final Rocky Carson/Alvaro Beltran repeated as champions in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Carson/Beltran defeated Felipe Camacho/Daniel De La Rosa 15-7, 15-3.
Alvaro Beltran/Rocky Carson d Felipe Camacho/Daniel De La Rosa 15-7, 15-3
Singles Championship Final
#1 Kane Waselenchuk d #5 Jose Rojas 12-10, 11-1, 11-6
Singles Championship Final Recaps
Blog by Tim Prigo
Jose Rojas had been playing the best ball in perhaps his whole career leading up to the finals. As the weekend progressed he continually raised his level of play. With that considered, it is still a new test entirely, to play the sport’s most dominant athlete in Kane Waselenchuk. Rojas once again started red hot. He was able to get the jump on Waselenchuk largely by way of drive serving to his forehand. Waselenchuk had not yet calibrated his stroke and was leaving many balls up. Rojas capitalized on these opportunities putting all of these setups away. The game would take a heartbreaking turn for Rojas, who, at 10-2, was serving for the game. Three things contributed to Rojas’ loss of momentum. Waselenchuk switched to a lob serve (he had double faulted twice in the first game). Rojas fell onto his knee in the backcourt and appeared hobbled. Then a timeout occurred. These factors lead to the epic comeback of Waselenchuk or the tragic meltdown of Rojas, depending on perspective. Rojas skipped many balls, something he had not done all game. He missed all his attempts from the backcourt and Waselenchuk did not make any mistakes. Waselenchuk came back to take game one 12-10. He scored 10 straight unanswered points and then scored 10 more to start game two. By the time game two concluded Waselenchuk had gone on a 21-1 run, winning 11-1 in the second. Rojas’ window had closed and Waselenchuk took full control of the match. Whether it was the reality of the situation or not, Rojas appeared to have needed that first game as he was never able to return to his early match form. Rojas showed that, at his best, he was able to stand toe to toe with Waselenchuk. Rojas was not able to beat Waselenchuk nor was De La Rosa, but both young players at least showed that at their best they can contend with the greatest player in the sport. The question remains though, who can sustain that level of play for a full game, much more, a match.
#1 Kane Waselenchuk d #4 Daniel De La Rosa 11-3, 11-9, 11-2
#5 Jose Rojas Saturday d #2 Rocky Carson 11-1, 11-5, 11-9
Blog by Tim Prigo
The first semifinal of the weekend was a rematch of the 2015 US Open Final. In that match Daniel De La Rosa was suffering from extreme fatigue and muscle cramps, unable to piece together any sustainable offensive against Kane Waselenchuk. Saturday’s match saw a much healthier De La Rosa taking on the world #1. Both players were missing many early kill attempts in the first game. Waselenchuk kept the pressure high however, hitting monstrous down the lines that De La Rosa either unsuccessfully tried to poke into the corners or flipped up to the ceiling. Waselenchuk had not quite dialed in his offense, either on his serve or on his setups but De La Rosa did not make him pay as the pace of the ball was too much for him to turn his upper body on. Waselenchuk, though missing many pinches and shorting the majority of his first serves, took the first game. Waselenchuk opened up the second game double faulting and De La Rosa adjusted by hitting an off speed drive serve to the Waselenchuk backhand. This proved a successful formula as De La Rosa would come back to this serve time and time again, garnering setups for himself. Most impressively for De La Rosa is that he went bottom board on almost every third shot attempt and scored. De La Rosa was the first player in a long time that was not afraid to play physical with Waselenchuk. While no unsportsmanlike conduct occurred, both players were bumping one another, jostling for position. De La Rosa appeared unafraid and collected while Waselenchuk struggled to find a serve that worked. De La Rosa played extremely tight, never allowing himself to miss an easy shot. This put him in the driver’s seat to take game one up 9-6. However, as fate would have it, he bloodied his knee on a dive, forcing referee Tim Landeryou to call an injury timeout. This timeout would prove disastrous for De La Rosa as he was never able to score a single point after it. Waselenchuk was able to run five points quickly on a very flustered De La Rosa after the stop in action. In game three, again De La Rosa came out looking strong, scoring first. The heroic push in the second game had taken a lot of energy out of De La Rosa however and Waselenchuk was just beginning to heat up. Waselenchuk had struggled all match to find his service game and had missed many shots that he has grown accustomed to hitting. By the middle of the third game however, he came alive, flat rolling shot after shot. De La Rosa threw his body towards the ball on every photon blast from Waselenchuk’s racquet but that only prompted what appeared to be a serious muscle strain in his upper thigh/groin. The last couple points of the match, De La Rosa could barely walk much less compete. He barely tried to return serve on the last three or four points, looking satisfied to finally walk up and shake hands.
Jose Rojas took on Rocky Carson in the second semifinal. Rojas had only beaten Carson twice in his career and had never won in three games. Carson, on the other hand rarely (except against Waselenchuk) losses in three straight much less at all. Rojas, simply put, came swinging out of the gates, white hot. Rarely has any player, except perhaps for Waselenchuk, come off the block that perfectly. That is exactly what Rojas did however. He leveled every setup his way from everywhere on the court and was serving in a controlled yet powerful fashion. Four minutes into the match Carson called a timeout because he was already down 0-7. Upon time resuming, Rojas scored yet again, frustrating Carson so much that he hit the ball after the rally earning him the first technical of the tournament to make the score -1 to 7. Carson was able to score a few points as Rojas finally floated back down to earth but eventually succumbed to this very impressive blitz. The second game was not much different as Rojas continued to put away every loose ball. Carson began to play poorly, skipping shots he usually makes and letting the varied pace of Rojas’ passes throw off his footwork. To his credit, Rojas stayed extremely consistent and did not over hit. This even keeled style of play allowed Rojas to conserve his energy so that he could make spectacular diving gets when he needed to, picking up balls that Carson surely must have thought were winners. At 1-7 Carson called a timeout. This timeout was more fruitful than his first as he was able to change the tide of momentum in the match temporarily. Carson went on a good run but Rojas found his backhand down the line kills to thwart any sort of run. Rojas ended up winning the second game but the tempo of play seemed to have favored Carson going into the third. Carson was able to jump out to an early lead and hold for most of the game. He had severely slowed down the entire match and was able to earn a few weak setups from Rojas. At 3-7, Rojas called a timeout. Slowly but steadily, Rojas inched his way out of the hole, smashing reverse pinches into the corners. He also made some very athletic lunging gets in the frontcourt. Rojas was impressive. All through the match he appeared surefooted, athletic and mental prepared. His form was loose yet fundamentally sound and many eyebrows were raised as he held up his arms after winning match point as if to say, “I wonder what this guy can do tomorrow.” Rojas came from behind to take the game and the match in three.
Alvaro Beltran/Rocky Carson d Jansen Allen/Tony Carson 15-10, 15-13
Felipe Camacho/Daniel De La Rosa d Markie Rojas/Jose Rojas 15-3, 13-15, 11-7
Alvaro Beltran/Rocky Carson d Alejandro Herrera/Jeremy Best 15-4, 15-13
Jansen Allen/Tony Carson d Jake Bredenbeck/Jose Diaz 15-6, 10-15, 11-5
Markie Rojas/Jose Rojas d Cliff Swain/Charlie Pratt 13-15, 15-14, 11-8
Felipe Camacho/Daniel De La Rosa d Mario Mercado/Sebastian Franco 10-15, 15-10, 11-6
Doubles Round of 16s
Mario Mercado/Sebastian Franco d Jordan Barth/Justus Benson 15-7, 15-8
Alejandro Herrera/Jeremy Best d James Landeryou/Lee Connell 15-10, 15-12
Kane Waselenchuk d Markie Rojas 11-3, 11-1, 11-7
Rocky Carson d Jansen Allen 11-3, 11-4, 11-2
Daniel De La Rosa d Felipe Camacho 11-7, 11-7, 11-7
Jose Rojas d Alvaro Beltran 7-11, 11-3, 11-8, 11-9
Blog by Tim Prigo
This year’s Lewis Drug Pro Am tournament saw a particularly deep draw as the players and fans gathered to the courts on Thursday afternoon. Making it to the quarterfinals in this event was no easy feat and many top pros had their hands full with world class Round of 16s opponents. Markie Rojas had perhaps the most trying match of the entire day as he and Charlie Pratt went 12-10 in the fifth game. Rojas survived the match to earn the right to play Kane Waselenchuk in the first quarterfinal of the evening. Waselenchuk yet again was far too much of a force to lose or get close to losing a single game to Rojas. Waselenchuk appeared to be hitting the ball harder than he had prior this season, this in part was due to the fast playing courts, but also a praise on Waselenchuk’s health late in the tournament schedule. Rojas was skipping a lot of balls, most notably detrimental to the score-line for him were those that he hit on his serve returns. While Waselenchuk worked in six aces in the match at least double that were scored from Rojas’ inability to catch up with the serve and hitting them into the floor. Rojas did have moments were he was able to move Waselenchuk into the backcourt and tie him up along the back glass but he could never find a serve that worked. Waselenchuk exhibited his return of serve mastery, a part of his game that is often overlooked, killing nearly every drive serve hit to him. Waselenchuk skipped very few and impressed many courtside with his cerebral anticipation, walking up to sit on many of Rojas’ splats well before they hit the front wall.
Rocky Carson is only second to Waselenchuk in high-level consistency. He again proved his marks against Jansen Allen in the second quarterfinal. Carson played with his usual flaws, rallying too long, not hitting his drive serves as hard as he could etc., but those are just flecks on a large tapestry of a racquetball guru. To beat Carson, you will need to beat him your self, he will in no way aid you. Allen started the match looking a bit more lethargic than normal. His normal silky stroke and effortless gliding around the court appeared more like flails and his output seemed more in line with apathy than strategy. Allen had some decent stretches of play but ultimately skipped or left up too many and did not seem to have his feet solidly under him the entire evening. Towards the end of the match, the usual soft-spoken Allen, was visibly shaken and verbally aired his frustration over calls. By the time match point rolled around, he was cooked and it was clear to see he had accepted defeat.
Daniel De La Rosa looked to thoroughly enjoy his time in the court for the third quarterfinal of the night, taking on Felipe Camacho. Camacho, who is having the best season of his professional career advanced to yet another quarterfinal, is a worthy adversary for any touring player but in this match he played perfectly into De La Rosa’s game plan. Both players hard Z served each other during the first game and up until around 6-6 it stayed tight. The biggest takeaway from when De La Rosa made his push to the finish line was that he never had any sustained pressure on him. True, Camacho retrieved many difficult balls but he could not do anything with them, giving De La Rosa setups. More troubling for Camacho is that he almost only won rallies when De La Rosa skipped. Each game followed a very similar procedure, the two would have long exchanges where De La Rosa would control center court and then somewhere around the score at six’s De La Rosa would put his foot on the gas and put Camacho away. This match seemingly set up De La Rosa for a good semifinal run as he got to hit many balls and move around the court but was never pushed to fatigue.
Both Alvaro Beltran and Jose Rojas had impressed in their Round of 16s matches. Beltran came into the match hot, continuing his run of good form, jumping out to a 7-2 lead. Rojas was not serving well to start the match and lost many side-outs from Beltran’s serve returns. Rojas was able to thwart Beltran’s momentum and extend the first game to almost 35 minutes though he eventually succumbed as Beltran finished Game 1 with some truly amazing shots, including a behind the back kill from 38 feet away. The second game was all Rojas who was able to find his serve, and his serve looked the best it had all year. He drove serve the ball hard and low all the while appearing to rely more on his form than his arm and shoulder. After a convincing Game 2 win, Rojas found himself in a hole, down late in Game 3. He started his comeback by hustling, continually surprising Beltran with diving gets and full body lunges. This put pressure on Beltran as he left the ball up or skipped many of these returns. It had the added affect of giving Rojas more and more confidence and fire. Rojas was composed but also explosive, picking his spots to expend his energy expertly. From late in the third and on Rojas begins to dominate. Moving athletically, not making unforced errors and playing gritty, Rojas displayed the promise of his talent.
Round of 16s
Kane Waselenchuk d Jose Diaz 11-3, 11-1, 11-5
Jansen Allen d Robert Collins 11-4, 11-7, 11-6
Rocky Carson d Troy Warigon 11-2, 11-3, 11-3
Jose Rojas d Tony Carson 11-9, 11-8, 11-3
Markie Rojas d Charlie Pratt 11-7, 6-11, 8-11, 11-3, 12-10
Daniel De La Rosa d Sebastian Franco 11-9, 11-9, 11-5
Felipe Camacho d Mario Mercado 11-8, 11-9, 6-11, 11-9
Alvaro Beltran d Jake Bredenbeck 11-3, 11-2, 12-10
Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athletes Troy Warigon, Jose Diaz, Jake Bredenbeck, Robert Collins, Sebastian Franco & Mario Mercado advanced to tomorrow’s Round of 16s.
Thursday Qualifying Results
Round of 32s
Jose Diaz d Alejandro Herrera 11-9, 8-11, 11-7, 11-2
Charlie Pratt d Lee Connell 12-10, 11-4, 11-4
Sebastian Franco d Tim Landeryou 11-8, 11-4, 11-10
Troy Warigon d Scott McClellan 11-1, 11-1, 11-6
Jake Bredenbeck d Matthew Majxner 11-1, 9-11, 12-10, 11-9
Mario Mercado d Jeremy Best 11-7, 11-2, 11-4
Robert Collins d Lee Meinerz 11-1, 11-4, 11-7
Tony Carson d Mauricio Zelada 11-6, 9-11, 9-11, 11-1, 13-11
Round of 64s
Lee Connell d Jonathan Justice 9-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-1
Tim Landeryou d Chris Exner 11-0, 11-7, 11-4
Jake Bredenbeck d James Landeryou 11-2, 11-4, 11-10
Tony Carson d Tanner Prentice 11-4, 11-2, 11-2
Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athletes competing in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at The Lewis Drug Pro Am this weekend are Jose Diaz, Jake Bredenbeck, Robert Collins, Mauricio Zelado, Sebastian Franco, Mario Mercado and Troy Warigon.
Lewis Drug Pro Am Becomes Full-Blown Tier One Event
The Lewis Drug ProAm – billed as the longest continuous running racquetball tournament in the nation – is an event many top International Racquetball Tour (IRT) pros say they would never miss despite being played in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in the dead of winter. This year’s Tour stop is scheduled to take place January 21–24 at the Sioux Falls Family YMCA. “I wouldn’t miss the Lewis Drug ProAm for anything,” said Rocky Carson, the Tour’s number two-ranked player who lives in Ladera Beach, CA. “It is that special.”
Over the years the tourney has gained the justified reputation for being an “old school” kind of tournament that cannot be matched when it comes to top competition, bread and circuses.
“We are the Gold Standard when it comes to tournaments,” said Mark Griffin, CEO of Lewis Drug. Lewis Drug and Griffin – an avid racquetball player and advocate – sponsor and fund the tournament. “It has been a great tournament since it began many years ago, and we haven’t changed that much over the years because it works, and players and fans alike love it,” Griffin said.
Begun as a regional amateur tournament 38 years ago, it became a Tier 2-5 pro stop several years ago. Now the tourney brings the world’s top pros to Sioux Falls each January, and it also is the centerpiece of the racquetball season in the Northern Plains region. This year it will also simultaneously host the South Dakota Amateur Racquetball Championships.
Over the last few years it has become a tournament that gets the ball rolling for the second half of the IRT season. Two years ago the tournament was designated a Tier One-Plus event. This time around the world’s best professional players have even more reason to brave the climes of Sioux Falls to participate in the 38th Annual Lewis Drug Pro-Am, which also features professional doubles.
The reason? It has now been designated as a full-blown Tier One event, with winners earning full points that go toward season end rankings. “This event will now be ranked as a full Tier One event, so the points are significant,” said Jason Mannino, IRT President. “Given the fact that this event was formerly a satellite event, as we converted it to a Tier One we wanted to do it slowly so the event didn’t lose its personal touch.”
Kane Waselenchuk, 10-time IRT year-end points leader, is the odds on favorite to win his third consecutive Lewis Drug title. As of press time he once again was the tour’s top points leader at 4,040, 380 ahead of Carson (3,660). Waselenchuk has won all five IRT pro stops he has played in this season.
Alvaro Beltran and Rocky Carson won the other two tournaments in which Waselenchuk was a no show: the Galaxy Custom Printing IRT Pro-Am and the Red Swain Shootout, respectively.
Beltran is ranked third so far this season with 2,694 points, and fourth-ranked Daniel De La Rosa has 2,526. Rojas ranks fifth with 2,185. All five played in last year’s event, and are expected to return, as well as a host of other top-ranked pros.
Last year Waselenchuk defeated Carson 11-5, 11-5, 11-1 in the finals. Rojas lost to Carson and Waselenchuk beat Ben Croft in the semifinals. Beltran and De La Rosa each made it to the quarterfinals last year.
The pros love Sioux Falls
The pros love to win and earn points, but this particular tournament provides so much more, including — as Mannino says — a “personal touch” not experienced at other pro stops along the way. Mannino cites the tournament’s “cozy, home-cooking” atmosphere for one of the reasons the pros appreciate traveling to Sioux Falls. “The hospitality is the best I have ever seen, not just the Saturday night banquet, but on every day of the tournament,” he said.
Carson said the tournament’s banquet and prize drawing is a special feature the tour pros look forward to each winter. One year Carson won a drill gun, and prizes such as computers, electronics and tools are not uncommon. If prizes are too cumbersome to be taken home on an airplane, Griffin and his staff arrange for the packages to be shipped free of charge.
“The players – pros and amateurs alike – who attend the banquet, appreciate the prize drawings because you never know what you might win. Before the tournament several thousand dollars worth of items are collected out of The Lewis Drug inventory and are raffled off at the dinner,” said Mark Gibbs, co-director of the tournament.
The banquet itself is a lavish, catered affair open to all tournament entries – pros and amateurs alike – free of charge. Guests can attend for a nominal fee of only $15. “It is such a unique experience the pros really love it,” Gibbs said. “It is a very relaxed environment.”
Many pro stops feature a special “players village” where pros and spectators can mingle. Not so at the Lewis Drug, where players are easily accessible each day of the tournament. “Throughout the tournament you will see the pros sitting in the stands watching matches with players and fans,” Gibbs said. “They stay for hours and are approachable, and fans and players enjoy the interaction. It is a throwback tournament environment.”
Fans respond by watching the pros play in every round, even qualifying play. “The stands are always packed each day, not just for the semifinals or finals,” Mannino said.
Spectators are not charged to watch live matches, according to Troy Stallings, tourney co-director. “That is just another personal touch that Mark (Griffin) provides that promotes racquetball,” Stallings said. “The sport needs more Mark Griffins.”
Many years ago Griffin and tournament organizers came up with a novel idea to add another dimension to the tour: a professional doubles bracket. It has become a prime attraction to both players and fans alike.
Two years ago Waselenchuk and Mannino teamed up to win the first Lewis Drug Professional Doubles Title in a thrilling 11-9 tiebreaker against Carson and Rojas. A few weeks later Carson and Rojas won the USA Racquetball Men’s Doubles US Team Qualifier.
“We pioneered pro doubles,” Stallings said. “More and more of the pros enter that bracket because it is a great tune up for the national doubles tournament a few weeks after our tournament. Even Kane has enjoyed playing doubles because, as dominant as he is in singles, doubles at this level really makes him work. Two years ago, after he and Jason won 11-9 in the tiebreaker, Kane came off the court and just laid down. He was exhausted.”
Last year Carson and Beltran won another cliffhanger, this time over Waselenchuk and Croft 15-13, 15-14.
LEWIS DRUG TOURNEY TIDBITS
- Kane Waselenchuk will try and win his third consecutive Lewis Drug Title
- Carson has been to the finals three of the last four years
- Matches to be televised at IRTNetwork.com
- Ball will be the Penn-HD Purple
- IRT pro matches to be played at the Sioux Falls Family YMCA; amateur matches scheduled for satellite clubs in Sioux Falls
- No admission charge to watch the pros compete
- The ProAm is scheduled for Thursday night; any pro qualifying will take place Thursday afternoon
- Two glass walled courts feature seating for 300 and 80 linear feet of viewing through glass side walls from bleachers; the YMCA also has two other viewing courts
- The 2016 South Dakota Amateur State Championships will also take place during the tournament
- Average high temperature in Sioux Falls in late January: 26 degrees (Fahrenheit); average low: seven degrees
- Average temperatures for Tempe, AZ – where the US National Doubles will take place Feb. 10-14 – high of 69 degrees, low of 39 degrees
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.