The last couple of men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) seasons have shown interesting trends. First, the number of younger players entering the draws and playing multiple tournaments is on the rise. Second, the number of those younger players occasionally sneaking into the later rounds is also on the rise. Those two items are certainly related. The more exposure a developing player gets to play at the top level of this sport pays dividends down the road. If the trend continues, fans can look forward to increased depth on tour with solid play for years to come.
There are several players down the rankings who deserve notable mentions for the 2013-2014 season. Tour veteran Hiroshi Shimizu played in over 70% of the tier one events after playing only a handful the last several seasons. David Horn made one quarterfinal appearance along with multiple round of sixteen showings. Cliff Swain played four events and made it to the semifinal at the Michigan tourney. Jose Diaz played over 70% of the tier one events, and despite being unable to advance past the round of sixteen, he improved his overall ranking for the third straight season and is knocking on the door of the top ten. Charlie Pratt rebounded after an injury-riddled 2012-2013 season. He played almost every tier one, but had results all over the place ranging from round of thirty-two exits all the way to the first semifinal appearance of his career.
#10 Marco Rojas:
Marco played almost every event last season and worked his way into the top ten. His first real stint on tour was the 2012-2013 season in which he got to the round of sixteen in all except one event. He even pushed through to a couple of quarterfinals and one semifinal. The 2013-2014 season was very similar, including a semifinal appearance, but the noticeable improvement was more quarterfinal appearances.
Marco’s progress has been steady and consistent. Hard work has gotten him into the top ten. As he looks up the ladder, competition is going to be fierce. The rest of the group ahead of him is solid. Expect Marco to keep chipping away and advancing notch by notch. For this season, Marco is going to need stay healthy and play all of the events, shed himself of any round of thirty-two exits, push to the quarterfinals most of the events, and try to get a handful of semifinal appearances.
#9 Jansen Allen:
Jansen rocketed up the ranks, from #17 last season to the #9 spot by the end of 2013-2014. Jansen played a lot of the events in 2012-2013, getting to many round of sixteen appearances and one quarterfinal. He still hasn’t pushed into a semifinal round, but what helped his 2013-2014 season overall was his ability to get consistently deeper in the draws. Jansen played every tier one event and got past the round of thirty-two each time. Only three times his tournament ended in the round of sixteen, as Jansen became a regular quarterfinal fixture.
The group of competitors ahead of him is going to be tough to leapfrog, but it all starts with staying healthy and playing all of the events. If he can continue to get into the quarterfinals and push into a semifinal or two, we’ll probably see him inch up a little further in the rankings.
#8 Tony Carson:
Tony held on to his top 8 ranking, edging out Jansen Allen by a mere 31 points. The 2012-2013 season was consistent for Tony with him not finishing worse than the round of sixteen a couple times but not better than quarterfinals in the rest of them. The key that season was playing all but a handful of events. Tony’s 2013-2014 was similar only having two round of sixteen exits. The season highlight was a semifinal appearance in Tampa during the Florida Spring Break IRT ProAm.
This season Tony is going to be fighting those up-and-coming players behind him just as much as the solid core ahead of him. He has had several impressive seasons and can build on that. Maintaining his top eight position so that he doesn’t have to qualify for the main draw is key. This will help him limit some wear and tear and hopefully stay healthy enough to play most of the events. Making all of the quarterfinals and pushing into a couple semifinals is what Tony needs to do to increase his ranking this season.
#7 Ben Croft:
Ben’s position as business manager at Racquetball Warehouse hasn’t slowed him down on the court. A shoulder injury suffered during the 2013 Garden City Turkey Shootout did, but he finshed strong in Portland during the ProKennex Tournament of Champions.
Each season he makes several semifinal appearances which helps him keep his ranking. Staying on the court and working through his injury maybe enough to notch a few more wins, and nudge Crowther who’s ahead of him in the rankings by a mere 38 points.
#6 Chris Crowther:
Despite slipping a spot from #5 last season, Chris has finished in the top eight every year since the 2009-2010 season. Chris has been keeping himself in great shape and continues to string together impressive seasons. Chris hasn’t appeared in any finals the last couple seasons, but he will normally make a semifinal or two and appear in most quarterfinals. The 2013-2014 season was no exception with one semifinal, three early exits in the round of sixteen, and eight quarterfinals.
With Chris moving into his mid/late thirties, he has to put in extra effort to keep his back in one piece and have the ability to compete at the top level. With losing records against most of the players ahead of him, Chris faces an uphill battle moving up in the rankings this season as he will also be trying to fend off other players trying to overtake him. The magical formula is going to be similar to the other top players: get to every quarterfinal and push into some semifinals.
#5 Daniel De La Rosa:
If his name isn’t familiar to you yet, it will be soon. Barely twenty-one years of age, Daniel had an exceptional season last year and jumped from #9 on tour to #5. He generates exceptional power for his size and notched several impressive upsets last season. Finishing #9 on tour for the 2012-2013 season was impressive considering he only played half of the events. Last season he played almost every event and finished no worse than the quarterfinals. He advanced to three semifinals and even made one final.
Daniel is still several years away from his athletic prime. How good can he be? Good. Real good. Fans are clamoring to see how his 2014-2015 season unfolds. His jump in ranking should help get him more favorable draws and the ability to focus on those guys ahead of him. If Daniel can continue to make every quarterfinal, push to half of the semifinals, and get to a couple of finals we could see him plant as a fixture in the top four.
#4 Jose Rojas:
Jose finished in the top four for the third straight season. Last season started off with a bang as he won the first event by upsetting Kane in the semifinals and Rocky in the finals. Fans wondered if this was going to be Jose’s year and if he was coming into his own. He went off the rails a bit following his big win up with a quarterfinal exit and then a round of sixteen upset in the next couple events. He rebounded with semifinals or better the next several events but ended with a mixture of results the rest of the season ranging from finals to the round of sixteen. He did play every event, and the overall results were similar to the season prior, but we didn’t necessarily see a strong step forward like we first thought.
Jose is still young and getting better. Consistency will be the key for him to push forward in the rankings. The last two seasons he has experienced a couple of round of sixteen exits, and he needs to lock those down if he looks to move up in the rankings. If he can shift those couple upsets from the round of sixteen to the quarterfinals it will make a huge difference. Last season he made the semifinals in almost half of the events he played, and he needs to keep that pace. He made a couple finals last season, and that frequency will need to increase as well if Jose is going to push forward.
#2 Alvaro Beltran:
This maybe a first, with two players tied for the #2 spot. Alvaro has been pushing #2 Rocky Carson after climbing back up the ranks from knee surgery. Considered by most to be the best player on tour never to have captured a tier one, the monkey came off his back in Michigan as he defeated Daniel De La Rosa for the 2013 Red Swain Shootout title. Beltran played every event last season and improved his overall results from the prior season. Only twice during the 2013-2014 schedule Alvaro wasn’t able to get past the quarterfinals. He was a mainstay making nine of eleven semifinals, and five of eleven finals.
Alvaro has now finished better than third in the season-ending rankings. If he is able to continue his consistent results he stands a chance. If he is able to play all the events and do no worse than the semifinals he’ll give himself a good foundation. Since he’ll line up against Rocky most events, he can control his own destiny and advance if he is able to win most of those matchups.
#2 Rocky Carson:
The tour’s current iron man, Rocky has played every stop the last four seasons. He keeps himself in such exceptional shape it is hard to believe that he is in his mid-thirties. Rocky has been one of the most consistent performers on Tour. He finished in the top eight each of the last fifteen seasons, finished in the top three each of the last eight seasons, and held the number two spot each of the last four seasons. A lone quarterfinal upset marred last season that otherwise had Rocky in ten of eleven semifinals and six of eleven finals. He also notched a tier one win in Garden City by defeating Alvaro during the Garden City Turkey Shootout.
Rocky shows little sign of slowing down, and fans will be watching to see if and how Alvaro can beat him in head-to-head competition as he battles to own the #2 spot. Despite getting more cracks at it than anybody else, Rocky hasn’t been able to figure the riddle of the #1 player, Kane Waselenchuk. So, unless he is able to avoid injuries and simply stay on the court for more events than Kane and make up ranking points that way, he looks stuck in his current position.
#1 Kane Waselenchuk:
The era of dominance continued with Kane finishing #1 for the sixth straight season and ninth of the last ones that he has played. Before the upset by Jose in Kansas City to start last season, you’d have to go all the way back to the 2010-2011 season to find the last time Kane didn’t make a final. He rebounded after a disappointing opening to the season by not only winning the US Open, but notching a record-breaking 71st top tier win to further cement his place in the sport’s history.
When he plays he dominates. Kane’s worst enemy is his own body and holding off injuries to stay on the court at full strength. It would be hard to not consider Kane the heavy favorite heading into this season. Despite dropping more games than we’ve seen in recent years, he still remains a cut above the rest. A true perfectionist, look for a renewed Kane to focus on dominating the field yet again, targeting a perfect season, and finishing #1 while adding to his records that we may never see broken.
By Bryan Shaw
Bryan Shaw is a CPA from St. Louis. He was first introduced to racquetball in college and was immediately hooked as a junkie.