Kane Closes First Half of Season in St. Louis with Victory

mohsra logoTop ranked Kane Waselenchuk beat #2-ranked Rocky Carson 11-2, 11-5, 11-2 in The St. Louis Pro Racquetball Winter Rollout Championship Final to close out the first half of the 2015-2016 IRT Season with five titles. 

St. Louis Pro Racquetball Winter Rollout Draw

Championship Final Results

Blog by Tim Prigo

Kane Waselenchuk and Rocky Carson had the chance to play in front of a large crowd. One that consisted primarily of junior racquetball players. The hopefuls looked on with anticipation as they would be seeing the two best players in the world battle on center stage. The thoughts going through their minds during the match must have included the notion of how much better Kane Waselenchuk is. For perspective, Rocky Carson could play any event on any tour and face off against any player in the world, besides Waselenchuk, and win. Carson may lose a match here or there to Beltran or De La Rosa, but he is by far, the most dominant #2-ranked player the world of racquetball has ever seen. Carson is extremely athletic and gifted with the racquet. He pushes his opponents to exhaustion, all the while, never seeming to even break a sweat. There is however, one mountain he cannot climb and it is not due to fitness or training but rather to styles. He does not play like the former #1’s do, that is to say, he is a rallier. Sudsy Monchik, Cliff Swain and Kane Waselenchuk have a huge commonality when examining each of them at their peak. Almost every shot they take is to end the rally. Waselenchuk like his predecessors wastes very little effort in ‘setting up’ the offense, they just go for it. They have all played bang’em up racquetball, and played it extremely well. Ceiling balls to these players are last ditch options, not strategic endeavors. The idea is that every possible shot is the last shot of a rally with a heavy reliance on power. Waselenchuk’s touch game in the front court is only so effective because he hits the ball so powerfully, forcing his opponents back and making them think the next shot is coming in at 160 mph. Carson on the other hand plays a game with another kind of beauty. Carson seems excited and a little surprised when he scores an ace serve while Waselenchuk looks expectant. Carson will grind his opponents down while Waselenchuk will simply behead them.  No one has played rally racquetball as well as Rocky Carson and no one has played bang’em up racquetball as good as Kane Waselenchuk. The lesson to this: Waselenchuk’s style will always win when played at the highest level. The match on Saturday night went similarly to others in the season with Waselenchuk going up big and Carson occasionally making an impotent late game push. A few close calls went against Carson in the second and third games but he had already lost appeals on lesser questions. He also accidentally hit the ball out of the court and received a technical. He served a few too many times to the forehand of Waselenchuk when he should have been sticking with the backhand drives, where he was able to gather points. However, if he had changed all of these things he still would not have won as Waselenchuk’s big serves set him up to destroy the ball into the corners time and time again. Waselenchuk was turning on the ball like he was a designated hitter and doing so with a sense of anger and urgency while Carson stayed compact with his swings and played within himself. Far too within himself.

Championship Final Results

Kane Waselenchuk d Rocky Carson 11-2, 11-5, 11-2

Semifinal Match Results

Blog by Tim Prigo

Rocky Carson, whose play could best be described as turbulent in his quarterfinal, found his form in the semifinal. Mario Mercado on the other hand, had played arguably the best ball of his life on Friday but struggled deeply against the world #2-ranked player on Saturday. This match more closely resembled a Kane Waselenchuk-esque skunking than Carson’s usual battles of attrition. This meant few errors, big serves landing for aces and lots of three shot rallies. Between games one and two Carson only made four unforced errors, compare that with Mercado only tallying four winners in those games and the disparity was large. Carson gained comfort-ability, which lead to even better shot making while Mercado grew more and more disheartened, barely able to return serve. The second game was Carson’s best, winning 11-0. He had an 80 percent first serve success rate and dropped in five aces. Another five points he scored via serve-return-kill rallies. Meaning, there was only one four shot or more rally when Carson was serving. Carson played very offensively in the first two games, never allowing Mercado to get into the flow of the rallies. The third game however, was more of a return to the norm for Carson as he intentionally extended rallies and hit slap Z serves. This allowed Mercado chances to put the ball down and calibrate his swing, which had been woefully off. But with the pressure lifted, Mercado gained footing and got his head into the game. Though Carson still controlled the third game, it was not in the dominant (Kane-like) fashion he had displayed in the previous two and that is to be expected as Carson is still a better player than the 19-year-old Colombian/Bolivian upstart. Mercado got his first taste of a semifinal and of the caliber of player he would need to beat if he ever wants to go further in the draw. Exciting, talented and hopefully motivated, Mercado could (maybe) be a World #1-ranked Player someday. This loss against Carson has the potential to be one of the most educational experiences in his racquetball career if he so chooses.

Kane Waselenchuk on the other hand, never seems to take his foot off the gas, for any of his games in any of his matches. Although Daniel De La Rosa is pegged, by many, to be the next heir to Waselenchuk’s throne his time has not come as proved in the other semifinal of the day. De La Rosa did not play poorly but it was another display of the master class dominance that Waselenchuk is able to assert on the rest of the field seemingly at all times. De La Rosa was able to pull off some skillful kill shots from difficult angles to score points here and there but he never made a convincing argument that he could actually win the match. Furthermore, fuel has been added to the speculation surrounding the wellness of his back as he opted for lob serves, a strategy that has never worked against Waselenchuk.

Semifinal Results

Kane Waselenchuk d Daniel De La Rosa 11-4, 11-4, 11-9

Rocky Carson v Mario Mercado 11-2, 11-0, 11-4

In the second semifinal, #2-ranked Rocky Carson faced #17-ranked Bolivian Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athlete Mario Mercado. Mercado made his first career semifinals appearance and the first semifinals for a Bolivian born player.

Quarterfinals Match Recaps

Blog by Eric Mueller and Jen Sinclair Johnson

In the first quarterfinal Jose Rojas met Rocky Carson. Carson entered the match leading the head to head matchup 13-2. Rojas last won against Carson in 2013 and Carson just recently edged Rojas in the Red Swain Shootout Finals two weeks ago. Rojas started the match taking the first two games 11-6, 11-4 while playing superb high quality racquetball. Carson didn’t play bad just not as well as Rojas. Rojas jumped out to early leads in the first two games and successfully fended off late rallies by Carson. In game three, Rojas started playing Carson’s rally style game with Carson taking game three 12-10. Rojas looked to have the game to win the match leading 10-9 but Carson hit a side-out winner to get back in the service box and get back in the match. Rocky Carson continued to be vocal and talk, which he utilized, in game three and four to shift the momentum and tempo of the match. As the match progressed Carson kept increasing his ground taking game four 11-8 to force a fifth game tiebreaker. Carson was able to complete the comeback and took game four 11-1 in a match that looked to be a victory for Rojas.

Quarterfinal #2 between Canadian Kane Waselenchuk and USA Racquetball Team Member Jansen Allen was a polar opposite from the prior quarterfinal between Rojas and Carson. Waselenchuk played his game and dominated from start to finish. Allen didn’t look to be able to get anything going and Waselenchuk took the match in three games 11-2, 11-1, 11-4.

After two Reaching Your Dream Foundation athletes upset their Round of 16 opponents, excitement was high for quarterfinal #3 as two Bolivians, #13 Mauricio Zelada and #17 Mario Mercado, faced off for what would be either’s first pro semifinal. 

Game one was close throughout, tied at 3-3 and 4-4 before Mercado took the lead at 7-6, then 8-7 before pulling away for the 11-7 win. The younger player at 19 years old, Mercado seemed more mentally focused while Zelada seemed to be pushing too hard hitting the ball harder and faster, but with less control.

Mercado took control of game two from the start, notching points that left his opponent frustrated. Down 0-5, Zelada earned a trip to the serve box and his first point, and scored again after killing the ball by reaching it with a flying dive forehand. Zelada started a comeback at 4-7, then 5-7, but Mercado held him at 5 and never looked back, taking game two, 11-5.

From the beginning of game three, Zelada looked more relaxed and confident, winning an appeal of a short serve near the start of the game that led to a trip to the service box at 0-2. He didn’t convert the opportunity to a point, but the two players took turns pounding the ball until Zelada scored on a perfect down-the-line forehand shot that skimmed the sidewall. Zelada started controlling his shots more to tie the game at 2-2 and then pull ahead 4-2. He kept the momentum with a straightforward playing style, serious yet relaxed for at 5-4 lead. Zelada maintained his composure and nailed a pinch kill from the back court for the serve at 5-6, tying Mercado at 6-6, then 7-7. Mercado took a timeout that didn’t pay off. Zelada scored next—and eventually last for the game, 11-10.

Quarterfinal #4 and the last pro match of the evening saw the USA’s #8 Markie Rojas take on Mexico’s #4 Daniel De La Rosa. Rojas kept the game close until 7-8, but De La Rosa moved away from the drive serve to soft lobs, slowing the game down and forcing Rojas to think about his shots. He didn’t have the answer and De La Rosa won game one, 11-7.

De La Rosa’s lob serves continued to give Rojas trouble in Game 2. De La Rosa took a 3-0 lead on Rojas’ skips. During the next rally, Rojas sprinted for the ball, inadvertently knocking De La Rosa off his feet from the ankles, and leaving both players down on the hardwood. They needed a couple of minutes to get up, but neither competitor took a timeout, and the referee called a replay on the rally. De La Rosa continued to serve lobs, pulling ahead 5-0 as the two pounding returns for each other until De La Rosa put the ball down with a soft touch from mid-court, demonstrating great hand control and finesse. Rojas timeout. When play resumed, De La Rosa stuck with serving lobs and killing Rojas’ returns. At 10-0 De La Rosa skipped, but Rojas couldn’t convert. De La Rojas took game two, 11-0.

Rojas started the third game with a new approach, scoring first and keeping up with De La Rosa 2-2. But De La Rosa kept the ball down low with tight pinches to the front corners. Rojas didn’t have an answer. At 2-6 Rojas called a timeout. When he returned, Rojas tried a new strategy of cutting off the lob serve to earn a skip from De La Rosa. Rojas’ z-serve earned him another point. But Rojas couldn’t hold on against De La Rojas’ tight corner pinches, instead skipping and (at one point) sending a ball out of the court, giving up points. De La Rosa took the match at 11-3 on a pinch kill.

Quarterfinals Results

Rocky Carson d Jose Rojas 6-11, 4-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-1

Kane Waselenchuk d Jansen Allen 11-2, 11-1, 11-4

Mario Mercado d Mauricio Zelada 11-7, 11-5, 11-7

The third quarterfinal made IRT Tier 1 tournament history with the first-ever All-Bolivian quarterfinal with Reaching Your Dream Athletes Mario Mercado and Mauricio Zelada. Mercado made his first quarterfinal appearance and sought his first ever semifinal while Zelada was in his second quarterfinal and also seeking his first semifinal. 

Daniel De La Rosa d Markie Rojas 11-7, 11-0, 11-3

Round of 16s Results

Rocky Carson d Fernando Rios 11-4, 11-0, 11-1

Jose Rojas d Robert Collins 11-8, 11-3, 11-4

Kane Waselenchuk d Jeremy Best 11-4, 11-5, 11-4

Jansen Allen d Felipe Camacho 11-5, 11-2, 11-5

Mario Mercado d Alvaro Beltran 5-11, 15-13, 11-5, 7-11, 11-4

Mauricio Zelada d Charlie Pratt 11-6, 6-11, 11-9, 11-1

Markie Rojas d Matthew Majxner 11-5, 11-0, 11-3

Daniel De La Rosa d Maurice Miller 11-3, 11-1, 11-4

Thursday Qualifying Results

Four Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athletes (Robert Collins, Maurice Miller, Mario Mercado, Mauricio Zelada) advanced to tomorrow’s Round of 16s. 

Round of 32s

Jeremy Best d Troy Warigon 11-5, 7-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-4

Felipe Camacho d Hiroshi Shimizu 9-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-6

Matthew Majxner d Brian Simpson 11-9, 13-11, 15-13

Maurice Miller d Scott McClellan 11-2, 11-3, 11-9

Mario Mercado d Brian Pineda

Mauricio Zelada d Dylan Reid 13-11, 2-11, 11-6, 11-6

Fernando Rios d Filip Vesely 11-2, 11-3, 11-2

Robert Collins d Ryan Maher 11-4, 11-5, 11-4

Round of 64s

Hiroshi Shimizu d James DeMarco WBF – No Show

Mauricio Zelada, Robert Collins, Troy Warigon, Mario Mercado & Maurice Miller are this weekend’s Reaching Your Dream Foundation Athletes.

Pros and High Schoolers Compete Together in St. Louis for First Time

The St. Louis Pro Racquetball Winter Rollout, the final tournament in the first half of the 2015-2016 IRT season on the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT), will make history by combining the Missouri High School Racquetball Association (MOHSRA) with the top racquetball players of the IRT.

Another first occurred last season when Brian Pineda hosted an all pro doubles tournament in Long Beach, CA. The IRT has even partnered with college teams for fundraiser tournaments, but on Nov. 19-21, MOHSRA Director Dan Whitley and longtime St. Louis pro stop Tournament Director Shari Coplen will make racquetball history with the first-ever event marrying the St. Louis Winter Rollout, the longest running high school tournament in MOHSRA and largest junior tournament in the world, and the annual St. Louis Tier 1 tournament. “I’m just going to be so stunned when I see it.” Whitley said. “It’s going to be such a unique thing because we’ve never had anything like this. I’m fired up for it. I can’t even put it into words.”

Whitley’s goal is to bring together these two unique entities of MOHSRA and the IRT to benefit both organizations. “I think this could be the thing that just really triggers a spark in a kid’s head that they really want to apply themselves more or learn more about (racquetball),” he said.

Founded in 1979 at the Spalding Racquet Clubs, a chain of racquetball courts around St. Louis, MOHSRA benefitted from the rich racquetball history in Missouri and started when there was a gap in court time. “All the court hours were booked from like 5 a.m. till midnight with the exception of 3:30 to 5 in the afternoon,” Whitley said of the time after school ended. “The clubs were trying to figure a way to do something with the courts. They started having intramural matches with different high schools and then created a league with different levels.”

When Whitley started with MOHSRA in 2002 there was 325 high school racquetball players, today that number has grown to average between 400 and 500 participants each season with 13 boys teams and 11 girls teams.

The St. Louis Pro Racquetball Winter Rollout will see 400 to 450 junior players and has been on the high school schedule for over 30 years. The tournament tests each school team’s depth in seven divisions based on skill level (varsity and junior varsity). Cor Jesu Academy (girls) and St. Louis University High (boys) have swept the tournament the past three years. “It’s a great opportunity for the high school teams to showcase their abilities and for them to learn all the different perspectives on being the best in racquetball and being a professional,” Coplen said.

The tournament will take place at both the Vetta Sports Concord and Missouri Athletic Club West (MAC), with the pros competing at the MAC. There will be free viewing of all matches at both locations. The Vetta Sports Concord is home to MOHSRA and was where the league started. The club holds a bulk of the after school league matches as well as the Missouri state championship. The MAC features a glass-walled fishbowl looking stadium court with infinite viewing on all sides. It is the primary court when St. Louis hosts USA Racquetball National High School Championships. “How cool would it be to have that completely surrounded by kids and their families watching all these pros?” Whitley said while licking his chops in anticipation of the tournament. “I think this event is going to be really special because a lot of these kids have never seen anything like this. So there is just going to be more ‘oohs and aahs’ and jaws dropping and enjoyment of it.”

The St. Louis Pro Racquetball Winter Rollout will be played in memory of Pete Pierce, one of the pro stop’s biggest financial supporters. “Pete was the huge advocate for having the pros here in town,” Whitley said. “The fact that we are able to add to this event in his memory and make it something larger and hopefully more sustainable to be an event going forward. We want to recognize his contributions particularly if he didn’t help Shari, this event wouldn’t even be happening.”

Coplen has hosted The Party with the Pros event in St. Louis the past five seasons and Whitley credits her with holding the tournament together and being the reason why the pros still come to Missouri. Kane Waselenchuk won the third and fourth annual tournaments in 2012 and 2013 and Rocky Carson took the title last season.  Waselenchuk enters the tournament as the favorite after he captured his 11th UnitedHealthcare US Open but will look to make a statement after pulling out of last season’s tournament with an injury suffered at the prior US Open.

“We wanted to create a tradition for the pros and we really wanted to give role models and raise the perceived ceiling of how good a kid can become if they really apply themselves and train hard for the sport,” Whitley said. “We would hope that this is just the tip of the iceberg and eventually we can bring the women’s pro tour (LPRT) into this. That way we could have the top men and women competing in front of the kids.”

By Eric Mueller

Eric Mueller started working with the IRT after joining the 2014 UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships Media Team, where he garnered coverage for top racquetball pros and amateurs in their hometown media while also helping to provide updates to the racquetball community during the tournament. With a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Mueller also brings experience in sports reporting and news writing for newspapers like the Pioneer Press in St. Paul as well as the Southwest Journal and the Downtown Journal in Minneapolis. Mueller has also worked in marketing and public relations for the St. Paul Saints professional baseball team, Gopher Athletics at the University of Minnesota and the 2015 Cowles Cup Champion Chicago Bandits professional softball team.