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Sioux Falls, SD Sizzling with IRT Pros for 37th Lewis Drug ProAm

altWhen the Lewis Drug Pro Am kicked off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the action on the courts of the Sioux Falls Family YMCA heated up as Kane Waselenchuk played through the draw and defeated Rocky Carson 11-5, 11-5, 11-1 to capture the 2015 Lewis Drug IRT ProAm pro racquetball singles title. In doubles, the Rocky Carson / Alvaro Beltran defeated Kane Waselenchuk / Ben Croft 15-13, 15-14 to win the 2015 Lewis Drug ProAm doubles title.  

Read the DOUBLES pro draw here

Read the SINGLES pro draw here.

Final Pro Single Round:

Kane Waselenchuk d Rocky Carson 11-5, 11-5, 11-1

Game One- Carson won the coin toss and scored the first point from a sloppy rally, where both players looked to be starting off tight. Waselenchuk soon got on the board from a back wall setup. Waselenchuk earned another setup in the front court for point two. A splat off of the right wall got Waselenchuk to three point. Carson sailed a ball off of the back wall for a another front court set-up. Waselenchuk faked a ceiling ball that he manged to dink into the front left corner, where Carson and the crowd were left staring upwards, wondering what happened. Carson took a timeout, and was able side-out Waselenchuk for the first time upon his return by executing a nice serve-return-kill rally. Carson covered a 38-foot splat from Waselenchuk for another point. Carson was serving hard drive z’s to the Waselenchuk backhand. Unlike Waselenchuk, Carson was never able to score in bunches. At 8-3, Waselenchuk was in the driver’s seat. Carson missed many shots he would normally hit and earned avoidable hinders. An awkward bounce off of the back corner gave Carson his 4th point of the match. Carson carried this momentum for an ace. 5-9. Waselenchuk hit a change up off the serve and was able to fool Carson to get back in the box. Waselenchuk scored the next two points in rapid succession. Carson was able to do little more than hit the ball hard. 11-5 Waselenchuk. 

altGame Two- Waselenchuk hit a winner from his knees and then connected with two crisp passes against an out-of-position Carson. At 0-3, Carson attempted to slow the tempo of the game and hit a winner into the left corner. Though he earned a setup the next rally, he wound up skipping the easy ball, something that plagued him all match. Waselenchuk was rotating his shoulders well and getting so low that the power generated off his shots were too much for Carson, much less anyone else to retrieve. Carson was not able to get Waselenchuk hitting on the move. Carson called a time-out at 2-6. Carson was unable to change the course of the game as Waselenchuk continued to score. Carson, in part due to the overwhelming pressure from Waselenchuk, was making many more unforced errors than accustomed. At 10-5, Carson skipped an easy shot in the front court to give Waselenchuk game two. 11-5.

Game Three- Waselenchuk continued to roll through Carson from the onset of game 3 by taking pace off of many of his shots and softly touching balls into the corner. More times than not, this left Carson stuck in the back court mud. At 4-1, Waselenchuk did give Carson a set-up, but the top seed was not able to do anything with it besides drive it into the ground. Carson was struggling with his shot selection, serves, and in executing rally-ending shots. Waselenchuk was playing well, but wasn’t pressured or tested. At 10-1, Waselenchuk served a hard drive to the backhand of Carson and killed the ensuing return for the game 11-1, match, and tournament title. 

Semifinal Pro Single Round:

Kane Waselenchuk d Ben Croft 11-3, 11-2, 11-1 

Game One-  The game started off with two very quick Waselenchuk points from ace serves. Croft got into the box at 0-4 but appeared unable to do anything with the ball. Croft looked worse for wear and at 3 minutes into the match the score read 9-1 Waselenchuk. Croft seemed to be suffering from some sort of ailment as their was no wind in his usual fiery sails. Croft did not even attempt to go for several serves in this first game, very strangely. 11-3, Waselenchuk.

Game Two- Croft started the second game in the box but after first swing was sided out. Waselenchuk continued his onslaught of disguised serves for aces. Waselenchuk had not to this point missed a single shot, Croft however, was never was able to do much more than give him a set-up. The inevitability of Croft’s defeat looked certain. Waselenchuk, serving at 7-1, bombarded a fragmented Croft with an ace. 8-1. Serve-return-kill, 9-1. Ace serve, 10-1. Croft was able to side out Waselenchuk but not able to score. Croft would only return to the back court to be the victim of yet another Waselenchuk ace for the  game, 11-1. 

Game Three- Waselenchuk continued his offensive on a Croft who appeared barely able to defend himself. At 4-0 Waselenchuk left a shot up, but Croft appeared to intentionally skip it. Perhaps Croft was trying to save what strength he had for his next doubles match. Waselenchuk skipped 3 balls all match, which were half of the points that Croft scored. With Croft injured and Waselenchuk feeling comfortable and looking strong, the match time reached only 23 minutes. 11-2, Waselenchuk.

Rocky Carson I I I d Jose Rojas 10-12, 11-5, 11-7, 11-9

Quarterfinal Round:

Jose Rojas d Daniel De La Rosa 10-12, 11-5, 11-7, 11-9

Game One- Rojas jumped out to an early 4-0 lead but couldn’t hold his lines as De La Rosa trudged forward to meet him at 5-5. This Game saw a very streaky Rojas who sometimes played rallies and hit shots that no one would be able to return, contrasted by weak serves and skips. De La Rosa never caught fire, but was able to weather the storm for a 12-10 first game win. 

Game Two- De La Rosa and Rojas stayed neck and neck for most of this game. Rojas was able to explode from 5-5 to 9-5. Almost all of Rojas’s shots were offensive  and hitting their marks. De La Rosa was skipping a lot of his shots and was continually off balance from well-placed Rojas passes. In a matter of minutes the score-line went from 5-5 to 11-5. Rojas walked away from this game looking confident and the stronger of the two.

Game Three- Rojas began the third game as he exited the second, scored off of a crack kill. Rojas was still shooting lights-out and went up to a 3-0 lead. The difference between the two appeared to be swing mechanics, as Rojas looked to take full roping powerful swings on every ball whie De La Rosa relyed more on a half-cut swing in search of dink-kills.

At 0-4, De La Rosa was able to pull a smooth cross-court backhand from deep for his first point. De La Rosa was able to punish Rojas’s poor shot selection in the next rally with a crisp down-the-line. De La Rosa ran to 4-4 in under 3 minutes. Rojas, looking to slow the game down, reverted to the ceiling. However this only allowed De La Rosa more setups, bringing his lead to 6-4. After a Rojas timeout, De La Rosa continued his onslaught from the back court. Ceiling balls were still left short. At 4-8, Rojas made an excellent 4-point run bolstered by his backhand. At 8-8, Rojas hit a blistering cross-court pass for the lead. Game three went to Rojas who ran 6 straight points.

Game Four- Rojas looked like he found his groove at the end of the second game, but came in missing opportunities. De La Rosa capitalized on this and for an early 3-0 lead. Rojas was able to settle in and start chipping away at the lead with precise forehand shots. At 5-4, De La Rosa hit a dink to the right hand corner that Rojas dove for, and though he got the ball before the second bounce, he skipped it on the way in. Rojas timeout. Both players traded points and, at 5-7, Rojas punished a weak return for a cross-court kill. Point. This appeared to give Rojas the confidence to go on a run and tie the score-line at 7-7.

At a very critical point in the match Rojas hit a backhand kill but then missed a very makeable shot to put De La Rosa back in the box. Rojas missed another easy mark to allow De La Rosa the tie, 8-8. Rojas got cold and De La Rosa notched points, one by one. At 9-8, Rojas made a beautiful shot from his knees in center court that rolled from the right corner to get him back in the box. Both players continued to sideout each other, and the score-line came to a halt. Rojas broke the stalemate first with his signature backhand. Tie game. De La Rosa skipped a key shot that gave Rojas his first match point. Rojas nailed a backhand from deep in the back court that won him the match, 11-9.

Ben Croft d Alvaro Beltran 11-4, 8-11, 11-7, 8-11, 11-9

Game One-  Croft looked much lighter and quicker on his feet as he came out to a 3-0 lead, opting to go with lob serves to the backhand and scoring on returns that stayed up. A very comfortable Croft was able to take a commanding lead 10-1, killing every setup that the flat-footed Beltran tossed off the front wall. Beltan was not moving well. Croft scored the winner six minutes into the match to take the first game in convincing fashion, 11-4. 

Game Two- Croft resumed the second game with half lobs to the backhand and again got out to an early lead, in part due to Beltran skips. Beltran made his only his third killshot of the match to get on the board. Clearly Beltran was hobbled and favoring his right leg, and lacked many attempts to get the ball and extend the rallies. Beltran was still hitting good shots, in so much that he was placing them well. Beltran was able to get close to Croft at 5-6 with offensive shots but never really seemed to be able to put much pressure on his opponent. Beltran hit multiple killshot boasts. And though no pressure was applied to Croft, Beltran was able to lull him into a lethargic style of play, which favored Beltran. At 8-9, Croft skipped an easy shot off the back wall to give Beltran game point. On one good leg Beltran took the second game, 11-9. 

Game Three- Croft once again started strong and Beltran started by faltering, hitting his first two shots into the ground. At 0-3 Beltran began to connect with the bottom board. Though he was injured, a killshot can’t be beat. Three shots in a row fell perfectly into place as Beltran tied the game at 3-3. Though Croft took control of the game, leading at 9-7, Beltran’s style of play seemingly took the passion out of his game. To Croft’s credit he was able to stay focused and determined enough to take game three, 11-7.

Game Four- Beltran began with a skip followed by a killshot. Beltran went to a half drive serve to the backhand and tied the game at 1-1. Beltran continued to be inconsistent and brought Croft to 3-1 by way of missed shots. Beltran, perhaps sensing that the match was getting away from him, began to shoot every ball to the bottom board. This  roduced success as he pulled up to 6-7. Beltran’s method,  lethal at times, took Croft out of his rhythm. Many awaited a run from Croft that would seal the match. It never came. Beltran plugged away to reach 11 first. 11-9 Beltran, forcing a tiebreaker. 

Game Five- Beltran continued to hit the ball effectively, splatting his way to a 3-2 lead. Croft, for the first time in the match, started to drive serve. This strategy was able to gain him the lead as Beltran had difficulty shuffling quickly to return serve. Beltran was still able to kill many balls that came to him and kept the score-line tight at 4-5. Both players were unable to score for an extended amount of time as the game became gridlocked.

Beltran fended off multiple point attempts for a surge of his own to tie the game at 7-7. Surprisingly, the injured Beltran had put himself in position to take the match. Croft stayed resilient and did not fold in the face of a rolling Beltran. Serving at 8-9, Beltran hit his high lob wallpaper serve that  produced a set-up. Croft put it down for 9-9. On the next rally, Croft stepped up on the serve and put it down in the lefthand corner. A ball that had Beltran diving towards the back wall came next. He couldn’t quite get a racquet on, allowing Croft to break the tie, 10-9. The final rally of the match ensued. Beltran skipped for an anti-climactic finish, but had given Croft much more than he might have bargained for in the four-game quarterfinal win, 11-9.

Rocky Carson I I I d Marco Rojas 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-4 

Game One- Carson began the match flat and trailed Rojas at the onset, 0-2. Carson prepped to drive serve and began to pelt hard shots to both sides of the court. Rojas was unable to come up with any serve returns that would have forced Carson out of position. The beginning of this game saw Carson retrieving nearly everything that Rojas left up. His defensive virtuosity mounted enormous pressure on the younger Rojas, who could only score points from flat kills. Rojas took a timeout, down 4-6.

Carson returned to hit a floater that wallpapered to the right hand glass and resulted in a Rojas skip and broken racquet. Rojas got back in the court and skipped the next point. Rojas returned to the box and scored two points with back-to-back serve-and-shoot rallies. Carson sided-out Rojas before a run to 10 with hard drive serves. Carson scored at will, putting Rojas on the defensive. At 10-6, Carson was able to extend the rally by making some athletic diving gets and ultimately put the ball down for the first game. 11-6, Carson. 

Game Two-  Rojas started the game with a nice soft touch into the corner for the first point. The next rally Rojas scored on a down-the-line. Again, Rojas struck by placing the ball into the corner for a 3-0 lead. The march forward continued for Rojas as he manipulated the ball with purpose. 5-0 Rojas. Carson appeared a bit rattled by Rojas’s hot start and want’ connecting with his shots as he had in game one. Carson hit a crack ace for his first point of the game. Not only was Rojas playing smarter in game two, but he also put more balls away. 

Down 1-7, Carson took a timeout. When time resumed, Carson scored from an off-speed high z-serve that Rojas left up, delivering a sideout to Rojas. At 4-8 Rojas called a timeout as Carson began to seduce Rojas into his methodical game style that has felled many opponents. At 8-5, Rojas hit an ace serve. Carson delievered an uncharacteristic skip next. Carson didn’t go down easy as he gave Rojas two sideouts before finally succumbing, 6-11. Rojas took game two.

Game Three- Carson had a good start with patient, purposeful shots. At 3-0 Carson reverted to the hard high z-serve that forced Rojas to hit the ball at an awkward angle. Carson scored again and Rojas took a timeout. After the break, Rojas got back in the box and hit two excellent pinch shots that were too low to return. Another kill, down the right hand line got Rojas to 3 point. Athough temporarily stunned by Rojas’ offensive display after the timeout, Carson weathered the flurry and began scoring off of the serve. Five straight unforced errors off the Carson forehand serves put Rojas in the hole, 3-10. Rojas was able to stave off a game-three defeat by hitting soft pinches and Carson-esque z serves that brought him back to 7-10. Carson was finally able to get Rojas out of the box and won the ensuing rally off of a skip. 11-7 Carson. 

Game Four- Rojas seemed to be reading Carson’s footwork well at the beginning as he anticipated where Carson was about to shoot. At 1-2, Carson scored two quick points from back wall set-up kills. Points were hard to come by at the beginning of this game as both players traded turns in the box for 10 minutes before Carson broke the deadlock. At 4-1, Carson was getting low and putting balls away. Rojas had some trouble catching up with Carson’s serves and was unable to garner returns that would put his opponent out of position. At 5-2, Carson hit an ace followed by a crisp pass. 7-2, Carson. Rojas answered back with two ace serves but was unable to gain any lasting momentum. Rojas broke another racquet on the side wall glass. After an equipment timeout, Carson hit a hard drive serve and Rojas skipped, 8-4. Another point rolled in as Rojas left a ball off of the back-wall. Carson flattened the ball and earned his first game point. Rojas drove the ball into the ground the next rally, giving Carson the match win, 11-4.

Kane Waselenchuk d Alejandro Landa 11-1, 11-2, 11-1

Game One- Waselenchuk got out to a fast 4-0 lead, hitting blistering drive serves. Many of them resulted in aces. He hit two second-serve aces to go up 6-0. Landa got into the service box for the first time at this juncture but was quickly sided-out. Waselenchuk worked everything off of his serve in this first game, hitting his second shot almost always with Landa out of position. At 9-1, Waselenchuk ripped a backhand into the corner for his first game point. He did not miss the opportunity as was the theme of the match. He hit a hard pass down the right line for game one, 11-1.

Game Two- Landa appeared more loose to start the second game and was able to stay toe-to-toe with Waselenchuk, 2-2. Both players traded side-outs before Waselenchuk hit a lighting fast deceptive ace to the Landa backhand. At 3-2 Waselenchuk made use of a vacant lefthand-line to score another point, 4-2. Ace, 5-2. Serve-return-kill rally, 6-2. Quick hands from Waselenchuk at the front court, 7-2. Ace to the forehand, 8-2. Serve-return-kill, 9-2. Ace to the backhand, 10-2. Ten minute game went to Waselenchuk, 11-2,  

Game Three- Waselenchuk continued  his path of destruction to jump out to a 4-0 lead. Earning a point roughly every 45 seconds, Waselenchuk appeared invincible. His serves were jumping over the second line and his passes were kills or perhaps his kills were passes. Landa did manage to get on the board at 1-7 with a well-placed backhand serve. Landa made it into the box a total of 4 times the entire match. Waselenchuk’s aces continued to rain down on the powerless Landa. At the 29 minute mark, Waselenchuk won the match in three games, 11-1.

Round of 16

Rocky Carson III d Marco Rojas 11-9, 11-4, 9-11, 11-5

Marco Rojas d Charlie Pratt 11-9, 11-4, 9-11, 11-5

Jose Rojas d Matthew Majxner 11-5, 11-7, 11-3

Daniel De La Rosa d Robert Collins 11-1, 11-8, 11-7

Alvaro Beltran d Tim Landeryou 11-9, 1-11, 8-11, 11-3, 11-8

Ben Croft d Jose Diaz 11-4, 11-6, 9-11, 11-2

Alenjandro Landa d Jansen Allen 11-13, 6-11, 11-6, 11-5, 11-4

Kane Waselenchuk d Tanner Prentice 11-2, 11-2, 11-2

Sioux Falls, SD Sizzling with IRT Pros for 37th Lewis Drug ProAm

When the Lewis Drug Pro Am kicks off January 22 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the temperature outdoors could well be below zero, just like last year. But the action on the courts of the Sioux Falls Family YMCA – where the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) professionals will play – promises to be sizzling.

Marking roughly the midway point on the IRT 2014-2015 schedule, the Tour’s top players will be jockeying for ranking points as they enter the home stretch of the season. The Lewis Drug pro Am is billed as the longest running continuous tournament in the land – this year marks the 37th consecutive year of the event – and expects to see the same array of top talent as last year, when Kane Waselenchuk took top honors en route to another overall number one ranking.

Last weekend’s NY Temperature Controls IRT ProAm marked Waselenchuk’s return to the courts after an inner ear issue kept him out of a handful of 2014-2015 season tournaments after dominating the early going. Waselenchuck took home the title in a three-game final against Rocky Carson III, who won three IRT pro stops earlier this season and was runner-up to Waselenchuk twice before New York. 

The event will be long on star power. Last year 12 of the top 20 ranked IRT pros made their way to frigid Sioux Falls, and almost all are expected to return this season. Pros who played last year and are expected to appear in the upcoming Lewis Drug pro Am include: number three ranked Alvaro Beltran – he has finished second in four IRT pros stops this season, losing in the finals once to Waselenchuk, once to Daniel De La Rosa and twice to Carson; number six ranked Ben Croft, runner up in the 24th Annual Turkey Shoot in Garden City, Kansas; and number four ranked Jose Rojas, who has been a semifinalist in three IRT pro stops this season.

Other top-ranked players include the likes of De La Rosa – winner of the Rollout New Jersey Open in December — Tony Carson and Jansen Allen. Tournament organizers and players alike say the tournament is a “can’t miss destination” each year, and it represents more than just another stop along the way to a final ranking.

 “I wouldn’t miss the Lewis Drug Pro Am for anything,” said Carson III, currently ranked second on the IRT. “It is that special.” Last year Carson was surfing in the Pacific Ocean near his home in Ladera Beach, CA the day before the tournament. The next day he boarded a plane, leaving 80-degree temperatures for frigid Sioux Falls. “I stepped off the plane and into a blizzard, with temperatures of about 8-below. I have been playing professionally for more than 15 years, but when the day finally comes that I retire, I still want to come back every year and be a part of it.”

Jason Mannino, IRT president and one half of last year’s professional doubles championship team (paired with Waselenchuk) said the tournament is a unique blend of championship caliber racquetball and “old world” racquetball hospitality and environment. “There are a lot of reasons the pros are excited to attend this event. One thing is the hospitality, which is the best I have ever seen, every day and not just the Saturday night banquet. It takes place in a cozy, homey setting, and has a ‘home cooking’ atmosphere the players really appreciate.”

The YMCA setting is intimate, and players and fans rub elbows and interact throughout the tournament. “The players seem to be appreciated at a different level in Sioux Falls,” Mannino said.  “That’s not to say they aren’t appreciated at other pro stops, it is just a different level. Even for the round of 32s the place is packed, not just the semifinals or finals.” The Saturday night banquet – which includes a top drawer, catered dinner and door prize giveaways – is just a reflection of the type of Midwestern hospitality provided by the organizers of the Lewis Drug Pro Am, according to Mannino.

“We consider our tournament the gold standard for racquetball tournaments,” said Mark Griffin, CEO of Lewis Drug, whose name has been attached to the tournament since its inception.  “We are proud of it; the only other tournament that comes close is the US Open. Keeping the tournament fresh after 37 years has been the focus of the tournament officials.

Last year the tournament instituted a bracket for professional men’s doubles, and it will be back by popular demand. The inclusion of the professional doubles bracket took the tournament up a notch from a Tier One event to a Tier One “Plus.” In 2014 Waselenchuk and Mannino won the event in a scintillating “for-the-ages match” that ended in an 11-10 tie-breaker victory over Carson and Jose Rojas. Waselenchuk, who has dominated singles play for the past several years, was pushed like never before in the finals, Griffin said.

“Kane came off the court following the tie-breaker, lied down and said ‘wow’. I know Kane loved it, being pushed in a tie-breaker. Even better, the fans loved it as much, if not more so, than Kane did.”

The Lewis Drug Pro takes place a few weeks prior to the national doubles tournament, and organizers like Griffin felt offering a pro doubles category in 2014 year would give the pros a chance to prepare for the national doubles tournament in Arizona. “We offered the doubles last year intentionally, knowing it would benefit the players and help them get ready for the national doubles tournament.”

At last year’s 47th national doubles tournament Carson and Rojas defeated Ben Croft and Thomas Fuhrmann in the finals in a tie-breaker. “It (the Lewis Drug ProAm) gave us the chance to get ready for national doubles just a few weeks before that tournament took place,” Carson said. “It was a great experience for us.”

New this year will be the use of two recently installed “stadium” courts, constructed over the summer as a donation from Griffin, Jeff Scherschligt, president and CEO of Howalt+McDowell Insurance, along with other supporters. The new courts will be used by the professionals  – other satellite clubs provide venues for the amateur tournament that runs concurrently with the pro stop – and fans will not be charged admission to watch the pros play. “We want the racquetball community here to enjoy watching the best players play, so it has been our practice that we don’t charge admission,” Griffin said.

Lewis Drug New Courts

The two new courts are situated in an area that once housed basketball courts, and temporary 

bleachers will be set up to provide viewing of both courts simultaneously, said Troy Stallings, tournament director. “The new courts are set up facing each other, front wall to front wall, each with a glass side wall facing the bleachers,” Stallings said. “It will be a great view for the spectators.” The bleachers will run the entire length of the two courts — 80 feet — and will be 10 rows high.  Bleacher seating capacity is expected to be about 300.

The courts have been in place since summer, and the pros will play on them for the first time in January. “I can’t wait to see, and play on, the new courts,” Carson said.

The tournament will be aired on the IRT network (www.irtnetwork.com)

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 web site, as well as working on other free lance projects.

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