The second half of the men’s 2013-2014 RT season served up highs and lows for the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) as a reoccurring back injury forced #1-ranked Kane Waselenchuk out of several tier one tournaments even as the racquetball world buzzed about two new champions who stepped up to claim the top purse. Kane charged back onto the court in March, but by then #4 Jose Rojas had won his first tier one title just three weeks after Ben Croft had joined the exclusive list of pros who earned entry into “the club.”
The high-altitude success #3 Ben Croft achieved with his first Tier 1 win at the MonaVie Salt Lake City ProAm eluded him during the San Diego Open, where he lost to eventual finalist, #11 Alvaro Beltran. #4 Jose Rojas played through the top half of the draw, earning the chance to meet Beltran during Sunday’s championship match. Neither finalist had claimed a clear tier one title, although Beltran’s twenty appearances had garnered a “win with an asterisk” in 2002, where unsafe court conditions had all qualifiers splitting points equally with play continuing, but more for show than all-out competition.
San Diego’s final proved the fourth meeting in as many tournaments for Beltran and Rojas. Beltran was up two matches to Rojas’ one. With a title on the line, Rojas lost the first game, making mistakes expected of a young, anxious player. His game plan in San Diego evolved as specific shots and strategies that worked in Salt Lake City proved less effective. “I try to keep 100% pressure on the other player, but if I have to go defensive, I will.” The two exchanged points and games.
Surprisingly, Rojas entered San Diego with a brand new racquet in hand, Ekteon’s EXO3 RG Toron Lite, available next
season. “I played with it two times before the tournament. It felt pretty good right away and I got used to it during the early rounds. By the finals, it felt great.” It must have, since Rojas came out on top after the over two-hour five-game match.
Adrenalin fueled and fit from a rigorous workout schedule squeezed in between a heavy course load, the 21-year old college student wasn’t tired afterward, pointing to a mental focus that helped him stay in the match. “One of the most important things, besides staying positive and not thinking about whether you’re going to win or lose because you’re up or down by a point, is to play in the moment, point by point.” He’s been working hard on the concept, with his trainer Jesse Serna, Coach David Ellis, and by practicing yoga, recently added to his fitness routine. “A lot of people do yoga for flexibility, but the biggest benefit I get from it is the right way to breath which helps me stay within myself. When I’m stressed, it helps me to calm down.”
After he’d won in San Diego, tears filled his eyes and his voice choked as he credited “God himself” in the post-match interview before thanking his supporters. “It’s an unreal moment…no words can explain.” In the week after the tournament, the surreal feeling came and went. “When I won, I was like ‘wow’ and then, a couple of days later, the feeling kind of went away. Then I’d remember that I’d just taken a pro stop and the feeling came back.” Even so, Rojas recognized early that the time for congrats was done. “After San Diego Team Ektelon had an organized practice in Stockton. I showed up like it was another day, moving on to the next tournament. It’s not the end of the season yet.”
True. Kane returned for March’s Florida Spring Break ProAm and the St. Louis Party with the Pros, taking both titles. With a three-week rest before the Stockton ProAm and Ektelon Nationals presented by Penn following four weeks later on Memorial Day weekend, the pros will have the plenty of time to revive and prepare to make an end-of-the-season impact.