"The Ghost": 2015-2016 IRT Season Kick-off

"The Ghost": 2015-2016 IRT Season Kick-off

After Final KC 2015
#1 Kane Waselenchuk defeated #2 Rocky Carson 11-5, 11-0, 11-13, 11-2 to repeat as The Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City IRT Pro/Am Champion in front of a standing room only packed crowd at The Athletic Club of Overland Park. Waselenchuk appeared to suffer a right knee injury after he banged it on the wall returning a serve in game three tied 11-11 but bounced back and took game four to win the match.
Click HERE for the Pro Draw

Novasors Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City IRT Pro/Am 
2015 KC Final CrowdFinal
Kane Waselenchuk and Rocky Carson squared off in Sunday’s final for the 62nd time in their careers. Of these meetings, Carson has only had one victory, and that came the first time they played. It is hard to tell exactly how this history plays into both players’ confidence and expectations for the match but clearly, having played so many times, these games do not exist in a vacuum. Waselenchuk sailed through games one and two, allowing only 5 total points. The big difference maker? The drive serve. Waselenchuk, who has the highest good-first-serve percentage in the sport, missed more than usual but his second serve continually aced Carson. As usual, everything flowed from this, Waselenchuk garnered setup after setup from his deceptive serve techniques. Carson was outmatched in the first two games, unable to offer up the firepower that is needed to stand toe-to-toe with Waselenchuk. 

The third game was much different. Carson jumped out to an early lead and kept it for much of the game. Carson was not only serving well but he was also a lot more aggressive on the offense. This third game saw Carson hitting more kill shots than he usually hits in most matches. Waselenchuk was able to get his serve rolling down 4-9 and came back to serve for the match at 10-9. Carson stayed resilient and fended off match point and came back to tie at 10-10. Carson hit a beautiful down the right hand line drive serve that Waselenchuk awkwardly rolled his knee trying to return. Scary moments ensued for the Waselenchuk camp as he grimaced on the floor and coach Jim Winterton sprang onto the court. It was hard to gauge in the early going of the injury timeout how badly Waselenchuk was injured but after 7 minutes, he was able to resume. Carson, with new life, put the last ball away to close the game 12-10. 

Carson was hitting the ball hard and making a lot of rally ending kill shots with momentum on his side while his opponent was at the least, shaken up. Waselenchuk was moving gingerly on the knee at the beginning of game four. The stage was set for a comeback. So what happened next truly befuddles logic. Carson took his foot off the gas in a big way. He started hitting soft dinks instead of making Waselenchuk work to retrieve faster balls. He gave up on some rallies, not even attempting to retrieve the ball. Could the arm of history be pulling at Carson? He did not look like he believed he could win, but he could have, or at least gotten close. Instead, Waselenchuk was able to regain equilibrium and put together beautiful serve-return-kill rallies and close the match 11-2. It does and will continue to take a Herculean effort to beat a player as great as Waselenchuk but if ever it could have been done, today was one of those days. At this point in their match-ups, Carson has the technical skill to take a match from Waselenchuk, but he will first have to find something more illusive, faith in himself.  

Rocky Carson d Felipe Comacho 11-5, 11-8, 11-7 
Kane Waselenchuk v Jose Rojas – 11-6, 11-0, 11-2

Blog by Tim Prigo

Speculation and intrigue followed Felipe Camacho onto the court for his first semifinal appearance. Now he would face world #2 and iron-man Rocky Carson, a healthy opponent. Camacho came out of the gates hitting splat re-kills to gain points and Carson seemed to be vulnerable to this as he was playing deep in the back court. Halfway through the first game Carson came alive with an offensive barrage that consisted mainly of hard down-the-lines that kept Camacho  off-balance. Carson’s well-placed shots at times sent Camacho to the floor, where he eventually drew blood from his left knee. Carson took the first game and Camacho spent one of his injury timeouts between games bandaging up his leg. When the second game resumed, Referee Matthew Majxner  called an additional timeout as Camacho was bleeding onto the court. Camacho played impressively in game two. He was diving for a lot of balls, putting pressure on Carson, so much so that he often skipped after Camacho’s gets. In the lead, Camacho had the game in hand but as per usual, Carson started chipping away. Camacho obviously frustrated and Carson desperate for the comeback put a lot of attention and energy on Majxner. Carson was able to win game two, even though Camacho had stepped up his play considerably from the first game. Camacho continued to play hard, diving almost every rally and extending rallies. Long rallies however, have never been the recipe to beat Carson and towards the end of the third game, Carson was in control enough to send Camacho left and right and up and down the court at will. Though Carson won in 3 Camacho’s performance was still impressive. The match featured many high level rallies and lasted almost 2 hours. 

An ongoing narrative all weekend has been the interplay between the players and newly minted referee  Matthew Majxner. It was clear that Carson wanted to test the waters as he came out of the court to discuss calls upwards of 10 times in the match. Majxner, ever the cool customer, never seemed to let this bother him. However, there was, on the whole, more arguing time than was normal with Charlie Pratt. Majxner will need to continue searching for the correct balance of sternness and transparency with the players as he officiates deeper into the season. 

The other semifinal was more of a familiar match-up in Kane Waselenchuk vs. Jose Rojas. Though this match went as expected, there was still a good deal of entertainment. Rojas was never able to mount any meaningful scoring streaks or ever give off the feel that he could actually win. To say he played poorly would be a miss characterization, because he did not play poorly, or at least it can be said we do not know if he played poorly. It was the Kane Waselenchuk show from beginning to end (save maybe the first 5 points). Rojas could have been anyone in there, and it probably would not have really mattered. Waselenchuk put on another master class performance, hardly making a mistake all match. Ben Croft, at the commentators table, spoke the general sentiment of the crowd “This is about the best two games of Racquetball I have ever seen Kane play. I can’t imagine anyone present or past not losing to him in 3 games.” Waselenchuk diversified speed,  angle and footwork that so profoundly confused Rojas it was hard to imagine him executing any sort of strategy. Waselenchuk won in 3 very dominant games. 

Blog by Tim Prigo
The first quarterfinal was between Rocky Carson and Jansen Allen. This match proved to stay true to the seeding as Carson got out of this one in 3 games. Allen, too often, played into Carson’s game style, leaving the ball up and trying to beat Carson in long vollies. Next up was Jose Diaz and Kane Waselenchuk. Though, Waselenchuk took Diaz to task and beat him in 3 low scoring games, something about this felt different. Diaz, while not disrespectful, did not cower under the shadow of Waselenchuk, in fact he looked fearless. Often times, Waselenchuk’s opponents treat him differently than other players on Tour, the look and feel of this match can only be described as refreshing. 

In the surprise quarterfinal of the tournament (and perhaps all year) was Felipe Camacho and Bradley Rogers. It seemed as though Camacho understood how precious this moment really was as he played at a very high intensity, never slacking on a single point. Rogers has a beautiful backhand that while at times connected was otherwise missing. Camacho simply looked as if he wanted it more and seized the opportunity for his first ever semifinal birth. Easily the match of the night goes to Jose Rojas and Daniel De La Rosa. Whenever these two young guns step onto the court, crowds anticipate a barn burner and they did not disappoint. De La Rosa  took game one with some soft hands, flicking and deflecting balls into the corner for winners. De La Rosa, while playing better racquetball looked less fit than Rojas and less fit than he looked last season, raising concerns about what might happen if the match went deep into the Kansas City evening. Both players went on runs of brilliance and lulls of frustration. It was De La Rosa who was poised to take the match in the 5th game up 9-7 but Rojas rallied back to take the match 11-9 in the 5th

The biggest talking point of the night was not about the players on court but rather about the changes in rules and line-up. Introduced this tournament was the Replay Appeal. This rule basically states that each player is given one video appeal per game. If the appeal is successful they retain their appeal though it does not carry over to the next game. If the call stands on their appeal they lose the ability to request another one in that game. Though it seemed to hold up the game at times, it was widely regarded as a very good change to the professional game. Time will only tell if this rule will become cemented into the IRT. But besides the utility of such a rule, it is highly entertaining to watch rallies and shots in slow-mo HD. Thankyou IRT NETWORK! Another change that was noticable for every match was the absence of Charlie Pratt at the score card. Matthew Majxner assumed responsibilities as head referee. Majxner, having big shoes to fill delivered some wonderfully officiated games. He was hardly overturned on any of the video appeals and kept the matches running at an entertaining pace. 

Now more troubling was the absence of many IRT mainstays. Tony Carson, Charlie Pratt, Chris Crowther, Marco Rojas, Allejandro Landa and Tim Landeryou, all top 16 players were not at the event. Hopefully this is not a trend as this makes up a good chunk of the IRT’s talent pool. If these players continue to miss Tier 1’s the top 10 will be greatly shaken up. 
Kane Waselenchuk d Jose Diaz 11-3, 11-3, 11-2
Rocky Carson d Jansen Allen 11-5, 11-4, 11-9 
Felipe Comacho d Bradly Rogers 11-9, 11-7, 11-4
Jose Rojas d Daniel De La Rosa 9-11, 12-10, 11-1, 7-11, 11-9
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Round of 16’s:
Friday 10 am Central: 
Jansen Allen defeated Matthew Majxner 11-1, 11-2, 11-4
Rocky Carson defeated Mario Mercado 11-5, 11-4, 11-9 
Fri 11 am Central:
Kane Waselenchuk defeated Brad Schopieray 11-0, 11-4, 11-5 and will play next in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Central.
Jose Diaz d Robert Collins 11-6, 11-1, 11-6

Most thought that the Collins / Diaz match would be the highlight of the round of 16’s as the equally talented #8 and #9 seeds took the stage. The players train together in Northern California, and are the first players to benefit from the IRT / Reaching Your Dream Foundation (RDYF) partnership, which was formed to enable more players to compete professionally by helping with expenses, and teaching them how to deliver value to sponsors and interact with their fans.

Given it’s the first tournament of the season, and everyone has much to prove, it took a few points to get the getters out for both players. Once they got into a groove, there were many exciting points. The first game was tight, as Robbie’s serves kept Jose off balance. After trading points midway through the first game, Jose jumped ahead and never looked back, taking the game 11-6. He carried this momentum through the second game, winning 11-1 and went on to close the match out 11-6.
Noon Central:
Felipe Camacho defeated Ben Croft 11-1, 2-11, 11-5, WBF-injury
It was a surprise to see Ben in the draw, given that he is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Looking about as rusty as he possibly could, he skipped at least 10 balls in the first game, while Felipe kept the pressure on winning the game 11-1. The crowd moved to watch the match on the second court, but quickly came back when Ben got out to a 7-2 lead in the second game, going on to win it 11-2. Just when the crowd thought they were in for a knockdown, drag out battle, the momentum swung in Felipe’s favor, and Ben seemed to start feeling a little too much pain to play on. Given the US OPEN is just a few weeks away, Ben decided to hang it up to preserve his body.
Bradly Rogers defeated Alvaro Beltran 3-11, 11-4, 9-11, 11-5, 11-8

After cruising through the first game, in smooth-as-silk fashion that fans have come to expect from Alvaro Beltran, he won the first game 11-4. But that was just the beginning of this seesaw battle, as Brad came souring back to win the second game 11-4. After losing the third game 11-9, Brad answered back by winning the 4th game 11-5. Alvaro seemed to be pretty stiff; looked like a back injury of some kind, and Brad took full advantage by winning the final game 11-8.

1 pm  Central
Jose Rojas v Mauricio Zelada 11-0, 11-4, 11-4
Scott McClellan v Daniel De La Rosa 11-3, 11-1, 11-0
“The Ghost”: 2015-2016 IRT Season Kick-off
2015 Ghost Novasors KC LogoThe Novasors Ghost of Georgetown Kansas City IRT Pro/Am kicks off the fresh, new 2015-2016 IRT season of the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) September 17-20. “I love the early part of the season where there is nothing set, the rankings open,” Tournament Director Mike Wedel said.
The early timing of the tournament leading into the UnitedHealthcare US Open in Minneapolis, MN gives itan aura of mystery. “They’ve had all season off,” Wedel said “Who stayed in shape and who didn’t? Which ones are ready to go at it? It’s a terrific warm up for the Open.”
10-time season ending #1 Kane Waselenchuk enters the season healthy, but was upset by Jose Rojas in the semifinals of the 2013 tournament. Rojas then defeated Rocky Carson in the final to take the title. “By Jose doing what he did a couple years ago has opened it up. Anybody could do that,” Wedel said.
2015 Pan American Games Gold Medalists Carson (Men’s Singles), Rojas and Jansen Allen (Men’s Doubles) will look to capitalize off their success in Toronto while Ben Croft is recovering from shoulder surgery with his goal on returning for the US Open. Bradly Rogers of Wichita will also be in the pro draw. “Depending on who he matches up against, he could take a person or two out of the tournament,” Wedel said of Rogers.
The 16th annual tournament that honors the former Georgetown Club that previously hosted the popular event, but had since closed, takes place at The Athletic Club of Overland Park. The club holds racquetball leagues year round everyday except Sunday, with Monday, Wednesday and Thursday featuring two. Wedel said the handball contingency is almost as large as the racquetball members and something he worked on early when he started with the club 10 years ago.
Built in the 1970s as a racquetball club, the AC has nine courts along with a restaurant and bar area adjacent to two courts aptly named the Courtside Fresh Grill & Bar. “It’s great for people playing handball and racquetball and everyone sits around and drinks and makes fun of them,” Wedel joked of the bar previously owned by former World Boxing Organization champion Tommy Morrison.
The newly renovated Courtside Fresh Grill & Bar will host the Player Appreciation Party on Saturday Sept. 19 and be a popular tournament viewing spot without the bleacher seating this year. The pros will also participate in a pool tournament with the sponsors on Thursday Sept. 17 and host a free junior clinic on Saturday Sept. 19.
Wedel credited the longevity and success of the tournament to sponsors including Novasors, the title sponsor, for stepping up to help make this tournament possible. “Without [Novasors CEO/Owner] Bart [Miller] this would not be happening,” Wedel said. “He’s a rare individual. Really works hard to make sure this is going to happen.”
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.