John Pelham Memorial Tournament of Champions Recap
By: Kelly R. Diesel
Portland, Oregon, has always had a tremendous passion for the sport of racquetball and the community that surrounds it. This past weekend in Portland, at the Multnomah Athletic Club, the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) hosted its fifth Tier 1 (T1) tournament of its 2019-2020 season, and the support for the fastest sport in the world could not be more prevalent in the Northwest. With a full draw and a full house, the IRT and all its stars put on quite a show at the 2019 SPC John A. Pelham Memorial Tournament of Champions!
Working down the top of the R2 Sports Draw from this past weekend, we begin with a matchup between a young world champion, #10 Rodrigo Montoya, from Chihuahua, Mexico, and the greatest to ever hit the court, #1 Kane Waselenchuk, residing in Austin, Texas. Waselenchuk jumped on the board first with an excellent serve and an even better cross-court winner from Montoya’s return of serve. Montoya found a nice gap between Waselenchuk and the right-side wall as he punched back-to-back down the line shots to force a side-out and earn his first point at 1-1. Both players traded another point each until Waselenchuk seemed to just dial it in after his third point, an absolute dime of a cross-court killshot. With several more impressive shots from the King, including an ace and several bullets, Waselenchuk found himself on a roll with a 7-2 lead. Montoya didn’t shy away as he battled back with some well-placed serves, and some near impossible gets, closing it to 7-6. At 10-9, with both Waselenchuk and Montoya looking a bit slower than when they started, Waselenchuk found some gas left in the tank and went on a 5-0 scoring run, closing out Game 1 15-9.
Game 2 started with Waselenchuk making corner killshots and bullets down the line look like something he does in his sleep. If there’s any athlete on tour that can make the impossible come to life on the court, Montoya is certainly one of them when it comes to his athletic ability getting balls off the court. Waselenchuk put Montoya’s stamina to test in Game 2, moving him all around the court with carefully placed shots and timely decisions. With a 7-4 lead, Waselenchuk tried punishing a plum left up from Montoya, who made an absolute pearl of a play with the hands as soft as tissue paper to drop it off the front wall and earn himself fifth point. Unfortunately for Montoya, his highlight was about all that came to light in Game 2, as Waselenchuk went on to take control and advance 15-11. Montoya did make a late push with a 5-0 run to make it 14-11 before Waselenchuk finished him off.
In our next quarterfinal matchup, #4 Andree Parrilla, from San Luis Potosí, Mexico faced off against #17 Thomas Carter, from Wheaton, Illinois, for the first time in their careers on the court. It’s always tough playing an opponent you’ve never seen on the court before, but Parrilla seemed to have all the answers in Game 1. A cross-court killshot from Parrilla followed by a pinch shot from Carter started Game 1 off in fine fashion at 1-1. With both players following each other’s footsteps at 4-4, Parrilla found another level to his game and never looked back. In a period of about six minutes, with some help from a couple of careless errors from Thomas, Parrilla put together an 11-0 run to take Game 1 at 15-4.
In Game 2, Carter came out firing with several down the line shots that kept pushing Parrilla all over the court. Carter kept his composure and made some excellent serves early in Game 2 to give himself a great start and an early lead, 6-0. Parrilla found his way onto the scoreboard finally off a heater of a forehand that was too much for Carter to push to the front wall. A careless sidewall shot from Carter, similar to the errors we saw from Game 1, gave Parrilla his second point of Game 2, but Carter seemed to buckle down and get back into the service box. At 10-5, it looked like Carter was determined to force a Game 3, but Parrilla wisely used a timeout to slow down the momentum. Parrilla came alive after the timeout, making some tough gets in the front-court and showing some fast hands pushing balls into the corner. From 11-6 to 11-15, Parrilla found nine consecutive points that pushed him past Carter, into the semifinals.
A battle of Mexican roots took place in another quarterfinal matchup when #6 Daniel De La Rosa (DLR), from San Luis Potosí, faced #2, Alex Landa, from Juarez, Mexico. Fans have grown used to seeing these two compete against each other out on the court, but no one is tired of the talent they display when that ball drops for the first serve. Landa served first and earned his first point from a lackadaisical skip in the front court from DLR, followed by a jam shot in the back corner that surrounded DLR with glass and no chance at a shot to the front wall, 2-0. DLR was able to find two easy points with some help from Landa to tie it at 2-2, but a great killshot and an ace serve put De La Rosa ahead. That ace shook up some confidence in DLR has he went on to score six straight from being down 2-0 early, but something forced DLR to take an injury timeout as he came up grabbing his right knee. Landa smelled blood in the water, although DLR looked to be up-to-speed, after that timeout and jumped on top in momentum. Grinding out some long rallies and finding his way to the box, Landa went on a 10-point unanswered run, giving him a 12-6 lead. DLR did show some fight and a late run down the stretch, but it was Landa with a big lead he wouldn’t surrender and took Game 1 15-10.
Game 2 started in familiar fashion with Landa in the box and a similar first point from a lazy skip by DLR in the backcourt. At 3-0, the #6 ranked player in the world showed some heat coming off his racquet as he put away two killshots, 3-2. De La Rosa looked to be present in the match, but he was never really in it, it seemed from the sidelines. Landa forced DLR all around the court with great cross-court drives, and it looked to be wearing on DLR. With an 11-4 lead from Landa, the tables turned, and De La Rosa was wide awake! Scoring six points in about two minutes, DLR closed the gap at 11-10 and forced Landa to take a timeout and think things over. A skip no one saw coming, including DLR, coming out of the timeout put Landa back in the box to serve. Landa continued to move De La Rosa around the court and found his way to the semifinals with a 15-12 victory over DLR. Landa is now 8-3 all-time against De La Rosa in their careers!
Our last quarterfinal was cut short, unfortunately, due to an undisclosed injury to #2 Rocky Carson, from Ladera Ranch, California. Carson took on #11 Jake Bredenbeck from Marine, Minnesota, and if you were watching along, you could tell something was not right with Carson about midway through the first game. The power of Bredenbeck is hard for most players to keep up with, but Carson has had plenty of experience with hard-hitters. With several aces from Bredenbeck and even some rallies that Carson didn’t even move after, it was obvious this one was going to end short. Game 1, match, and a spot in the semifinals in Portland went to Bredenbeck, 15-6, WBF-Injury.
#2 Landa faced #11 Bredenbeck in the first semifinal of the day in Portland at the 2019 SPC John A. Pelham Memorial Tournament of Champions. Landa served first in the match, and Bredenbeck quickly forced him out with a smooth roller off the right wall. Landa wanted to score first and received some help from Bredenbeck in doing so, as the Big Minnie (Minnesota) skipped an easy one at 1-0. After about three minutes of play, Bredenbeck scored his first point with a hard and low drive to the front-court that died before Landa got his racquet to it, 1-1. Bunches of skips from Bredenbeck going at that bottom board on the front wall led to Landa getting out ahead in Game 1, 8-1. A dime that pinched the bottom board broke Landa’s streak, and Bredenbeck followed it up with a smooth, soft cross-court pass at 8-3. Landa gave up two more points but found his groove coming off Bredenbeck’s return of serves. Skips were too much for Bredenbeck to recover from, and Landa took Game 1 15-5.
Bredenbeck got a break in between games but couldn’t get one on the court as Landa opened up Game 2 with a 5-0 run in five minutes. The Big Minnie found his way to the box and got is first point with another smooth killshot into the right corner. Bredenbeck scorched two more points with bottom board bombs that he couldn’t locate in Game 1, 3-5. Landa got back to his cross-court pearls for a couple of points to force an early Game 2 timeout from Bredenbeck at 8-3. Both players exchanged points coming back from the timeout, 9-4, and Bredenbeck showed some smart decisions not forcing as many killshots from the backcourt, but Landa showed the difference in rankings, in the end, 15-7. Landa has now missed only one semifinal appearance in five T1 IRT tournaments!
The King, #1 Waselenchuk, went toe-to-toe with #4 Parrilla in the semifinal that many fans have seen before, and one that always produces excellent highlights. Parrilla always seems to find his way into a match against the greatest of all time, facing Waselenchuk 11 times before this semifinal match. Waselenchuk hasn’t lost a game to Parrilla in their careers, and Parrilla hasn’t faced anyone else on tour as often as Waselenchuk, so the stage was set for Parrilla.
Waselenchuk jumped out early and started just as hot as ever with a five-point point, 5-0. Parrilla put an end to scoring run with a bullet down the line, followed by a backhanded killshot and a pinch into the front right corner, 5-2. Six more points from Parrilla, including a cross-court pass and a bottom board bomb that the King had no chance of getting, gave himself an 8-5 lead. Waselenchuk didn’t waste any time getting this game a little closer in his favor, and after some back and forth rallies and point exchanges, the King knotted it up at 9-9. A few more points from Waselenchuk forced a timeout from Parrilla, but the King knew he had the momentum had left the young gun from San Luis Poto Si in the dust, 15-9.
Parrilla struggled to find his rhythm in Game 2 as Waselenchuk started the match with another big scoring run, 5-0. Parrilla battled back, similar to Game 1, but he could never close the gap. At 7-4, Waselenchuk got back into the service box and ran away with the match, scoring eight straight unanswered points and sending himself into the finals against Landa! Waselenchuk is now 12-0 all-time against Parrilla
It was a rematch of the 2019 Arizona Pro/Am T1 IRT tournament from earlier this year, #2 Landa taking on #1 Waselenchuk. Similar to Parrilla, Landa has matched up against Waselenchuk more than any other IRT athlete, but unlike Parrilla, Landa does have one victory over the King. Players exchanged both points and several serving opportunities to begin Game 1, 1-1. Waselenchuk broke the stand-off with two points, but Landa was quick to tie it back up at 3-3. A questionable bullet in the front-court that was called “good” gave Landa his first lead of the match as he snagged another point to make it 5-3. That questionable call seemed to fire Waselenchuk up as he got into the service box and punished Landa’s returns. With an 8-5 lead, coming back from Landa’s timeout, Landa used up all the energy he just gained from his timeout with some tremendous gets off Waselenchuk’s cross-court passes. Landa was able to find two more points in Game 1, but couldn’t find a way to catch the King, 15-7.
Landa started Game 2 off with a bullet down the line that had Waselenchuk diving out of his shoes to get, with no luck. A two-point lead looked like a new Landa in Game 2, but Waselenchuk was quick to knot it up 2-2. Soft hands with one rally and bullets in the corners on the next gave Waselenchuk a 5-2 lead, but Landa scored some of his own, 5-5. An exchange of great serves and tough drawn-out rallies gave Landa some momentum and forced a timeout from Waselenchuk, 7-8 the King. Unfortunately for Landa, the King came out of the timeout and was determined to get out of Portland with the championship. A seven-point run sent Waselenchuk past Landa for his third T1 victory of the 2019-2020 season!
The Tour will pick up T1 action after the holidays into the New Year from January 17-19 at the Longhorn Open in Austin, Texas! Be sure to check out the IRT’s website and social media platforms for more updates and enjoy the holidays!! Happy Holidays!
Photos Courtesy of KSphotography