Washington, Mo. March 23, 2018- There always seems to be something special about the month of March and its correlation with sports. The International Racquetball Tour (IRT) is no different when it comes to this phenomenon, as it too has recently had a taste of the “March Madness”. But it hasn’t just been the month of March providing the Tour with some upsets, even before the start of 2018 the IRT began hosting this welcome party for the upcoming underdogs in professional racquetball.
Charlie Pratt, residing in Gainesville, Florida kicked off this party in his hometown of Portland, Oregon at the John Pelham Memorial Pro Kennex Tournament of Champions back in early December of 2017. Pratt battled his way past Rocky Carson, residing in Ladera Ranch, California in a five-game semifinal by scores of 6-11, 11-6, 11-4, 8-11, 11-5. Mario Mercado, from Cali, Colombia awaited Pratt in the finals in Portland, and lost by scores of 11-4, 11-1, 12-10, giving Pratt his first Tier 1 championship of the 2017-2018 season.
Winning in Portland felt “surreal” to Pratt, almost like a dream. “I was proud to do it for Portland in front of my best friends, parents and old coaches, “ Pratt said. “I always knew I was capable of winning and it was very humbling. The greatest part was to do it for the Pelham family and their son John who sacrificed his life for our freedom, that’s bigger than racquetball will ever be.”
Pratt started a new trend in the IRT after his victory in Portland, an “anybody’s game” trend. Since Portland, the Tour has had four different Tier 1 winners in the last four events, five if we count Pratt. In last year’s season, the Tour had a total of eight Tier 1 events with Kane Waselenchuk, residing in Austin, Texas winning six of those. In this year’s season, the IRT has had eight Tier 1 event so far, with at least two more events scheduled. Waselenchuk won the first three of the season and hasn’t competed in a finals since the St. Louis Winter Rollout.
Everyone knows that if the best player is hurt, the other team has a better chance to win. Although Waselenchuk has been sidelined with a knee injury since mid-January, Pratt believes there is more than just Waselenchuk sitting out that is leading to these new champions. “The next generation of players are now at the top level,” Pratt said. “We’re all so competitive so it gets harder and harder to predict the outcome of these tournaments. If you put a solid tournament together you have a chance at winning, it’s anyone’s ballgame now.”
Tier 1 Champions Since Portland:
- Daniel De La Rosa- 2018 L.A. Open
- Alex Landa- 2018 Lewis Drug Pro/Am
- Sebastian Franco- 2018 March Madness
- Andree Parrilla- 2018 Shamrock Shootout
De La Rosa, residing in Gilbert, Arizona won his first Tier 1 championship of the season at the 2018 L.A. Open when he won the finals by default due to an injury with Waselenchuk’s knee. De La Rosa did cruise past Carson in their semifinal by scores of 15-5, 15-7 before making it to the finals. Alex Landa, residing in El Paso, Texas won his first Tier 1 championship ever in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the 40th Annual Lewis Drug Pro/Am. Landa faced De La Rosa in his final and defeated him in a nail-biter by scores of 15-6, 7-15, 11-10.
Landa described the moment as, “the best feeling in my career” when he defeated De La Rosa for the championship. “I’ve won many tournaments around the world but nothing tasted like that one,” Landa said. “That will always be something special for me.”
Waselenchuk being sidelined is something Landa admitted to helping his chances, but also looks forward to the opportunity to play Kane. “I like to play Kane, it’s the best challenge I can have of course,” Landa said. “But with Kane not in the draw it shows the rest of the talent we have on tour and shows anyone can get the title.” Stepping up to play on the IRT, setting a dream/goal and training hard for it is the best advice Landa gives to those upcoming racquetball athletes looking to achieve such a great accomplishment like he did.
Sebastain Franco, from Cali, Colombia took home his first championship of the season at the 2018 Racquetball March Madness event in San Antonio, Texas. Franco faced Landa in the finals and prevented Landa from winning back-to-back tournaments by scores of 15-9, 15-13. Andree Parrilla, from San Luis Potosi, Mexico hosted the latest underdog party at the 2018 Shamrock Shootout in Lombard, Illinois. Parrilla defeated Carson in their semifinal match by scores of 15-12, 14-15, 11-8 then faced off and beat David “Bobby” Horn, from Stockton, California by scores of 15-1, 15-9.
With more professionals starting to win these Tier 1 racquetball events, which is more impressive: Waselenchuk’s dominance when he’s healthy or how fair the field is when he’s injured?
IRT Commissioner, Andy Kulback, believes that when you look at both sides of the question, they’re equally impressive. “Looking at what Tiger Woods or Usian Bolt did their sports, Kane is right up there for racquetball,” Kulback said. “What Kane has accomplished in this sport (13 U.S. Open Championships, 100+ Singles Championships, Multi Doubles Championships) may never be equalled.” On the other hand, Kulback thinks younger players are improving their games and top players have to work harder to maintain their top positions which is also really impressive. “We’re starting to see the younger players step up their game and take full advantage of the opportunities in their draws,” Kulback said.
“The IRT has had many “faces” for the sport over the years, Marty Hogan, Cliff Swain, Sudsy Monchik etc..,” Kulack said. “We have been blessed for the last decade to watch the dominance of Kane, but these five different winners in five events has given us a glimpse into the future of the IRT and it’s going to be very exciting!”
C.E.O. of the IRT, John Scott, believes there are positives that come out of both Kane’s dominance and the effects of the draw with his absence. “There is certainly an upside in dealing with the unknown outcome,” Scott said. “For example, when Charlie won in Portland, that’s a moment we will never forget in racquetball. With Kane out of an event players know they have a better chance and we’ve seen the results of that on the court these past five events.”
Scott also recognizes that seeing greatest is hard to get bored with. “Greatness is greatness and with Kane not on the court it takes away from the fans point of view,” Scott said. “That being said, not knowing the outcome of an event has sparked an interest in a lot of people.”
The Tour has two Tier 1 events left in the 2017-2018 season, the Mercedes-Benz of Ft. Mitchell Raising Some Racquet For Kids in Cincinnatti, Ohio and the Florida IRT Regional Championships in Sarasota, Florida. Both events are in April and as of March 22, Waselenchuk has been cleared to play by doctors. Although he is officially cleared to play, the racquetball world still waits for an official decision from the King of Racquetball himself. Will Waselenchuk crash the underdog party and regain his top spot on Tour, or will the underdogs keep the lights on for the rest of the season?
Head Staff Writer:
Kelly R. Diesel