Packed stands enjoy stars of the future
By TIMOTHY BAGHURST in Mexico
Last week more than 180 juniors between the ages of eight and 19 descended on the industrial city of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, for the annual Junior Racquetball World Championships.
Hosted at the incredible facility of La Loma Centro Deportivo, players from around the globe competed over eight days to be called World Champion. Most brackets began with three days of round robin to determine seeding followed by a single elimination bracket.
Watching junior tournaments is always an enjoyable experience. Stands were packed with family, friends, and local support for Mexico, the defending champions from 2015. While Mexico were again favourites to defend their title, some of their best players (e.g., Rodrigo Montoya and Jessica and Andre Parrilla) had moved on to the professional tours. Therefore, there were opportunities for other nations to close the gap.
Although there were some tremendous matches, and many come-from-behind tiebreakers (a third game played to 11 points if the first two games to 15 are split), there were two or three players who stood out from the rest of the pack.
Eduardo Portillo (MEX) was dominant in the Boys 16s division, winning both singles and doubles quite comprehensively. Similarly, Gabriela Martinez (GUA) had few troubles claiming yet another junior title, this time in the 16s.
It was expected, as the silver medalist from this summer’s World Championships, but she also captured the 18s doubles title with her sister, Andrea Martinez.
In a double round-robin format, the Guatemalan pair had been beaten by the defending champions Manilla and Cooperrider (USA), but put on a spectacular show at the second opportunity to claim the title on points differential.
In the Boys 18s, Cristian Longoria (MEX) confirmed his continued dominance of his age group winning both the singles and doubles. But both were not without drama. Winning the singles title in a very close second game against Cristhian Mina (BOL), Longoria cramped up outside of the court and was forced to regroup for his doubles final, also against rival Mina. On match point in the doubles final, Longoria won the point but sprained his ankle in the process.
One wonders whether outcomes in both matches could have swung Mina’s way had they stretched to a tiebreaker. The Bolivian did appear to be the fitter of the two.
Regardless, expect both Longoria and Mina to make appearances on the professional circuit, although the Bolivians do struggle with the long journey north.
Make a note of the name Diego Garcia (BOL) for future reference. In the Boys 14s, Garcia displayed an incredibly mature game well above his age, and fine things are expected of this young athlete should he continue to progress.
Mexico retained their team title, but Bolivia closed the gap from last year, and the United States found themselves a respectable third. The Junior World Championships provide a window in the future of racquetball, and based on the 2016 tournament, the future is bright.
There are several stars in the making, but transition from junior to seniors is a challenge fraught by many obstacles: finances, burnout, education, coaching, and pressure are just a few that can make or break a young athlete.
Whether the names mentioned, or those who break through in the years to come, will make it to elite status as adults remains to be seen. For now, however, they can return home with the comfort and knowledge of being world champions.
Pictures by TIMOTHY BAGHURST