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Friday, August 12, 2022

No stopping Kane Waselenchuk

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Kane Waselenchuk and Andre Parrilla at the presentation ceremony

Waselenchuck adds to resume, but young upstart Parrilla wins hearts
By MARK PALERMO – Squash Mad Racquetball Correspondent


Racquetball has an unusual configuration of three professional tours: The Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT), The World Racquetball Tour (WRT), and International Racquetball Tour (IRT). With respect to the male tours, the IRT is a long-established tour whereas the WRT is much newer, and only began operation a few years ago.

Many perceive the WRT to be a feeder tour to the IRT, where once players have established themselves on the WRT, they begin transitioning to IRT stops. WRT players are not limited to playing just their tour whereas the top IRT players are restricted to their tour only, and are fined if they choose to compete in a WRT event.

Two or three years past, the WRT’s role as a “minor” tour might have been accurate. However, over the last year or two the WRT has recruited the youngest and best to their tour, and the IRT has relied on their long-established top 4 players such as unquestioned great (and most would agree the greatest ever) Kane Waselenchuk (CAN), followed by Rocky Carson (USA), Daniel De La Rosa (MEX), and Alvaro Beltran (MEX). Yet only De La Rosa is under 35 years of age.

The 32nd Annual Shamrock Shootout and IRT Tier 1 Pro Stop in Lombard, a suburb of Chicago, brought an unexpected 37 participants to the pro draw, which made it quite an exciting opportunity to gauge some of the younger talent against IRT tour regulars. Usually the US Open held in October is one of the rare opportunities to compare players on both tours.

In attendance were national team members from Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Canada, perhaps getting some match practice prior to the Pan Am Championships next month. However, a sprinkling of WRT players also entered the draw including David “Bobby” Horn (USA; WRT rank 3; IRT rank 12), Andre Parrilla (MEX; WRT rank 4; IRT rank 14), and Jake Bredenbeck (USA; WRT rank 12; IRT rank 15). Also in the draw was Alejandro Landa (MEX), who appears sporadically across both tours, but has the potential to beat almost anyone.

The round of 16s went according to plan for 1 seed Waselenchuk, 2 seed Carson, 4 seed Beltran, and 7 seed Jose Rojas (USA). But there were some major upsets. Marco Rojas (USA) seeded 9 defeated 8 seed Sebastian Franco (COL) 3-1.

Horn seeded 12 beat 5 seed Jansen Allen (USA) 3-0 in a surprisingly lopsided scoreline, and Landa seeded 11 defeated Mario Mercado (COL) also 3-0. But the biggest upset occurred when 14 seed Parrilla defeated his Mexican counterpart De La Rosa 11-3, 1-11, 11-9, 10-12, 12-10.

The quarter-finals were no less dramatic. Waselenchuk and Carson faced some stiffer tests against brothers Marco and Jose Rojas, but advanced. Jose Rojas in particular will be disappointed with the outcome, as he let leads in games one and two slip away, and eventually fell in four. Credit to Marco Rojas, who put up an unexpected fight against Waselenchuk, but did fall in three straight.

Horn’s impressive run to the quarters was undone by Beltran, who used his many years of experience to tame the energy of his opponent. Again the talk was of Parrilla, who battled hard to a four game win against Landa to advance to his first IRT semi-final.

Many would have picked Landa to win; especially given he had defeated Parrilla in both singles and doubles at the Mexican National Championships the week prior.

Waselenchuk has not lost a match, let alone a game, in recent memory, and so it was no surprise that he advanced to yet another final, this time losing a mere 9 total points to Beltran.

The other semi-final turned into a classic, and again Parrilla found himself the winner, this time against 2 seed Carson, winning 3-11, 11-8, 4-11, 11-5, 11-8. It was a dramatic match, and as Parrilla began to see a 9-1 lead slip away in the decider, one began to wonder whether the much younger player might capitulate to the pressure. But following a good appeal to overturn an incorrect call, Parrilla closed it out on the first opportunity.

The final was not expected to be close. Only in October at the US Open Parrilla had been humbled by Waselenchuk 11-0, 11-0, 11-0. But this is a new Parrilla, who seems to have added a willingness to attack to compliment his already-recognized defensive abilities.

However, Waselenchuk is not widely viewed as the greatest of all-time for no reason, and he simply overpowered his much younger opponent in the first two games. Although Parrilla rallied in the third, and had an opportunity for game point, Waselenchuk closed it out 12-10 capping yet another tournament without a game lost. His stats are unlikely to ever be repeated.

Waselenchuk’s power and control are almost unworldly at times, but this weekend should give his opponents hope. He was slightly more errant than usual, skipping shots more than has been seen in past seasons, and although the 35-year old appears able to dominate for the foreseeable future, there are younger players with the ability to take his throne. Whether that ability can be translated into results remains the issue.

For Parrilla, it will be interesting to see whether he remains committed to the WRT or transitions to the IRT, which has larger financial reward. Remaining with the WRT would help to cement their status as a legitimately competitive tour, and as he only ranks number 4, he may wish to acquire the number 1 spot first.

However, his defection could reaffirm the belief of some that the WRT serves merely to train players for the big leagues. Also, he needs to ensure that his giant killing extravaganza of this week becomes the norm rather than an anomaly.

For the fan, this weekend provided a spectacle of fabulous racquetball, but only muddies the waters around the roles and place of the IRT and WRT. Waselenchuk and perhaps Carson, who almost always finds his way to the final, can be considered better players than what the WRT has to offer.

Yet Horn’s comfortable victory over 5 seed Allen combined with the wins of Parrilla over the 2 and 3 seed highlight the possible parity that now exists across tours. Although IRT players (at least the top ones) are fined for playing in WRT events, the likes of Alex Cardona (MEX), Rodrigo Montoya (MEX), and Jaime Martell (MEX) all have the potential to cause ripples in the regular IRT draws.

Where does this leave us beyond the US Open, where most WRT players, especially if they do not compete on the IRT, must play additional matches just to qualify for the main draw? It leaves us to wonder: wonder if a tournament could be put together featuring the top 8 from each tour for an end of season extravaganza.

While the possibilities ruminate, reality bites. Only if both tours can work together for the best of the sport can such an event take place. But what an event it could be! Should it happen, unlucky to those that must face Waselenchuk.


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