The upcoming Canadian National Racquetball Team Selection Event in Kelowna, B.C. promises to be an extremely interesting and exciting tournament for Canadian racquetball. With the top 2 ranked players in Canada, Mike Green and Vincent Gagnon, both absent due to injury the draw has really opened up and it is truly anyone's tournament.
These players were in the final of 2/3 selection events last season, with Green going completely undefeated and Gagnon only losing to Green. While I'm sure the crowd in Kelowna will be slightly disappointed in the absence of these veterans, they should be ecstatic at the prospect of getting extremely exciting and competitive matches from some very talented young players that will be in attendance at the upcoming selection event. This is a brief sneak peek at what the draw will look like, and why there should be an abundance of excitement about some very interesting match ups.
Top 8 Seeds:
1. Kris Odegard
2. Tim Landeryou
3. Nathaniel Husulak
4. Eric Desrochers
5. Lee Connell
6. Pedro Castro
7. Coby Iwaasa
8. Kurtis Cullen
I've listed the top 8 seeds in the draw (based on current rankings) because I believe they will all make it through to the quarter finals, and they provide a landscape by which to describe some of the more exciting match ups of the tournament. Let's take a look at them one by one...
Kris Odegard vs. Kurtis Cullen (1v8)
While it's definitely tough to pick Kurtis as a favourite here, I know he's been training and playing a lot. His arm will still be fresh early in the tournament and if he can get his drive serve going he definitely has the potential to give 'Odie' some issues. I think Kris' consistency, experience, and of course shooting ability will come through in the end for him though, and I pick him to win in 2 games, albeit close ones.
Tim Landeryou vs. Coby Iwaasa (2v7)
It's always tough to predict how your own matches will play out. Perhaps Evan or someone more objective should write this one up... Not sure how good of a shot they'll give me though so I'm doin it myself! Coming off his gold medal at Junior Worlds, Coby will definitely come into this match on his game and feeling confident. The kid has a lot of talent, a great work ethic, and a love of the game that makes his future nothing but bright in this sport, but let's keep in mind he is still a kid. Losses to players like Desrochers, Castro, and Guillemette last season show that there are still holes to be exploited in Coby's game. This doesn't mean they aren't being closed at an alarming rate, but for the moment they are still there. Look for Landeryou to exploit these areas and take the match in 2 tight games.
Nathaniel Husulak vs. Pedro Castro (3v6)
This is perhaps the most interesting matchup of all the quarter finals. The last time these players met was at the 2011 National Championships in Antigonish/Port Hawkesbury. Castro won that contest in two close games, but that was also 18 months ago when Castro came into the draw seeded 6th and Nathaniel was seeded 11th. The tables are turned somewhat in Kelowna as 'Nate' comes in seeded 3rd. Greatly improving his game in the last season and making the Pan American Championship Team that traveled to Chile in March. His shooting consistency has become worlds better and his drive serve is as deadly as it's ever been. This is not to say that Castro doesn't have a great shot to make the semis, he definitely does. I'm sure their last meeting is on Nate's mind, and any time the match gets tight, 'Ped' seems to tap into that latin american spirit which never gives up, and elevates his play. This is best evidenced by his spectacular run in doubles with partner Desrochers at last year's National Championships where they knocked of the reigning champions Green/Odegard in the semis and narrowly missed taking the championship match from second seeds Gagnon/Viens. I do believe however, that Nate has the weapons and consistency to subdue this potential giant killer and take the match. This definitely has the potential to be a barn burner though, look for 2 extremely close games, or more likely a close tiebreaker.
Eric Desrochers vs. Lee Connell (4v5)
It's always interesting to see a match up of friends and training partners. Guys who have played each other so much that there is a clear and concise game plan right from the start. These two have played a number of times over the last decade, with Desrochers taking the majority of the contests. Recent history however, has seen Desrochers play extremely inconsistently. At times (like doubles at the last National Championships) his talent and brilliance has shone through, illuminating the full potential of the former Junior World Champion, but at others, inconsistencies and costly errors at inopportune times have lost him matches he had no business losing. This match is even more interesting because Connell has almost an equal ability to play inconsistently. His calmness and focus is a double-edged sword he continually battles with, and the outcome of his matches is almost always decided by how much and how often he can be heard screaming at himself. This passion also allows him to dig deep though, finding that raw, emotional turbulence within and harness it to achieve victory. This match will be decided by two things: 1. Desrochers' consistency and 2. Connell's mental stability. I think Connell will be up for the challenge, and still sharply focused at this stage of the tournament. He will take it in a moderately close tiebreaker.
There are of course some dark horses in the draw... Eric Urteaga, a former junior national champion could be a force to be reckoned with and will definitely be a local favourite to pull off an upset. And of course we can't forget Bruce "Robertson" Robinson of Lumsden, SK who at the ripe age of 59 will have by far the most experience in the draw. His veteran tricks and undefeated record against #1 seeded Kris Odegard will serve him well and may propel him to an upset in this tournament. Look for more updates throughout the weekend, with pictures and hopefully some sweet quotes from athletes. Cheers for now!