Thursday, 17 April 2014

2014 Pan American Racquetball Championships: Day 7 & 8

Our sixth day in Bolivia and fourth day of the 

tournament was the day off of competition, which marked the end of the round robin play and beginning of the elimination draws.  Since there were no formal activities planned, most athletes used the day for some R and R, electing to relax in their rooms or down by the pool. The sun was shining and I know more than a few athletes got their fair share ;) The day was capped off with a Team Canada dinner at Michaelangelo’s Restaurant, about 20 minutes from our hotel. Because of budget constraints, there was a question about whether the Team Dinner would happen, but Team Official Cal Smith and Racquetball President Jack McBride were instrumental in ensuring that it did. I’m sure I speak for all members on the Team when I say thank you. It is an incredibly enjoyable part of the trip to have a Team Dinner and it wouldn’t have been the same without it. See the picture (above) of everyone at the dinner table. It was a great time

 Following the day of rest, the real tournament began, and it was a bit of a roller coaster for Team Canada… As usual, results are posted at the bottom.

The day began with the first round of Men’s Singles. Canadian representatives Vincent Gagnon and Coby Iwasaa both moved on easily, although Vince had an easier time as he received a first round bye. Women’s Singles was next, as that draw was as large as the Men’s! Like their male counterparts, Frederique Lambert and Jennifer Saunders both moved into the round of 16, with easy wins over their first round opponents.

Before the doubles later in the day, the second round of both singles draws would be played. With Vince holding the second seed, he faced a lower ranked opponent than Coby and would have another fairly easy match, moving onto the quarters in two straight games. Coby’s second match was where the drama would begin for Team Canada…

It should be noted that Coby’s opponent, Luis Perez, is a solid player who has competed at the international level for many years, despite being quite young. He is tall and lean, and uses his long limbs to generate a lot of power. The first game was close all the way along, but Coby found himself on the wrong end of a game point at 12-14. He managed to get the serve back though, and battle away the next three points to take the first game 15-14. The second game played out in a similar fashion to the first, staying close right until the end where again, Coby was down 14-12. This time, unfortunately, things played out a little differently. As Coby chased a ball into the back wall, he slipped and fell into the door. The panel of glass shattered as soon as he hit it and his momentum propelled him through the now gaping hole in the back wall and out of the court. With broken glass everywhere, there was no way Coby could get through unscathed. His injuries were mostly minor cuts along his legs, arms, and back, but he did suffer one more serious laceration near his right knee. This would require medical attention but since he wanted to continue the match, they simply bandaged it up. Back on court for the tiebreaker, Coby dove for a ball at 0-0, killing it to get into the service box. This would have set a positive tone for the tiebreaker, but unfortunately the official not only called his shot a skip, but he also landed on his now injured knee in the process. He was not the same after that, and would drop the tiebreaker 11-2.

The girls were up next and both had a much tougher time than they did in the first round. Frederique won her first game without too much trouble, but went down by a large margin in the second and couldn’t recover, dropping the game 15-12. She did recover in the tiebreaker, cruising to victory 11-2. Saunders had more difficulty in her match. Not seemingly able to find her range when shooting the entire first game, she would drop it 15-10. Unfortunately it was more of the same in the second, as the first game seemed to leave her deflated and not able to play any better. She would drop the second 15-4.

After that it was onto doubles! The girls had a fairly easy first round against Panama, giving up only four points on their way to winning the match. We drew the tough Dominican team first round so our match would be more difficult. It proved to be a battle of attrition as we found ourselves in the hole 2-8 early in the first game. We were able to begin establishing a rhythm, but were still fighting an uphill battle. Down 10-4, we finally put a good stretch of points together to close their lead to three points at 13-10. Scoring points gave us confidence to be more aggressive and we were able to rattle off another three points to tie the game at 13-13, and eventually steal it 15-13.

In the second, despite our intention to start strong, we found ourselves slipping into another hole. We didn’t seem to be playing terrible, just unable to put the ball away on our serve and having trouble scoring. The TSN turning point came when we were 12-4 down, after a bit of a rally Pedro took a ball off the back wall between his legs, killing it down the line. This put a smile on both of our faces and pumped us up. We would score five quick points to close to 9-12 and the Dominicans would call a time out.  We knew then that we could come back, just as we had in the first game.  After the time out, we would close the lead to 11-12 before the Dominicans would get the serve back. We were able to hold them to only one point, getting back in the service box at 11-13. Two backhand splats later it was 13-13 before there was a handout and Pedro served.

The next rally saw several shots before we were able to establish position and hit a good pass that the Dominicans had to return off the back wall. As the shot moved towards the front wall, I retreated back, planning to take the set up after it bounced. Pedro had other plans, surging forward; he played the ball out of the air, hitting a perfect pinch into the front right corner to give us match ball, 14-13. The next rally was extended as well. Not wanting to give up our serve we hit more passes, trying to put the Dominicans out of position before going for a winner. After several attempts, they left a pass of their own high, a wide angle to the left that wrapped around to the right side off the back wall and ending shoulder-high at the receiving line. Pedro, confident from his last forehand pinch, stepped up and with a huge swing ripped a splat attempt into the front. It was perfect. There was barely a ripple as the ball rolled out on the front wall and we both raised our hands in triumph.

“Skeep ball.” We both heard over the mic. We looked at each other first. Had we heard that right? We then looked back at the ref incredulously.

“I called de ball a skeep.” He repeated in a heavy Spanish accent. This was a pretty scary moment, as the skip call would give the Dominicans the serve back and in international rules, you only have to win the game by one point, so they would only need two points to win the game and take the match to tiebreaker. Luckily for us, line judges had been recruited early in the match, and they were immune to whatever skip visions our official seemed to be having. They overturned the call and we were awarded the point, game, and match!

With two singles players and both doubles teams still alive and into the quarter finals, it will be an even tougher day for Team Canada today. We will do our best to play well and come out on top. Go Canada!!!


Rd of 32
Frederique Lambert d. Paula Padilla 15-5, 15-2
Jennifer Saunders d. Pamela Sierra 15-0, 15-5

Coby Iwasaa d. Diego Viglione 15-3, 15-4
Vincent Gagnon d. BYE

Rd of 16
Frederique Lambert d. Natalia Mendez 15-8, 12-15, 11-1
Jenny Daza (BOL) d. Jennifer Saunders 15-10, 15-4

Luis Perez (DOM) d. Coby Iwasaa 14-15, 15-12, 11-2
Vincent Gagnon d. Cesar Castillo 15-6, 15-11

Lambert/Grand-Maitre d. Caballero/Barboni 15-4, 15-0

Landeryou/Castro d. Perez/Rodriguez 15-13, 15-13

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

2014 Pan American Racquetball Championships: Day 5 & 6

Three days into the tournament and I’m already dropping the ball on posts. This one is gonna be a little more to the point so hopefully we can get caught up in time for the elimination draws to begin. Speaking of which the draws are now up so I'll put them up at the bottom of this post as well.

Day 2 of competition for Team Canada went very well, as all members won their matches and did so convincingly. The results and scores will be summarized at the bottom of this post.

Day 3 was slightly more interesting as it was the final day of the round robin play and thus for all Team Canada members, was the day for the most contentious matches. I’m going to focus on two in particular, Coby Iwasaa’s men’s singles match, and our men’s doubles match.

I knew that Coby’s singles match had the potential to be close. I’ve seen Camacho play many times over the years and he has a very unique style that can get under a player’s skin. Pair that with his ability to cover the court and he has the potential to be a very tough opponent. That being said, I gave Coby the advantage because of his serve and shot making; as long as he played fairly well, he should come out with the win.

To his credit, Coby started well and had built a lead of 9-4 by the time we arrived to the court from eating lunch. He kept building this lead and served for the first game at 14-6. It looked like at this point he got a little bit tight mentally because he faltered a bit, missing a few shots and allowing Camacho to begin creeping back into the game. He would finally take the first after several attempts, 15-10.

The second game started in a similar fashion, with Coby building a lead early on 7-3. He tightened up much earlier in this game though, and after several very tentative misses on rally ending attempts, the Costa Rican had leveled the game. Things didn’t get better for Coby as the game wore on technically, although the score remained tight until 10-10, when Camacho went ahead by a few points. There were a few changes of serve here, as Iwasaa again appeared to tighten up when given the opportunity to win the rally. Ultimately the Costa Rican was able to finish the game and take the match to tiebreaker.

The tiebreaker didn’t contain the drama the previous two games did, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Coby recovered from his late-game lapse in the previous game and built an early lead that he never relinquished. He took the tiebreaker 11-5.

Our doubles match was set to be our first real test of the tournament. Coming in we were seeded second in our pool, sixth overall, with our Argentinian opponents seeded first in the pool and third overall. Even with this knowledge though, we felt like the favourites going into the match. We even played like it, for the first little while…

We built an early lead to 7-4, but both sides played extremely inconsistently. They began to play better as the game wore on though, and unfortunately we didn’t. The Argentinians chipped away at our lead until they had one of their own and eventually took the game 15-7. We were able to recover in the second and play smarter, if not better, while the Argentinians seemed to come out flat. We took the second easily 15-2. I’m not sure if we came out overconfident or whether our opponents just played better in the tiebreaker but even though the first half was tight, we found ourselves on the right side of a 3-point lead at 7-4. With the end in sight, I played slightly more aggressive than perhaps I should have. The reality is I can usually rely on my shooting ability, especially on my backhand, but for whatever reason that day just wasn’t my day. Not only did I miss the first two setups I had for points on our serve, but I skipped two out of three setups to get our serve back once we lost it. At 7-7 we got the serve back but again were unable to score. I would skip another two balls on our way to giving up the next four points to lose the tiebreaker 11-7 and the match.

This unfortunately means that we will have a tougher draw to the semi-finals than if we had won, but both Pedro and I agreed that the adversity we faced would be good for us later on and that there weren’t going to be any easy matches for us in the elimination draw anyway. We’ll have the Dominicans first and most likely Bolivia in the quarterfinals. They’re both good teams but we’re better, and we’re ready to go and represent Canada!

Day 2 Results:

Frederique Lambert d. Sofia Soley 15-13, 15-5
Jennifer Saunders d. Melania Sauma 15-4, 15-7

Vincent Gagnon – Bye
Coby Iwasaa d. Pablo Kurzbard 15-7, 15-6

Lambert/Grand-Maitre d. Vargas/Guillemette 15-8, 15-4
Landeryou/Castro d. Santiago/Jordan 15-4, 15-4

Day 3 Results:

Frederique Lambert d. Carla Munoz 15-11, 12-15, 11-3
Jennifer Saunders d. Maria Paz Riquelme 15-4, 15-2

Vincent Gagnon d. Andres Solera 15-4, 15-13
Coby Iwasaa d. Felipe Camacho 15-10, 10-15, 11-5

Lambert/Grand-Maitre d. Munoz/Riquelme 15-5, 15-11

Manzuri/Maggi (ARG) d. Landeryou/Castro 15-7, 2-15, 11-7

Elimination Draws:

Women's Singles
Men's Singles
Men's Doubles
Women's Doubles

Sunday, 13 April 2014

2014 Pan American Championships: Day 4

Our fourth day in Santa Cruz marked the first day of competition for Team Canada, and the first day of competition for Team Canada went pretty well. The day began with women’s singles at 11 and 12, mens singles at 1 and 2, then the doubles at 430 and 530. Because we had the last match of the day we didn’t go over for any of the early matches and elected to stay back and relax in the room. For those just looking for the match results, I’ve summarized them at the bottom of this post.

We decided to head to the club on the 2pm shuttle, as there was food being offered at the venue. We figured we could eat and enjoy some racquetball before going on the court ourselves. Unfortunately for us, the day had other plans…

We arrived in the lobby at 1:50pm and while there was no shuttle waiting this wasn’t a surprise, as I’ve mentioned previously, in latin America things rarely run on time. By 2:10pm though, we were beginning to worry. This worry turned out to be justified when a shuttle showed up at 2:15pm, only to tell us that he wouldn’t be departing until 3pm. While waiting another 45 minutes wasn’t what we had planned, it also was really our only choice other than taking a cab, and since we didn’t’ think that we were in a rush, we stayed in the lobby.

3pm rolled around and another shuttle returned from the club carrying with it some of our teammates who had played in the morning. They carried with them, the unfortunate news that food was only being served at the venue until 3pm. Wonderful. With the opportunity to eat at the venue lost, we made the hasty decision to eat at the hotel and catch the next shuttle at 4pm. While not ideal, this would still get us to the club an hour before our match was scheduled to begin.

Our third attempt to take the shuttle was finally a success, and we arrived at the club around 4:15pm. We were surprised to find, upon our arrival, that one of our singles players, Vincent Gagnon, still hadn’t played! Apparently the two show courts were still incomplete and at some point in the morning, one of the glass panes on another court had come loose. Repairs were being made, but this put the facility down to 5 courts from the original 8 and had drastically pushed back the match schedule. When Vince and his Argentinian opponent finally took the court, it was 5pm. This meant the courts were 3 hours behind and we weren’t in any danger of playing soon. I suppose the silver lining was that we were still able to watch one of our teammates play.

As the match began, it was obvious that the Argentinian, Fernando Kurzbard, was fired up. He came out with reckless abandon, ripping the ball hard and finding the front corners often. Vince was able to steady the ship and begin to find his rhythm but still found himself in a hole midway through the game 5-11. It was hard to tell the exact moment it happened, but you could tell Vince shifted his strategy, realizing that the pace Kurzbard had set for himself could not be maintained, and made the decision to try and prolong the rallies, using passes to move the Argentinian around the court rather than hit outright winners. The strategy worked and Vince was able to claw back into the game. Kurzbard would miss several shots as the game became tight and mentally unraveled. Vince would take the game 15-12 and steamrolled through the second 15-4.

While the repairs had now been finished on the broken court, the schedule was still over 3 hours behind and so we decided to go back to the hotel for an hour instead of staying at the club where there was nothing to do. We estimated that we would get on court between 8 and 830pm so we took a cab back to the courts at 730pm. Due to some feat of South American temporal wizardry, the court repairs had not helped the schedule at all and they were in fact even further behind. We ended up not getting on court until 9pm. After all the drama of the day, I was half expecting our match to contain some as well but it was fairly straightforward. There were a few team hiccups but overall we played well, winning 15-5, 15-3.

Full results for Team Canada are below. Stay tuned for Day 2 results later today!

Team Canada Results: Day 1

Women’s Singles
Jennifer Saunders d. 15-0, 15-1
Frederique Lambert d. Mary Diaz 15-10, 15-6

Men’s Singles
Vincent Gagnon d. Fernando Kurzbard 15-12, 15-4
Coby Iwasaa d. Gustavo Farrel 15-0, 15-9

Women’s Doubles
Lambert/Grand Maitre d. Perez/Martin 15-2, 15-1

Men’s Doubles

Landeryou/Castro d. Troncoso/Suarez 15-5, 15-3

Saturday, 12 April 2014

2014 Pan American Championships: Day 3

Day 3 in Bolivia was pretty uneventful but it was our second practice day as well as the opening ceremonies so I’ll recap our third day here and give the results of Team Canada’s first day of competition in a brief post tomorrow .

The day began with the team meeting downstairs for breakfast around 830am. Following this we packed up and boarded the shuttle at 930 for our 10am practice time at the club. Upon our arrival we were pleasantly surprised to find that a large portion of the outside entrance to the club had been finished, but this feeling was short-lived, as much of the inside remained the same as the previous day, dusty and unfinished. Some of the court floors had improved though and luckily one of the practice courts we had was one of these. This made for an improved quality and intensity to our practice, which I think benefitted everyone on the team. We practiced until noon and then caught the shuttle back to the hotel.

Upon our return to the hotel, I needed to stop by the front desk and change some American dollars for the local currency, the Boliviano. I had required some cash over the last couple of days and since I didn’t have any, had to resort to taking loans from other team members. The tab I had racked up was becoming substantial so I thought it best to balance the budget before getting too deep into the tournament. After doing this I grabbed a shower in the room before heading down with some of the team to grab lunch at the restaurant. Following our meal we went back to the room and I filled the remainder of the afternoon putting together a blog post for the first couple of days and taking some photos of the room that I’m going to put together for a virtual tour of our villa (stay tuned!).

The buses to the courts for the opening ceremonies were scheduled to leave at 6pm, so the team met down by the pool at 5pm to take pictures before we left. The best of these were posted to facebook yesterday so you should all be familiar with how the uniforms look. This took about half an hour, after which we headed to the lobby and after a short while, boarded the bus for the club.

I really wish I had more positive things to say about the opening ceremonies but the truth is they were pretty terrible. Now don’t get me wrong I understand that there is a lot of work, collaboration, and money that goes into putting an event like this on, especially when a new facility is built to house it, but normally (or at least for the few of these that I’ve attended) there is some form of entertainment mixed in to break up the monotony and/or some type of activity afterwards to promote the social nature of the event. In this instance, there was a local band, which played 3 songs before the ceremonies began, followed by the speeches, which lasted about an hour. After this, the ribbon was cut and the tournament was declared to officially begin. All in all, this took almost 3 hours as we spent about half that time waiting at the venue before the ceremonies began (in true latin American fashion). By this time even those who had eaten a meal shortly before departing were starving and a few of us vowed to get pizza once back at the hotel.

I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s just not that interesting to be honest, but we arrived back at the hotel around 10pm and promptly ordered pizza. For whatever reason it took almost an hour to arrive, and thus social conventions were completely disregarded and it was gone in less than 10 minutes. By this time it was almost midnight so I quickly said my goodbyes and retreated to the room where sleep awaited.

That’s day 3 in the books! I’ll post about day 4 tomorrow, as well as try to get some pics up. We don’t play until the evening so look for another post in the afternoon. Bye for now!