Pan American Games
Sunday, August 10
U.S. & Mexico Split Pan Am Titles
All U.S. Team coverage by Ryan John -- Finals photos by Sarah Greenlee; all earlier photos by Ryan John.
The U.S. earned two gold medals and two silver medals Sunday at the 14th Pan American Games in Santo Domingo. That added to the medal total started by Rocky Carson (Mission Viejo, Calif.) on Saturday when he earned a bronze in men’s singles. Although the medal count may seem quite impressive, it was a letdown for the U.S., who had previously swept gold at every Pan Am games since 1995.
Cheryl Gudinas (Lisle, Ill.) earned the first gold medal for the U.S. by winning the women’s singles division. It was the second straight Pan American gold for Gudinas. She first won in 1999 after earning a silver in 1995.
“It’s more of a relief than anything,” she said after her match. “But of course I’m happy. I’ve wanted this for four years; it’s been my goal.”
Gudinas [wearing hat] earned the victory over fellow American Laura Fenton (Overland Park, Kan.) in a hard fought match that went into a tiebreaker. Fenton started the first game on fire, building an early 5-0 lead. Gudinas was able to tie things up at 9-9, but then Fenton went on another run to win 15-11.
“I had the game plan of attack, attack, attack,” Fenton said. “I felt great. I felt like I was going to win this one.”
Both players started out strong in the second game and stayed within a few points of each other until the score was tied at 7-7. That was when Gudinas found her groove and took over.
“She skipped a couple and I just kept repeating to myself, ‘Chip away, chip away, one at a time,’” Gudinas explained. “I just felt that if I could hang in there, she would make mistakes.”
Gudinas started out the tiebreaker with a 5-1 lead, which Fenton quickly erased with a four-point run. Gudinas called a timeout to regroup and then came back onto the court and scored two quick points. Finally, after eight (8) consecutive side outs, Gudinas was able to close out the match with a four point run, 11-5.
“I had a lot of things going on inside of my head (at the beginning of the match) and sometimes when you try too hard it works against you,” Gudinas explained. “You have to rely on your experiences and reflexes that you’ve had for years in order to execute properly.”
The U.S. earned its second gold medal when Jack Huczek (Rochester, Mich.) defeated Canada’s Mike Green in straight games, 15-12, 15-7. Huczek, who had problems with the crowd and officiating the day before, seemed much more focused and in control during his gold medal match.
“I felt much more relaxed today. I felt good all morning and in my warm up,” he said. “I was in a zone and I felt comfortable.”
Huczek [standing, top right; diving, bottom right] and Green battled it out neck and neck in the first game until Huczek was able to push ahead at the end to win 15-12. The second game was never in doubt as Huczek seemed to take Green out of his game right from the start.
“Mike played well, but he was missing some shots and that gave me opportunities,” Huczek explained. “I played consistent and that is what you have to do.”
In one of the biggest upsets in international racquetball, Mexico defeated the U.S. women’s doubles team in an exciting match that went the distance, 8-15, 15-7, 11-9. The U.S. doubles team of Jackie Rice (Ramona, Calif.) and Kim Russell (Austin, Texas) had not previously lost a game together, let alone a match.
“I think they had some good coaching and they were pretty fired up from the crowd,” said Rice. “I think they closed their eyes when they hit some shots and things just went their way.”
It seemed as though the U.S. was in control of the match after winning the first game 15-8, but Mexico’s Suzy Acosta and Rosy Torres started out the second with a renewed energy, jumping out to an early 8-1 lead. The U.S. seemed to get back on track, after cutting the lead to 8-7, but Acosta took over and led her team on a seven-point run to end the game, 15-7.
The U.S. again seemed to have the match within their grasp after building an early 7-3 lead. Mexico then went on a run with the partisan Mexican crowd getting louder with each successive point. The U.S. finally scored a side out, down 8-7, and got two quick points of their own to go ahead 9-8. They were unable to close out the match, however, and when Mexico got back into the service box, it was the last time.
“Immediately following the match I was extremely disappointed for myself and for Jackie,” Russell said just before the awards ceremony. “But then I talked to my boyfriend on the phone and he reminded me that I just won a silver medal at the Pan Ams. Some people never even get to go and that is something to be proud of in itself.”
The U.S. men’s doubles team of Ruben Gonzalez (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Mike Guidry (Carrollton, Texas) also earned a silver medal for the U.S. after being outgunned by the Mexican team of Alvaro Beltran and Javier Moreno, 15-9, 15-7. Unfortunately the U.S. let Mexico build huge leads at the beginning of both games before kicking their own games into high gear.
“We couldn’t get anything going and they played great,” said Guidry. “We got into the (service) box, but we couldn’t score any points. We had some trouble finding serves that would work against them.”
Beltran and Moreno started out the first game 10-0 before the U.S. could get on the board with a five-point run to cut the lead in half. Mexico then went up 13-5 and the U.S. fought back to cut the lead down to four (4) at 13-9. Moreno then hit some spectacular shots to close out the first game 15-9.
The U.S. started out the second game even worse than the first and was in danger of receiving a “doughnut” when Mexico went up 14-0. But credit has to be given to Gonzalez and Guidry for not ever giving up as they played hard until the end, even going on a seven-point run before falling 15-7.
“I really haven’t had time to think about it much,” said a disappointed Guidry after the match. “But I am sure that there are some things that we would have done different – like score more points,” he finished with a smile.
U.S. in Position to Sweep
The U.S. Racquetball Team has set itself up for yet another gold sweep in the Pan American Games. Racquetball became a Pan American sport in 1995 and the U.S. has won every gold medal since then in men’s and women’s singles, as well as doubles. They have a chance to do it again on Sunday after placing five (5) out of a possible six (6) players and teams in gold medal matches.
The reason the U.S. only placed five out of six in the finals was because Rocky Carson (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and Jack Huczek (Rochester, Mich.) had to play each other in Saturday’s semifinals. It was a rematch of the U.S. National Singles Championships this past May, in which Carson won in an 11-10 tiebreaker. Saturday’s match also went to a tiebreaker, but it was Huczek who came out on top this time, 11-15, 15-12, 11-6.
“It feels great (to be in the finals),” said Huczek. “I’m going to come out of the box tomorrow quick and take it to him.”
Carson was disappointed with the loss, but enjoyed the overall experience of playing in his first Pan American Games.
“It’s an honor to be able to play for your country, especially in front of all of the Dominican fans and all of the racquetball fans,” he said. “I tried to leave it all on the line today.”
Ruben Gonzalez (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Mike Guidry (Carrollton, Texas) continue to defy their age and will play for the gold medal on Sunday against Alvaro Beltran and Javier Moreno in men’s doubles. Gonzalez, 52, and Guidry, 33, defeated Daniel Maggi and Shai Manzuri (Argentina) in a thrilling match, 15-14, 15-8.
The Americans found themselves down 14-9 in the first game, but managed to fight back to win with spectacular retrievals and key shots, 15-14.
“Mike’s serve got us back into the game,” said Gonzalez referring to Guidry’s switch from a drive-serve to a lob. “We were down 14-9, but I figured if we could just hold them a few times we could come back and win it.”
“When we got back into the (service) box at 14-11 I told Ruben that this was where we are better than them,” Guidry added. “They never got to serve again.”
They were unable to hold their momentum going in the second game and again found themselves down, 5-1, but quickly turned the tide. Gonzalez and Guidry scored six (6) straight points to put themselves back into the game and then never looked back, winning 15-8.
The gold medal match with Mexico is a rematch of this past April’s Pan American Racquetball Confederation (PARC) Tournament of the America’s final in which the U.S. narrowly won in an 11-10 tiebreaker. But that tournament is behind them, Gonzalez stated.
“We won 11-10, but that was five months ago,” he said. “This is now, a new gold medal, a new ball game. This is the Pan Ams.”
It will be an all U.S. final in women’s singles, guaranteeing the U.S. at least one gold medal in racquetball. Cheryl Gudinas (Lisle, Ill.) continued to dominate the competition by thumping Angela Grisar (Chile) in straight games. The match started out tight and was tied at 5-5 when Gudinas called a timeout. She then finished the game on a 10-0 run and proceeded to score the first fourteen (14) of the second game before Grisar could get on the board. The final match score was 15-5, 15-2.
“I felt like I moved well and I was hitting the ball well. I hit some good touch shots too,” she said. “I’m where I need to be, I just hope I can stay there for one more day.”
Gudinas’ opponent is Laura Fenton (Overland Park, Kan.) who got past Lori Jane Powell (Canada) in straight games as well, although it wasn’t easy. Fenton won the first game 15-10, but found herself down 9-4 in the second. She then made a run of her own to take an 11-9 lead and seemed to be in control of the game. Powell then got a second wind and retook the lead at 14-11. Fenton didn’t fold, however, and after surviving five (5) match points, came back to win 15-14 to move into the finals against her teammate.
“I just kept telling myself to move my feet and shoot the ball,” Fenton said of her comeback in the second game. “I knew I had to stay aggressive. I also got a few lucky breaks when she missed.”
Sunday will be the second day in a row that U.S. players have had to face each other, but this time it is in the finals. Unlike with Saturday’s men’s semifinal, both players are glad to play each other for the gold.
“I think it’s great,” said Fenton. “I feel like we are the two best players here and it’s wonderful that we are playing for a gold medal.”
“You always want to see both U.S. players in the finals,” Gudinas agreed. “Anyone who has any pride wants to see their country do well.”
Jackie Rice (Ramona, Calif.) is just one match away from winning her third straight Pan American Games gold medal in women’s doubles after her and partner Kim Russell (Austin, Texas) defeated Paola Nunez and Caroli Santos (Bolivia) in straight games, 15-8, 15-3. Rice won her previous two gold medals with her sister, Joy MacKenzie (San Diego, Calif.).
Rice and Russell started the match on a 5-0 run and built their lead to 9-3 before the Bolivian’s made a 5-0 run of their own to pull within one-point, 9-8. After a timeout, the Americans came back onto the court with a different look in their eyes.
“Mentally we just said, ‘Hey, let’s get with it,’” said Rice. They “got with it” and ended the first game by scoring six (6) straight points. They continued their momentum into the second game and blew out the Bolivians 15-3.
“We played a little better in the second game,” Rice understated. Russell added, “We just started to be more patient and began shooting our shots.”
Their opponent in the gold medal match is Mexico’s Suzy Acosta and Rosy Torres, who defeated Canada’s Josee GrandMaitre and Julie Neubauer, 15-13, 15-1. Mexico came into the tournament as the second favorite, just behind the Americans.
“We both view them as our toughest competition,” said Russell referring to their match against Mexico. “But I am confident in our synchronicity, that both Jackie and I will play our game as one.”
Saturday, August 9
Team Canada Report: Day 5
by Lori Jane Powell
started off the day versus a local Dominican player. He advanced
on. Next up was Jen against Lupita Torres from Mexico. Lupita had
Jen 14-11 in the first game, but Jen battled back and took the game
15-14. She then closed out the second game by a wider margin. Corey
and François played against Bolivia. And they kicked butt! 15-7,
15-7! The smiles on their faces after the game said it all! This
was a very convincing win against a tough team.
Next up it was Josée and Julie versus the Dominicans again. This was their second match-up of the tournament, and much would depend on the Dominican's dominant player, Claudine Garcia. She plays a cutthroat style with her partner, and covers all over the court. The tough thing is that she is also playing singles and had a lot of long matches during the week. Claudine and her partner played tough and the score was even for a while, but in the end Josée and Julie focused on keeping the ball away from Claudine and they won in two straight games.
Mike Green was up after that game versus Mexico. He was playing their young superstar, Augustin. The Mexicans have two very strong sixteen-year-old players (Augustin and Nancy) that they have taken to the last two tournaments as singles players. This bodes well for their future team as these players just keep improving and getting stronger. Mike finished Augustin off in two straight games, but Augustin battled and dove a couple of times every rally.
It was now time for the last two games of the night: Brian versus Rocky Carson, and Jen versus myself. I did not get to see any of Brian's game as we were playing at exactly the same time, but he lost two straight, and said he did not play badly, but was not 'on fire' either. This left Jen and myself on a backcourt to kill each other off. When we started the match we were all by ourselves. The coaches decided to just let us play, and focus their efforts on Brian. After Brian's match was over, everyone moved over to watch and they were all painfully 'neutral.' Jen went up in the first game 13-11, and it looked like she had the game. But a discrepancy reared its ugly face at this point. Jen thought she had 14 points, not 13. And when she scored 14 she said good game and shook my hand. I said to her, "Is it over?" And she replied, "Yes." I knew that the referee had been calling 13 for the last few rallies, but I figured I must have misheard the score with his Spanish accent. I walked off the court, thinking I had just lost and the referee said, "No, the game is not over. It's only 14." Well, we went back in and this gave me a second life. Jen had her serve and a chance to finish me off a couple more times at 14, but I managed to come back and win 15-14. Although I was happy for the victory, it was not as satisfying, because I knew Jen thought she got ripped off.
Jen came back motivated in the second game. She was a very good sport about everything, and I respect her for that. She might have wanted to strangle the referee or me after the first game, but if she did, she kept it to herself and just came back and played hard. We battled even for most of the game, and then it was my turn to go up 14-11. At that point, Jen became 'superwoman' and started making all sorts of incredible diving gets and fought her way back to 14-14. At that point, she hit me a lob and I went for the rollout and just missed it for game. Jen won 15-14.
In the tiebreaker, I decided to change my serve and I focused on hitting some good drive serves from a new spot on the court. This new look seemed to give me an advantage and all the diving Jen did at the end of the second game seemed to really take a lot of energy out of her. I ran some points, and Jen never recovered. I finished the game 11-1.
Today, we begin the semi-finals. There will be some great match-ups. First up, will be Josée and Julie versus a tough Mexican doubles team. They beat Amanda Dunn and myself at the Pan Am Qualifier in a tiebreaker, and they also beat Julie and I in the finals at the Pro Nationals 11-9 tiebreaker. It HAS to be Canada's turn, as close tie-breaker matches can only go your way so many times. Also, Julie has had the opportunity to play them before, so she really knows what she needs to do and what to expect. [ photos ]
Corey and Francois are up against perennial finalists, Javier and Alvero from Mexico in their semi-final. They will have their work cut out for them. Both Javier and Alvero are professionals and play racquetball full-time. The win is possible today for our Canadian guys, but they will need to be hot and catch the Mexicans by surprise.
The next match up is Laura Fenton from the USA against myself. I have only played her one time before and it was at my first pro tournament back after my car accident. Laura beat me in 4 games there, but I did well considering my movement and conditioning was not even close to where it is now. I feel good about my chances today. It will be a tough game, but winnable nonetheless.
The last game of the day will be Mike Green versus Gilberto from Mexico. Mike should be able to take this game in two, but Gilberto will make him work for it. Gilberto is the Mexican champion, and he consistently beats out Alvero Beltran, who is one of the top professional players in the world.
Houston Re-Match for Carson & Huczek in Semi
They squared off against each other in the finals of the U.S. National Singles Championships in May, now Rocky Carson (Mission Viejo, Calif.) and Jack Huczek (Rochester, Mich.) will meet each other again. This time it is in the semifinals of the 14th Pan American Games for a chance to move into Sunday’s gold medal match.
The two played an exciting back and forth match in May to decide the national champion with Carson edging out Huczek in a thrilling 11-10 tiebreaker finish. Because of the way they finished in their pools, only one of them will have a chance to move into the finals. The players have mixed emotions about facing a fellow countryman, but both promised that when they step onto the court Saturday they will bring their best game.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to go against each other in the semi’s, but you have to play the cards you’re dealt,” said Huczek. “He’s a tough player, but so is everyone internationally. Everyone elevates their games at the Pan Ams, so I am going to have to play some good ball and take it to him.”
Carson was a little more direct in his response. “When it comes to a tournament, it’s you against everyone,” he said. “My goal is to come here and win games.”
Both players agreed that their match this past May won’t be creeping into their minds on Saturday.
“You have to play in the present and for the future,” Carson explained. “You just have to let those (past matches) go.”
“Houston was Houston. It’s over with,” Huczek said referring to the venue where the U.S. National Singles Championships were held. “This is a completely different tournament, so I’m just going to go out and play each point one at a time.”
Friday, August 8
Team Canada Report: Day 4
by Lori Jane Powell
racquetball action heated up yesterday with the guys starting Team
Canada off on a good note. Brain and Mike are playing awesome! They
both had two strong wins yesterday. Most notably, Mike's win versus
Rocky Carson. This win has given him the #1 seeding for the main
Josée & Julie faced off against a tough American team. The Americans came out shooting and crushed our girls 15-2. Julie & Josée fought back hard in the second game and held a 10-8 lead at one point. The Americans battled back and ended up closing the game out in two. This is a great showing for a brand new team! The advantage is that Julie and Josée get better every time they play together, and now they have had a look at the American's game style and shot selection. This sets the stage for a potential great 'next' match-up.
Corey and François had an easy game versus the Argentians. Argentina did not put an all out effort because they did not need a win in the round robin. Corey and François got more valuable court time together, which was a definite benefit.
In the evening, Jen and I had the chance to play our last round robin games. I started off first against the #1 Mexican. She is only 16 years old, but she can rip the ball and splat shots from everywhere! I managed to stay focused and beat her 15-11, 15-11. I was lucky in the first game because at 14, I hit a junk lob serve and it cracked out on the sidewall for an ace. She almost did not shake my hand after I won like that. Then in the second game, it was tight for a long time, 10-10. I really focused on my slice drive serves at that point, and I think I aced 3 serves, including the game winner! I was going for the crack ace, but to actually hit it for game point was amazing!
Jen played the final match of the night against USA's Laura Fenton, and it was 'interesting' to say the least. It was a 'nothing' game in terms of winning or losing, because it would not change either player's spot in the main draw. Laura came out and beat Jen the first game, but she was not looking like herself. In the second game, Jen beat her 15-0, and Laura put almost no effort in at all. I was told that she was trying to save herself for the main draw. Jen cruised through the tiebreaker, and Laura just let her do it.
Today's matches start at 2pm and run until the evening. Brian is up first against the Dominican Republic, and then Jen plays against the #2 Mexican, Lupita Torres. I have to play the winner of that match, which is unfortunate, because Jen and I will have to kill each other off. I guess there will be no all-Canadian women's final this time around. Corey and François will have their hands full today against a super tough Bolivian team. Corey lost in a tiebreaker to them with former partner Tom O'Brien, at the Pan Am Qualifier in April, so he will be anxious for revenge. The Bolivians took the USA doubles team tiebreaker yesterday, so they are looking sharp.
Josée and Julie play the Dominicans again in doubles, and Mike Green has a bye, but he will probably match into the #2 player from Mexico.
It's getting down to the wire! Today ends the quarterfinals, so everyone who wins today is guaranteed a medal. Send your good thoughts our way today!
Friday, August 8
U.S. Wraps up Seeding Round
The U.S. Racquetball team stayed on track Friday
in Santo Domingo as they make an attempt at their third straight sweep of the
Pan American Games (1999, 1995). Each player in singles, as well as each team
in doubles, advanced in their respective brackets as the tournament moved into
Jack Huczek (Rochester, Mich.) continued to roll through the competition, defeating Jose Cueva (Ecuador), 15-0, 15-2 in the round of 16. He then got past Francisco Gomez (Columbia), 15-2, 15-1. Huczek believes his game is sharp as he heads into Saturday’s semifinals.
“There is not a part of my game that I don’t have confidence in right now,” he explained. “My movement, shot selection, and shot making are very good and I hope to stay consistent for the rest of my matches.”
Huczek will face fellow countryman Rocky Carson (Mission Viejo, Calif.) in the semifinals. Carson received a break on Friday when Pablo Fajre (Chile) pulled out of the singles draw to concentrate on his doubles match, thus giving Carson a bye. Carson then faced Canadian National Singles runner-up Brian Istace in his evening match [photo at left]. After a close first game, Carson took advantage of mistakes by Istace to control the second, winning the match, 15-12, 15-7.
“Luckily Brian wasn’t on top of his game tonight. I tend to play a sloppy game and sometimes guys have trouble adjusting to it,” Carson said after his match. “I’ve played him when he is playing good and this wasn’t one of those times.”
The men’s doubles team of Ruben Gonzalez (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Mike Guidry (Carrollton, Texas) also advanced into the semifinals by advancing past Pablo Fajre and Sebastian Roessler (Chile). Gonzalez and Guidry needed a tiebreaker to get past Fajre and Roessler during pool play, but only needed two games to move on in the medal round, 15-7, 15-9.
“I think we both just played a little better today,” Guidry explained. “We’ve had a couple of days of court time and that always helps.”
“Now, because it is single elimination, we are more aggressive,” added Gonzalez. “From this point on everything is on the line; every shot counts.”
Defending Pan American Games gold medalist Cheryl Gudinas (Lisle, Ill.) has put herself in position to repeat. Gudinas played against hometown favorite Claudine Garcia (Dominican Republic), who is also the Dominican national champion. Gudinas had no trouble in defeating Garcia in straight games, 15-4, 15-6.
“I feel my game is progressing well. I’m hitting the ball solid and that’s a great feeling,” she said. “Going into the match I had some people doubting my chances. One of my goals was to silence my critics.”
Laura Fenton also advanced in women’s singles with a straight game win over Carola Loma (Bolivia) 15-7, 15-6. Fenton won the Pan American Racquetball Confederation (PARC) Tournament of the Americas in Santo Domingo this past April and seemed relaxed after her match with Loma.
“I feel really good, especially my backhand. I hope to continue playing well tomorrow,” she said after her match. “I don’t feel any pressure at all right now. I just want to go out and have fun and that’s it.”
Unlike in the men’s singles draw, the U.S. women’s singles players are on opposite sides of the bracket, setting up a possible all U.S.A. final if both Gudinas and Fenton win their matches on Saturday.
Not in action Friday were current world champions Jackie Rice (Ramona, Calif.) and Kim Russell (Austin, Texas) who earned a bye for Friday’s competition after going undefeated in pool A. They have not lost a game since pairing up for the 2002 IRF World Championships and look to keep that streak alive in their semifinal match scheduled for Saturday. Rice, a two-time Pan American Games gold medalist (1999, 1995), has never lost a doubles match in international competition during her entire career.
Thursday, August 7
U.S. Wraps up Seeding Round
The U.S. National Racquetball Team wrapped up the round-robin portion of competition on Thursday with three (3) out of four (4) singles players and both doubles teams winning their respective pools. The U.S. has swept every discipline available in the previous two Pan American Games that racquetball was a part of (1999, 1995).
Defending International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Singles Champion Jack Huczek (Rochester, Mich.) defeated Gilberto Mejia (Mexico) in his final match of pool C. Huczek’s convincing, 15-7, 15-4, win left him undefeated in his pool, thus putting him in the No. 2 position heading into Friday’s medal rounds.
“It (the round-robin) was a good warm-up for the main draw,” Huczek said. “I’m feeling good about my game. I’m confident and anxious to get going.”
The U.S. also suffered its first loss of the tournament when Canadian National Champion Mike Green defeated U.S. National Champion Rocky Carson (Mission Viejo, Calif.). Carson built an 8-3 lead in the tiebreaker, but wasn’t able to hold on and get the win.
“I haven’t really been pushed by anyone since May,” Carson said referring to the U.S. National Singles Championships, where he defeated teammate Jack Huczek in a tiebreaker. “I played well, but Mike played a good game as well; a smart game. I just caught a couple of bad breaks at the end.”
The loss puts Green in the No. 1 spot and drops Carson all the way down to No. 6, which means he would run into teammate Huczek in the semifinals if both players win out.
The men’s doubles team of Ruben Gonzalez (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Mike Guidry (Carrollton, Texas) continued to keep things interesting. The pair once again lost their first game before coming back to win the next two with ease over Ricardo Monroy and Santiago Canedo (Bolivia), 11-15, 15-9, 11-2.
“We’re having a little trouble getting started,” Guidry explained.
They still managed to get through their pool undefeated to earn the No. 1 position in the main draw. “It’s nice to get through it while winning all of our matches,” Guidry said. “Now we just have to keep winning and take it one match at a time.”
The U.S. women each won their respective pools starting with IRF World Singles Champion Cheryl Gudinas (Lisle) who defeated Carola Loma (Bolivia), 15-1, 15-1, to remain undefeated and secure the No. 1 position in the women’s singles draw.
“It’s a relief to be undefeated in the pool,” Gudinas, the 1999 Pan American Games gold medalist explained. “There are certain things I look for in my game and I am fairly pleased with how I am feeling so far.”
In a meaningless match for the U.S., Laura Fenton (Overland Park, Kan.) was defeated by Jennifer Saunders (Canada) 10-15, 15-0, 11-1. Fenton had already won her pool and secured the No. 3 position on Wednesday, she merely just had to show up for her match with Saunders.
The women’s doubles team of Jackie Rice (Ramona, Calif.) and Kim Russell (Austin, Texas) haven’t lost a game, let alone a match, in nearly two years and are considered a lock for the gold medal. They were tested in their second game against Josee GrandMaitre and Julie Neubauer (Canada) after dominating the first, 15-2. GrandMaitre and Neubauer built an early 7-1 lead in the second before Rice and Russell kicked it into a higher gear to finish out the match, 15-11.
“I think we got a little lax in the second,” they said. “That and they started hitting the ball better and kept the rally’s going.”
Racquetball begins it’s medal rounds on Friday at the Pabellon de Racquetbol located in the Central Olympic Park. Gold medal matches will be played on Sunday in all divisions.
Team Canada Report: Day 3
by Lori Jane Powell
day started with Brian Istace killing off the local Dominican
player in quick fashion. Brian is serving up bombs! Next up was
Mike Green versus Chile, and similar to Brian he smoked his
opponent as well.
The Women's singles draw ran mid-afternoon with Jen Saunders taking on a very tough local player: Claudine Garcia. Jen battled with Claudine and took the first game. It was a very even match, and it went tiebreaker. Jen worked hard, but in the end never completely found her 'A' game, and had a higher number of unforced errors than we are used to seeing from her. Claudine is a very tough opponent, and at one time was ranked as high as #7 on the professional tour.
I was the next match of the day, and I played against the #1 Bolivian. This was a new player, who we have never seen compete before. I had scouted her match from the previous day, so I was ready for her. She liked to play far up on the court, and rekill pinches and kill shots. I hit a lot of passes and ceiling balls against her, which kept her deep and I had no problem closing out the game two straight. This was great for me because the entire match lasted only 30 minutes, so my body feels fresh and ready to go today.
After I was done, Brian was up again against Chile. Again, he finished off his opponent quickly to save up his reserves for a tough men's draw.
Then it was ROOKIE time! Yeah, Julie and François were finally going to get their Pan Am Games debut and first international game experience. Both the men's and the women's teams were up against the local Dominicans. The Men's game got started over 30 minutes past their scheduled game time, because the local tournament committee decided to give the one Dominican player a rest, because he was 'doubling up' and playing both singles and doubles. This did not seem especially fair to our Canadian players, because they had waited all day to play. Nonetheless, that is what happened. The girls started their match about ten minutes after the guys, so we jumped from court to court to cheer them on. It was very beneficial to us that we had two coaches present! Both matches went the same & Canada won in two straight games. François and Julie both played well and kept their nerves at bay. It was a good day for the rookies!
Today, things are only getting tougher. Brian and Mike both play twice today, with Brian playing a tough young Mexican player and Mike playing USA #2, Rocky Carson. Josée and Julie play mid-afternoon against USA, and Corey and Francois are going to play against the diving Shai Manzuri and his Argentian team. To end the day, Jen and I play; Jen squares off against USA #2, Laura Fenton and I play against Mexico #1.
Wednesday, August 6
U.S. Undefeated in Preliminaries
The U.S. men’s and women’s racquetball teams remained undefeated in their respective pools after the second day of competition. Several players have key matches scheduled for Thursday, which will determine the outcomes of their pools.
Laura Fenton (Overland Park, Kan.; pictured in blue) led things off Wednesday with a singles match against local star Claudine Garcia (Dominican Republic; in red/white). Fenton defeated Garcia, 15-8, in the first game and was able to hold off a late rally in the second to win 15-13. Fenton then went on to win against Angela Grisar (Chile) in straight games, 15-13, 15-6, later in the day. As long as she shows up for her match on Friday, win or lose, Fenton will clinch her pool and be guaranteed the No. 3 seed in the medal rounds.
“I feel good, but I am tired,” she said afterwards. “If I don’t have to play an extra match tomorrow it makes a big difference; especially in this humidity.”
Defending Pan American Games champion Cheryl Gudinas (Lisle, Ill.) put herself in position to clinch her pool on Thursday after defeating Lupita Torres (Mexico), 15-5, 15-9. Gudinas has a showdown with Carola Loma (Bolivia) at 5:00pm, who is also undefeated in the competition. The outcome of that match will determine who the No. 1 seed is when the medal rounds begin Friday.
“I feel like I am moving well,” Gudinas said. “Perhaps being into it mentally is affecting my physical play.”
The women’s doubles team of Jackie Rice (Ramona, Calif.) and Kim Russell (Austin, Texas) had the day off, but will have a chance to clinch their pool as well when they meet Jose Grand Maitre and Julie Neubauer (Canada) Thursday at 4:00pm.
In men’s singles both Rocky Carson (Mission Veijo, Calif.) and Jack Huczek (Rochester, Mich.) won their matches in straight games, putting each of them in position to win their pools on Thursday.
Carson, the current U.S. National Singles Champion, defeated the Dominican’s Yamil Isaias, 15-4, 15-8. He has a showdown on Thursday with Canadian National Singles Champion Mike Green at 2:00pm to determine the winner of pool A. Green is considered the biggest non-American threat in the men’s singles draw.
Huczek will face off with Mexico’s Gilberto Mejia to determine men’s singles pool B. Huczek defeated Sergio Rivera (Bolivia), 15-2, 15-1, in Wednesday’s action.
The men’s doubles team of Ruben Gonzalez (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Mike Guidry (Carrollton, Texas) had some trouble starting out their first match of the tournament. They faced Pablo Fajre and Sebastian Roessler (Chile) and found themselves down a game after dropping the first 15-13. The three-time U.S. National Champions (2002, 2001, 1999) then calmed down and let their experience take over as they won the next two games, 15-7, 11-2.
“They (the Chilean team) were a little better than we expected and I think we were a little anxious after being here a week without playing any matches yet,” explained Gonzalez, who was a finalist to be the U.S. flag bearer during the opening ceremonies. “We didn’t play smart in the beginning, but then we laughed a little, relaxed, and calmed down for the second and third games.”
Gonzalez and Guidry can clinch their pool with a win against Bolivia Thursday.
Wednesday, August 6
Team Canada Report: Day 2
by Lori Jane Powell
have finally started competing! Yesterday was Team Canada's first test. There
was a surprising amount of spectators and fans at the racquetball venue. It was
packed and hot in the stands. The courts were nice and cool, and they have
converted two of the courts - one into a player's room, and one into a VIP
room. That is the only place inside the venue where we can stay cool before
The Secretary of State for Amateur Sport for Canada, Paul DeVilliers, showed up to wish us luck as well! This was a nice surprise! Our beach volleyball roommates also came out to check out racquetball yesterday and they watched Mike Green demolish the local Dominican player 15-1; 15-1. Mike played awesome!
Everything is very professional. We are using four of the courts to play the matches. The other two free courts are for hitting and getting ready for your match. When we are called to our court, we are only be allowed two minutes to hit and warm-up. Once the game time arrives, the athletes and referees are marched in and are announced over the loud speaker. I was the first one to compete for Canada yesterday, and my 'moment' was lost when they gave the wrong name for me in the introduction! Very nice! I played against the #1 player from Columbia and won in straight games, 15-4, 15-8. She was a stronger player than I expected and she made me 'work' for the second game.
Next up was Jen Saunders. She matched up versus the #2 Columbia girl and won 15-7; 15-2. Jen was playing well and she was simply too much for the inexperienced Columbian. Jen had the toughest round robin draw of all Team Canada members, and it was to her advantage that she finished that match quickly, because she would need to save all of her energy for her next round which was versus a tough Chilean player, Angela Grisar.
Mike Green played his match in between and as I mentioned above, had 'no problems' in annihilating his opponent.
Next, it was time for Jen's second match of the day. Jen started off slowly and got down 10-0, but battled back to 10-3 and held Angela for a long time before Angela closed out the first game. In the second game, Jen got a lead early on and went up by a few points and maintained that difference until it reached 10-10. Then Angela got to 14-12 and was ready to close out the match. Jen took a time-out, came back in and scored two points quickly. Then they went back and forth, and Jen eventually came back 15-14. In the tie-breaker, Jen lost 11-4 despite her valiant efforts. She fought to the end, but was not able to make up points.
Julie & Josée, and François & Corey all begin their doubles round robins today. Needless to say, they are SUPER ready to play! I think Julie & François are especially excited to get the competition going, because today will mark their first ever international matches! Both teams are playing versus the Dominican Republic, which means the bleachers will be packed with fans and the noise level will be high! To add to the pressure, they are likely to play on one of the glass show courts as well.
This is also Brian Istace's first day of competition, and he has to play twice today. Welcome to the tournament Brian!
We have all met most of the other Canadian athletes now in our Village. At night, many of the athletes hang out in the Canadian Village and play volleyball, soccer, and Frisbee in the center of the village. There is also an international athlete's area, complete with a disco, movie theatre, and live bands with dancing performances every night. The South and Central Americans have dance moves and styles that we have definitely never seen in Canada!
The pools are tougher than we have ever seen, partially due to the fact that there are fewer teams competing (only the top 10 countries qualified to play). Each country has strong players and everyone seems well prepared for this tournament. Canada will face a tough task to match the results we have had at previous international events, but we are up to the challenge!
Tuesday, August 5
U.S. Opens with Strong Showing
The U.S. National Racquetball team began competition Tuesday at the 14th Pan American Games in Santo Domingo starting with round-robin pool play to determine seedings for medal rounds, which begin Friday. The U.S. started the tournament strong with all players and teams winning their initial rounds.
Rocky Carson (Mission Viejo, Calif.), the current U.S. National Singles champion, started things off in men’s singles by easily defeating Sebastian Roessler (Chile) in straight games, 15-3, 15-4. Carson was glad to have gotten the competition underway and also liked the facilities at the brand new Pabellon de Racquetbol inside of the Central Olympic Complex.
“It feels great being on the court and competing in front of the fans,” he said. “Being a new facility, the courts are extremely nice and fast.”
Carson also won his evening match against Francisco Gomez (Columbia) in straight games, 15-14, 15-10, giving him the points lead in pool A.
Current International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Champion Jack Huczek (Rochester, Mich.) also saw action Tuesday in men’s singles and started off with two wins as well. He defeated Jose Luis Cueva (Ecuador) in his after noon match, 15-2, 15-4. He then went on to defeat Juan Felipe Gomez in his evening match, 15-6, 15-5.
“It was a good, solid beginning,” he said. “I’m feeling strong and comfortable under my new surroundings. I can’t wait to play my next match.”
The U.S. men’s doubles team was not in action Tuesday. They begin their competition Wednesday against Pablo Fajre and Sebastian Roessler of Chile.
On the women’s side, 1999 Pan American Games gold medalist Cheryl Gudinas (Lisle, Ill.) began her defense against Larissa Llinas (Dominican Republic). The Dominican crowd was enthusiastic throughout the match, despite the lopsided outcome. Gudinas won both games with ease, 15-2, 15-5.
Laura Fenton (Overland Park, Kan.), who won the Pan American Racquetball Confederation (PARC) Tournament of the Americas in Santo Domingo this past April, also started out her event with success. Fenton defeated Maria Gomez (Columbia) in straight games,15-6, 15-7.
Fenton is in pool C, which may be the toughest in women’s singles competition, but she likes her chances.
“We definitely have the toughest pool, but sometimes that works to your advantage. It’s all in your attitude,” she explained. “Sometimes when your pool isn’t as tough and you come up against a better player in the (single elimination) draw, you may not be ready.”
The U.S. women’s doubles team of Jackie Rice (Ramona, Calif.) and Kim Russell (Austin, Texas) began their competition with a win as well over Claudine Garcia and Larissa Llinas (Dominican Republic). Rice has won two gold medals in Pan Am competition (1999, 1995). Both times she was paired with her sister Joy Mackenzie (San Diego, Calif.), but success hasn’t fled since joining with Russell. The pair captured the 2002 IRF World Championships as well as the 2003 PARC Tournament of the Americas without losing a game.
The U.S. resumes play on Wednesday with more round-robin pool play (schedule following agate).
Friday, August 1
Gonzalez out front for Pan Am Opening
Friday marked the opening of the 14th Pan American Games in Santo Domingo and when the U.S. made their way into Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Stadium in front of a capacity crowd, USA Racquetball’s Ruben Gonzalez (Staten Island, N.Y.) was walking out in front. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. put the first and second runners-up in the flag bearer elections at the front of the procession, just behind elected flag bearer Carl Eichenlaub (San Diego, Calif.). The first row is usually reserved for U.S. delegation officials only.
“It feels good. It’s really great out of all of these athletes to be a finalist [for flagbearer],” Gonzalez said. “Just walking out there is great, but to be chosen to walk out front … I was just overwhelmed.”
Gonzalez, who is paired with Mike Guidry (Carrollton, Texas) in men’s doubles, narrowly missed being elected flag bearer and finished first runner-up in the voting. The second runner-up was USA Shootings John McNally (Heath, Texas).
Gonzalez must now set his sights on the competition, which begins Tuesday, August 5 at the Pabellon de Racquetbol in the Central Olympic Complex in Santo Domingo. Gonzalez and partner Guidry face off with Pablo Fajre and Sebastian Roessler of Chile in their first match on Wednesday.
It is the first Pan American Games for the 52-year-old, but Gonzalez and Guidry are expected to medal at the event. They are the current two-time Pan American Racquetball Confederation (PARC) Tournament of the Americas champions and finished third at the 2002 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships. The two have also paired up to take home three (3) of the last four (4) U.S. National Doubles Championships (2002, 2001, 1999).
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