2019 Pan American Championships Daily Blogs

April 11, 2019, 12:51 a.m. (ET)

XXXII Pan American Racquetball Championship
April 12-20, 2019
written by Cheryl Kirk, Team Leader

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Blog #1, Blog #2, Blog #3, Blog #4, Blog #5, Blog #6, Blog #7, Blog #8, Blog #9, Blog #10

Blog #10.5 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Monday, April 22, 2019

Coach Dave Ellis Summarizes Saturday and the Barranquilla Event
Saturday was our final day of competition in Barranquilla, Colombia, and an exciting day it was. Our first match pitted David Horn against the ever-improving Luis Perez of the Dominican Republic. Luis had a great win over Canada’s #1 seed earlier in the tournament, but his effort to put maximum velocity on his shots had left him with a sore arm. Bobby dominated the first game, winning 15–2.   Not sure exactly, but six or so years ago, Luis came to Stockton to train, and Bobby and Luis had established a friendship during that time. Was Luis a little peeved with the drubbing that he received the first game? In Game 2, Luis put a ball into Bobby’s backside. Soon thereafter Bobby returned the favor, and that seemed to be the end of it. The second game was tight, with Bobby closing out the match, 15–12.
Kelani had her final match with Cristina Amaya of the host country, and it was a war. Cristina won the first game handily, 15–6. A battle occurred in the second game. Kelani hit many down-the-line serves on the right side of the court and got setups from the returns on all but one of them. The tide had turned for sure as Kelani won the second by a score of 15–11. In the tiebreaker, again it was back and forth with our Lady of Perpetual Motion gaining a match point at 10–8. She didn’t convert, and Cristina took over the serve and scored 3 points to win, 11–10.  It was the second 11–10 loss during the week for Kelani. Kelani is tremendously athletic, and her racquetball future will have many victorious moments.
The big show for Team USA was the Men’s Final, which pitted our Team Captain Charlie Pratt against Bolivia’s Carlos Keller. Charlie is so well prepared, both mentally and physically, that it is a total pleasure to watch him play. I mentioned in our team toast that I felt like I was watching a racquetball textbook personified when Charlie played. Although this was all the case, thanks to Carlos playing his best ever, Charlie went down 15–2 in the first. The tables turned in the second game, with Charlie dominating and frustrating Carlos with his high lob nick serves, winning 15–8. In the tiebreaker, Carlos rose to the occasion, jumping out to a huge lead. Charlie fought back with everything but ended up losing 11–5. Congrats to Carlos for a well deserved win. Charlie, the silver medalist in the 2018 World Championships, and now the silver medalist in the 2019 Pan American Championships, remarked later that now it's time for some gold.
Both of our doubles teams rose to the occasion, and they ended the tournament on positive notes. Our ladies were pitted against two very athletic and physical Cuban players. Sheryl Lotts had been known for her success playing the right side. Kelani won the national gold medal playing the left side with Sharon Jackson, so it seemed logical that they would follow that pattern. After some experimenting late in the tournament, the teamed really gelled with the ladies playing on opposite sides. Sheryl played a stable, traditional, backhand, executing many kill shots. Kelani on the right dominated her Cuban counterpart, and Team USA ran away with the tiebreaker to win 11–6. 
Jake and Daniel met up with the Colombians the second time during the tournament. The previous time, they scored a thrilling two-game victory, coming from way behind to close it out in the second. During their final match, our guys eked out a 15–14 victory in the first game. The second game was all Colombia as Mario Mercado’s nick serves proved very effective. The tiebreaker was close until Daniel reached into the past and brought out a backhand drive serve down the left side that rewarded him with many setups. What a great strategic move by Daniel, and I’ll admit that as coach, I wish I had thought of it. Team USA wins, 11–4. If there were a Most Improved trophy during this competition, Jake and Daniel would definitely be on the receiving end of it. 
In closing, I want to mention that I’m proud of our delegation for choosing to put USA on their backs and to go to war with now the very tough competition from all over the world. A trip like this is always a sacrifice, especially with the two very long days of travel. Our staff, as always, was completely dedicated to the players and their efforts. Cheryl and Brent have simply been the best for the eight years we have been working together. Having Jim Durham join us was a huge plus for our efforts. 
Of course, our gratitude goes out to Juan Manuel Gutierrez and the local Colombian organizing committee.  The logistics of the tournament were perfect with the hotel a five-minute walk from the club. Opening Ceremonies were right next door as compared to the often 20-minute plus shuttle ride. The hotel staff was very helpful and accommodating, taking care of the few problems that arose. I’ll conclude these final comments by saying, “Viva Colombia, y te agradecemos por todo tu desempeño."   "Viva Colombia, and we thank you for all your performance."
Cheryl here...Dave Ellis was recognized by PARC President Marcelo Gómez at the closing party for his many years of participation in PARC events and for his friendship to the many countries, staff members, and players who attend each year. The US Team Delegation echoes this and extends our gratitude for Dave's service to this year's team and to so many other athletes and staff over the years.
Truly signing off now from PARC Barranquilla and looking forward to the Pan American Games in Lima this summer!

Blog #10 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Saturday, April 20, 2019
It's a Wrap!
Welcome to the final blog from Barranquilla! It's strange that you always feel like these 11-day trips are going to last forever, but all of a sudden it's the final day and packing commences in anticipation of the early Sunday morning transfer to the airport and back home. 
Everyone on the US Team played a final time on Saturday before the early evening awards ceremony held on Court #1 at the club.   
Coach Dave Ellis's comments will come early this week, but here's a recap of this jam-packed final day...
Saturday's Match Results
Bobby Horn def. Luis Perez (Dominican Republic), 15–2, 15–12
Kelani Lawrence lost to Cristina Amaya (Colombia), 6–15,15–11, 10–11
Rhonda Rajsich def. Merynanyelly Delgado (Dominican Republic), 15–4, 15–11
Charlie Pratt lost to Carlos Keller (Bolivia), 2–15, 15–8, 11–5
Kelani Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts def. Maria Regla Viera/Yurisleidis Allue (Cuba), 11–15, 15–6, 11–6
Jake Bredenbeck/Daniel Rojas def. Andres Gomez/Mario Mercado (Colombia), 15–14, 8–15, 11–4

As mentioned before, medals stands were set up in Court #1 soon after the last match, and the ceremony commenced. The local organizing committee did an efficient job of organizing medals, flags and trophies. Medals were awarded to those who placed first, second, and third (in IRF events, both semifinal places receive bronze medals). See the individual and team results below.
Team Meeting/Toast
It is customary to have a Team Toast and final meeting after the competition is completely over. All players expressed gratitude to each other and to the staff. The international tournaments are out of the ordinary (vs. the IRT and LPRT) in that racquetball is an individual sport and the players go it alone when playing their various pro tours. They find it enjoyable to play in a situation where there are teammates and a support staff. 
There was also a topic that went off on a tangent briefly––whether Bobby should have a shoulder monkey––and there was no real resolution but a modicum of debate.

Players' Party 
After the team meeting, we attended a great closing party at the New Orleans Bourbon Street Restaurant & Bar that went into the early hours of Sunday morning. There were lots of photos and selfies, music, and dancing. Midway through the evening, as is the tradition at IRF/PARC events, countries had the opportunity to thank the Local Organizing Committee. On behalf of the US Team and US Junior Team, Cheryl and Bobby presented a thank-you card and a donation to Juan Manuel Gutíerrez (aka Gutty) for the Colombian Racquetball Federation's Junior program. There was also a special donation presented on behalf of 10-year-old Freddy Conforti, a Junior Team Illinois player. Freddy won a scholarship award in February, and he wanted to contribute some of his money to show support and friendship to junior players from Colombia. Nicely done, Freddy!
Question of the Day 
After greeting loved ones (and pets!), what's the first thing you will do when you get home?
Bobby: Chipotle
Cheryl: Unpack and start laundry; brush my teeth with tap water
Brent: Pizzeria Bianco
Jake: Give myself a real thorough scrubbing.
Charlie: Laundry and homemade tacos
Sheryl: Sleep!
Kelani: Cuddle with the hubs and pet my bunny on the head.
Rhonda: Unpack, laundry, pack again for San Antonio pro stop next weekend. And hang out with my mom.
Jim: Have a beer and take a nap. 
Dave: Our showers have been lukewarm all week. I'm dying for a hot shower.
Daniel: Go to my grandmother's house for a family barbecue.
Congratulations to all of the countries for their efforts and results at the IRF World Championships! The USA was third in the Men's Team competition and came in third in the Overall Team as well. We're really proud of the effort everyone put in to play their hearts out and support each other as teammates as well!
Team USA Individual Medalist
Charlie Pratt - Silver
Men's Team
1 - Bolivia
2 - Mexico
3 - USA
4 - Costa Rica
Women's Team
1 - Mexico
2 - Argentina
3 - Colombia
4 - Bolivia
Overall Team
1 - Mexico
2 - Bolivia
3 - USA
4 - Argentina
Division Winners
Men's Singles -- Carlos Keller (Bolivia)
Women's Singles -- Paola Longoria (Mexico)
Men's Doubles -- Conrrado Moscoso/Carlos Keller (Bolivia) 
Women's Doubles -- Samantha Salas/Paola Longoria (Mexico)
To view the preliminary rounds and the main draws for all of the divisions, visit www.internationalracquetball.com and click on Results.

Thank You’s
The US Team Delegation wishes to deliver our gratitude to those who made this event so truly memorable:
The Local Organizing Committee, headed by Juan Manuel Gutiérrez, for putting on this very successful event. The work behind the scenes to host a tournament of this magnitude is extensive. Congratulations for a job very well done! From the hotel to the transportation, the awards, the coordination, this experience was smooth and enjoyable.
The tournament staff (Gustavo Farell, Mauro Grandio Buzeleh, Pablo Berriel, and Maria De Los Ángeles Sarria)
The referees from five countries who were on hand to provide a quality experience for the players (see Blog #8 for names and nationalities).
Pablo Fajre and Tim Baghurst for bringing many hours of live streaming of quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals action.
USAR Official Apparel Sponsor Rollout Racquetball (Jonathan Clay) -- the US Team looked great in the Rollout 2019 Team USA apparel line. Go to http://wearrollout.com to order what the team wears!
IRF sponsors E-Force and Gearbox who contribute significantly to these international events. 
Last but not least, Renée Gundolff for her work behind the scenes to book flights and arrange insurance coverage for Team USA, and Leo Vasquez who stopped whatever else he might have been doing as soon as a blog and photos were ready for posting (even in the wee hours!).
For those of you who are feeling melancholy about the end of these blogs, take heart! Dave Ellis will put a bow on this wrapped package by supplying final comments. These will reach you sometime early this week.
On this Easter Sunday, all team members (except Jake and Bobby who stayed one extra day) and are back on U.S. soil. Thanks to everyone who followed the team over the past eleven days. These gifted athletes are so deserving of the visibility an event like this provides. 
Signing off from the Pan American Racquetball Championships and anticipating more US Team excitement at the Pan American Games this summer (August 2–10) in Lima!  
All that's left to say is...

Blog #9 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Friday, April 19, 2019


"Today was another tough one for Team USA. Rhonda and Bobby led us off.  Rhonda played Mexico’s #1 seed, Monserrat Mejia, while Bobby played against Bolivia’s #1, Conrrado Moscoso. Both of our players came up on the short end of these matches.
"Charlie Pratt played in the semifinals against Costa Rica’s Andres Acuña. What a match it was! Andres came out firing and built a big lead. Charlie was missing early but kept his patience and climbed back into the game, losing 15–13. The fact that he got to 13 will be significant later. The second game was also back and forth, and it looked like Acuña was going to close it out in two. At 10–11, Charlie stepped up and scored five points in a row to win 15­­–11. This meant that Charlie got the serve in the tiebreaker. He scored four quick points, Andres fought back to 6–4, and then Charlie soon closed it out with a perfect drive serve ace to the left hand corner, winning 11–7.  As such, Team USA has a finalist, and tomorrow Charlie Pratt will play Carlos Keller of Bolivia for the gold medal.
"Kelani and Sheryl played Ecuador’s Maria Paz Muñoz and Ana Lucia Sarmiento. The Ecuadorians pretty much had their way with our ladies in the first game, winning 15–5. The second game seemed to be going the same way until Sheryl and Kelani switched sides. Sheryl played steady on the left and Kelani athletically dominated the right. The ladies closed it out with a score of 15 –11. The tiebreaker looked really positive for Team USA. Kelani and Sheryl were double serving on the right side. It was all going well, and Team USA had two match points. We didn’t convert on either one of them, and at 8–10, the Ecuadorians scored three points to win, 11–10. 
"Jake and Daniel played the Argentines for the second time in this tournament. Our guys brought a lot of heat and won the first game easily. The second game found us to be not at our best. The Argentines made a lot of gets and re-kills up front. Francisco Kurtzbard’s lob nicks to the left side were well placed and precise, and all of a sudden, we were in a tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, our guys played intelligently, driving the opponents to the back of the court with accurate ceiling balls and good wide angle passes. Team USA wins 11­–1."
Friday's Results
Charlie Pratt def. Andres Acuña (Costa Rica), 13–15, 15-11, 11–7
Rhonda Rajsich lost to Monserrat Mejia (Mexico), 13–15, 7–15
Kelani Lawrence lost to Carla Muñoz (Chile), 12–15, 10–15
Bobby Horn lost to Conrrado Moscoso (Bolivia), 7-15, 1-15
Kelani Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts lost to Maria Paz Muñoz/Ana Lucia Sarmiento (Ecuador), 5–15, 15–11, 10-11
Jake Bredenbeck/Daniel Rojas def. Fernando Kurzbard/Shai Manzuri (Argentina), 15–6, 12–15, 11–1

Featured Player of the Day - David "Bobby" Horn
Born and raised in Stockton, California, and now playing out of Pleasanton, California, Bobby, 29, is a charter member of the "the 209." He is ranked #12 on the IRT and #12 in USA Racquetball's ranking system. His mother Michelle Horn, grandmother Anna Martin, sister Nichole Lossi, and nephew and niece Aubrey and Kayden stay avidly tuned in to his racquetball career.
Bobby graduated from Cal State East Bay in 2016 with a Bachelors degree in Liberal Studies (teaching) with a minor in Spanish. His hobbies include basketball, golf, playing cards with friends, and fishing. Additionally,  "I do a lot of training, teaching, and spending time with my family." 
How did you get started playing racquetball?“ I started playing at 15 when I met teammate Jose Diaz at the gym. He pulled me onto the court, and I have played off and on since that day.
"I want to thank my entire team that has helped me get this far: my people in Stockton -- Dave and John Ellis, Jody Nance, Jesse Serna, and all the guys there who I grew up playing with. My current coach Jim Winterton. Also a shout-out to “The Donkeys” at home, I know they are always watching. I want to thank my friends in the East Bay area including Elaine Dexter, Ken Stone, and Carlos Contreras as well for their support and help to get to this point. Thank you to my sponsors who allow me to play this sport regularly: Gearbox Racquetball, Reaching Your Dream Foundation, Clubsport Pleasanton, Sam Sorokin and Premium Properties, OB Noodle House, and Doctor Sanchez with FITLAB Solutions.
“I always feel privileged to have the opportunity to play for the USA. Now it's on to Denver and National Singles after which the team will be finalized for the Pan American Games in Peru."
Featured Staff Member of the Day – Cheryl Kirk
Team Leader Cheryl Kirk grew up in Decatur, Illinois, and resides in Naperville, Illinois, with her husband of 22 years, Kit Lawson, and dog Hayley, 12. She is involved with and supportive of animal rights issues.
Cheryl began playing and competing in racquetball 42 years ago but didn’t really get heavily into the administrative side of things until after she retired in 2007 after a 27-year career with McDonald’s Corporation (Operations/Training/ Olympics Sponsorship activation in Atlanta, Athens, and Torino). 
Cheryl served as President of USA Racquetball from 2008-2012. She is an Officer on the Boards of USA Racquetball, the International Racquetball Federation (IRF), and the Pan American Racquetball Confederation (PARC). She also serves on the Boards of the Illinois State Racquetball Association and the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT). 
“Being US Team Leader is a pleasure and an honor. I enjoy ensuring things go well -- removing logistical worries and concerns from the athletes’ minds so they can go onto the court and do their best. I couldn’t be prouder of our US Team members and staff for their skill and their heart both on and off the court!
“I want to thank my husband and best friend Kit Lawson. He has supported me 100% over the years with anything I wanted to tackle. I also thank family and friends who support me through thick and thin. Love you all!"
Question of the Day
What's the best advice you have ever received?
Dave: Don't be so serious. (I was a philosophy major.)
Cheryl: Sometimes playing it safe isn't playing it safe. 
Brent: Just be you and if people don't like it, well, they aren't worth your time. 
Jim: Don't react, respond.
Rhonda: Sometimes you just have to jump and grow wings on the way down. 
Kelani: My dad always told me that people are more important than things.
Sheryl: The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.
Charlie: "Just remember, Fievel. One man's sunset is another man's dawn. I don't know what's out there beyond those hills. But if you ride yonder; head up, eyes steady, heart open... I think one day you'll find that you're the hero you've been looking for."
Jake: Everyone dies. 
Bobby: You can only control you. 
Daniel: "The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer."

Sascha Returns!
Sweet Sascha the dog was at the club again today. She's beautiful, everyone loves her, but HER first love is that Gearbox racquetball! It was entirely in her mouth with her tongue hanging out the side, eyes half closed, and she might have been a bit annoyed to be interrupted when her dad Oscar Pareja picked her up for a photo. Oscar was pleased to know that Sascha's photo was included with yesterday's blog and that she is now indeed famous in the USA Racquetball world. We took a follow-up photo to show everyone how loved Sascha is! 
(Note: She has a Facebook page -- Sascha Pareja)
Through the technological wonders of Whatsapp, the team communicates on a chat thread that includes the staff and players. We double check match times, I get their responses to the Question of the Day, they decide what time and where to go to dinner. Has the laundry come back yet? Does anyone need water in their room? 
Sometimes the conversation ventures into...unusual territory. Last night at 11:00, the news came to us that Bobby wants a shoulder monkey. 
Bobby to Charlie: "I've always wanted a little shoulder monkey. Willing to roll with me anywhere."
It kind of dropped off from there but picked right up again this morning. 
Charlie sent a picture of a guy with a monkey on his shoulder: 
"Shoulder Monkey, more coffee, please."
Bobby: "That's what I want for my birthday if anyone is wondering." 
Cheryl: "Do you promise to feed it and clean up its poop?"
Bobby: "I mean I'm used to that. I'm rooming with Pratt this week."
Saturday -- The FInals!
Day Seven of competition, and everyone has one more match tomorrow!
9:00 Bobby Horn vs. Luis Perez (Dominican Republic)
11:00 Kelani Lawrence vs. Cristina Amaya (Colombia)
12:00 Rhonda Rajsich vs. Merynanyelly Delgado (Dominican Republic)
MEN'S SINGLES FINAL!  12:30: Charlie Pratt vs. Carlos Keller (Bolivia)

2:00 Kelani Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts vs. Maria Regla Viera/Yurisleidis Allue (Cuba)
3:00 Jake Bredenbeck/Daniel Rojas vs. Andres Gomez/Mario Mercado (Colombia)
Dave Ellis comments, "Tomorrow will be an exciting day with Captain Charlie in the finals. All of the other players have matches as well, as this tournament must order positions from 1 to 24. When all matches have concluded, we’ll have the awards ceremony, our team toast, and a tournament banquet/party. It will be a busy day for sure."
Stay tuned for one more blog Saturday night (or Sunday during a layover at Miami International Airport)!

Blog #8 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Thursday, April 18, 2019 
DAVE: Pretty much of a disaster day for Team USA. We started with five quarterfinal matches, and unfortunately, only one passed through to the semifinals. 

DAVE: Bobby Horn started us off playing Bolivia’s Carlos Keller. Keller has a true finesse game with lots of reach and re-killing ability. Bobby had leads in both games but couldn’t close either one of them out. Carlos won in two games, 15–12, 15–10.

JIM: In the other men's singles quarterfinal match, Charlie Pratt took on Conrrado Moscoso of Bolivia whose recent win at the IRT Grand Slam in Cochabamba, Bolivia, made him the male player to watch in Barranquilla. Moscoso's wicked drive serve proved too much for Pratt in game one, scoring points in bunches and yielding him a 15–3 win. In game two, Charlie began to handle the drive serve much more effectively by hitting precise ceiling balls and or punching winners down the line. Pratt’s pinpoint nick lobs kept Conrrado pinned to the back wall and forced weak returns or over-aggressive mistakes that Charlie methodically put away. The American’s controlled shot making and deliberate style frustrated Moscoso, and Charlie rode the nick to a 15–12 win. The tiebreaker started out all Conrrado. He jumped out to an 8–1 lead on the strength of bombed drive serves left, great court coverage, and excellent front court play. There was no quit in USA's team captain. He fought back with dogged determination, again pinning the Bolivian in the back corners with his trademark nick lob and exact ceiling balls. Conrrado’s back court mistakes and Pratt’s shot making brought him back even at 8-8. The Court #1 crowd swelled as a buzz swept through the Barranquilla complex. The end was epic with one amazing and hard-fought rally after another. Pratt finally pulled out a stunning 11-10 victory.

DAVE: Rhonda was next up, and she played Maria Jose Vargas of Bolivia/Argentina. Maria played as well as I’ve ever seen, and she won in two games, putting her into the semis tomorrow.
DAVE: Our women’s doubles team of Kelani Lawrence and Sheryl Lotts defeated a determined pair of Dominicans in their round of 16 match using a combination of hard Z serves, effective wide angle passes, and aggressive shot making. They went tiebreaker, 11–5.

JIM: Later in the day, Sheryl and Kelani took on the tough Bolivian women who are just coming off of a spectacular Grand Slam win in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The U.S. women countered the Bolivians' I–formation by shooting down the line and forcing YazmineSabja into the back corners. The Bolivians proved why they are World Champions, though, as Sabja killed nearly every American mistake and eventually took the match, 15–2, 15–5.  
DAVE: Jake and Daniel played the Peruvians again with results the same as the first. Peru has not been able to participate for a good number of years, but with the Pan American Games coming to their country, they are back and warmly welcome. Their team is developing once again, so there will understandably be some growing pains as a result.

DAVE: Kelani played María Renée Rodríguez of Guatemala. What an interesting match this was. María Renée has a wicked serve down the right side and delivered multiple aces. Kelani started overplaying that serve and got some momentum, making quality returns. In the second game and throughout the tiebreaker, Kelani used the same strategy and was able to dominate both games. Kelani played super smart, hitting on-balance pinches and solid passes that rarely came off the back wall.

DAVE: Later in the evening Jake and Daniel were pitted against the Canadians, Samuel Murray and Coby Iwaasa. Our guys made a huge comeback the first game after being down 13–5, winning it 15–14. Then things turned in the Canadians' favor. It appeared that our guys wanted to “overpower” the Canadians, but both Sam and Coby were able to handle the shots, many times re-killing them in the front corners. We were down significantly in the tiebreaker, fighting back to 8– 8.  The Canadians got the side out and scored three points to win, 11­–8. 

Thursday's Results
Charlie Pratt def. Conrrado Moscoso (Bolivia), 3–15, 15–12, 11–10
Bobby Horn lost to Carlos Keller(Bolivia), 12–15, 10­–15
Rhonda Rajsich lost to Maria Jose Vargas (Argentina), 4–15, 8–15
Jake Bredenbeck/Daniel Rojas def. Sebastian Mendiguri/Oscar Navarro (Peru), 15–0, 15–0
Jake Bredenbeck/Daniel Rojas lost to Coby Iwaasa/Samuel Murray (Canada), 15–13, 1–15, 7–11
Kelani Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts def. Alejandra Jimenez/Merynanyelly Delgado (Dominican Republic), 15–8, 11–15, 11–5
Kelani Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts lost to Yazmine Sabja/Valeria Centellas (Bolivia), 2–15, 5–15
Kelani Lawrence def. María Renée Rodríguez (Guatemala), 7–15, 15–6, 11–0
Featured Player of the Day – Rhonda Rajsich
Rhonda Rajsich of Phoenix, Arizona (born and raised), has played racquetball for most of her life, having hit the courts under her father and godfather’s influence at the tender age of 2. Her occupation? She says with a smile, “Pro athlete, lover of life, here to serve.” When she’s not playing the LPRT, she conducts racquetball and basketball lessons and clinics.
When asked about her most memorable moment in racquetball, Rhonda replied, “Winning the IRF Worlds in Ireland in 2008. I wasn’t supposed to be there and ended up winning the World Championship. That was my first World title, with the second in 2010 in Korea.” 
Rhonda thanks her sponsors: Rollout Racquetball, Racquetball Warehouse, Restrung Magazine, and 3WallBall. She wants to recognize her mother Deneen Thurow and her late father Dennis Rajsich for their lifelong support, and she also thanks Coach Jim Winterton, Trainers Travis Stoetzel, Jarrett East, and Jim Walter, Brent Huff (US Team Trainer), Jeff Kettering (agent), Jason Bronson, Dr. Michael Leff (chiropractor), Dr. Danielle Lewis (doctor), Dr. David Herzberg (physical therapist), and Toni Delos Santos (mental coach). Rhonda would also like to thank Jennifer and the kids for their unwavering love and support through thick and thin.
Some of Rhonda's other interests/hobbies outside racquetball include basketball, training, playing outside, music/movies/shows, and eating. In answer to a recent question--What is your favorite childhood memory--Rhonda reminisces, "Going to Disneyland and Huntington Beach with my parents.”

Featured Staff Member of the Day – Dave Ellis, Team USA Coach
My family: "Pat Muñoz Ellis and I have been married nearly 49 years. We live in Stockton, California, along with John and his family, wife Jennifer, Julius (16) and Jordan (11). We love the proximity that allows us to interact pretty much on a daily basis.
"John Ellis, Jody Nance, and I work with juniors twice a week during the school year, and we have a successful program. Besides our junior classes, John and I have embarked upon the ambitious project of establishing junior racquetball programs throughout Northern California. Reaching Your Dream Foundation (RYDF) of Danville, California, supports us. We use a two-phase presentation that has been well received now by eight different clubs. We call our efforts “SOC” which stands for “Save Our Courts.” 
"We’ve been working towards creating a program similar to “First Tee” in golf. This has been a dream for some time now. Through RYDF, we’ve applied for a grant that would help us make our dream a reality.  Besides racquetball playing and mechanics, the program would emphasize Physical Well Being, Mental Well Being, Academics, and Social and Interpersonal Relations. 
"I hold a Bachelor of Liberal Arts from the University of the Pacific and a Masters in Philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. I am particularly proud of my California State Bilingual Teaching Credential. I taught Mathematics in both English and Spanish for 38 years at the high school level, from fundamentals to advanced placement calculus before retiring from teaching in 2006."
Whom would you like to recognize for their support?
"First and foremost, my family, Pat, John, Jennifer, Julius, and Jordan, for all the support they give to our racquetball efforts. Secondly, I recognize the Team USA players, past and present, who have dedicated their time, energy, and effort into playing the game. The majority are professionals who take time away from the tours to represent our country. Thirdly, I recognize our staff of Cheryl Kirk (Team Leader) and Brent Huff (Athletic Trainer) who are always ready, day or night, to give support to our delegation. I’m so excited that Jim Durham is here serving as Assistant Coach. Thanks go out to the USAR Board, to National Team Committee Chairperson Larry Haemmerle, and to many others for their efforts on behalf of Team USA. Of course, infinite gratitude goes to Jonathan Clay and Rollout Racquetball for always keeping Team USA looking sharp. Last but not least, the players and I are grateful to all contributors who have helped fund player expenses, team dinners, equipment, etc., for our various delegations."
Thoughts about competing here in Barranquilla, Colombia? "Coaching Team USA is not as glamorous as it sounds, yet of course it is very much a privilege. It is a tournament, and the great majority of staff members' time is spent at the club and at the hotel. The history of USAR was to spread the game worldwide, and an excellent job was done in this effort. As such, our competition is now very strong. So many of the 15 countries send very competitive delegations. Team USA has our work cut out for us!"
Question of the Day
What is the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Point of clarification -- how much? Answer: Okay...um...$600 million. 
Jake: Pay off my parent's house.
Bobby: Go to a steak house to celebrate.
Charlie: Buy land all over the world!
Rhonda: Buy my mom her dream house and buy back my dad's house to keep it in the family. 
Sheryl: Buy a large piece of property or two, build a house, and split the rest with my mom, dad, and brother. <3
Brent: Go straight to the Lamborghini dealer to buy my dream car!
Jim: Start dishin' to the deserving.
Cheryl: Give a number of monetary gifts to lighten the load for some family members and friends. Then go to war on child abuse/trafficking and puppy mills.
Dave:Build a 20-court facility in Stockton so we could have all the IRF events 10 minutes from our home.
Kelani: Travel, and also support some sort of scholarship fund.
Daniel: I'd buy/build 2-3 apartment complexes to rent out, build my first gym, pay off my parents' debt, and set up my brothers and their eventual families.

IRF Staff and Referees
There's a group of hard-working people who are here in Barranquilla to ensure a fair and well-run experience for the 15 delegations in attendance. They are the referees (arbitros en español),who spend long and intense hours officiating matches, and they are joined by the staff and floor managers who are at the courts from dawn 'til dusk throughout the seven days of competition. The U.S Delegation thanks you for your service to racquetball!
Tucky Kravitz, Iván Valdez -- Mexico
Fabián Torres, Francisco Gómez, Felipe Arenas, Juan Pablo Rodríguez, María Paz Riquelme -- Colombia
Germán Coppolecchia, Daniel Maggi, Adrian Macrino -- Argentina
Carlos Bermúdez -- Venezuela
Sergio Acuña -- Costa Rica
Mauro Grandio Buzaleh, Pablo Berriel -- Argentina
Maria de los Ángeles Sarria -- Colombia
Tim Baghurst -- USA/England
Gary Mazaroff -- USA
Gustavo Farell -- USA/Uruguay
We also give a warm welcome to Bruno Semino, Racquetball Sport Manager for the XVIII Pan American Games in Lima this summer. He is a positive and energetic presence, and we think it's great that he is here observing this event as he prepares to manage the venue and competition in August. After the Games, Bruno will be seeking to further develop racquetball in Peru.

Canine Fix
Our new friend Sasha the dog visited the courts today and gnawed on a Gearbox Black racquetball. She loved that racquetball! (Note to Rafael Filippini: It didn't break!)
Charlie and I gave her a bowl of water, and after she drank most of the water, she dropped the racquetball in it. Good thing, la pelota was kind of slimy. Dog lovers get goofy over things like this. 
(Another note, to Cheryl Gudinas, T.J. Baumbaugh, Susy Acosta, Aimee Ruiz, et al.: Sasha's owner was with her, and she appeared well loved and cared for.) 
I miss my dog! And my husband, too, of course. 
Friday's Schedule -- Coming Down to the Wire
11:00 Charlie Pratt vs. Andres Acuña (Costa Rica)
11:00 Rhonda Rajsich vs. Monserrat Mejia (Mexico)
11:00 Kelani Lawrence vs. Carla Muñoz (Chile)
12:00 Bobby Horn vs. Conrrado Moscoso (Bolivia)
3:00 Kelani Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts vs. Maria Paz Muñoz/Ana Lucia Sarmiento (Ecuador)
5:00 Jake Bredenbeck/Daniel Rojas vs. Fernando Kurzbard/Shai Manzuri (Argentina)
Apart from Charlie's semifinal match, the rest are dropdown matches to determine places 5-8 and 9-12. However, every match is important to the overall team standings for this event and to determine the number of athletes from each country who will qualify to compete for the United States at the Pan American Games this summer in Lima. Good luck to all as Team USA works together for this group and for the next delegation going to Peru!

Blog #7 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Coach Dave Comments on Day One of the Main Draw
Seven matches in all today. Rhonda led us off with her two-game win over Canadian Michele Morissette.She was back on the court late afternoon against the always-tough Carla Muñozof Chile. This was a hard-fought match with Rhonda having a bit of a one-sided first game. In the second game, Carla achieved a 9–5 lead and sustained it up to 11–7. Rhonda chipped away and then went to an effective assortment of drive serves, building to a lead of 13–11. Then it was 14–14. Rhonda made some thrilling gets to return to the service box and closed it out 15–14.

Kelani's first match today was against Marie Gomar of Guatemala, and she won in two games. Kelani then faced Valeria Centellas of Bolivia. Valeria is a recent IRF World Junior champion, and she is a stable solid player. Kelani had trouble getting her game going, leaving up pinches that produced center court set-ups as well as shooting down-the-line passes that came off the back wall. Kelani made it close the second game. She fought hard with lots of spirit, but Valeria closed it out by a score of 15–8.

Charlie Pratt had an easy time in the round of 32 with Peruvian Sebastian Mendiguri.After that win, he drew the Guatemalan Juan Salvatierra. Charlie is a joy to watch. He always seems to hit the right shot. Charlie won easily in two games with scores of 15–3, 15–6.

Bobby Horn was pitted against the tough Guatemalan Edwin Galicia. Galicia is a very talented player, but Bobby just brought too much to handle with tricky serves, solid returns, rally-ending shots from everywhere on the court, and his usual amazing gets. Bobby finished off the match with scores 15–5, 15–7.

Wednesday's Results
Rhonda Rajsich def. Michele Morissette (Canada), 15–11, 15–9
Kelani Lawrence def. Marie Gomar (Guatemala), 15–7, 15–2
Charlie Pratt def. Sebastian Mendiguri (Peru), 15–2, 15–4
Rhonda Rajsich def. Carla Muñoz (Chile), 15–10, 15–14
Kelani Lawrence lost to Valeria Centellas (Bolivia), 7–15, 8-15
Charlie Pratt def. Juan Salvatierra (Guatemala), 15–3, 15–6
Bobby Horn def. Edwin Galicia (Guatemala), 15–5, 15-7
Featured Player of the Day -- Charlie Pratt (aka Birthday Guy)
Colorado State University – Pueblo, Psychology
Portland Community College, Small Business Development 
Cornell University, Nutrition
Personal Trainer and Nutritionist 
Ranking on the IRT: #16
Wife Ceci, parents Deb and Charley Pratt, younger sister Katie.
How did you get started playing racquetball?
"At age 6, my mom took me to the local club (Sunset Athletic Club in Portland). I saw some people playing doubles. I stood there trying to figure out the rules as a six-year-old. My mom recalls that I pointed to the court and said, “I have to try that." She signed me up for the free Sunday Junior Clinic. We had a great program at Sunset Athletic Club, both juniors and adults. I played my first in-house tournament a few months later, then my first Oregon Junior tournament a few months after that. I fell in love with the sport and have never looked back."
Competition history?
"I played my first Junior Nationals at age 8 in Fountain Valley, California, at Los Caballeros. I also played the Junior Worlds that year, same location. I won my first National Championship at age 11 in Baltimore, Maryland. From ages 14-18, I qualified for the Junior USA Team, competing in the Junior World Championships representing Team USA. It was a huge honor. I also played High School Racquetball for Sunset High School. After juniors I played Collegiate Racquetball for Colorado State University – Pueblo. CSU-P is one of the best teams in the country, and I was able to practice with very high-level players. Then I started playing in professional tournaments on the IRT, which was really fun! I got to play against some of my role models, like Ruben Gonzalez and Rocky Carson. I also got to watch other professionals like Kane, Cliff, Jack, Mannino, etc. which was awesome! In 2009, at age 23, I decided to play full-time as a professional. I did that for six years, traveling to about 20 tournaments per year. It was an exciting time in my life. My highest rank was #8. Recently, I have only been playing a handful of IRT tournaments. I still love to compete on the IRT, but now my main focus is qualifying and competing for Team USA."
Other interests/hobbies?
"Ancient Egypt, astronomy, cycling, golf, traveling, road trips, music, yoga, cooking, etc."
Whom would you like to recognize for their support? 
"My parents. My wife. My coaches: Matt Hanners, Darrin McNally, Cliff Swain, Dave Ellis. My friends all around the racquetball world. So many more..."
How does it feel to be competing with USA on your back at the IRF Pan Am Championships?
"I am beyond excited to represent Team USA. International Tournaments are the most exciting. They have a different energy. You are playing for more than just yourself. This is a rare opportunity to become part of a team. It brings out another level in me as a player. To represent my country, which has so many great players, is actually pretty unbelievable. I am honored and excited to compete in Colombia!"
Charlie also serves as Head Coach of the US Junior Racquetball Team. He and his team of assistant coaches (Robbie Collins, Bobby Horn, Jen Meyer, and Jody Nance) will be together for a third Junior Nationals in Portland this June; USOC Training Camp in July; and the IRF World Juniors in Costa Rica in November.
Featured Staff Member of the Day – Brent Huff
Brent Huff, now living in Phoenix, Arizona, is our US Team Athletic Trainer/Massage Therapist. He holds a Master's degree in Sports Medicine from the US Sports Academy and possesses 19 years’ experience as a Certified Athletic Trainer with the NATA (National Athletic Trainers Association). Brent also holds certifications as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Holistic Lifestyle Coaching with the CHEK Institute (Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology), and is also licensed as a Massage Therapist (AMTA).
In his capacity as Team Athletic Trainer/Massage Therapist, Brent provides everything from prevention to assessment to emergency care. Rehab services for athletes and on-site coverage for athletic events are part of his repertoire as well. His experience encompasses everything from “little kids to professional athletes.”
Brent is a Wilson and Rollout Racquetball sponsored player who took up the sport 35+ years ago. He was the recipient of the 2016 USA Racquetball Joe Sobek Outstanding Contribution Award.
"It’s a privilege and an honor to make the trip with the US Team again. It's an opportunity to work with the best racquetball athletes in the world and to put my profession to use in a sport that’s my passion and my hobby as well."
Question of the Day
If you could come back reincarnated as someone, who would it be?
Charlie: Neil Armstrong
Bobby: Tiger Woods
Daniel: Jake Bredenbeck (Note: Really, Daniel?)
Rhonda: Michael Jordan
Kelani: Kylie Jenner
Sheryl: Beyoncé
Dave: Mark Zuckerberg
Jim: John Muir (naturalist, author, environmental philosopher)
Brent: Phil Knight (founder of Nike)
Jake: Wayne Gretzky 
Cheryl: Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of the musical "Hamilton"). I might have said Alexander Hamilton himself if not for that unfortunate duel thing.
More Americans in Colombia
If you've been following these blogs, you know that we have a total of 11 athletes and staff members in the U.S. Delegation. There are additional Americans here in Barranquilla as well: Gustavo Farell and Gary Mazaroff (IRF staff/floor managers), Dean Schear (anti-doping), Tim Baghurst (live streaming and color commentary), Shai Manzuri (playing for Argentina), and Kelly North from Ohio. Tom Travers and Fran Davis are here as coaches for the Guatemalan team (Tom) and Paola Longoria (Fran); Sudsy Monchik is assisting Team Chile.
Thursday's Schedule
Live streaming continues Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for selected matches on Courts #1 and 4. Here's tomorrow's lineup!
9:00 #4 Charlie Pratt vs. #5 Conrrado Moscoso (Bolivia)
9:00 #2 Bobby Horn vs. #7 Carlos Keller (Bolivia)
10:00 #13 Rhonda Rajsich vs. #12 Maria Jose Vargas (Argentina)
12:00 #2 Jake Bredenbeck/Daniel Rojas vs. #15 Sebastian Mendiguri/Oscar Navarro (Peru)
            With a win, 6:00 vs. the winner of #10 Enier Chacon/Mykel Moyet (Cuba) and #7 Coby Iwaasa/Samuel Murray (Canada)
1:00 #12 Kelani Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts vs. #5 Alejandra Jimenez/Merynanyelly Delgado (Dominican Republic)
            With a win, 6:00 vs. #4 Yazmine Sabja/Valeria Centellas (Bolivia)
3:00 Kelani Lawrence vs. María Renée Rodríguez (Guatemala)


Blog #6 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 
Greetings from Barranquilla!

Coaches Dave and Jim enjoyed a free day along with everyone else. The exception was that Dave stepped up on the Team Laundry Challenge and met the lady from the independent service who delivered everything back at 8:00 am this morning. It has generally been Dave's and my practice to jointly figure out the laundry process in service to our athletes. Last night was an exercise in mathematics and high finance to convert USD to COP (Colombian pesos) in order to have the 278,000 COP Dave needed to pay the nice lady. Good thing Dave is a former math teacher.
Let's get to it...Kelani is the Featured Player today, and following her coverage, the Staff Member of the Day introduces you to Assistant Coach Jim Durham.

Featured Player of the Day – Kelani Bailey Lawrence 
Kelani Lawrence, who turned 25 on April 7th (Happy Birthmonth!), was born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of Malia and Jim Bailey. Her brother Warren is 20 years old. She currently resides in Roanoke, Virginia, with her husband, Sam Lawrence, and her bunny, Sadie.
Kelani attended Shenandoah University (Winchester, Virginia) where she completed her undergraduate degree in Business Administration with a Sport Management Major. She received her Masters in Business Administration with a focus in Interdisciplinary Business at Regent University (Virginia Beach, Virginia) in May 2018.
Kelani got started in racquetball at the age of 10 when she attended a clinic her mom was leading and then played in a few of the tournaments Malia ran. She played her first Junior Nationals at 13 years old. Since then, Kelani has competed on the Junior and Adult US National Teams. She has also been active on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) the past few years, playing in as many tournaments as she can get to between working full-time as a YMCA Director and as a Field Hockey Assistant Coach at the local college.
Other interests/hobbies? “I enjoy working out and being active (yes, this includes racquetball and field hockey, haha), going to the beach, playing with my bunny, traveling, and going out with friends.
“I would like to recognize my husband, family, friends, and coworkers for their love and support. I would also like to thank my sponsors HEAD Racquetball and Rollout Racquetball.
“I am excited to represent my country once again at the PARC, but this time I have the opportunity to play both singles and doubles. I am the only one playing in two divisions this tournament!"
Note: An action photo of yesterday's women's doubles match (USA vs. Colombia) appeared today in a local newspaper. Coincidentally, Kelani is pictured, and Jim Durham can be seen sitting outside the court just to the left in the photo.

Featured Staff Member of the Day - Jim Durham
Assistant Coach Jim Durham has been playing racquetball since taking it as a P.E. Class at Fresno State University in 1978. He has been an avid student of the game ever since. Jim has won national age group titles in both doubles and singles competition. He also has two outdoor singles titles and is intent on adding an outdoor doubles title to his name as well. He is founder and president of the Fresno Racquetball Association and coaches local juniors. 
Jim was a teacher and coach for thirty-three years. He is now retired and says, “I am working to improve my skills as a husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend, mountain biker, outdoorsman, racquetball coach, fundraiser, organizer, and tournament director.” Family members include his wife Diana, sons Tom and Terry, granddaughter Arianna, and two long-haired Dachshunds, Hans and Midge.
Jim keeps active by working out nearly every day at 5:00 a.m., playing racquetball, mountain biking (just signed up for the Downieville Classic, his first MTB race), and hiking. 
Jim would like to thank the entire Fresno racquetball community for being such great competitors and friends for the last forty years. They have been instrumental in keeping him actively engaged in our great sport. Nancy Giosa Feramisco has been especially active through the years in keeping racquetball fresh and alive in the Fresno area. His son Tom continues to be an inspiration for keeping his game sharp so they can win a few titles together. He adds, “Dave and John Ellis and Jody Nance have given all of us in NorCal–and everywhere else–the blueprint for making racquetball a successful and thriving sport at every level of both junior and adult play.” 
Jim says, “I feel humble, grateful and energized by this opportunity to represent the United States of America at the Pan American Racquetball Championships. I am, of course, anxious to make a positive contribution to this team, and I will bring all of my life experiences to bear upon this task. Let’s have some fun and win some matches, TEAM USA!”
Question of the Day
How did you spend your free day in Colombia? 
Charlie: Breakfast, ice, workout, practice, ice, lunch, ice, Netflix, dinner, ice, Blazer game!
Bobby: Breakfast, workout, practice. Nap/lunch/nap/dinner...
Daniel: Sleep, hit dingers, pool, eat, hit dingers, and eat.
Jake: Breakfast, workout, practice, pool, mall/lunch, PS4
Rhonda: Ate, slept, worked out, repeat...all day
Sheryl: Good practice this morning, lots of pool time, eating, and relaxation
Dave: Laundry retrieval, breakfast, mini taxi tour of Barranquilla, nap, lunch, more rest, General Assembly meeting
Jim: Slept in, taxi tour of Barranquilla, watched JB, DBH and CP practice. Drilled for an hour or so, ate, napped, banana split, General Assembly meeting, watched Blazers and OKC
Brent: Workout, reading for continuing education, lots of pool time, nap, dinner, dessert, work on players
Cheryl: Slept late (aahhhh!), computer work and correspondence (blog, etc.), had a maid let me into Dave and Jim's room to get racquetballs for the guys, Note: My room is neater than theirs...just saying. More computer work, nap, PARC committee meeting followed by General Assembly meeting. Late dinner, Charlie brought me food. Thanks, Charlie! 
And now for the winning "how did you spend your free day" entry:
Kelani: Went to Cartagena historical city (shopping and lunch) and then the beach (we went water tubing!!). Went with the Chilean team and we ran into the Bolivian team while walking on the beach there. (See photos!)

General Assembly Meeting -- 8:00 pm at the Host Hotel
Based on the references to the GA meeting above, I know some of you (at least three of you) are dying to hear about it... 
The PARC General Assembly meets each year at this event. Here, delegates from the 15 countries attended Tuesday night, and nearly all were on time (including Coach Dave!). Prior meeting minutes and financial documents were approved, updates were given by Dean Schear (anti-doping), Marie Gomar (program for children in Guatemala), Marcelo Gómez (IRF World Junior Championships in San Jose, Costa Rica this November), and event updates and reports were provided by IRF President Osvaldo Maggi and PARC President Marcelo Gómez.
Roughly 90 minutes in length, the General Assembly is a great way to bring country leaders together and keep them updated on international issues and activities. 
Sponsors Rock!
This is an appropriate time to recognize sponsors who help so much in making these events possible. On the U.S. side, USA Racquetball and the US Team Delegation send our gratitude to Rollout Racquetball (Jonathan Clay). Rollout is the official lifestyle apparel supplier of USA Racquetball, including the U.S. National Racquetball and Junior National Racquetball Teams. Thanks for making us look so good, Jonathan!
On the IRF side, we thank E-Force (Official Racquet) and Gearbox (Official Ball) for their support. The Gearbox Sleek Black is the Official Ball of the IRF. 
Here in Colombia, the National Federation and the Local Organizing Committee has secured several valued sponsors to help make this event a reality:Manzana Postobon, Kinesio Concepts, Tigo, and Barrentos (vinagre). I believe this may be a first to have a vinegar sponsor, and we couldn't be more appreciative!
Wednesday -- The Main Event Begins!
And now it's time to enter Phase II of this event. Results from the pool play format of the last several days have been utilized to build the main draws, the results of which will determine not only the individual and team standings here but also what countries qualify and in what seeding positions at the Pan American Games in Lima this summer.
Here's how Team USA will start out tomorrow:
10:00 am #13 Rhonda Rajsich vs. ##20 Michele Morissette (Canada)
            With a win, 3:00 #4 Carla Muñoz (Chile)
10:00 am #11 Kelani Lawrence vs. #22 Marie Gomar (Guatemala)
            With a win, 4:00 vs. #6 Valeria Centellas (Bolivia)
12:00 pm  #4 Charlie Pratt vs. #29 Sebastian Mendiguri (Peru)
            With a win, 5:00 vs. earlier winner of #13 Juan Salvatierra (Guatemala)     and #20 Andres Gomez (Colombia)
6:00 pm #2 Bobby Horn vs. earlier winner of #15 Edwin Galicia (Guatemala) and  #18 Enier Chacon (Cuba)
Doubles competition begins on Thursday. Streaming of courts 1 and 4 will be offered each day now through the finals on Saturday afternoon. 
Visit International Racquetball on Facebook as well as the IRF home page at www.internationalracquetball.com to access live streaming. Join us in the excitement here in Barranqullla!
-- Cheryl Kirk
P.S. Let's get this celebration started! As I finish writing this blog, it is now past midnight and officially CHARLIE PRATT'S BIRTHDAY! Who knows what shenanigans will emerge in the coming hours. Happy Birthday, Charlie, and good luck. 

Blog #5 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Monday, April 15, 2019
May I take this once-in-a-year opportunity to wish everyone back home a Happy Tax Day. May this blog help keep your mind temporarily off of any associated angst...
Dave and Jim Wax Eloquent on the Day
"Today Team USA was very active with six matches. Rhonda led us off, gutting out a two-game win over the younger Maria Paz of Ecuador. The games were back and forth with Rhonda kicking her drive serves into gear in the second half of the second game. Rhonda’s comment afterwards was, “I didn’t play well at all.”  We’ll take the win!

"Kelani Lawrence followed with a match against the tough Carla Muñoz of Chile. Kelani played a near perfect first game, winning by a score of 15–5. There was a giant turnaround the second game. Carla began anticipating Kelani’s cut offs and pinches as well as her serves. Carla won the second game, 15–3. In the tiebreaker, Carla jumped to a lead. Kelani fought back hard, cancelling at least three match points before losing 6–11. Both ladies played with spirit and determination throughout the match.

"Bobby Horn was up against a very athletic, quick, and agile Cuban player, Mykel Mollet. We know Bobby is also athletic, quick and agile, so the match came down to shot making, with Bobby excelling in this area. Bobby used a nice mix of drives and multiple types of Z serves. There were many long, exciting rallies throughout the competition, most ending by precise winners by USA’s #1 singles player.

"Captain Charlie drew the other Cuban singles player, Enier Chacon. All of the Cubans are tremendously athletic, and Enier is no exception. The first game was back and forth throughout. At 8–8, Charlie went to his extremely precise lob nicks, and this produced set-up after set-up for the win, 15–10. Charlie has acquired the nickname Mr. Consistency. He lived up to that in the second game, continuing with his strategy from game #1 and consistently hitting rally-ending shots. He closed out the match easily, 15–1. 

"Kelani and Sheryl faced off against the Colombian pair of Adriana Riveros and Cristina Amaya. Adriana uses her size well to dominate center court, and Amaya was hitting many pinches for winners. Our players made some adjustments with Kelani covering Cristina’s pinches to extend rallies. In the second game, Team USA got off to a slow start with Colombia having many set-ups in center court.  A timeout was called, and the ladies worked to put the Colombians in the back of the court.  It was too little/too late with the Colombians winning 15–8. Kelani and Sheryl are tremendously talented and experienced racquetball players, and both Jim and I feel that with some strategy adjustments, they will do some damage as we head into the elimination rounds.

"The thrill of the day came with Jake and Daniel playing the Colombians, Mario Mercado and Andres Gomez. The first game was nothing short of spectacular for Team USA. Daniel could not miss, literally rolling out shot after shot. Jake’s awesome power, jam serves, and shot making were all present as well. As a result, the Colombians were served a doughnut, sans delicious Colombian coffee. During the second game, things went south for Team USA for sure, as the Colombians jumped to a 9–0 lead. At 11–4, Daniel and Jake switched sides and this different look produced positive results. To combat Jake’s jam serves, the Colombians went into an I-formation with Mario returning serve and Andres positioned behind him. Basically, our guys went on a tear. They switched back at one point and closed it out in two games, the second 15–13.  This was a great win for our guys as they finished first in their group. I’ve said they are a work in progress, and progress is what is happening.*

Assistant Coach Durham adds, "Our entire team has an extraordinary spirit, and they are a special group to be around. It’s inspirational to see the mutual support and friendship they have for one another."

Monday's Results 
Rhonda Rajsich def. Maria Jose Muñoz (Ecuador), 15–10, 15–6
Kelani Lawrence lost to Carla Muñoz (Chile), 15­–5, 3–15, 6–11
Bobby Horn def. Mykel Mollet (Cuba), 15–9, 15–7
Charlie Pratt def. Enier Chacon (Cuba), 15–10, 15–1
Sheryl Lotts/Kelani Lawrence lost to Cristina Amaya/Adriana Riveros (Colombia), 8–15, 8–15
Daniel Rojas/Jake Bredenbeck def. Andres Gomez/Mario Mercado (Colombia), 15–0, 15–14
Above and Beyond
* Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, Jake's mom Karen arguably had a great deal to do with Jake and Daniel's win. When streaming isn't available, I like to text with family members to let them know what's going on "real time." After having connected with Malia Bailey earlier during Kelani and Sheryl's match, it was time to bring Karen to the court here in Barranquilla. We were both astounded and pleased at how well the first game went. Karen was walking outdoors with Jake's dog during that game, then she went inside the house. As the debacle unfolded that was the first half of the second game, we commiserated and actually traded a couple of "wth" texts. At 0-9, Karen texted, "Going back out for a short walk cuz they did better when I was out in the back." I replied, "Good move." That's when it all started turning around. Scores 3-9...4-9... I wrote, "Stay outside." She replied, "Trying." (It's not that warm in Minnesota.) The run continued. At 7-13, the Colombians didn't score again and our guys caught fire and broke through to victory! Emoji celebration all around––American flags, dancing girls, praying hands––until Karen texted, "So I can go in?" "Yes, go in!" Karen, thanks for freezing in support of the US Team. You have our gratitude.
Featured Player of the Day – Jake Bredenbeck
Jake, 27, grew up in Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota, and currently resides there. He is ranked #14 on the IRT. Jake travels and plays the tour full-time. He holds an MBA from Colorado State University-Pueblo, and he names dual occupations – carpenter and racquetball player.
His #1 fans are his mom, Karen, his dad, Bill, and his brother Sam. It’s a racquetball family – Sam competed for the US Junior Team in Bolivia in 2013 and in Santo Domingo in 2015.
“My parents both played racquetball and got me into it at a young age, always bringing me to the club when they went. They ran a racquetball club for many years at which I worked as I got older. I was 4½ when I started playing and have been in love with the sport since.”
Other interests/hobbies? “I love playing almost any sport. Being on a lake. Hanging out with friends and family. Working out.”
Whom would you like to recognize for their support? My parents for their continued support in all that I do. They are the reason I play racquetball and still get to play. My brother for always being there for me no matter what and continuing to help me grow. Thank you to Head for sponsoring me, as well as Donald Williams and Keith Minor for their continued support.”
Jake sums it up: “I am excited to be playing for Team USA again. I missed the opportunity last year and am very happy to be back for this trip! It is a great honor for me to be able to do this and wear USA on my back again.”
Question of the Day
What is one of your pet peeves?
Brent: Slow drivers in the fast lane.
Dave: People watching racquetball but not watching racquetball.
Charlie: People who don't say thank you when you hold the door open for them. Also, people who rush past you when deplaning.
David: When someone could pull forward to the next gas pump so you can take the one behind them, but they don't.
Jake: When people are inconsiderate and rude. 
Cheryl: Comma misuse including refusal to use the Oxford comma. 
Kelani: When you're laying out to get some rays, and someone comes and blocks the sun.
Jim: Litterbugs and more specifically idiots who spit their gum onto the ground.
Daniel: Running on a treadmill.
Rhonda: Being unnecessarily cold.
Sheryl: When someone leaves water all over the sink...or when someone calls me kiddo and they are younger than me. 
The Hotel
The Hilton Garden Inn Barranquilla is a pleasant home away from home. Located just beyond spitting distance from the club but in plain sight, there is a grocery store right next door. The rooms are pleasant and feature comfortable beds, Smart TVs, and air conditioning that somewhat holds off the humidity. A couple of rooms had issues with the AC. All is fixed, we're fine. The friendly restaurant staff offers inexpensive and delicious meals that have kept us in-house most evenings. I believe most of the team will agree that this is one of the better hotel culinary experiences we have found in our travels. It takes forever to get the check, but we're pretty much a captive audience anyway. 
E-mail from Home
"Proud of this team and the dedication and sacrifice they all give to represent the USA. Standing O for everyone! Good luck and be proud, stand together and know you are loved and respected." -- Joanne Pomodoro
"Keep on having fun!! GO TEAM USA!! -- John O'Donnell, Jr.
Team Dinner
Tonight was logistically the best night for our traditional team dinner. Thanks to Juan Manuel Gutiérrez, President of the Colombian Racquetball Federation, who called for reservations for us. We had a fun dinner at Cucayo, a restaurant featuring eclectic decor, Caribbean dishes, and a menu practically no one could understand. Charlie's choice for vegetarian fare was mine as well, and I am breaking my own rule and asking Leo Vasquez to post my photo of my meal. It was so pretty and unusual and delicious! Coach Dave Ellis facilitated an exchange of favorite racquetball stories where everyone shared their most memorable moments.
Tuesday in Barranquilla
The Free Day is upon us, and it sounds as if most team members will be chillaxing in the vicinity of the hotel. Tomorrow we'll find out, "How I spent my free day." I'll also include the Wednesday schedule -- the main part of the draw. It's hard to believe our trip to Barranquilla is half over!

Back tomorrow night, and...

Blog #4 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Coaches Dave and Jim Comment on Day Two
"Today was a short day for Team USA. We only had three matches, although they were spread throughout the day at 10:00, 1:00, and 4:00. 

"Captain Charlie Pratt led us off with a match against Jonathan Luque from Peru. Peru has recently regenerated a racquetball team, and we are happy to see them here. They are the host country for the Pan American Games in August. Charlie was consistent throughout and finished the match quickly.

"Our next match was Kelani who played a very athletic Cuban player. Kelani controlled the match, and I love watching her play. I told her, 'I watch you and I never know what’s coming next, but I think that is a good thing.' She’s aggressive at the right times. I will mention, haha, that the Cuban player did get a point because Kelani was holding her racquet in the air too long.

"Last up for Team USA was our doubles team of Jake and Daniel. They drew two Peruvians who were clearly outmatched. Jake was firing jam serves and down-the-line serves at mach speed. If you blinked you would have missed them. Jake even hit a couple of jams off the right side wall. Daniel said, 'Well, that was pretty much all Jake. I don’t think I scored a point on any of my serves.' The men gave Peru the dreaded double doughnut.

"Tomorrow we have a full card with six matches. There will be challenging ones throughout the day."

Assistant Coach Jim Durham added that no matter the opponent, our players weren’t taking anything for granted and didn’t take any play lightly. He commented, "They used every opportunity to sharpen their games. That reflects a professional attitude that speaks to the character of our players."

Sunday's Results
Charlie Pratt def. Jonathan Luque (Peru), 15–2, 15–2
Kelani Lawrence def. Yurisleidis Allue (Cuba), 15–7, 15–8
Daniel Rojas/Jake Bredenbeck def. Sebastian Mendiguri/Oscar Navarro (Peru), 15–0, 15–0
Parque Distrital de Raquetas - The Club
This is actually not a club -- it is a public court facility for tennis and racquetball, essentially a park district building that is a quick two-minute walk from the hotel. There is one stadium court (three wall glass), one semi-stadium court (two wall glass), and the other two are concrete courts with back glass; no upstairs viewing. Permanent seating is installed behind all of the courts. 
The court floors are not polyurethane-coated, which allows for moisture to be absorbed quickly into the wood. However, care must be taken to protect elbows and knees when diving. 
The local organizing committee has done a spectacular job of securing sponsors and setting up the venue. Snack vendors have food available, and water and ice stations are positioned strategically. There is a rest area for athletes and an ample area for the tournament desk operation. Referees use tablets, and monitors are installed above each court so that spectators can easily tell who is playing (names, country flags) along with the score. Paramedics are on hand to assist if needed.

Make no mistake, it's hot here. Really hot. And humid. It's about 88 degrees F. each day. This becomes significant when you realize that while the courts are air-conditioned, the spectator areas are not. (Note: I asked my husband Kit this morning as we FaceTime'd, if, because it was 33 degrees and snowing there, it would be insensitive of me to complain about the heat, humidity, and my bad hair day. Silence on the other end. Then laughter, slightly derisive in nature. Shortly after I received a video of our backyard.)
Tim Baghurst posted a photo of me on Facebook along with referee Tucky Kravitz standing inside Cancha 4. Tim was somehow inferring that I had drummed up some flimsy excuse to go in and talk with Tucky in order to cool off. The nerve! Okay, he was right, and I have started brainstorming alternate excuses in order to remain stealth in my mission to feel some cool air. Let's see...take a photo of the sponsor logos on the front wall...inspect for possible court hinders...check out imaginary damage to a wall or the floor...obviously go in to take photos of the players before matches begin. If any readers can think of other excuses, I'll appreciate all thoughts. It's only Sunday.
Note to Tim: You bust me on Facebook after I gave you mosquito repellent? What the heck.
Featured Player of the Day – Sheryl Lotts
Sheryl was born and raised in Bedford, Ohio, and resides in Columbus. She currently plays on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour and is an Assistant Store Manager at lululemon athletica. 
Sheryl is the daughter of Judi and Greg Lotts and sister of Eric Lotts. She graduated from Baldwin Wallace University with a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and Orthopedic Assessment and Treatment. “I am employed by lululemon athletica, an excellent company that supports my racquetball career.”
How did you get started playing racquetball? “I learned how to play racquetball from my dad. He has been playing since I was born, and he would take me to the club with him. I was nine years old when I started playing.”
Other interests/hobbies? “I love playing all sports for fun. I enjoy group fitness classes in the Columbus community, yoga, and CrossFit. I also love to play golf and do just about anything outdoors. I am always up for a challenge!”
Whom would you like to recognize for their support? "I would like to recognize my entire family for their unconditional support through the years. They have always helped me attend all of the tournaments, traveling all over the country and taking off work to help me get where I am today as well as constantly motivating me to be the best version of me! I would like to thank Team Head/Penn for all of their support through the years, ever since I was a junior player. They are a great company, and I appreciate everything they have done to help me. Also, thanks to Jonathan Clay (Rollout) for these awesome uniforms we are able to compete in. I am thankful for my coach Kelly for going above and beyond, always pushing me to be a better and teaching me so much about this game. To the lululemon community, I appreciate your incredible amount of support, allowing me to travel and pushing me to crush goals and be better every day.”
Thoughts about competing here in Baranquilla, Colombia? “I am very excited to once again be competing on the U.S. Adult Team. This is my first time in Colombia, and it's so great to be here and experience a new culture. I have been a part of the U.S Team for nine years, and I am thrilled to continue my journey and be a part of such a great team representing the USA!”
Question of the Day
Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
Charlie: In 1995 when I was nine years old, I broke my right arm two weeks before Junior Worlds (Los Caballeros, Fountain Valley). My trip was already planned, so I played with my left hand and got Bronze in 8- multi-bounce. I lost 11-10 in the semifinal.
Jake: I'm going to own my own car shop. 
Rhonda: I'm allergic to onions.
Bobby: I love to cook. 
Daniel: My college sports team is the Florida Gators.
Sheryl: I want to own a cow when I have my own house. It's my favorite animal besides dogs.
Kelani: I am still into playing Pokémon Go. Level 34 for anyone wondering. Haha.
Cheryl: I have never mowed a lawn, painted a wall, or washed a car by hand. (I am not necessarily proud of this.) I do wash my dog, though.
Brent: I won a golf tourney in my senior year of college.
Dave: I like anchovies on pizza. Salty little delicacies.
Jim: In 1968, I was eleven years old and my mom took me to listen to Robert Kennedy speak in Sacramento. He was running for president. After speaking, he stood on the trunk of a convertible Cadillac with Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier’s arms around his waist as they cruised through the parking lot at walking speed, allowing people to touch his hands as he held them out. I bolted into the throng and snaked my way to them. I managed to grab ahold of his left hand for just a fraction of a moment. He was assassinated the next day in Los Angeles.
Overheard (another popular blog feature that pops up occasionally)
Charlie: "I almost feel bad for my opponent when I get my crack serve ace going. Almost."
Cheryl: "Guatemala's Marie Gomar was having some challenges vs. a Dominican Republic player. To help her feel more relaxed going into the second game, Coach Tom Travers said right in front of me, 'Marie, just pretend you're playing against Cheryl in there.' I was tempted to pout, but generally my desire for blog content overrides indignity. Tom was just getting even for an excellent April Fool's joke Marie and I played on him earlier this month. This isn't over..."
It's Monday Already! -- Match Schedule
We're back to a full schedule on the last day of pool play. Once the matches are completed tomorrow, results will be used to determine the main draws beginning on Wednesday. Everyone here will enjoy a Free Day on Tuesday! 
9:00 am -- #2 Rhonda Rajsich vs. #16 Maria Jose Muñoz (Ecuador)
10:00 am -- #4 Kelani Lawrence vs. #18 Carla Muñoz (Chile)
12:00 pm -- #2 Bobby Horn vs. #18 Mykel Mollet (Cuba)
3:00 pm -- #4 Charlie Pratt vs. #20 Enier Chacon (Cuba)
4:00 pm -- #2 Sheryl Lotts/Kelani Lawrence vs. #10 Cristina Amaya/Adriana Riveros (Colombia)
5:00 pm -- #2 Daniel Rojas/Jake Bredenbeck vs. #10 Sebastian Franco/Mario Mercado (Colombia)
Facebook and IRF website live streaming began today! As mentioned yesterday, streaming of Court 1 action will take place going forward with accessibility on the IRF Home Page (thanks to Pable Fajre) while Tim Baghurst will stream the action via Facebook on Court 4. 
-- Cheryl Kirk

P.S. I'd like to take this opportunity to wish very Happy Birthdays to Jennifer Donath (Monday) and Barbara Vagedes (Tuesday). Have wonderful celebrations, my friends! xoxo

Blog #3 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Coach Dave Weighs in on Day One

"Today was the first day of competition. Kelani Lawrence started us off by taking it to Canadian Erin Geeraert by scores of 
15–1, 15–2Kelani played very consistently, and her aggressive style kept Geeraert on the defense the entire match. Kelani hits a lot of jam serves, so the three-glass-wall Court 1 is made to order for her.

"Rhonda Rajsich played Colombia’s Cristina Amaya in a very tough, closely contested match. The match definitely could have gone either way, with Cristina winning, 14–15, 15–14, 8–11.  Rhonda found the floor very slippery and even went down quite hard once. To her credit, Cristina was consistent with her pinches. She did get a number of fortunate cracks at key times.
"Next up was Bobby Horn, who played Colombian Andres Gomez. Assistant Coach Durham was totally impressed with Bobby's play throughout the quick two-game match. Bobby dominated the match from start to finish with great Z serves, excellent angles, tight down the lines, and many impressive gets.  

"Captain Charlie Pratt drew Colombia’s Mario Mercado, and this was definitely one of the most hard-fought matches of the day. Charlie was on fire in game 1, completely controlling the play with great drives, consistent nick lobs, and excellent rally-ending shots. The second game was tight until Mario caught fire with his drive serves. Charlie got a lead in the tiebreaker with Mario fighting back somewhat, but it was too little/too late.

"Kelani Lawrence and Sheryl Lotts faced Natalia Mendez and Maria Jose Vargas. The Argentines have just come off a huge win in the recent Bolivian LPRT tournament and won the first game by a score of 15–8. The second game was much tighter, yet the Argentines prevailed by a score of 15–10. Kelani and Sheryl read each other well, and Coaches Dave and Jim feel very optimistic about their next round (Monday).

"Our doubles team of Jake and Daniel are a work in progress. They played Shai Mansuri and Francisco Kurtzbard, also from Argentina. Jake and Daniel bring a lot of size and power to the court. Daniel’s smooth backhand helped him outplay Kurtzbard, and Jake’s power and semi-precise wide angles kept the Argentines back on their heels. Jake may have set an IRF record for hitting his partner with an attempted jam serve. 

"All in all, it was a start. Rhonda is the defending gold medal winner of this tournament and the coaches feel that good things are yet to come as she adjusts to the courts. Sheryl and Kelani are really fun to watch. Sheryl plays a traditional right side with Kelani being super aggressive on the left in cutting off balls headed for the back of the court."

Saturday's Results
Kelani Lawrence def. Erin Geeraert (Canada), 15–1, 15–2
Rhonda Rajsich lost to Cristina Amaya (Colombia), 14–15, 15–14, 8–11
Bobby Horn def. Andres Gomez (Colombia), 15–7, 15–2
Charlie Pratt def. Mario Mercado (Colombia), 15­–2, 9–15, 11­–7
Sheryl Lotts/Kelani Lawrence lost to Natalia Mendez/Maria Jose Vargas (Argentina), 8–15, 10–15
Daniel Rojas/Jake Bredenbeck def. Shai Manzuri/Fernando Kurzbard (Argentina), 15–10, 15–9
Question of the Day
What is your favorite word in Spanish?
Charlie: Madrugada (dawn)
Cheryl: Estacionamiento (parking lot; I don't know why, I just like it.)
Bobby: Pescado (fish)
Rhonda: Tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and queso (self explanatory)
Kelani: Tendencia (trendy)
Sheryl: Papas fritas (French fries)
Jake: Risa (laughter)
Daniel: Rápido (fast)
Jim: Puedo (I can)
Dave: Selección Estadounidense (Team USA)
Brent: Pura vida, with cerveza a very close second. And playa. La Playa + Una Cerveza = Pura Vida. (Beach + Beer = Good Life)
(This is far more than one word, but for what Brent brings to the team, we'll let him get away with it.)

To allow blog readers to become more familiar with the individual players here in Barranquilla, It's time to add in another blog component:
Featured Player of the Day -- Mauro Daniel Rojas
Daniel, of Stockton, California, is taking a semester off from college but still pursuing career advancement through his current job as Client Experience Manager with In-Shape Health Clubs where he is currently working to obtain his NASM Personal Trainer Certification. Daniel is in charge of two health clubs' Personal Training Departments, helping to develop trainers, and he balances work with competing on the IRT where he is currently ranked #25.
Daniel is a son of Mauro and Rosa Rojas and brother to Antonio, Jesse, and David. All of the Rojas brothers play racquetball, and dad Mauro played professional handball in his younger years. Recently, Daniel proposed to now-fiancée Ariana -- congratulations!
How did you get started playing racquetball? "My dad didn’t want me to be at home all day so he brought me to the gym and forced me to play with my original coach, Jody Nance. I started crying because I didn’t want to play, and now I am a World Junior Champion and get to represent my country as an adult."
Daniel did indeed have an illustrious junior racquetball career before being named to the U.S. Adult Team. A 16 & Under gold medalist at USAR Junior Nationals, he missed just one year of international junior competition from ages 14 through 19. Daniel was bronze medalist three times at the IRF World Junior Championships in his early to mid teens. He and partner Jake Birnel won the silver in the Boys 18 Doubles in Mexico, and he capped off his junior career by capturing gold in the Boys 18 & Under Singles. 
Other interests/hobbies? "I enjoy lifting weights and learning about the body and different methods of training, and I enjoy watching someone try to sell a particular product." 
Whom would you like to recognize for their support? "My dad. He has been instrumental in my growth as a man and an athlete. Without him telling me that I suck when he’d watch me play, I wouldn’t have pushed and gotten to where I’m at now. And even with him saying that to me, I know he meant it out of love and knowledge that I can be better."
How does it feel to be competing with USA on your back at PARC in Colombia? "It’s always a big honor for me to wear those three letters on my back. Many people have fought and died to make sure that I am able to do that. When I put on the USA uniform and wear the red, white, and blue, I know I’m representing more than just myself."

Sunday Schedule
Sunday is a light day for Team USA with only three matches on the schedule: 
10:00 am -- #4 Charlie Pratt vs. #29 Jonathan Luque (Peru)
1:00 pm -- #4 Kelani Lawrence vs. #25 Yurisleidis Alluie (Cuba)
4:00 pm -- #2 Daniel Rojas/Jake Bredenbeck vs. #15 Sebastian Mendiguri/Oscar Navarro (Peru)
Rhonda, Bobby, and the doubles team of Sheryl and Kelani have BYEs in their pool plays. 
For those sending serious vibes to Team USA, the times posted in these blogs are U.S. Central time.
For a closer look at the draws, visit www.internationalracquetball.com and choose Results on the home page. From there, click on the category you wish to view.
Wi-Fi signal issues prevented Facebook live streaming on this first day of competition. Stay tuned tomorrow. What we do know at present is, as the event progresses, streaming of Court 1 will take place with accessibility on the IRF Home Page while the action on Court 4 will be streamed on Facebook. 
Back tomorrow...GO TEAM USA!!

Blog #2 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia

Friday, April 12, 2019

Greetings from hot and humid Barranquilla! High 80's and high humidity is pretty much the way it is all the time. Barranquilla is 758.64 miles north of the equatorand therefore is still located in the northern hemisphere.
This day of any PARC or IRF event is arguably the busiest of the entire trip. This morning Juan Manuel Gutiérrez (aka Gutty) of the Colombian Racquetball Federation (FECORA) hosted an excellent and well-attended press conference. There was also the Coaches' Meeting, and the event's referees met as well. The U.S. Team practiced early, attended a late afternoon team meeting to be briefed on a number of items including the draws, then everyone headed to Opening Ceremonies that commenced shortly before 6:00 pm.

Coach Dave Ellis offers commentary on the day:
"Coach Jim Durham and I felt that the team practiced with good intensity today, and they look very ready for the pool play phase beginning tomorrow. Again our men’s and women’s doubles teams worked together with Bobby and Charlie providing some further competition. Bobby and Charlie played some singles as did Rhonda and Kelani.  Today was an early practice day, and the players worked from 9:00 to 11:00 am.  
"After practice, Ellis and Durham walked to a nearby mall to change money. Again with $350 we were close to a million pesos. After that, two food courts were discovered and both of us enjoyed a delicious sopa de mariscos. Losing track of time, at 11:55 we realized that we were going to be tardy for the Coaches Meeting. We worked off our lunch hurrying three long blocks to get there. (Team Leader's note: Rookies.)
"Jim got his first taste of an IRF meeting, in Spanish with translation into English. Topics were rules clarification, drug testing, uniform requirements, and scheduling. We have a full set of matches tomorrow as the first phase of the tournament is beginning."

Opening Ceremonies
With practices accomplished and meetings done, it was time to declare this event open! Following the Parade of Nations and after comments from City of Barranquilla officials and IRF/PARC officers Osvaldo Maggi, Marcelo Gómez, and Juan Manuel Gutiérrez, Colombian Cristina Amaya administered the Athletes' Oath and Colombian/Costa Rican Fabian Torres administered the Referees' Oath. Short but lively entertainment followed including dancers in native costumes. One colorful and fun costume had us really baffled, and later Gutty explained that this was "Marimonda," a clown-type entity that brings happiness to their Carnival each year. (Source: Google)

Brent Huff is Here!
Now our delegation is complete! Brent arrived at the hotel mid-evening, grabbed something to eat, and got his supplies organized. We can't wait to see what shoes he brought with him. Brent is a Shoe Role Model. 
Now for the wildly popular and greatly anticipated blog feature. It's...

Question of the Day!
This feature originated more as a blog filler and quickly gained popularity among readers who didn't understand a lot about racquetball but liked getting to know the athletes off the court. Here's the inaugural question on this go-round:
If you could shop for free at any store, which store would you choose?
Brent: Jordan or Nike. Or Lamborghini. (Well, make up your mind.)
Dave: Tiffany, to buy jewelry for my bride (Pat is rolling her eyes right now.)
Jim: REI
Cheryl K.: Amazon (Kit is shaking his head right now.)
Rhonda: Apple, of course
Kelani: TJ Maxx
Sheryl L.: lululemon, obviously -- that's all I wear (she works there).
Daniel: Nike
Jake: Ferrari
Bobby: Bass Pro Shop
Charlie: Ford -- Mustang and a truck. Might as well get an SUV and a van, too.
Email from Home
Go team go! In honor of the Boston Marathon weekend, I send Boston Strong energies to Team USA.
- Joanne Pomodoro (USAR Board Member)
I am happy everyone is getting ready for this big event. Be safe and bring home the Gold! Go USA
- Keith Calkins (Past USAR President)
Here’s to a good tournament for Team USA!
- Deb Pratt (Charlie's mom)
It's Time -- Let's Get to Work!
A few stats on the competition about to commence Saturday morning:
Countries:15 -- Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, USA, Venezuela
Number of Players -- There are 55 athletes (30 men/25 women) competing on four courts over seven days of competition. 
Here's the Team USA Schedule for Saturday, Day One of Competition:
9:00 am -- #4 Kelani Lawrence vs. #11 Erin Geeraert (Canada)
10:00 am -- #2 Rhonda Rajsich vs. #13 Cristina Amaya (Colombia)
12:00 pm -- #2 Bobby Horn vs. #15 Andres Gomez (Colombia)
1:00 pm -- #4 Charlie Pratt vs. Mario Mercado (Colombia)
4:00 pm -- #2 Sheryl Lotts/Kelani Lawrence vs. #7 Natalia Mendez/Maria Jose Vargas (Argentina)
5:00 pm -- #2 Daniel Rojas/Jake Bredenbeck vs. #7 Shai Manzuri/Fernando Kurzbard (Argentina)
This is a qualifying event for the Pan American Games this summer, so every match counts to enhance each country's prospects for favorable positions/seeding in Lima. Please send good vibes and best wishes to our athletes as they represent themselves, their families, their sponsors, and their country.
-- Cheryl Kirk

Blog #1 -- Pan American Racquetball Championships (PARC), Barranquilla, Colombia
April 11, 2019

Greetings from Barranquilla––a seaport on the Caribbean Sea at the northwestern tip of South America––where 91% of the US Team Delegation has arrived as of today (our trainer Brent Huff gets in Friday evening). Team members will compete here in singles and doubles against fourteen other countries over the next week. 
Journey to Barranquilla via Roller Coaster 
I had a travel experience yesterday that I wrote about at great length this morning -- mostly to stay awake on the last leg of my travels. But, my story is wayyyy too long for the guts of this blog, more like an informal epistle. So if––and only if––you feel sad this blog ended too early, keep reading after GO TEAM USA!! and you can read all about my adventure. To be continued...
Our Heroes
Hey, meet the Dream Team (aka the US Delegation) for this eleven-day event!
David (aka Bobby) Horn, California: #1 Singles
Charlie Pratt, Oregon: #2 Singles
Jake Bredenbeck, Minnesota/Mauro Daniel Rojas, California: Doubles
Rhonda Rajsich, Arizona: #1 Singles
Kelani Bailey Lawrence, Virginia: #2 Singles
Kelani Bailey Lawrence/Sheryl Lotts, Ohio: Doubles
Supporting our US Team athletes:
Dave Ellis, California -- Head Coach
Jim Durham, California -- Assistant Coach
Brent Huff, Illinois/Arizona -- Team Trainer
Cheryl Kirk, Illinois -- Team Leader

Coach Dave Reports on Day One: Supplies, Meeting, Practice
Coach Dave Ellis will regale us with comments each evening, and here's his account of the team's first full day in Barranquilla:

"Our first full day in Barranquilla was eventful. Coaches Ellis and Durham made their way early morning to purchase lots of bottled water and food/snacks. There was a bit of problem finding the supermercado that was recommended by the hotel. One glaring error was to enter a Colombian version of Home Depot looking for food. Finally, thanks to a nice Colombian gentleman, the market was discovered. The exchange rate in Colombia is 3000 Colombian pesos to one US dollar. We spent over $300 so the amount spent was over 900,000 pesos. Both of us were thinking that we should have bought a few more things just to have the experience of seeing a million pesos on our receipt!

"Water and food were distributed to the different rooms shortly before our team meeting. All players and staff arrived punctually, and a five-page agenda was covered in 45 minutes. Coach Ellis welcomed and introduced Coach Jim Durham, along with expressing gratitude to fellow staffers Cheryl Kirk and Brent Huff. Some topics covered were international play compared to professional play, tournament responsibilities, team rules, and safety while in Barranquilla. Charlie Pratt and Rhonda Rajsich were elected captains. 

"At 4:00 pm, all of us went pretty much just across the street to the racquetball facility. The facility is public and it consists of four courts. It’s pure racquetball as there is no exercise equipment whatsoever. Our doubles teams of Bailey/Lotts and Rojas/Bredenbeck played each other. Coach Durham did some speed drills with Charlie and Bobby. All of the players drilled intermittently on the courts throughout the two-hour session. The players found the courts a bit slippery, but that will be corrected, I’m sure.

"Another day of practice tomorrow, a brief team meeting, and then Opening Ceremonies. As coach, I see the friendship among our players, and that is really cool."

Blogger's note: No one really understood what it meant, fully, when Charlie Pratt was elected one of the team captains. When a WhatsApp text after dinner from him convening a Players' Meeting in his and Bobby's room, it stirred mild curiosity––what were they meeting about? Presently, I answered a knock on my door...and found everyone in the hallway with blue goop (I guess clay masks) on their poker faces. Think Smurf zombies. Hilarious, check out the photo.

Preview of Day Two
So as Dave said, practice for the team will commence at 9:00 am Friday. On the administrative side of things, the Coaches' Meeting will commence at 12 noon, followed by a Referees' Meeting. The US Team will get together an hour or so before the Opening Ceremonies that will take place at the hotel. Once the festivities are over, it will be an early night since competition will commence at 9 am (equivalent of US Central Time) Saturday morning.
So, welcome to the PARC blogs. For the next nine days I'll be sending results, news, anecdotes, player profiles, and more, all designed to help you, the reader, feel like you're here with us in Barranquilla. We do wish you were all here...you know how racquetball players love an audience!
-- Cheryl Kirk

Hi, again...
Don't say you weren't warned.
Journey to Barranquilla via Roller Coaster 
The best-laid plans...well, you know the rest. From U.S. points north, east, west, northwest, southwest, and midwest, eight of the 11 of us were scheduled to meet in Miami to grab the (one and only) American Airlines daily flight to Barranquilla. All gathered there on schedule except...me, the team leader who is supposed to take care of all eventualities. It wasn't my fault. A puddle of oil on the tarmac in Chicago caused a 24-hour chain of events.
"Fixed it" was the announcement, except someone still needed to check the engine's history. My time was tick-tick-ticking away to make the connection in Miami. All good? Nope. Everyone was taken off the plane and another plane was found. No problem, because leaky planes are not that great, IMO.
By then, however, missing the tight one-hour connection in Miami was a foregone conclusion. The gate agent and I conferred and decided that I should proceed to Miami without passing go or collecting $200 and try same time tomorrow. He booked me on that flight, only two seats left. Okay, good.
Got off the plane in Miami where the gate agent there presented me with a booked itinerary for a 2:50 am Avianca flight through Bogotá––at least it put me in the right country––that would get me into Barranquilla at 9:00 am Thursday. Well, despite the red eyes that would surely result, getting to the team 10 hours earlier than the earlier Plan B was attractive. 
In the meantime, everyone (else) and their luggage arrived in Barranquilla. They transferred to the hotel without incident and commenced to have a convivial late dinner. I was happy for them. I really was. Sure I was.
Meanwhile, back at MIA (no, I wasn't missing in action, that's the airport code for Miami), I enjoyed a light repast at Shula's at approximately Gate D 40 and headed for Gate J 2. Go ahead, look it up. It took FOREVER for me and my two pain-in-the-neck heavy carry-ons to get to Avianca from United. Silver lining: I could work off the sweet potato fries I had back at Shula's.
Avianca was closed. I needed a boarding pass to get through Security Checkpoint J. I was despondent. Wait! I spotted an electronic kiosk, got the pass, and proceeded to J 2. 
It was really lonely there. Just me, for four hours. Silver lining: It was quiet, and I found wall outlets to charge my electronics. Hmm. What can I do for four hours? Lots! I booked flights to Denver, made hotel reservations for Denver and Minneapolis, started this blog, and texted with my friends Marie and Sharron as well as hubby Kit.
The flight to Bogotá was good. NO ONE in the row with me, so I stretched out and napped a bit. Avianca planes are pretty nice with your own remote for the screen at your seat and.your own USB charging port. Love that!
Arrived Bogotá 5:12 am (to be exact) and spent the next two hours thusly:
  • Deplaned
  • Long line at customs
  • Went to baggage claim to get luggage (it made it!)
  • Escorted my luggage to immigration scanning
  • Found the spot to re-check the luggage
  • Asked directions three times and finally found security for Gate 84 (not as bad as it sounds)
  • Security searched one of my carry-ons and found...nothing! I'm a solid citizen.
  • Got to Gate 84 just as they were finishing boarding!
  • Would I get overhead space for seat 23E? Yes! And the aisle seat in that row was unoccupied.
Finishing my tale as the plane is landing in Barranquilla at 8:55 am, I had forgotten to power down my laptop for landing. Guess I'm not a solid citizen after all. (No one admonished me. Again, not my fault.)
Yes, this has been quite a long blog post, but it has been therapeutic for me. Rhonda and Bobby have had MUCH worse travel experiences than I just did, 45-hour ordeals. Just ask them about it...
Until tomorrow when one of our favorite blog features will commence -- Question of the Day!