Tucson, AZ, WPH Press, 9/9/17- The first R48 Pre Qualifier was held in one of the country’s handball hotbeds, Tucson, AZ, with players from Arizona, California, Minnesota, Texas, and Mexico competing for the coveted R48 Pre Qualifier title. R48 top 20 pros and Tucson residents Abraham Montijo and Shorty Ruiz headed the R48 Pre Qualifier field, with a strong group of contenders seeking to knock off the perennial R48 contenders. The R48 Pre Qualifier also featured the fifth edition of the JR WPH Battle of the Border between Team Fred Lewis Foundation and JR WPH Juarez, as well as a Mixed Doubles division with 21 teams.
R48 Pre Qualifier Singles
The R48 Pre Qualifier singles attracted the best players in the Southwest outside of the current Race 4 Eight top 8, with each of the 21 players desperate for the spot in a Race 4 Eight VII field. Abraham Montijo entered the event on his home court as the highest ranked pro in the field at #15 and cruised to the final with impressive wins against Moises Gardea, Victor Sanchez, and Richie Fernandez.
Montijo and Ruiz met for the first time in a 4-Wall tournament in the explosive final between two fan favorites at the Tucson Racquet Club. A completely full upstairs and downstairs gallery cheered two of their favorites to spectacular handball, with Montijo taking 11-6 and 12-9 leads in the best of three game match to 15 final. Ruiz found his range at 9-12, reeling off six consecutive points with an array of ace serves, paddle kills, and back wall kills to clinch game one.
Ruiz extended his streak of unanswered points to 11 to start game two, taking a 5-0 lead and appearing to be in complete control. Montijo broke Ruiz’s momentum with a kill to earn his first point and tied Ruiz at six. “I was tired in the first game and I was still tired in game two,” stated Montijo.
Montijo appeared to be playing with more freedom midway through game two, shooting the ball more and tracking down many of Ruiz’s best shots. “I got my serve going in the second game and that made a big difference for me,” stated Montijo.
Montijo took a 14-11 lead in game two and called a 30-second timeout. “I just needed to regroup and catch my wind for the last point,” stated Montijo. Following the timeout, Montijo scored the 15th point to force the decider. “I felt like I should have won that second game,” lamented Ruiz.
Montijo took command of the decider, building a 10-1 lead. “When I had a big lead I felt I could take more chances and shoot more so that’s what I started doing,” stated Montijo. Montijo would never lose the momentum, closing out Ruiz, 12-15, 15-11, 15-4. “It definitely feels good and I’m looking forward to the upcoming Race season,” stated Montijo.
Montijo def Fernandez 25-12 (VIDEO HERE)
Ruiz def Bardwell 25-5 (VIDEO HERE)
Final: Montijo def Ruiz 12-15, 15-11, 15-4 (VIDEO HERE)
5th Place Playoff
WPH Outdoor superstar and resident ironman Sal Duenas put his main draw loss to Phoenix’s Jim Carkeek behind him, winning four matches in the Playoffs en route to the 5th place final, while Juarez’s Juan Canales also won four rounds en route to the 5th place final. In a nearly one-hour match to 21 that featured eight lead changes, Duenas overcame the Juarez superstar, 21-16. “This was an incredible event and I’m really glad I made the eight-hour drive from Southern California to play,” stated the WPH’s ironman.
Final: Duenas def Canales Sr. 21-16
Battle of the Border V
JR WPH was thrilled to present the fifth edition of the Battle of the Border, pitting Team Fred Lewis Foundation vs. Team JR WPH Juarez in one of the most competitive and friendliest junior sports rivalries in international junior sports. Team FLF was seeking to regain the Battle of the Border Cup after losing the last two Cup encounters, while Team JR WPH Juarez was aiming to take the Cup across the border for the third consecutive time.
Team FLF and Team JR WPH Juarez split the eight exciting singles Cup matches, with a one game doubles tiebreaker needed to determine the BOTB V champion. Team FLF’s Kena Byrd-Jackson and Sophie Dellacroce were too strong for Team JR WPH Juarez’s Andres Cordoba and Angel Luna in the tiebreaker, meaning the Cup would stay in Tucson.
Battle of the Border V Results
Andres Cordova (Team JR WPH Juarez) def Josh Webster (Team FLF) 25-17
Sebastian Canales (Team JR WPH Juarez) def Kena Byrd-Jackson (Team FLF) 25-17
Jensen Payton (Team FLF) def Angel Araiza (Team JR WPH Juarez) 25-17
Ayden Brule (Team FLF) def (Team JR WPH Juarez) Moises Gardea 25-8
Jorge Pimental def (Team FLF) Alejandro Garcia (Team JR WPH Juarez) 25-16
*Tiebreaker: Kena Byrd-Jackson/Sophie Dellacroce (Team FLF) def Andres Cordoba/Angel Luna (Team JR WPH Juarez) 25-4
Thank you to Team FLF Executive Director and Head Coach Abraham Montijo and Team JR WPH Juarez Coach Richie “Drft” Fernandez for coaching these two incredible junior handball teams. The incredible sportsmanship and great play from the youngsters is a credit to their coaches, and the sport is incredibly fortunate to have Coach Abe and Coach Drft. If you see these two incredible handball promoters and coaches, say thank you!
Juarez’s father-son team of Juan and Sebastian Canales won four matches in the bottom bracket to advance to the final, while Tucson’s Art Benitez teamed with WPH Outdoor #5 Chava Cordova to win four matches in the upper bracket to advance to the final. Benitez and Cordova continued to gel in the final, overcoming Team Canales in Juan Canales Sr’s tenth match of the event.
The Canales’ and the rest of the 20-person Juarez crew started their journey to Tucson at 3 am on Saturday morning, arrived at the courts at 9 am and never stopped playing during the eight-hour event! Now that’s a serious love for the sport!
Team Benitez/Cordova def Team Moler/Nickal 25-10
Team Canales def Team Hartnett/A. Estrella 25-18
Final: Team Benitez/Cordova def Team Canales 25-20
Thank you to all of the players and the WPH for a great event. Special thanks to Team Juarez for making the 5-hour trip in the middle of the night to participate, Team Arizona State for bringing six enthusiastic college players, and all of the local Arizonans for their support. “This was really a fun event,” stated Tucson handball clubhouse league director and clubhouse mayor Scott Cleveland. “The guys enjoyed the doubles and we love watching the singles. We hope to have more of these type of events!”
To learn more about the R48 Pre Qualifier concept, go here
The WPH has R48 Pre Qualifiers planned in Pittsburgh, PA on Saturday, October 21, Portland, October 27-29, San Francisco January 6-7, and with several more handball hotbeds likely to be added to the calendar. Check wphlive.tv for all of the R48 Pre Qualifier info.
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WPH Senior Writer