The 2016-2017 Race 4 Eight 6 tour kicked off in October in Fountain Valley, CA with the Simple Green U.S. Open of Handball and has traveled through Minnesota, Idaho, Louisiana, Texas, and New York en route to the 2017 Race 4 Eight 6 Salt Lake City Aces Player’s Championship. With three R48 pros tied for the #1 ranking, Catriona Casey and Marcos Chavez dominating the WR48 and SR48 tours, respectively, and the WPH Outdoor 6 staging its third event of the season, Salt Lake City promises to provide nonstop excitement from April 21-23.
Check out the Fun Facts from Salt Lake City’s five-year R48 run, a preview of the R48 Men’s Pro Elite 8, the R48 qualifier field, the WR48 and the compelling round robin WR48 Aces format, the SR48, and the WPH Outdoor preview below.
· The Salt Lake City Aces has been voted the best tournament on the R48 tour by the R48 pros for five years running (2012-2016)
· The SLC Aces features the best food on tour at the Saturday night Aces banquet #fact
· The Salt Lake City Aces are hosting their sixth Race 4 Eight event this year (record number of R48 events in any city)
· Three players in Salt Lake City’s R48 Men’s Pro Elite 8 have won a Player’s Championship (Carroll, Moreno, Lenning)
· One of the three SR48 Player’s Champions is entered in the Salt Lake City field (Chavez)
· Robbie McCarthy has never lost a match in Salt Lake City (3-0): R48 Player’s Championship ‘14
· Catriona Casey has never lost a match in Salt Lake City (5-0): Salt Lake City WR48 Player’s Championship ’14 & ‘15
· Killian Carroll has never won a match in Salt Lake City (0-2)
· Paul Brady lost his first R48 match in Salt Lake City after winning his first 16 R48 matches of his career (Mando Ortiz ’14)
Most R48 match wins in Salt Lake City (five events):
· Lenning (13) 2015 champion
· Moreno (12) 2012 champion
· The 2017 Aces Player’s Championship is the third Player’s Championship in Salt Lake City (record)
Salt Lake City Race 4 Eight Champions
· 2012: R48 Luis Moreno
· 2013: R48 Charly Shanks
· 2015: R48 Sean Lenning/WR48 Catriona Casey/SR48 Marcos Chavez
· 2016: R48 Paul Brady
The R48 Men’s Pro has featured five different Player’s Champions in five Player’s Championships
· Luis Moreno (Seattle) 2012
· Robbie McCarthy (Salt Lake City) 2014
· Sean Lenning (Salt Lake City) 2015
· Killian Carroll (Portland) 2016
The WR48 has featured just one champion in three WR48 Player’s Championships
· Catriona Casey (Salt Lake City) 2014
· Catriona Casey (Salt Lake City) 2015
The SR48 has featured three different SR48 Player’s Champions in four Player’s Championships
· Andy Schad (Seattle) 2013
· Marcos Chavez (Salt Lake City) 2014
· Marcos Chavez (Salt Lake City) 2015
R48 Men’s Pro (Elite 8) SLC Preview
The 2017 Race 4 Eight Player’s Championship field is as wide open as its ever been, with three R48 stars tied for the #1 ranking and just 16 R48 ranking points separating #1 and #8, the smallest gap in Race 4 Eight history. Check out the trends of Salt Lake City’s Elite 8 below.
Killian Carroll: Carroll has won two titles on the season in four starts (New Orleans, Houston), made three straight finals (current), and not finished outside of the top three in any of his four starts. Carroll took over the #1 ranking for the first time after winning Houston in March and is assured of maintaining the #1 ranking on the season if he makes the final, regardless of his closest pursuers’ finish. Carroll has never won a match in Salt Lake City in one start (0-2)
David Fink: After not advancing to a final in his first 34 Race 4 Eight starts, Fink advanced to three consecutive finals on the season (Minnesota, Plummer, New Orleans), became oldest player to reach #1 for the first time in handball history, and can end the season #1 with a win in Salt Lake City and a Killian Carroll loss before the final
Luis Moreno: “The Natural” became the second 10-time R48 champion (Brady) with his win at Plummer (first win in 36 months), made two finals in six starts on the season, and can finish the season at #1 with a win and a Killian Carroll loss before the final. Moreno has tournament victory on his mind, as he took an early exit from his home city (Tucson, AZ) to trail at altitude in Colorado. This type of focus can seriously wreak havoc at SLC altitudes of 4,225 ft above sea level. #ThinAir
Mando Ortiz: Ortiz took over the #1 spot for the first time after making the final at the U.S. Open, won his second R48 event in November in Minnesota, but has not advanced beyond the semifinals in 2017 (3 starts), suffering from tennis elbow on his right arm. Ortiz skipped New York, presumably to rest his elbow, and always plays his best ball at the Player’s Championship
Sean Lenning: “The Freak” suffered a sprained AC joint on his left shoulder on a crash into the side wall in February and has played the last two stops with 1.35 arms, making the semifinals and quarterfinals, respectively. Lenning has yet to make a final this season. Incredibly, Lenning owns tournament victories against Iglesias, Montijo, Peixoto, and Schneider with 1.35 arms. Although Lenning claims to like the moniker of, “The Freak,” originally pinned by WPH Executive Director Dave Vincent during a Live Broadcast, rumors have it some close to him find the nickname offensive. Well… Only a Freak (and we are using this term as a stroke of endearment) could do what Lenning has done this season. “Even friends and family are warming up to the name because even they realize just how freakishly amazing Lenning is,” barks Vincent. Uh, ya… we agree!
Luis Cordova: “Afro” reached a career high #6 ranking after making his second R48 semifinal in New York (second of the season). Afro defeated three-time R48 champion Robbie McCarthy in New York for arguably his career-best R48 win (also has wins against Moreno, Lenning, Fink, Peixoto, Ortiz). Afro has had one of the most up-and-down seasons in R48 history, scoring zero points in the U.S. Open round of 16, making the semifinals in his next start (Minnesota), scoring just eight points in the round of 16 in Plummer, losing in the round of 16 in New Orleans, and has taking 5th and 3rd in his last two starts #trending
Daniel Cordova: Danos has lost four main draw tiebreakers this season (Lenning, Peixoto, Chavez, Fink), while winning two (Nett, Iglesias). Danos is the only player in the top 8 who has not advanced to the semifinals this season. Danos’ best of win of the season was against now #1 David Fink at the Simple Green U.S. Open. Armed with an incredible two-way hop serve and two-hop during the rally, Danos is always a threat to any top pro
Vic Perez: Perez has enjoyed his best season on the R48 tour, advancing to his first semifinal at Plummer (Ortiz), but also suffering three round of 16 losses this season in six starts. Perez played in one of the best matches of the season in the round of 16 in New York, rallying from game point down in both games to defeat his LAAC teammate Marcos Chavez, becoming the first player to face game point in both games and win both games in R48 play.
Unlike traditional Race 4 Eight events that feature a blind draw, Salt Lake City will place qualifiers into the draw based on the current R48 6 Power Rankings, meaning the first seed in the qualifier will play into the eighth seed in the Elite 8, while the eighth seed in the qualifier will play into the first seed.
While the qualifiers may have just missed out on an Elite 8 invite, don’t ever count these superstars out. The Salt Lake City qualifiers include one R48 6 champion, one three-time R48 6 quarterfinalist, and the 2016 17-and-under USHA 4-Wall junior national champion.
Robbie McCarthy: The “Buzzsaw” own the second-best winning percentage on the R48 tour, winning three R48 events in seven R48 starts (43%). McCarthy lost in the round of 16 for the first time in his R48 career at the NYAC three weeks ago. McCarthy already owns a Race 4 Eight title this season, dominating the field at the 2016 Simple Green U.S. Open and the Irish superstar will be hungry for a second in Salt Lake City, a place he is undefeated in one previous start (2014 Player’s Championship).
Salt Lake City round of 16 opponent (if qualifies): Vic Perez
Marcos Chavez: This extraordinary 43-year old was just several swings from cracking the top eight this season, losing close matches to Vic Perez at the NYAC and Sean Lenning at Plummer. Despite those close losses, Chavez has won three consecutive main draw tiebreakers against Daniel Cordova, Luis Cordova, and then #1 Mando Ortiz this season, becoming the first player to topple a #1 seed in the round of 16 in a R48 event.
Salt Lake City round of 16 opponent (if qualifies): Daniel Cordova
Jonathan Iglesias: Iglesias failed to advance to the quarterfinals in any of his six starts this season, dropping tiebreakers to Emmett Peixoto, Vic Perez, Sean Lenning, and Daniel Cordova in the round of 16 (0-4). Despite his early-round losses, Iglesias appears to be peaking late in the season, as he played his best ball of the R48 6 in New York. Iglesias’ game poses a major challenge to every player on the planet and his track record in Salt Lake City (2016 semifinalist) could signal a breakout performance at the Player’s Championship.
Salt Lake City round of 16 opponent (if qualifies): Luis Cordova
Abraham Montijo: Hampered by a left shoulder sprain in the fall, Montijo still nearly defeated now #6 Luis Cordova in Minnesota, losing in a close tiebreaker. Montijo served for the first game against Daniel Cordova in New Orleans but came up just short. Montijo is one of the most dedicated R48 stars, playing nearly every day in Tucson and always studying film to prepare for his opponents. Montijo will run into his roommate and good friend Sean Lenning in the round of 16 if he qualifies in what would be just their second R48 meeting in history.
Salt Lake City round of 16 opponent (if qualifies): Sean Lenning
Adam Bernhard: Known as “Weekend at Bernie’s,” this Harvard-educated attorney is the tour’s cerebral assassin, playing a throwback percentage game that gives the top R48 stars fits. Armed with sensational ball control and a lifetime of experience, Bernie will be seeking his first round of 16 win, and based on his high quality play this season, his first round of 16 win could come in Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City round of 16 opponent (if qualifies): Mando Ortiz
Dalton Beall: The Oregon sharpshooter has proven he has the game to compete with the best this season, defeating R48 #16 Abraham Montijo at the Simple Green U.S. Open and pushing then R48 #5 Emmett Peixoto in two close games at January’s Plummer Bash. Beall is looking for the kill from both hands from everywhere on the court and will be dangerous if he makes it to the main draw.
Salt Lake City round of 16 opponent (if qualifies): Luis Moreno
Shorty Ruiz: Ruiz moved to Tucson in December and has seen his game improve dramatically. Ruiz possesses the firepower to overwhelm any player on the planet with power, hop serves and first-strike kills. Ruiz was the unluckiest qualifier this season, pulling the top four R48 stars in his four R48 round of 16 match-ups this season. Ruiz is one of the game’s most exciting and popular players and will be gunning for a breakthrough performance in Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City round of 16 opponent (if qualifies): David Fink
Ryan Bowler: The Canadian “Bowl Dog” is the pride of the Great White North, proudly carrying the Canadian handball flag as the highest ranked Canadian R48 pro in history. The “Bowl Dog” is known for his tenacity and ability to extend rallies, an attribute that could prove to be a tremendous asset in the thin air in Salt Lake City.
Notable qualifiers seeded outside the top right: Michael Gaulton, Gavin McCrystal, Memo Pallares, Brandon Townsend, John Wayne Cortez.
WR48 SLC Preview
The WR48 ’17 Player’s Championship will feature two round robin groups of six WR48 superstars, with the winners from each group playing for the championship on Sunday morning in Salt Lake City. The exciting format will ensure that all of the ladies play at least five matches, with many of the top stars assured of playing one another for the first time. Catriona Casey enters her fourth WR48 Player’s Championship as the overwhelming favorite, but she’ll have to contend with a number of outstanding challengers.
Catriona Casey: Casey is the world’s most dominant handball player and arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, having won 11 of 12 WR48 events held, winning both WR48 stops this season, winning all three WR48 Player’s Championships, and boasts and undefeated record in Salt Lake City (5-0). Adding to her sensational accomplishments, Casey is also the iron-woman of the WR48 tour, having played in all 12 WR48 events
Martina McMahon: 2M advanced to her second WR48 final at the NYAC in March (losing to Casey in both finals) and owns two wins against Casey since August of 2016 (All Ireland 60×30, She’s Aces 40×20). 2M has announced herself has Casey’s closest challenger and will be seeking her first WR48 title and WR48 Player’s Championship in Salt Lake City. 2M is a once in a generation talent with strokes as smooth as silk and a can’t miss talent
Ciana Ni Churraoin: CNC is a supremely talented two-sport Irish superstar with immense upside. CNC has advanced to one WR48 final (NYAC ’15) and became the first woman to win a game against Catriona Casey in WR48 play (NYAC ’15). CNC demonstrated her outstanding athleticism in winning the ’16 WPH Outdoor Vegas Lte in just her second Big Ball tournament. CNC has the rare ability to raise her game against the best, making her a threat against any player at any time
Tracy Davis: At 39, Trey Dey proved she still has the game to play against the best, as evidenced by her victory at January’s (non WR48) Plummer Women’s Pro Singles and her 5th place finish at the NYAC. Davis appears to have become more competitive in her late 30’s, often displaying emotion that would have never been seen a decade ago. Trey is one of the game’s most graceful and elegant stars with the heart of a lion
Aimee Ulbert: The WR48 rookie made a huge splash at the NYAC, taking down Aoife McCarthy and Tracy Davis en route to an impressive 4th place finish in her first WR48 start. Known for her fitness and intensity, Ulbert will be seeking her first WR48 final in Salt Lake City
Aoife McCarthy: AMC often flies under the radar, despite possessing one of the best serves and punch shots on the WR48 tour. AMC split two matches with Tracy Davis this season (outscoring Davis 66-54 in those two matches) and proved that she belongs on the biggest stages in the sport. AMC reached a career-high WR48 #3 ranking following her 6th place finish at the NYAC (current)
Jessica Gawley: the former WR48 #2 returns to the tour for her first start of the WR48 4 season. The veteran lefty is always dangerous and will be looking to serve as a spoiler in Salt Lake City. The last WPH start was a non-women’s ranked event at the Plummer Helluva Handball Bash in January ’17. Local college women’s players were following this athletic 40 year-old around trying to soak up her work ethic, swag and style. Gawley is probably the most disciplined and well coached players on the circuit and it will only take you a couple shots to realize just how refined her game is.
SR48 SLC Preview
Marcos Chavez is aiming to put the finishing touches on the first undefeated season in SR48 history, having won the first two stops of the season at the Simple Green U.S. Open and Minnesota. Chavez will welcome his pro tour rivals of 20 years to the draw, as 30-year pro Dan Armijo and USHA Hall of Famer John Bike headline the field alongside Chavez.
Marcos Chavez: seeking the first undefeated season on the SR48, seeking his third SR48 Player’s Championship, aiming to stay undefeated in SR48 play in Salt Lake City (5-0 entering this year’s event)
Dan Armijo: Known affectionately as “The Hand,” Armijo is one of the legends of the sport for his sensational play and showmanship. There is likely no one in the world who loves the game as thoroughly as “The Hand,” as Armijo often makes trips from his second home in Honduras to play in SR48 events. Armijo is still a tough out in his mid 50’s, proving that he can beat just about anyone north of 40.
Chris Watkins: The “Waddy Dog” is a serve-and-shoot specialist, honing his game in California’s high desert against some of the games’ greatest. Watkins pushed Marcos Chavez to a tiebreaker at this season’s Simple Green U.S. Open and will be seeking the first SR48 title in Salt Lake City
WPH Outdoor SLC preview
Salt Lake City hosts the third stop on the 2017 WPH Outdoor 6 and second WPH Outdoor stop in Salt Lake City (2016). Salt Lake City’s WPH Outdoor champion Juan Santos has not entered, but current WPH Outdoor #1 Samzon Hernandez will be on hand, as well as a group of WPH Outdoor veterans and newcomers. This field is wide open and will be very difficult to predict.
Samzon Hernandez: “The Machine” enters SLC as the #1 player on the WPH Outdoor tour, 13-time WPH Outdoor singles champion (record), won the 2017 3WallBall WPH Royal Flush Bob Harris 4-Wall Big Ball singles, and has held match point in all nine of his singles matches this season (8-1)
Timothy Gonzalez: Timbo is ranked #2 on the WPH Outdoor 6, a finalist at the 2017 3WallBall WPH Royal Flush Bob Harris 4-Wall Big Ball singles (Hernandez), semifinalist at the 2016 Salt Lake City Aces WPH Outdoor, and will be seeking his first 4-Wall Big Ball title in Salt Lake
Manny Suarez: “Young Kobe” won the first 4-Wall Big Ball singles tournament he entered at the WPH Outdoor 6 IceMan after playing 4-Wall for the first time three months before the IceMan, facing match point against Timbo Gonzalez and Samzon Hernandez at the Iceman (and won both matches). Suarez skipped the 2017 3WallBall WPH Royal Flush Bob Harris 4-Wall Big Ball singles but is on the short list of favorites in Salt Lake City
Shorty Ruiz: Ruiz is the always dangerous cross over star and the only player currently ranked on both the Race 4 Eight and WPH Outdoor tours. Ruiz is calm, cool, collected, but an angry Ruiz (usually at himself, not opponent or ref) is a Ruiz you’d want to stay away from; as the normally mild-tempered Ruiz can turn into Superman at any moment. Beware, if Superman calls a time-out to get his cape on -or- if you see Superman head into a telephone booth, then watch-out because a cyclone is about to rain down!
Chava Cordova: Cordova is a freakishly talented Southern Californian who seems to be on the verge of a major breakthrough. Cordova lost in the quarterfinals of the Iceman (Hernandez) and the semifinals of the 2017 3WallBall WPH Royal Flush Bob Harris 4-Wall Big Ball singles (Gonzalez). Cordova always seems to find himself in the closest matches of the tournament and with a couple of breaks, could rise quickly on the WPH Outdoor tour
Sal Duenas: This proud father of two and the only player to have played in every WPH Outdoor stop since the inception of the tour in 2012 is playing some of the best ball of his WPH Outdoor career. Duenas stunned #TeamShimbo at the 2017 3WallBall WPH Royal Flush WPH Outdoor 6 Stop #2 (long enough title?), ending the match with four straight kills and breaking up #TeamShimbo in the process. Duenas loves the 4-Wall Big Ball game and will be aiming to take down the top stars in Salt Lake City
WPH R48 6 Salt Lake City Aces Player’s Championship press release here
WPH R48 6 Salt Lake City Aces Player’s Championship draws, start times, and info here
To watch the 2017 WPH Race 4 Eight Player’s Championship live on ESPN3 on Saturday and Sunday, April 22-23, go here
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WPH Senior Writer