The World Players of Handball’s professional handball tour, The Race 4 Eight IV, Powered by ESPN & #TeamEDTL featured the best Elite Pros [R48], Women players [WR48] and Senior 40+ [SR48] pros in the world—all competing in six different cities, dating back to October of 2014 to the season finale in April of 2015, for over $200,000 in combined prize money and the chance to be recognized as handball superstars while making history.
Race 4 Eight pros were treated to first-class events in each of the six cities, with hosts extending themselves to ensure that players were able to enjoy all that their city had to offer. ESPN viewers were treated to the best broadcasts in WPH history, complete with in-court go-pro cameras, slow motion replays, Emmy-award winning producers, special guest commentators and the best handball in the world.
The Race 4 Eight IV kicked off in October in Southern California at the 2014 Simple Green U.S. Open. Players from five countries enjoyed the beautiful Southern California beaches and weather, as well as unlimited Simple Green hospitality and the opportunity to watch the best men’s and women’s handball players from each code in the sport. The R48 and WR48 pros were in action, battling for the largest single-event payout of the season at Los Caballeros Sports Village.
Paul Brady entered the 2014 Simple Green U.S. Open as the #3 seed and seeking his fifth U.S. open title. Brady had won two consecutive stops in the second half of the Race 4 Eight III season before being shocked in the opening round of the WPH Aces Player’s Championship by Mando Ortiz in the final event of the Race 4 Eight III season. Brady bounced back with an impressive 9th USHA Four Wall National Championship in June, defeating the U.S. Open’s #2 seed Emmett Peixoto in the final.
In his opening round, Brady trailed 14-7 against Shorty Ruiz before rallying to sweep the cross over star in two games. After cruising past Luis Cordova in the quarterfinals, Brady faced his sternest test of the season against compatriot Charly Shanks. Shanks played aggressively and tactically, seizing game one and stunning the knowledgeable handball gallery at Los Caballeros. Brady regrouped in game two, forcing a tiebreaker with vintage Brady shot making and agility. Despite trailing 1-4 in the tiebreaker, Brady remained in control, scoring the final 10 points of the third game to advance to the final. Facing then #1 Luis Moreno in the finals, arguably Brady’s greatest rival in the last seven years, the highly anticipated match was anticlimactic. Brady steamrolled his younger adversary in just 33 minutes, despite injuring his left arm clipping Moreno’s shoulder on his backswing early in game one. With the Simple Green U.S. Open victory, Brady claimed his fifth Race 4 Eight title in six R48 starts.
Catriona Casey entered the 2014 Simple Green U.S. Open undefeated in Women’s Race 4 Eight play, having won each of the first three events held during the inaugural 2013-2014 WR48 season. Casey effortlessly advanced to the final, conceding just 12 combined points in her quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Shirley Chen and Jessica Gawley. Casey would face Aisling Reilly in the Women’s Simple Green U.S. Open final for the second consecutive year. Reilly was equally dominant en route to the finals, allowing just 11 combined points in her quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Ashley Moler and Tracy Davis. Casey and Reilly had faced one another in virtually every major ladies’ final since early 2013, with the two stars trading victories on U.S. and Irish soil. Casey had defeated Reilly in their only two WR48 encounters at the 2013 Simple Green U.S. Open and the 2014 WPH WR48 Player’s Championship. Casey would continue her WR48 mastery over Reilly in the final, defeating her rival in two games and maintaining her undefeated WR48 record.
The Race 4 Eight headed nearly 500 miles east two weeks after the Simple Green U.S. Open to Tucson, the headquarters of the World Players of Handball. Tucson boasts one of the best handball communities in the world, and eagerly welcomed the best players in the world to the Tucson Racquet Club. The R48 pros would be in action for the second time in two weeks, while the SR48 pros would kick off their third season of SR48 play.
Brady traveled to Tucson from the U.S. Open via Las Vegas to acclimate himself to the desert air and the Tucson Racquet Club, playing practice matches with several of Tucson’s top pros while rehabbing the left arm he had injured in the finals of the U.S. Open. Brady advanced to the Tucson final with little difficulty, overwhelming San Francisco’s Erik Torres in the opening round, crushing compatriot Stephen Cooney in Cooney’s first R48 quarterfinal appearance and easily defeating Tucson’s David Fink in the semifinals. Playing on his home court and buoyed by his local fans, Luis Moreno advanced to his second consecutive R48 final with victories over Luis Cordova, Abe Montijo and Emmett Peixoto.
Moreno’s home court advantage and crowd support appeared to have no effect on the impervious Brady, whose single-minded focus virtually eliminates any outside distraction or interference. Playing with his left arm heavily wrapped from the injury sustained two weeks prior in the Simple Green U.S. Open final, Brady showed no signs of discomfort. Brady and Moreno thrilled the partisan Moreno gallery and ESPN viewers with a game one classic, as the two best players in the world traded kill shots and incredible serves, while demonstrating unspeakable athleticism. In a game that could have gone either way, Brady escaped, 15-13. Moreno appeared flat in game two, falling behind 14-1 in just nine minutes. Facing match point, Moreno relaxed, while Brady began to uncharacteristically unravel just one point from clinching the title. Moreno scored 10 consecutive points to close the gap to 11-14 with a combination of winners and Brady errors, but Brady ultimately scored the final point, securing his second consecutive Race 4 Eight title and seizing the #1 ranking for the first time in Race history.
Tucson kicked off the SR48 III tour with the strongest field in SR48 history. Naty Alvarado entered the 2014 SR48 Tucson ranked #4 on the R48 tour, while Marcos Chavez entered Tucson as the #10 pro. Alvarado cruised to the Tucson SR48 final with victories over Juan Canales and weekly sparring partner Chris Watkins, while Chavez also cruised to the final, defeating Jim Carkeek and Dan Armijo.
Alvarado and Chavez had played one another for over 20 years on the pro tour, with Chavez winning just one match against his Southern California nemesis. Alvarado looked as though he would continue his mastery over Chavez in the final, building a 14-10 first half lead in the one game final to 25 and narrowly missing a diving re-kill that would have given him a 15-10 halftime lead. Chavez seized the opening and dominated the remainder of the match, scoring 15 of the final 17 points of the match with creative shot making, a white hot back wall kill and theatrical showmanship. “I love to put on a show for the fans,” claimed Chavez. “People are here to have fun and so am I.” With the SR48 title in Tucson, Chavez won his second consecutive SR48 title and strengthened his grip on the SR48 #1 ranking.
The Race 4 Eight tour traveled to Houston, TX for the third consecutive January and its first event of 2015. Players and fans were treated to outstanding Texas hospitality by tournament director Omar Lemus and tournament sponsor Ron Cole, and the WPH welcomed 35-year MLB player and manager and good friend Art Howe to the WPH broadcast studios for a sensational broadcast from the Tellepsen YMCA in downtown Houston.
Paul Brady entered the R48 Houston seeking his third consecutive R48 title and fifth R48 title in six events. Brady eliminated the Cordova brothers in his first two rounds, defeating Luis Cordova for the second time in three events and knocking out rising star and R48 IV “Rookie of the Year” Daniel Cordova in the quarterfinals. Brady faced the Olympic Club’s Emmett Peixoto in the semifinals, the pair’s fourth encounter in less than a year. Brady cruised to a 15-5 first-game victory, but Peixoto slowed down the pace of the match in game two, lob serving, extending rallies with acrobatic retrieves and making Brady earn every point. The second game would be much closer, as Brady would need his best to overcome “The Rock,” ultimately advancing to the final, 15-13.
Sean Lenning entered Houston on the heels of a dreadful Race 4 Eight III season that saw him drop out of the Elite 8. Lenning also started slowly in the first two events of the R48 IV season, finishing 13th at the Simple Green U.S. Open and 7th in Tucson. Lenning was the Lenning of old in Houston, displaying the relentless pressure and unmatched firepower in his march to his first R48 finals appearance in nearly two years. After holding off a Vic Perez comeback in the round of 16 to win in a tiebreaker, Lenning dropped game one against Mando Ortiz in the quarterfinals, before allowing Ortiz just two combined points in the second and third games. Lenning then defeated Luis Moreno for the first time in Race play in the semifinals, dismantling his nemesis in just 18 minutes.
Based on his spectacular play en route to the finals and several close losses to Paul Brady in previous matches, Lenning appeared to be playing the type of handball that could derail Brady’s perfect season. As he has done since 2004, Brady quickly squashed any notion of a finals upset, crushing Lenning in two quick games to win his third R48 title of the season. “Sean Lenning can only be Sean Lenning was he is being Sean Lenning,” stated SR48 legend Dan Armijo on ESPN during the final.
Naty Alvarado and Marcos Chavez entered the SR48 for the second consecutive SR48 event in Houston, with Alvarado undoubtedly wanting to avenge his loss to Chavez in the SR48 Tucson final and Chavez wanting to validate his Tucson victory over his former nemesis.
Alvarado easily advanced to the final, defeating top five SR48 stars Dan Armijo and Andy Schad in the quarterfinals and semifinals by a combined score of 50-17. Chavez would not be so fortunate, dropping his SR48 semifinal to former top eight pro and Houston resident Tyler Hamel. Despite playing just a few times a year, Hamel still possesses the precision, fitness and court generalship to defeat nearly every player on the planet. Hamel’s sensational skills were on display in the final against Alvarado, but Alvarado’s serve and offense was too much for “The Sleek Panther” to overcome. Hamel made a late charge, but Alvarado held on to win 25-20, clinching his first SR48 title of the season.
The Race 4 Eight headed to San Francisco for the first time in the history of the tour, as many players were able to experience one the world’s greatest cities for the first time. Several of the top R48 and WR48 stars met on the Wharf’s Pier 33 to take the ferry to Alcatraz, then headed to Pier 39 to experience some of the best seafood in the country.
Paul Brady eclipsed the 15,000-mile frequent flyer mark on the Race 4 Eight IV tour on his third trip to the U.S. and second to California for the Del Grande Dealer Group R48pro at the Olympic Club. Brady showed no effects of jet lag or fatigue in the early rounds in San Francisco, defeating Tucson’s Abraham Montijo in the opening round and cooling off a surging Sean Lenning in the quarters. After winning game one in just eight minutes against Tucson’s David Fink in the semifinals, Brady found himself in a 2-9 hole in game two. Undaunted, Brady scored 13 of the final 14 points of the match to advance to his fourth consecutive R48 IV final.
The Olympic Club’s Emmett Peixoto defended his home turf at the Olympic Club, overcoming a back injury to outlast former national finalist Martin Mulkerrins in the opening round, sweeping Daniel Cordova in the round of 8 and outlasting WPH #2 Luis Moreno in a wild and spirited two-hour and 30 minute three-game semifinal thriller.
After their close semifinal encounter in Houston, Brady was prepared for a tactical showdown with the head handball pro at the Olympic Club. Brady played strategically and consistently, holding off an inspired Peixoto in two games to claim his fourth R48 IV title in four events.
The Del Grande Dealer Group WPH WR48 Pro featured the return of 2004 women’s national champion Yvonne August after an 11-year layoff, as well as the return of former national finalist Courtney Peixoto de Melo to the Olympic Club. The stage, however, belonged to WPH #1 Catriona Casey. In one of the most dominating performances in the history of pro handball, Casey outscored Sandy Ng, Danielle Daskalakis and Jessica Gawley by a combined score of 90-7 in her three matches at the Olympic Club, ending the event by scoring 46 consecutive points. Casey became the first player to not allow a point in the finals of Race history, cementing herself as the untouchable #1 WR48 star.
The WPH traveled to the famed New York Athletic Club in midtown New York City for its fifth stop of the season and second Race stop in as many years at the New York Athletic Club. The NYAC hosted the R48, WR48 and SR48 in a “Super Stop,” the first regular season stop in Race 4 Eight history that featured all three Race 4 Eight tours.
Paul Brady started his assault on the R48 tour at the 2014 NYAC R48 III, winning six of the next seven Race 4 Eight events, to include the 2014 NYAC. Brady needed a tiebreaker to claim the 2014 NYAC final in his first R48 start in 10 months, coming from behind in the third game to defeat compatriot Robbie McCarthy. Brady would encounter far less resistance in 2015, dismantling Vic Perez, Mando Ortiz, Naty Alvarado and Andy Nett, allowing four or less points in six of the eight games he played en route to his second consecutive NYAC R48 title.
Andy Nett returned to the Race 4 Eight after an 11-month Race layoff to advance to the final, defeating Luis Moreno and Sean Lenning for the first time in his Race career en route to the finals. Despite losing to Brady in the final, Nett announced himself as a force entering the R48 V season, winning five combined matches in the qualifier and main draw.
Catriona Casey landed in New York on the heels of a 46-point WR48 scoring streak and entered the 2015 WR48 NYAC as the overwhelming favorite. Casey extended her scoring streak to 76 with a quarterfinal shellacking over former national champion Yvonne August, and advanced to the final with a two-game semifinal victory over Aoife McCarthy.
The WR48 was introduced to two new stars on the bottom bracket of the draw, as Cianna Ni Churraoin and Martina McMahon dazzled ESPN broadcast viewers with sensational handball skills and athleticism. Ni Churraoin defeated Newfounland’s Leslie Amminson and WPH #2 Jessica Gawley en route to the semifinals, while McMahon defeated New York’s Shirley Chen and WPH #3 Danielle Daskalakis to meet her Irish rival in the bottom bracket semifinals. Ni Churraoin would advance to the final in two games against McMahon to face WPH #1 Catriona Casey.
Casey dominated game one of the final against Ni Churraoin, needing just eight minutes to take a one game lead over her 18-year old opponent. Trailing 7-1 in game two and having been outscored 22-2 in the first game and a half of the final, Ni Churraoin demonstrated her immense talent and will to win, scoring the 14 of the last 19 points of the game to hand Casey her first dropped game in six WR48 events. Casey regrouped in the tiebreaker, changing her strategy and shot selection, while demonstrating poise under pressure to clinch her second consecutive NYAC WR48 title and her sixth WR48 title in six WR48 events.
With Naty Alvarado and Marcos Chavez both accepting invites as Elite 8 R48 pros and not participating in the SR48 NYAC, the SR48 NYAC field was wide open for a first-time SR48 III champion. Pro tour stalwarts Andy Schad, Dan Armijo and Danny Bell entered the legend’s field, as did Northeast superstars Andy Rousseau and Denis Gingras.
Armijo entered the SR48 NYAC as the top seed for the first time in his 30-year pro career, validating his ranking with wins over Chris Hlavatovic and Andy Rousseau to advance to the final, while #2 seed Andy Schad overcame Denis Gingras and Chris Watkins to advance to the final in the bottom bracket.
Armijo defeated Schad in a thrilling overtime match in a SR48 “Match of the Year” candidate at the 2014 Tucson SR48, but there would be no such excitement in the SR48 NYAC final. Schad dominated Armijo in just 23 minutes to claim his first SR48 title since the 2013 WPH Player’s Championship, claiming the #1 SR48 ranking for the first time in his SR48 career.
The WPH Race 4 Eight traveled to Salt Lake City for the fourth consecutive year and the second consecutive WPH Aces Player’s Championship. The six-month season would end at Salt Lake City’s Sports Mall, with tens of thousands of dollars in prize money and bonus money to be awarded to the top finishers in the event and in the season-ending standings.
Paul Brady was aiming for the first perfect season in history, having won the first five regular season events. The perfect season was not meant to be for “The Gunner,” as a quad injury forced him to withdraw in the first game of his opening match against Mike Schneider. Sean Lenning was the tour’s hottest player in the second half of the R48 IV season and took advantage of Brady’s absence, steamrolling JT Hingey, David Fink and Daniel Cordova in the top half of the draw en route to the final.
Mando Ortiz entered Salt Lake City one year removed from shocking Brady in the opening round of the 2014 WPH Aces Player’s Championship and a career best #5 ranking at season’s end. Ortiz struggled throughout the R48 IV, compiling a 6-8 record and failing to advance beyond the quarterfinals of any of his five R48 IV regular season starts. That all changed in Salt Lake City, as Ortiz caught fire, eliminating WPH #10 Luis Cordova, WPH #3 Emmett Peixoto and WPH #2 Luis Moreno en route to the finals in the bottom half of the draw.
Lenning appeared in his second R48 IV final of the season (Houston), while Ortiz was appearing in his first final since the 2013 R48 III Plummer Bash. The pair staged the WPH R48 “Match of the Year”, splitting the first two games with astonishing shot making and power. The third game featured the highest drama of the R48 IV season, as the two traded the lead and momentum on several occasions. It was Lenning who would ultimately emerge, holding off an inspired Ortiz to claim his first WPH Player’s Championship.
Catriona Casey was attempting to defend her third title of the WR48 II season at the WPH Aces Player’s Championship (Simple Green U.S. Open and NYAC), while keeping her career undefeated WR48 record intact. Casey allowed just four combined points en route to the final, defeating Ashley Moler and Danielle Daskalakis in four lopsided games.
Aisling Reilly entered just her second WR48 II event, still in search of her first WR48 title in four career starts. Reilly was brimming with confidence entering Salt Lake City, having just ended her five-match losing streak to Catriona Casey in the finals of the All Ireland Senior Championships three weeks prior to Salt Lake City. Reilly cruised to the semifinals, but the current world champion was pushed to the limit against WPH WR48 “Rookie of the Year” Martina McMahon in the semifinals. The smooth and crafty lefty shocked Reilly in game one, but Reilly regrouped, forcing a third game by overpowering McMahon and relying on her big-match experience in game three to advance to the final.
Casey and Reilly had met in virtually every major women’s final in the previous two years, with the electricity seeming to intensify with each encounter. Reilly handed Casey just her second dropped game in seven WR48 events, dominating her counterpart 15-2 in game one. Casey demonstrated the poise she displayed in New York one-month prior, refusing to panic and trusting her percentage game to build an 8-1 lead in game two. A late rally by Reilly fell short, setting up a third game for the WR48 II Player’s Championship. With the tension at an all-time high on the WR48 tour, Casey and Reilly contested several 20+ shot rallies in the deciding third game, many of the rallies ending with bold kill shots from the deep court. Casey survived her most difficult match in WR48 history, holding off Reilly to claim her second consecutive WR48 Player’s Championship and seventh WR48 title in seven WR48 events.
Andy Schad entered Salt Lake City as the #1 SR48 pro, needing to only make the finals to secure the year-end #1 ranking. After winning consecutive SR48 events at the 2014 WPH SR48 Aces Player’s Championship and the 2014 SR48 Tucson, Marcos Chavez lost in the semifinals of the 2015 SR48 Houston and did not play the 2015 SR48 NYAC.
After defeating Rocky Mountain legend Gary Scogin in the quarterfinals, Schad faced Irish superstar and SR48 “Rookie of the Year” Tom Sheridan for a spot in the final. Tied at 21 after one hour and 45 minutes in a largely acrimonious match, Schad ruptured his Achilles running for a Sheridan kill, ending his season and his quest for the year-end #1 SR48 ranking. Chavez encountered little resistance en route to the final, easily dispatching of Dan Zimet and Dan Armijo.
Despite playing at the top of the sport for the past two decades, Chavez and Sheridan had never faced one another in singles. Needing a victory to secure the year-end SR48 #1, Chavez started hot, building a 14-6 lead. Chavez appeared to have scored the 15th point to send the match to halftime, but a broken ball necessitated a replay. Sheridan parlayed his good fortune into a seven-point run, closing the gap to 13-14 and seizing the momentum of the match. Chavez regained control, scoring 11 of the final 13 points of the match to repeat at the SR48 Player’s Champion and SR48 Player of the Year.
The Race 4 Eight tour could not be possible without the incredible donations and monumental effort of so many people. Thank you to ESPN, Ben Edtl and EDTL Handball, Bruce Fabrizio, Naty Alvarado, Sr., Fred Banfield, Doug Clark, Omar Lemus, Ron Cole, Kevan Del Grande and the Del Grande Dealer Group, Lou Barberini, John Duggan, John Moran, Tom Smario, Lon, Matt and Melissa Stalsberg, Ruben Garza, Gary Scogin and Ted McManus. Thank you to the entire WPH broadcast team, to include Dave Vincent, David Fink, Lolita de Vincent, Kris Gurrad, Linda Manning, Jeff Kastner, Jean Kastner, Kara Mack, Matt Titaino and everyone who helped to announce and setup and breakdown equipment.
What’s Next? 2015/16 Schedule HERE>
The Race 4 Eight will return for a fifth season live on ESPN! ESPN was so impressed with the broadcast and the sport of handball that the Worldwide Leader in Sports enthusiastically renewed the Race 4 Eight tour for the full Race 4 Eight V season. To what extent? We really do not know. Multiple conference calls and meetings have lead us all eagerly awaiting answers and you will be the first to know when we find something out. The Race 4 Eight five has already locked in the Simple Green U.S. Open of Handball in October of 2015, Tucson in November of 2015, New Orleans in January of 2016, Houston in February of 2016, New York in March of 2016, Salt Lake City in April of 2016 and the Player’s Championship in Portland in May of 2016. Does your handball community want to host an event on the Race 4 Eight VI? If so, we are formulating the 2016/17 now: details? firstname.lastname@example.org
World Players of Handball Productions will be debuting the 2014-2015 Race 4 Eight Season-Ending Awards Show, featuring the R48, WR48 and SR48 Rookies of the Year, the Comeback Player of the Year, the matches of the year and the R48, WR48 and SR48 Players of the Year.