Sunday marked the end of the 2015-2016 Race 4 Eight V season, with the R48, WR48 and SR48 Player’s Championships to be decided, as well as playoff matches in each of the Race 4 Eight brackets.
You can check results from WPH R48Pro Player’s Championship & USHA Master Singles Brackets by going to the event website and selecting the bracket of your choice.
(Editor’s Note: Big thank you to Mike Steele from the USHA. Professor Steele is in the process of vacating his role as USHA President, after a decade-long tenure, and made it a recognized goal to help bring the USHA and WPH closer. This weekend, Coach Steele accomplished another bucket-list-item while working closely with both organizations, sponsors, donors and competitors, for the betterment of the game. The WPH Staff thanks Mike Steele for his efforts)
Sean Lenning was appearing in his fourth R48 final of the season, having won the Tucson Memorial and finishing second in Houston and Salt Lake City. Killian Carroll entered Sunday’s final on the heel of the biggest win of his career against Paul Brady in Saturday evening’s semifinal and was making his second R48 final appearance of the season and in search of his first R48 victory. Lenning and Carroll had met twice this season entering Sunday’s final, with the pair splitting their first two encounters in tiebreakers at the Simple Green U.S. Open quarterfinals and the Mardi Gras semifinals.
Carroll started well in the final, securing the first game with eight un-returned serves and near flawless execution. Lenning would not relinquish his Player’s Championship title without a fight, as he battled back from a 3-6 second game deficit to take a commanding 11-6 lead. As is always the case with Carroll, the game is never over, as he scraped and clawed for every point, making seemingly impossible retrieves and re kills to the delight of one of the largest and most educated galleries in R48 history. Encouraged by his family and Northwest handball supporters, Lenning combated fatigue to close out the second game and force a tiebreaker. The tiebreaker was close throughout, with neither superstar able to separate himself by more than three points until the dramatic conclusion. Lenning appeared to have the momentum when the tied the game at nine, but was never able to take a lead. With Carroll leading 12-11, two costly Lenning errors pushed Carroll to match point. Carroll closed out the match to become the fifth R48 Player’s Champion in five Player’s Championships.
“I know I may not be showing it, but this is a tremendous moment for me,” stated a composed Carroll after winning the biggest title of his career. “I have never thanked my father before but I want to thank him and also my girlfriend and her family for giving me this opportunity to compete against the best players in the world.”
Vic Perez earned his career-best R48 finish by winning fifth place against Daniel Cordova. In his two 5th Place matches, Perez outscored the Cordova brothers 50-24. Emmett Peixoto built a 15-6 halftime lead against David Fink and held off a furious second-half rally to win in overtime, 26-24.
6th: D. Cordova
7th: L. Cordova/Chavez
13th: Buggy/Alvarado/Aa. Garner/Montijo
As expected, Catriona Casey and Aisling Reilly advanced to the final of the deep WR48 draw, with both looking impressive en route to Sunday’s clash. Casey and Reilly have appeared in every major women’s final since 2013, with Reilly winning their epic matches at the 2015 World Handball Championships and Simple Green U.S. Open and Casey winning their last three matches in Ireland. Casey was aiming to defend her 2014 and 2015 WR48 Player’s Championships and to add her ninth WR48 title in 10 starts, while Reilly was aiming to win consecutive WR48 starts and her first WR48 Player’s Championship.
Casey completely dominated the final, demonstrating her unparalleled arsenal of two-handed offense and defense. Although many of the rallies exceeded 10 shots, Casey always seemed to be in control, winning 74% of the extended rallies in the match. With the gallery hoping for a tiebreaker after a 15-6 first game win for Casey, Casey elevated her game to an even higher level in the second, making just two unforced errors and 11 kill shots in the 15-4 decider.
“I love handball because it is so fast-paced and fun,” stated the three-time WR48 Player’s Champion and nine-time WR48 champion. “I know that I have a lot if areas that I can improve so I enjoy always trying to become a better player. I want to thank the WPH and my sponsor, the NYAC, for all that they do to grow the game.”
Ciana Ni Churraoin bounced back from a semifinal loss to Catriona Casey to take third against Danielle Daskalakis, while Sandy Ng defeated Tracy Davis for the second consecutive WR48 event for fifth place.
3rd: Ni Churraoin
Marcos Chavez cruised to the SR48 Player’s Championship final with a decisive semifinal victory against Dan Zimet, while first-time SR48 competitor Gavin Buggy was even more decisive in his semifinal triumph against Andy Schad. Chavez was aiming to defend his 2014 and 2015 SR48 Player’s Championship titles, while Buggy was trying to become a SR48 champion in his first start.
Chavez started the match on fire against a visibly anxious Irishman, scoring the first five points on just five swings. Chavez would ultimately lead 9-0 before Buggy would mark the scorecard. “I kept thinking about what the ESPN commentators might be saying about me while trailing 9-0,” Buggy would later say. “I kept thinking that this can’t be good for TV!”
Buggy not only made good TV following his dreadful start, but he battled all the way back to tie the game at 13. Using his long reach and unorthodox shot selection, Buggy confused and frustrated the two-time SR48 Player’s Champion. “I knew Gavin was good and I was hoping one of my American comrades could take him out before the final,” joked Chavez after the match. From 13-all, Buggy scored eight of the final 12 points of the first game, punctuating the comeback with a flat roll-out on game two.
Buggy would not need to play from behind in the second game, as the talented 42-year old built an 11-6 lead with a spectacular display of power, control, and rally-ending shots from virtually everywhere on the court. Chavez battled to the end, but Buggy would not be stopped, claiming the 2016 SR48 Player’s Championship in his first SR48 start.
“To be honest in thinking about the game last night, I just thought that Marcos had too much class for me,” stated Buggy. “This is just a fantastic moment for me. I just want to say that this tournament was just fantastic and I want to thank Dave Vincent, Dave Fink, Vern Roberts, Chatten Hays, Dave Steinberg, and everyone who made this tournament so special.”
“I want to congratulate Gavin on a great victory,” stated Chavez. “He’s a great player and he really deserved to win today.”
Dan Armijo defeated 2015 Master’s National Champion Arturo Suarez for fifth in the SR48 fifth place final, overcoming a 6-0 deficit to win 25-9.
Thank you to the WPH Staff of Dave Vincent, David Fink, Lolita de Vincent, Tom Flores, Javi Flores, Linda Manning, Kris Gurrad, Ben Manning, Jeff Kastner, Matt Titaino, and the WPH Board of Directors and donors for an incredible Race 4 Eight season. Thank you to the USHA, Vern Roberts, Chatten Hayes, Mike Steele, Steve Soto, and the rest of the volunteers and USHA staff for an incredible week in Portland.
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The World Players of Handball is a non-profit foundation aiming to grow the game of handball through innovation and inspiring the next generation of players through junior clinics with certified WPH coaches, junior tournaments and the Race 4 Eight tour.
WPH Senior Writer