The Race 4 Eight tour is proud to kickoff the second season of the Race to the Next Generation Cup, featuring the best 26-and-under talent in the world competing for the coveted R48 Next Gen Trophy. Similar to the Rookie of the Year awards in MLB or the NBA, the Next Generation Cup is awarded to the highest 26-and-under ranking points earner during the 2019/29 R48 IX season who has not previously won a major 4-Wall singles open or pro title (Race stop, Nationals, Worlds, All Ireland) or a previous Next Generation Cup.
More now than ever, the Race 4 Eight tour has been flooded with young talent, all possessing the skills and hunger to compete with the game’s superstars. The 2019/20 list of Next Generation Cup favorites features former collegiate national champions, multiple-time junior national champions, prodigies, and rising contenders. The 2019/20 Next Genners are also thoughtful, interesting, and tremendous handball ambassadors.
Several Next Generation stars were in action in the 2019/20 R48 IX’s first stop in Atlanta on the first weekend in October, as last season’s Next Gen Cup finalist Leo Canales, Jr. secured the best finish of his Race 4 Eight career (10th), Ireland’s Fergal Coughlan, Jr. took 11th for the second consecutive event, and the Olympic Club’s Loren Collado and the NYAC’s Niall O’Connor took 13th.
Meet the 2019/20 R48 Next Generation frontrunners below and follow the future stars all season on the Race 4 Eight IX tour.
Ivan Burgos: Burgos is one of the game’s most exciting junior stars, willing to sacrifice his body for any ball, while challenging himself against the game’s best at every opportunity. This Canadian prodigy possesses an intense passion for the sport, coupled with blazing speed, two-handed power, and the willingness to go for his shots at any moment against any opponent. The Maple Leaf is in great hands!
“Ryan Bowler has been my inspiration to play handball. I would always follow the qualifiers and the pro tournaments and seeing a friend I often spar with competing with some big names was definitely inspiring,” stated Burgos.
Leo Canales, Jr.: Leo Canales qualified for the first time at 21 years of age at the 2016 R48 6 Minnesota, defeating perennial R48 standout Anthony Selestow to earn his pro status. Canales’ steady and reliable game forces his opponents to play their best to beat him, while testing their patience and conditioning. Canales is part of the new group of R48 “Young Guns” poised to make noise on the Race 4 Eight for years to come. Look out for the “Juarez Kid” in the coming years.
“Watching the Cordovas success inspired me to take my game to the next level,” stated Canales, Jr.
Loren Collado: The Olympic Club’s Loren Collado is a product of the strong Northern California handball tradition and plays an “old school” style of handball, always playing the percentages and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. Collado is one of the sport’s rising young stars and will be a major factor in R48 events in the next decade.
“Until I was able to get games with (Emmett) Peixoto did I realize what it takes to compete at the pro level. Since then, I’ve been working out a lot more outside of the court to prepare for tournaments. This season I’ll continue to do the same. So far, I’ve been steadily improving so I hope to qualify at a more steady rate,” stated Collado.
Fergal Coughlan Jr.: FCJ is an offensive juggernaut, seemingly capable of ending rallies from anywhere on the court with a soft touch and keen precision. Fergal became the first unranked player to defeat three R48 pros on the same day at the 2019 Player’s Championship (Langmack, Cooney, Peixoto), crashing onto the tour with a statement. Coughlan served at 12-12 in the third game against R48 #2 Sean Lenning in the 2019 e4 Atlanta but came us just short of his career-best win.
Sam Esser: “The Kansas Kid” is part of handball’s next generation of stars who will take handball in the 2020’s and beyond. Esser possesses two good hands and an aggressive style that poses problems for all of the sport’s best. The MO State Collegiate All-American has his sights set on climbing the R48 rankings, an ascent that will likely commence very soon.
Michael Gaulton: Michael Gaulton is one of North America’s rising handball stars, capable of competing against the very best in the sport. Gaulton’s physical strength and height enables him to hit the ball with extreme power with both hands from any position on the court, enabling him to constantly pressure his opponents. Look for this Canadian prodigy to make his mark on the R48 in the near future.
“Sean Lenning has inspired me most to take my game to the next level. He’ll always ask me how my games went and everyone enjoys watching Sean play, as his style and shot choice is unique,” stated Gaulton.
Sean Kerr: Sean Kerr has been groomed to become a handball star from birth, traveling throughout Ireland to watch his father compete in the most prestigious championships in the sport. Kerr owns a sensational resume of junior championships and with his precocious skills and handball IQ, Kerr will undoubtedly become a force on the R48 in the near future.
“Killian Carroll has inspired me– how he adapted so quickly through the ranks at a young age and how he has become the best he can be and still improving,” stated Kerr.
Max Langmack: At 6’8, “The Gentle Giant” became the tallest pro handball player in the history of pro handball with his qualifier win against Abraham Montijo at the 2018 R48 7 Houston. Langmack is one of the game’s most talented young stars and proved that he has the game to compete against the best, as evidenced by playoff wins against Gabhain McCrystal and Marcos Chavez in the R48 7 Houston. Langmack brings tremendous versatility and skill to the court, as well as one of the best attitudes in pro sports. Look for “The Gentle Giant” (TGG) to make headlines on the R48 tour in the near future
Max Langmack Arrives: HERE
Gabhain Mccrystal: Mccrystal is a former 19-and-under U.S. national champion and brings the Irish school of handball to the R48 tour. Mccrystal is adept at playing the percentage game, but can also play offense from anywhere on the court, making him unpredictable and effective. With Mccrystal now residing in the U.S., look for the rising R48 star to continue to climb the WPH rankings.
“The player that inspired me to take my game to pro level would be Killian! Living with him in Boston, seeing his lifestyle and his work rate in not just handball but in any aspect of life is very motivating. He tries nothing but his best and practices everything until it’s perfect,” stated Mccrystal.
Coleman McGrath: McGrath is one of the game’s most promising stars, armed with tremendous two-handed power, blazing speed, supreme conditioning, and an even better attitude. McGrath demonstrated that he could beat the best, qualifying in his first attempt in Portland ’18 by defeating former R48 Elite 8 invite Stephen Cooney and adding another win in Portland against former R48 Elite 8 star Aaron Garner.
“What inspires me to continue playing the sport is not only the love for the sport but also being able to play a sport so few can call theirs,” stated McGrath.
Niall O’Connor: An Irish junior contemporary of Killian Carroll, Martin Mulkerrins, Diarmaid Nash, and many other Irish superstars, O’Connor was considered the most talented of the group. A left shoulder injury and subsequent surgery derailed O’Connor for two years, but the left-handed Irish sensation proved that he belongs at the top of the sport, qualifying on the R48 tour for the first time at the 2019 Aces Player’s Championship by ending Shorty Ruiz’ 14 consecutive qualifier finals streak. O’Connor oozes talent and will be a formidable opponent for anyone with whom he shares a court on the R48 IX season.
“After being out of the game for a couple of years with shoulder surgery, it’s taken me some time to get my eye back on the ball. The R48 tour has really inspired me and I’m planning on attending as many events as I possibly can to pick up ranking points and experience playing the top guys,” stated O’Connor.
Ricardo Palma: The Lake Forest product is an aggressive counter-puncher, able to re kill as will at any player in the front court, while driving the ball with tremendous power with both hands. Palma is on the verge of qualifying and will be a force in pro handball for the next decade.
Tyler Stoffel: Tyler Stoffel qualified for the Race 4 Eight tour for the first time at 20 years old and became the youngest ranked pro on the tour. Stoffel is a former All-American collegiate handball star at Mankato State University, having advanced to the USHA Collegiate National final in 2016. Stoffel plays with the poise of a veteran, seemingly always in control of his decision-making and temperament
Erik Torres: The Olympic Club’s Torres is one of the R48 tour’s most stylish players, appearing to make every swing effortless, while generating a tremendous amount of two-handed power. Torres owns one of the best left crack serves in the sport, seemingly able to roll the ball out off the left side wall as often as anyone in the game. The sky is truly the limit for Torres on the R48 tour, as he possesses all of the skills to make a run for the R48 Elite 8 and beyond.
David Walsh: The Irish star won the A singles at the Nationals, overcoming a 9-0 tiebreaker deficit to stun fellow Next Genner Ricardo Palma. Walsh held match point in the 2019 RFC 11 R48 Pre Qualifier against Niall O’Connor to earn his pro status but was unable to close the deal. Walsh is a level-headed complete ballplayer whose game is quickly maturing into a threat.
Read about Peter Funchion winning the 2018/19 Next Gen Cup HERE
To see the Next Generation player bios & all of the Race 4 Eight player bios, go HERE
2019/20 R48 IX Preview and Schedule HERE
WPH Senior Writer