Tucson, AZ, WPH Press, 9/7/19- The third annual Tucson R48 Pre Qualifier, in conjunction with Junior Singles and Doubles + 1-Wall Small Ball Pro Singles, wrapped on the first Saturday in September, as more than 60 pro, junior, and local players enjoyed a spectacular day of 4-Wall and 1-Wall handball.
R48 Pre Qualifier
Tucson hosted the second R48 Pre Qualifier of the 2019/20 Race 4 Eight IX season (RFC 11), featuring defending champion and R48 #29 Leo Canales, Sr., Tucson’s R48 #12 Shorty Ruiz, Juarez’ R48 #15 Leo Canales, Jr., Juarez’s R48 #18 Drft Fernandez and a number of top local stars aiming to break onto the Race 4 Eight tour. “Steady” Freddy Lewis became the third Hall of Famer to play in a R48 Qualifier (Bike, Chapman), added prestige to the late summer event.
Top-seeded Shorty Ruiz cruised to the final, avenging his previous two losses to Leo Canales, Sr. with an emphatic donut in the first game and a steady second game to eliminate the defending champion.
Leo Canales, Jr. continued to demonstrate his high-octane offense, dominating his frequent sparring partner Drft Fernandez in a rematch of the 2018 LAAC R48 Pre Qualifier semifinal to advance to the final.
Canales had defeated Ruiz in a tiebreaker in February’s Pre R48LTE Super Bowl Classic and picked up where he left off in February, dominating game one 15-3 on Ruiz’ home court. Ruiz pushed the 2019 R48 Breakthrough Player of the Year in game two but could not quite catch the Juarez star, dumping a left-handed kill attempt into the ground at 12-13 and eventually losing 15-13. Canales’ serve was the difference, as the former collegiate national champion fired nine ace serves to Ruiz’ one in two games. “Leo should have bought a lottery ticket today with all of those sappos,” quipped Ruiz.
Ruiz def Canales, Sr, 15-0, 15-10
Canales, Jr. def Fernandez 15-4, 15-4
Final: Canales, Jr. def Ruiz 15-3, 15-13
Leo Canales, Jr. will receive a travel stipend to the R48 IX event of his choice + direct entry into the main draw of that event. Congratulations Leo!
28 junior handball players from Tucson’s Fred Lewis Foundation and Phoenix’s Carl Hayden High School were the highlight of the event, as the youngsters showcased the next generation of the sport. Many of the juniors were playing in their first 4-Wall tournament, while multiple-time junior national champions Ayden Brule and Sophia Della Croce set the bar for the aspiring youngsters.
Sophie Della Croce dominated Team Carl Hayden and Team FLF en route to the 17-and-under title. SDC was never seriously threatened in her four matches, including an impressive sweep against 10+ time junior national champion Ayden Brule and the FLF’s Andres Sandoval in the final. SDC added a slam in the Women’s Singles, defeating the Pena sisters in the round robin.
Luke Lambert won the 13-and-under two-bounce singles with back-to-back tiebreaker wins against Armani Chavez and Diego Valencia. Lambert, Chavez, and Valencia were the talk of the tournament, thrilling galleries with their hustle, great swings, and great shot making. “These are future top handballers,” barked WPH mega donor Doug Clark.
JR WPH Clinic
WPH Master Instructor David Fink led Carl Hayden’s junior handball team through a series of back wall drills to develop the proper footwork and swing to develop back wall efficiency. Despite limited 4-Wall experience, Team Carl Hayden showed tremendous promise and an aptitude for learning in the clinic. “We are so grateful to the WPH for the support and attention,” boasted Carl Hayden High School Head Handball Coach Chris Hogan. “The kids could not stop talking about their experience on their way back to Phoenix!”
Tucson locals participated in the 4-Wall “Donor” Doubles, with all money raised from the doubles going towards the JR WPH and junior handball development. “Klondike Mike” won the King of the Court format, winning with all three partners.
New York’s ValeU Group and one of 1-Wall’s greatest contributors donated the prize money for the 1-Wall Small Ball Pro singles, held at Khalsa School’s spectacular two-court 1-Wall complex. “We are committed to promoting and supporting 1-Wall small ball handball,” stated Jared Vale, president of ValeU Group and one of 1-Wall’s greatest contributors. “Our aim is to revitalize this form of the game; for more people to play it and watch it! We were very excited to support the 1-Wall Small Ball Pro Singles at the RFC 11 (July), at the Tucson R48 Pre Qualifier, and at the upcoming 3WB Outdoor World Championships later this month.”
David Fink was aiming for his second ValeU Group 1-Wall Small Ball pro singles title of the summer (RFC 11/July), while Leo Canales, Jr. was shooting for an indoor/outdoor slam.
Fink cruised to the final in the upper bracket, knocking out Juarez’ Victor Sanchez and Drft Fernandez.
Canales, Jr. faced Shorty Ruiz in the bottom bracket semifinals in a rematch of the R48 Pre Qualifier final earlier in the day. Canales led 10-3 in game one before Ruiz stormed back to lead 11-10. Ruiz served out to the left, opening the door for Canales to score five quick points to take the first game.
Ruiz appeared to be on his way to forcing a tiebreaker, leading 14-12 and in control. Canales earned a side out and much like game one, took his game to another level, making acrobatic retrieves, off-balance kills, and scoop re kills to win in overtime.
Canales started well in the final, taking a 5-0 lead on Fink. Fink surged, hitting a short-angled power serve to the left and sneaking serves to the right and following up the serve with hard angle kills. Fink scored 30 of the last 32 points of the match, overwhelming Canales and keeping his ValeU Group unbeaten streak intact.
“I’m going for the ValeU Group slam in Vegas later this month, also known as the Triple Crown,” stated a confident Fink.
Fink and Ruiz represented Tucson, while Canales, Jr. and Fernandez represented Juarez in a 1-Wall Small Ball Manning Cap. Team Tucson dominated their Southwest rivals, at one point leading 19-4 in the one-game match to 21. “It’s hard to win playing three on one,” lamented Canales, Jr. Team Tucson took the Manning Cup decisively, 21-9.
There are so many people to thank for the incredible one-day mega event. Thank you to donors Matt Goode and Art Benitez. Thank you Khalsa for allowing the players to play on the best 1-Wall courts west of the Mississippi. Thank you to Alex Trujillo for blowing the courts and chasing all of the errant shots. Thank you to Jeff Healam for providing the huge water cooler at the 1-Wall courts. Thank you to the WPH staff for organizing and running a great event. Thank you to the players from Juarez and Phoenix for making the trip. Thank you to the Fred Lewis Foundation for supporting the event and showcasing the next generation of Tucson handball.
“This was really an awesome event,” stated Shorty Ruiz. “We had a great group of players and the 1-Wall really added to the great day of handball.”
Follow all of the results from the 2019 Tucson R48 Pre Qualifier + Junior Singles, Doubles & 1W Pro HERE
2019/20 R48 Pre Qualifier #1 RFC 11 recap HERE
2019/20 Race 4 Eight IX Schedule HERE
WPH Senior Writer