Finals Sunday brought an end to one of the most exciting seasons in the history of professional handball, as ESPN was on hand for the seventh consecutive Race stop to witness champions becoming legends.
Sean Lenning advanced to his second R48 IV final of the season with a dazzling display of offensive handball, defeating JT Hingey, David Fink and Daniel Cordova en route to the final on his 30th birthday weekend. Mando Ortiz entered Salt Lake’s WPH Aces Player’s Championship with just a 6-8 record on the season and not having advanced past the quarterfinals in any of his five regular season R48 IV starts. Ortiz caught fire in Salt Lake City, defeating Luis Cordova, Emmett Peixoto and Luis Moreno to advance to his second R48 final.
Mando Ortiz started the final on fire, racing to a 6-0 lead, extending his early advantage with ace serves and bottom-board kill shots to take a one game, 15-3. Lenning changed the momentum in game two, relying on his incredible serve and quickness to fluster Ortiz and force a tiebreaker. Ortiz regained the momentum in game three, building a 6-2 lead and seemingly on his way to becoming the R48 IV Player’s Champion. A timeout by Lenning cooled off Ortiz, and Lenning added zip and hop to his serves and kills to reach match point at 14-8. Ortiz made three incredible retrieves in at 14-8 to force a side out, but Lenning earned his way back into the service box and finished the match on his second attempt, becoming the R48 IV Player’s Champion. “I’m just really happy and I’m really excited to win,” revealed Lenning. “Mando is playing amazing handball and it was great to come out on top.”
David Fink defeated Mike Schneider in the R48 5th place final semifinals to face WPH #3 Emmett Peixoto. Fink and Peixoto exchanged the lead six times in the first half of the 5th place final but Peixoto appeared to be in control at 18-15. Fink caught fire, scoring the final 10 points of the match to clinch the match.
Vic Perez rebounded from a close opening round loss with impressive wins over JT Hingey and Stephen Cooney to advance to the 9th place final, while Luis Cordova bounced back from his opening round R48 loss by defeating Anthony Selestow and Marcos Chavez to advance to the 9th place final. The 9th place final was a rematch of the R48’s San Francisco 9th place final, a “Match of the Year” candidate won by Cordova. Cordova and Perez battled for nearly 55 minutes in the final, with Cordova maintaining a 3-4 point cushion throughout. Cordova found the range on his kill shot in the second half, clinching 9th place for the second time this season, 25-17.
4th: D. Cordova
tie 7th: Alvarado/Schneider
9th: L. Cordova
tie 11th: Chavez/Cooney
tie 15th: Brady/Sheridan
Catriona Casey entered Sunday’s WR48 final in Salt Lake City seeking her seventh WR48 title in seven WR48 events, while Aisling Reilly appeared in her fourth WR48 final in search of her first title.
Reilly attacked Casey in game one of the final, handing Casey just her second lost game in her WR48 career, 15-2. Casey changed her tactics in game two, building an 8-1 lead by keeping Reilly in the backcourt and not giving Reilly any back wall opportunities. Reilly nearly caught Casey in game two, executing her offense from everyone on the court, but ultimately fell, 15-12. Casey built an early lead in game three by making incredible retrieves and precise pass shots. Casey would clinch her seventh WR48 title in seven starts and her second consecutive WR48 Player’s Championship, 3-15, 15-12, 15-9. “I had to really play my best against Aisling,” revealed Casey. “The tour is so exciting with so many great players participating in the events. I am really looking forward to next season.”
Ashley Moler advanced to the 5th place WR48 final with a stunning comeback against Tracy Davis, rallying from a 6-18 deficit to win 25-22. Jessica Gawley awaited Moler in the 5th place final, having defeated Yvonne August in the 5th place playoff semifinals.
Jessica Gawley defeated Ashley Moler for fifth place, while Martina McMahon defeated Danielle Daskalakis to clinch third for the second consecutive event.
Tom Sheridan entered his first Race 4 Eight event in Salt Lake City, qualifying in the R48 with an impressive victory over top 20 R48 pro Erik Torres and advancing to Salt Lake’s SR48 final with impressive victories over Chris Watkins and SR48 #1 Andy Schad. Marcos Chavez advanced to his second SR48 final of the season with victories over Dan Zimet and Dan Armijo, and could clinch the year-end SR48 #1 ranking with a win over Sheridan. Chavez started hot in the final, blasting serves and kills en route to a 14-6 lead. Chavez appeared to score the 15th point to send the final into halftime, but a broken ball resulted in a replay. Sheridan parlayed his good fortune into seven straight points to climb back into the match, but Chavez was too strong ion the second half, outscoring the Irishman 10-2. “”I really wanted to win this,” revealed Chavez while collecting his second consecutive SR48 Player’s Championship. “The WPH is doing such a great job in exposing this game to the world and giving kids a reason to play.”
Dan Zimet clinched fifth in his first SR48 start, while Dan Armijo clinched third when Andy Schad was unable to play with a calf injury.
Dan Zimet clinched 5th in his first SR48 start, defeating John Bike in the 5th place SR48 Playoffs.
3rd: Dan Armijo
4th: Andy Schad
5th: Dan Zimet
6th: Chris Watkins
Thank you to Lon and Matt Stalsberg, Ruben Garza, Gary Scogin, Ted McManus and all of the incredible volunteers, sponsors and supporters of the WPH Aces Player’s Championship in Salt Lake City. Thank you to Dave Vincent, David Fink, Lolita de Vincent, Kris Gurrad, Linda Manning, Jeff Kastner, Jean Kastner, Matt Titaino, Kara Mack and the rest of the WPH broadcast team for an incredible season of handball on race4eight.com and the Watch ESPN App. The team spent thousands of hours throughout the season to broadcast over 150 hours of live handball in the six Race 4 Eight events between the 2014 Simple Green U.S. Open and the 2015 WPH Aces Player’s Championship.
To watch replays of the live on the WPH Aces Player’s Championship, go to the Watch ESPN App http://espn.go.com/watchespn/
WPH Senior Writer