The WPH’s David Fink had a chance to sit down with NYAC member Catriona Casey in advance of the 2016 NYAC Race 4 Eight Men’s and Women’s Pro to discuss her training, her rivalry with Aisling Reilly, her goals, and much more. Casey is the most successful player in the history of the Race 4 Eight tour, having won seven of eight WR48 events held, including a torrid seven-tournament winning streak from 2013-2015. Casey dropped her first match in her WR48 career in the 2015 WR48 III Simple Green U.S. Open final and will look to bounce back in the middle of March at the 2016 WR48 III NYAC. The always interesting Casey delivered a can’t-miss conversation!
DF: Catriona Casey vs. Aisling Reilly is unquestionably the best rivalry in handball, as the two of you have met in every major women’s 4-Wall final in North America and Ireland over the past three years. How does playing Aisling and upcoming matchups with her inspire you?
Catriona: I reckon a few others are also in with a shout for best rivalry, but it’s fair to say we’ve come up against each other a lot and no game can ever be taken for granted. Knowing I have to be at, or at least very close to, my best to come away with a win means I keep pushing myself to improve all areas of my game.
DF: You ran the table in the first seven WR48 events from 2013-2015, winning all seven events and dropping just two games along the way. You lost a “Match of the Year” candidate to Aisling Reilly in the finals of the 2015 Simple Green U.S. Open, ending your undefeated WR48 streak. How much pride and satisfaction do you take in your winning streak and your #1 WR48 ranking?
Catriona: I take great pride in my #1 ranking and am obviously very disappointed my winning streak has come to an end. Hopefully I can regain my winning form, starting at the NYAC tournament. I know ranking points are valuable and I’ll need to win to cement my position at #1.
DF: You are unquestionably one of the fittest players in the sport, as you are able to play singles and doubles in major events and play as well or better in your last match as you do your first. What is a typical week for you in preparation for a big event?
Catriona: Thank you! I would never have thought fitness was one of my strong points really, but it’s definitely something I work on. A typical week would involve a lot of court time, practicing skills and sparring with other players. I also do some strength and conditioning work in the gym, but I’m no expert in the area by any means! Finding the right balance is still something I’m trying to figure out.
DF: You have supported the WR48 tour more than any other player on the tour, traveling between 3100 miles to 5000 miles to compete in the eight WR48 events between 2013-2015. What does the WR48 tour mean to you and what does being a WR48 pioneer mean to you?
Catriona: The tour means so much to me, and has done so since its inception in 2013. I was delighted when the WPH made the decision to run a women’s tour. I’m a huge fan of handball in general, and love being amongst the other pros. I really look forward to each upcoming trip; it’s an amazing opportunity for me to travel. I really hope that next year brings as many, if not more, tournaments.
DF: Although you are only 22, you are already a mentor and a veteran on the women’s tour. Top players like Martina McMahon and Cianna Ni Churraoin look up to you and aspire to reach your level of play. Former USHA national champion Yvonne August flew from California to New York City in hopes of playing you at the 2015 WR48 NYAC. Junior players in Ireland are molding their games and techniques after you. All of this is a credit to your outstanding level of play, sportsmanship, and disposition. Does being a role model put more or less pressure on you when you arrive at an event and step on the court?
Catriona: I don’t know about that. I guess the more you win, the more the pressure is on you to keep winning. It’s always a challenge to maintain a high level of performance throughout the year. If I can help contribute to the growth of the ladies game, then great! I think the future is very bright.
DF: Everyone has experienced difficult losses, but very few have ever experienced those losses in a world championship final or in the Simple Green U.S. Open final, as you did in the summer and fall of 2015. How do you bounce back mentally and emotionally from those heartbreaking losses in which one or two shots could have made the difference between winning and losing?
Catriona: There’s no doubt the latter part of 2015 didn’t go as planned for me. The year that was in it, of course a lot of my focus was on the World Championships. I was heartbroken to lose out in the tie-breaker and felt I let myself down on the day. Of course, certain turning points and missed shots haunted me, and still do, but that’s sport. I’d be lying if I said it’s easy, but what’s the alternative… Roll over and give up? I bounced back to some extent by jumping straight into the big alley when I returned home. It wasn’t long before we were in the middle of the All-Ireland 60×30 championships and thankfully, I successfully defended my singles and doubles titles, which was also a goal of mine from the beginning of the year. That’s one thing I love about handball; there’s always another tournament around the corner.
DF: You are one of the top players in 1-Wall big ball, 3-Wall big ball and small ball, 4-Wall, and 60×30. How do you keep yourself sharp for each code and how are you able to make transitioning from one code to the next so seamless?
Catriona: I love the challenge that each code brings. While different, they also complement each other, and help to add to my skill set. It’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Playing in the Venice Beach Crossover tournament last summer was a real highlight. I think the biggest challenge is probably the lack of off-season, but it’s not a big deal when you’re doing something you enjoy so much.
DF: You very nearly became a R48 Men’s ranked pro at the 2015 Tucson Memorial, losing a very close match in the 17th place final to top 25 R48 pro Ryan Bowler. Will we see you playing in more R48 qualifiers in the future?
Catriona: I loved playing in Tucson, it was a really special tournament. As it wasn’t doubling as a WR48 stop, I didn’t have to worry about jeopardizing my involvement in that, and just enjoyed playing in a number of other grades, without putting too much pressure on myself. It’s definitely something I won’t rule out. Everyone was really supportive and it was definitely a positive experience.
DF: By the time you tee it up at the 2016 WR48 NYAC, five months will have elapsed between your last WR48 start. What are you doing to stay competitively sharp between WR48 events?
Catriona: I’ve played lots of handball in the meantime. Like I said, there’s little off-season if you choose to play all codes. I like to think I’ve improved certain aspects of my game and hopefully broken some bad habits, but only time will tell in the heat of tournament play!
Word Association with Catriona Casey:
Paul Brady: The Greatest
Aisling Reilly: Strong
Mando Ortiz: Explosive
Ciana Ni Churraoin: Fierce
Simple Green U.S. Open: Extravaganza
Junior handball: Promising
Best serve in handball: Deep crack
Best form in handball: Brady
Your favorite handballer growing up: Tony Healy
Your favorite handball code: 4wall small ball
Catriona Casey WR48 Stats: 2013-2015 (8 Events)
- Every point WR48 #1 Catriona Casey has played in WR48 events is tracked below, to include Casey points scored compared to her opponents, scoring ratio, and win/loss records
- Simple Green U.S. Open ’13: 168-48 (4-0)
- NYAC ’14: 134-30 (4-0)
- Salt Lake City Player’s Championship ’14: 84-31 (2-0)
- Simple Green U.S. Open ’14: 126-38 (3-0)
- San Francisco ’15: 90-2 (3-0)
- NYAC ’15: 102-31 (3-0)
- Salt Lake City Player’s Championship’15: 92-40 (3-0)
Combined score: Casey 796-220. Scoring ratio 3.6:1
Match record: 22-0
Simple Green U.S. Open ’15: 125-47 (2-1)
Combined score in eight events: 921-267
Combined match record: 24-1
Combined scoring ratio: 3.4:1
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