2016 featured several incredible performances by Race 4 Eight and WPH Outdoor superstars, a spectacular year for Junior WPH, and incredible WPH events in Portland and Las Vegas. Mando Ortiz and Killian Carroll enjoyed breakout seasons on the Race 4 Eight, Catriona Casey and Juan Santos continued to dominate their respective tours, and Samzon Hernandez continued to own the Simple Green U.S. Open. JR WPH continued to be an incredibly proactive junior handball development group, hosting more than 1,000 clinics in 12 states and three countries in 2016. Portland hosted its first WPH Race 4 Eight Player’s Championship with the largest crowds in Race history, and the WPH’s 3WallBall Outdoor World Championships surpassed 600 combined players. Let’s take a close look at 2016’s greatest moments, performances, and events.
Mando Ortiz was on the short list of best players to never have won a Race title heading into the R48 V Houston in February of 2016, having advanced to four finals without nabbing a title. Ortiz would face the most difficult road to a Race title in the history of the tour, facing four current or former WPH number #1’s. Ortiz dispatched Allan Garner in the round of 16 and Emmett Peixoto in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals and a date with Race 4 Eight #1 Paul Brady. Having handed Brady his first loss in Race 4 Eight play in 2014, Ortiz played confidently and assertively in the semifinal showdown, handing Brady his first defeat in a Race 4 Eight semifinal in a thrilling 15-13 tiebreaker. Ortiz repeated that tiebreaker score 16 hours later in the final against Sean Lenning to claim his first Race title.
Check out this Ortiz profile following his win in Houston here
Ortiz continued to surge throughout the season, advancing to the finals of the NYAC, semifinals of the Player’s Championship, finals at the Simple Green U.S. Open, and winning in Minnesota to claim his second Race title and the Race 4 Eight #1 ranking for the first time
Check out Ortiz’s win in Minnesota and clinching number one here
Killian Carroll needed just three stop to move into the Race 4 Eight’s Elite 8 in his first full season on the Race 4 Eight tour and officially announced his arrival as one of the best players on the Race 4 Eight tour at the Player’s Championship, slaying Paul Brady in the semifinals and holding off a white hot Sean Lenning in the final to claim his first Race 4 Eight title. Carroll became the first player to make the Player’s Championship his first title and sent a message to the handball world that he was ready for the biggest stage in the sport.
Check out Killian Carroll’s win at the Player’s Championship here
Killian Carroll rode the momentum of his Player’s Championship victory to advance to the final of the USHA Four Wall Nationals, where he would meet his countryman Paul Brady for the second time in six weeks. Carroll was vying to become the first player to defeat Brady in consecutive matches in more than a decade, but his second consecutive Brady victory bid started inauspiciously, as he trailed 20-2 in just 11 minutes. Carroll extended the first game by 10 minutes and gained valuable traction in the match, eventually evening the final at one game apiece and forcing a tiebreaker for the first time since 2008 in the USHA Four Wall National Men’s Final. The pair traded the lead four times in one of the most thrilling matches in history, with Brady ultimately serving for the match and his record-tying 11th national title at 10-9 in the tiebreaker. Carroll earned the side out and scored two points in his next inning to win the match and his first USHA Four Wall national title in the first 11-10 National Four Wall Men’s Pro Final in modern handball history. What a match!
Check out Carroll’s win at the USHA Four Wall Nationals here
Given the mastery of Catriona Casey against the best women’s player in the world since 2013, no amount of domination can be unexpected. That being said, Casey was flawless in her five U.S. small ball starts in 2016, winning the WR48 NYAC, the WR48 Player’s Championship, the USHA Four Wall Nationals, the WPH Outdoor X Fest Women’s Small Ball Singles, and the WR48 Simple Green U.S. Open. Casey outscored her opponents in her five U.S. victories by a ratio of 4.2:1 and didn’t drop one game in her five wins! Casey became the first player in a USHA Four Wall Pro Singles final to give an opponent a zero and recaptured the only WR48 title that eluded her in 2015 by blitzing the field at the Simple Green U.S. Open. Murmurs of “best ever” have already started circulating in handball circles and if you’ve seen Ms. Casey in action, those murmurs would be very difficult to dispute. Casey is simple the perfect player, poised, athletic, ambidextrous, pensive, and always seeking to improve
Read about Catriona Casey’s Simple Green U.S. Open redemption here
Long regarded as one of the best Big Ball 3-Wall players in history, Samzon Hernandez was anything but throughout much of 2016. After sitting out two stops on the 2016 WPH Outdoor Season 5, Hernandez returned at the X Fest, only to be bounced before the semifinals. Hernandez hit rock bottom at the 3WallBall World Championships in September, failing to score a point in a first round shellacking. Hernandez entered the 2016 Simple Green U.S. Open one month later as the 4-time defending champion and number one seed but far from a favorite. Despite his recent form, “The Machine” transformed himself at Los Caballeros, dominating the tournament he’s owned since its 3-Wall inception in 2012. Hernandez played like the legend that made him the WPH Outdoor #1 in 2012, overpowering and outhustling his opponents en route to a dominant victory. Hernandez reminded us all, never count out a champion
Read more about “The Machine’s” fifth U.S. Open title here
Just as he does everything, Juan Santos quietly won his fourth WPH Player’s Cup in five years, also winning the 3WallBall World Championship for the fourth time in five years, making him the undisputed WPH Outdoor #1. Santos arrives and plays with little fanfare, showing little emotion when winning or losing. Much like Women’s Race 4 Eight #1 Catriona Casey, Santos is the perfect player, combining incredible anticipation, sensational touch, a burning desire to win, and the ability to play his best when it matters most. Santos doesn’t just beat the best players in the world, he makes it look easy, often leaving them bewildered and demoralized while barely breaking a sweat. Needing to win the 3WallBall 3-Wall singles and doubles in Las Vegas to clinch the year-end number one, Santos won all nine of his matches without dropping a game, a testament to his ability to rise to the occasion and his desire to be the best.
Read more about Santos’ fourth Player’s Cup and 3WallBall title here
JR WPH enjoyed another spectacular year in 2016, hosting more than 1000 clinics in 12 states and three countries, including “Mega Clinics” in New York City on Memorial Day Weekend, the X Fest in Orange County in June, the Tucson Racquet Club Summer Camp, Vegas in September, and Venice Beach in December. Coupled with the more than 1,000 clinics hosted in 2016 were six Junior WPH Outdoor tournaments in California and Nevada, featuring more than 250 combined players between 7-19 years of age. JR WPH proudly sponsors eight junior handball teams across North America, providing junior handball teams with equipment, coaching, and opportunities to travel to tournaments.
To follow all of JR WPH’s initiatives, go to juniorhandball.com
To read the 2016 JR WPH Portfolio, click here
The biggest WallBall event in the world surpassed 600 combined handball, racquetball, and paddleball players in September’s seventh edition of the 3WallBall Outdoor World Championships on the Las Vegas Strip at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino. The greatest show on the strip featured the best outdoor small ball and big ball handball players on the planet, with every imaginable diversion within sight on Las Vegas Boulevard. If you’ve been to the 3WallBall Outdoor World Championships, you’ll undoubtedly be returning, and if you haven’t been, you don’t know what you’re missing!
The fifth WPH Race 4 Eight’s Player’s Championship traveled to the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Oregon, with the game’s greatest R48, WR48, and SR48 stars from across the world on hand to compete for the WPH’s crown jewel. The handball-crazed Pacific Northwest community filled the enormous MAC galleries, with the hundreds of courtside fans providing the best atmosphere in the history of the Race 4 Eight tour. Players were treated to frenzied roars after each spectacular shot and rally, as the large crowds oozed with appreciation for their handball heroes
For a full recap from Portland’s Race 4 Eight Player’s Championship, click here
WPH Senior Writer