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Junior Team USA at World Junior Championships in Tarija, Bolivia

by Cheryl Kirk, Team Leader, U.S. Junior Team and Delegation


Junior Worlds Logo
Photo by: International Racquetball Federation

Intro
Meet the Athletes and Staff
Delegation “Cheerleaders”
Trip Timeline
Air Travel – The Biggest Challenge of the Trip
The Warmest of Welcomes
Opening Ceremonies -- A Home Run
Let the Games Begin!
Raffle Drawing Announcement
Tarija Municipal Racquetball Center Av. de la Integración, Tarija, Bolivia
Diwali -- Sunday November 12
Closing Ceremonies – What A Party!
Results: IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Thank You’s – So Much to Say!
Results: IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships

Here we go...

Intro

Ups and downs, on and off the court, punctuated the U.S. Junior Team Delegation’s representation of USA Racquetball and Racquetball fans across the country at the IRF 34th World Junior Championships in Tarija, Bolivia, November 10-18, 2023. In two words, the trip could be summarized as “Mission Accomplished,” but there’s so much more to know. The journey to Tarija (and back home) was another example of Racquetball family coming together to share a common experience. When you live through challenges, and wins, and losses, and discovery of another country’s culture, and getting to know your fellow travelers, the experience goes well beyond love of the sport itself. It creates friendships that will last a very long time.

Meet the Athletes and Staff

• 30 junior athletes ranging from 22 years to 8 years old

• 7 U.S. Junior Team Staff members

• 36 parents, siblings, friends, and private coaches eager to support the Team

That totaled 73 in the delegation!

The 30 athletes came from 7 states: California 19, Texas 4, Missouri 3, Oregon 1, Illinois 1, Arizona 1, Colorado 1.

Note: Oregon and Illinois each had the pleasure of supporting Brielle Fernando who hails from the former and attends college in the latter.

WORLD CUP

21 & Under

Iain Dunn, CA (Singles, Doubles)
Tucker Elkins, OR (Singles)
Paul Saraceno, CA (Doubles)
Brielle Fernando, OR/IL (Singles 21/18, Doubles)
Khyathi Velpuri, CO (Singles, Doubles)

18 & Under

Cole Sendrey, TX (Singles, Doubles, Mixed)
DJ Mendoza, TX (Singles, Mixed)
Vedant Chauhan, CA (Doubles)
Naomi Ros, TX (Singles, Doubles, Mixed)
Heather Mahoney (Doubles 21/18)

16 & Under

Eshan Ali, CA (Singles, Doubles, Mixed)
Grant Williams, MO (Singles)
London Townsend, CA (Doubles)
Sonya Shetty, CA (Singles, Doubles, Mixed)
Thea Mattfeldt, AZ (Singles)
Victoria Rodriguez, CA (Doubles)

ESPRIT CUP

14 & Under

Nathan Rykhus, CA (Singles, Doubles, Mixed)
Vaishant Mangalampalli, CA (Singles, Doubles)
Andrea Perez Picon, CA (Singles, Doubles, Mixed)
Aarya Shetty, CA (Singles, Doubles)

12 & Under
Alejandro Robles Picon, CA (Singles, Doubles)
Ayan Sharma, CA (Singles, Doubles)
JT Wright, MO (Singles, Mixed)
Shreya Chandel, CA (Singles, Doubles, Mixed)
Nyasa Gupta, CA (Singles, Doubles)

10 & Under

Chris Nelson, TX (Singles, Doubles)
Eli Wright, MO (Singles, Doubles)
Sloka Marivada, CA (Singles, Doubles)
Aaradhya Raja, CA (Singles)
Sameera Rai, CA (Doubles)

U.S. Junior Team Coaches/Staff

Tim Baghurst - Head Coach (FL)
Jen Meyer - Esprit Coach (CO)
George Bustos - Assistant Coach (TX)
Adam Manilla – Assistant Coach (CA)
Sandy Rios - Assistant Coach (TX)
Delaney Farmer - Athletic Trainer (WA)
Cheryl Kirk - Team Leader (IL)

The Delegation for the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends

Delegation “Cheerleaders”

Family members, friends, and a private coach* were also there in support of the Team. And, a few parents** did double duty as coaches for their own athletes and others, alongside the U.S. Junior Team Coaches.

Anwar Ali**, Surekha Anantharaman, Cesar Avila, Georges Barrera, Kadambari Beelwar, Sirisha Bhimineni, Ram Chandel, Douglas Elkins, Kristine Fernando, Bobby Horn*, Vineet Kumar, John Mahoney, Melodese Mahoney, Sameer Mangalampalli**, Satya (Sam) Marivada, Dylan Mattfeldt, Tim Mattfeldt, Ruchika Mohan, Anna Mendoza, Solomon Nelson, Raja Muthuraman, Sathwik Rai, Drohn Raja (6), Hugo Rodriguez, Sarah Rykhus, Steve Rykhus**, Frank Saraceno, Patricia Saraceno, Kevin Sendrey, Vikas Sharma, Amber Synha, Mark Townsend, Colleen Williams, John Wright**, Sara Wright, and Calvin Wright (7)

Trip Timeline
Arrivals 11/7-10
Practice 11/8-10
Opening Ceremonies 11/10 (first time since the pandemic!)
Matches 11/11-18
Awards Ceremony 11/18
Departures 11/18-21

Air Travel – The Biggest Challenge of the Trip

Getting there, and getting home, was the most challenging part of the trip. Arrival in Tarija involved 3-4 flight connections with layovers galore. Entry requirements had required some concentrated organization on the part of the families, some of which turned out to be necessary and some not. Long lines to purchase visas upon arrival in Santa Cruz caused connecting flights to be missed more than once and resulted in l-o-n-g layovers for the next flights. On the return, Bolivian Airlines notified us a few days into the trip that flight times were changed, and this disrupted connections for many. Then when it came time to go, visibility due to wildfires in and around Santa Cruz produced more flight delays. I share this because I was so impressed with our delegation’s stoicism in adjusting their return flights and toughing it out, in many instances getting home hours/days after originally planned. Frankly, they were great.

The Warmest of Welcomes

Finally getting off the flight in Tarija put everyone at 6,100 feet above sea level. There was a major distraction of the most moving kind, though, and no one thought about the altitude or even being so tired and frustrated from travel because a BIG surprise awaited.

It was a party coming out of baggage claim! All of a sudden there were smiling people handing us American flags, bearing welcome signs, taking photos...and there was a band! It was the sincerest and most memorable of welcomes, and we all felt very special. Thank you, Tarija!

Blog #1 Photos from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends
Blog #1 Photos from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends

Points of Interest

Weather: Avg. high 82 F, avg. low 55 F. (In retrospect, not. This turned out to be a period of record heat in Tarija, where most days the temperature hit the high 90s to over 100 degrees.)

1 US Dollar (USD) = 6.90 Bolivian Bolivianos (BOB). Interestingly, the condition of U.S. bills was extremely important when endeavoring to convert to Bolivianos. To be accepted, the bills needed to be in very good condition with no tears, wrinkles, or significant wear.

Electrical voltage and plugs were not the same as in the U.S. The delegation successfully navigated this with converters and adapters (which are not the same thing). There was not an instance that we know of where any electronics or appliances were fried.

Opening Ceremonies -- A Home Run

Mother Nature’s rainy evening did not succeed in dampening the spirits of the Parade of Nations participants (athletes and staff) on Friday, 11/10. They lined up alphabetically by country to be introduced and cheered by the many hundreds of spectators lining the streets. Oh, to find the best words to describe this spectacular event. Marching bands (yes, plural) in resplendent uniforms...professional costumed dancers...flags...a huge grandstand with video screens on either side...the adorable mascot Lito (short for “cardinalito” – little cardinal)...speeches by dignitaries...athletes’ and officials’ oaths...and fireworks! Even though a bit soggy, we enjoyed being a part of the parade and feeling the warm welcome of the crowd lining the streets. The weather didn’t keep anyone away. The citizens of Tarija were genuinely welcoming and proud of their city’s achievement of hosting the IRF World Junior Championships.

Let the Games Begin!

Matches commenced on Saturday morning, 11/11. Match Format: Best of 5 games to 11 points, all games won by 2 points. Rally scoring (a point scored on every rally regardless of server or receiver winning the rally) will be used. The Official Ball is Gearbox Sleek Black.

Raffle Drawing Announcement

Many of the athletes who competed in Tarija had taken the opportunity to participate in selling raffle tickets to help raise funds for their trip to the IRF World Junior Championships. They sent their ticket stubs in to USA Racquetball’s Jonathan Greenberg who drew out the winner of the $500 prize on Tuesday, 11/14.

Congratulations to Barbie Williams of Wickliffe, Kentucky! The winning ticket was sold by Grant Williams of Wildwood, Missouri.

Tarija Municipal Racquetball Center Av. de la Integración, Tarija, Bolivia

This world-class Racquetball Center was a delight to discover. It boasts 13 glass back courts, one being three-wall glass with stadium seating. A concession stand offered beverages, ice cream, candy, and sandwiches. Employees were continually cleaning the floors both inside and outside the courts. Volunteers brought water to the athletes who had just been assigned courts. Stairs at the front and back lead up to a walkway platform down the middle that gives a birds-eye view of the 12 courts below. This was where the tournament desk was located.

The organizing committee of this World Juniors event sought to ensure safety and security with guards monitoring the doors and with a medical staff (doctor, nurse, and physiotherapist) on site and a fully stocked ambulance outside, should the need have arisen.

Outside is a statue of the mascot of Tarija Racquetball, Lito, short for Cardenalito (little cardinal). The plaque below the statue explains the story and the inspiration behind the reason Lito was chosen. To paraphrase, about 25 years ago an imported species of cardinals was accidentally released. Over the years they procreated, integrated, and became a leader species in the Guadalquivir River area. The other birds accepted the cardinals, and the cardinals accepted them. Cardinals exist in abundance in Tarija, and they are a symbol of unity, inclusiveness, and resilience. The Racquetball family in Tarija embraces these same values, and Team USA can certainly confirm firsthand the friendly and welcoming spirit at the Center.

Diwali – Sunday, November 12

Thanks to the efforts of several parents, a delightful dinner celebration was hosted in a private area of the hotel restaurant. Earlier, parents had gone shopping for fresh vegetables, and the hotel staff was happy to modify menu items to lend an Indian flavor (the meal was delicious!). Afterward, Surekha Anantharaman wrote, “Thank you all for celebrating with us today and making Diwali 2023 so memorable for all of us here in Tarija, Bolivia!” Melodese Mahoney echoed everyone’s sentiments, “Such a wonderful gathering! We loved the delicious food and were quite impressed with all the effort made - no small feat!! Such beautiful traditional attire too - so lovely! Thank you for sharing this with us!!” (For more information about Diwali, see Blog #3, November 11, 2023.)

Blog #4 Photos from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends

Closing Ceremonies – What a Party!

After the last match was finished and the IRF calculated the final standings, the Closing Ceremonies began outside the club on Saturday evening, November 18. Mother Nature once again did not fully cooperate (with rain to match that of Opening Ceremonies on 11/10), but crowds of citizens, family members of athletes, country and city dignitaries, and the athletes themselves turned out big-time for the presentation of medals. Once all 44 division winners and finalists had been recognized (and the rain had subsided), a big celebration began with music, dancing, and fireworks. There is no doubt that Bolivia knows how to throw a party!

Results: IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships

Individual Team USA Results

SILVER

B14S Blue -- Nathan Rykhus 

B10S Red -- Eli Wright 

B18D -- Vedant Chauhan/Cole Sendrey 

G16D -- Sonya Shetty/Victoria Rodriguez  

G18D -- Heather Mahoney/Naomi Ros 

M55+ -- Tim Mattfeldt 

BRONZE

B12S Red -- JT Wright  

B21D --  Paul Saraceno/Iain Dunn   

B14D -- Vaishant Mangalampalli/Nathan Rykhus 

G18S -- Naomi Ros                       

G16S -- Sonya Shetty       

MX16D -- Sonya Shetty/Eshan Ali  

MX18D – Naomi Ros/Cole Sendrey

Women’s Singles A -- Victoria Rodriguez 

World Cup Team Competition

Boys

  1. Bolivia
  2. Mexico
  3. USA
  4. Ecuador

Girls

  1. Bolivia
  2. Mexico
  3. USA
  4. Ecuador

Combined

  1. Bolivia
  2. Mexico
  3. USA
  4. Ecuador

Medals or no, we are extremely proud of each of our 30 Team USA athletes. Congratulations to every one for representing the United States of America honorably and with 100% effort and heart.

WELL DONE, TEAM USA!!

Photos from the Final Blog from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends
Photos from the Final Blog from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends
Photos from the Final Blog from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends

Thank You’s – So Much to Say!

The spirit of this delegation’s experience lies in the thank you’s below. The U.S. Junior Team Delegation wishes to deliver our gratitude to those who made this event so truly memorable.

The Host Country of Bolivia and the Local Organizing Committee (Javier Olivares, Daniel Villarroel, and Bernardo Arze, et al.) for hosting this very successful event. The work behind the scenes was extensive. Congratulations on a job very well done! Your service to the 12 countries who came to compete was efficient, friendly, and never to be forgotten.

The staff in the club, family members of athletes, and the citizens of Tarija did not hesitate to try to bridge the language barrier to communicate and connect. We all just figured it out together with the help of others to translate; Google Translate; modified charades; etc. But even just in passing, their smiles told us we were warmly welcome.

The management and staff of the Tarija Municipal Racquetball Center for providing a first-class facility for this World Juniors competition. Also, we appreciate the club employees and volunteers who kept the entire facility and the courts themselves clean and organized throughout the event.

This event was supported by a seasoned staff led by IRF President Osvaldo Maggi (Argentina). IRF staff members deserve so much gratitude and respect for their time and expertise. Mauro Grandio (Argentina), who expertly orchestrates so many of the behind-the-scenes details of IRF events, was joined at the tournament desk by Pablo Berriel, Adrian Macrino, Walter Capandegui, and Sebastián Digón (all from Argentina). Dean Schear (USA) as floor manager constantly monitored the courts and viewing areas to ensure smooth operations.

Pablo Fajre, Gary Mazaroff, and Gustavo Farell (all from the USA) provided live streaming and excellent commentary for racquetball fans near and far. Kadim Carrasco (Bolivia) and Nicolas Florio (Argentina) did a great job on the social media aspects of this event.

A number of referees from 10 countries were on hand to provide a quality experience for the players (see Blog #7 on November 15, 2023, for their names and nationalities). These individuals work incredibly hard in service to the IRF and the athletes.

The staff of Los Parrales Hotel was friendly, efficient, and responsive to all requests. This is truly one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. Everyone was genuine and caring. For instance, multiple families came in on a 10:55 am flight each day the first week. Although hotel check-in was 3:00 pm, the staff made sure that rooms were ready so that the exhausted travelers could immediately go to their rooms. (See Blog #2, November 10, 2023.) This was truly a resort hotel, and we were in racquetball paradise. Thanks to General Manager Annelise Molina and her staff: Yenny, Paola, Ana, Rachel, Reynaldo, Lizbeth, Magdalena, Emanuel, Erlan, Henry, German, César, Alex, Poli, Lidia, Daniela, and Juan Carlos, who all quickly became friends.

Manuel Flores (Bolivia) who helped make the connection with business owner Don Marcelo who came to the hotel at 8:00 am every morning to pick up laundry and drop off clean clothing. What a nice man with a wonderful wife and daughter! It was a such a pleasure to meet them.

Victoria Garzon Ramirez and Ana Valda who coordinated transportation for Team USA and others. Shuttle buses were frequent and on time. These ladies were both instrumental in making sure we got where we needed to go with a minimum of stress.

Thanks to Coach Jen Meyer, Anna Mendoza, Kristine Fernando, Colleen Williams, Pat Saraceno, Cindy Tilbury, and Alisa Burris for their above-and-beyond assistance, and to Nyasa Gupta, Shreya Chandel, Ruchika Mohan, and Surekha Anantharaman for their service on the Dream Team (see Blog #8, November 16, 2023).

The family members were present for every match, living every rally as if they themselves were out there competing.

Gearbox (owner Rafael Filippini) who contributes significantly to these international events as an IRF sponsor.

Splathead, the U.S. Junior Team Official Apparel Provider, created uniforms that players from other countries were clamoring to swap for at the end of the event. Joe Hall’s amazing generosity meant that each athlete who competed here in Tarija received a full player package at no charge. For Fans & Friends who would like to purchase U.S. Junior Team apparel, here’s the link: https://www.splathead.com/collections/teamusa.

Aimee Roehler, who stopped whatever else she might have been doing as soon as a blog and photos were ready for posting and who did a super job with social media visibility.

Jonathan Greenberg, who helped with trip preparation and then watched from the wings, ready to help with any challenge that arose.

IRF President Osvaldo Maggi and IRF Director Mauro Grandio for their leadership and dedication to Racquetball and its development around the world. Also, to Luke St. Onge and Keith Calkins whose earlier work set a solid foundation for the future.

Congratulations to each and every athlete and country delegation who placed in the standings as well as those who did not. Everyone represented their countries with honor and pride, and Team USA is proud to be a member of the worldwide Racquetball family.

In summary: Racquetball is a big, huge deal In Tarija. Every one of you who loves this sport would have reveled in the atmosphere of passion and excitement. For closer looks at the draws and the daily blogs, visit:

DRAWS: www.internationalracquetball.com or on R2 Sports: https://www.r2sports.com/website/division-list.asp?TID=41801&sortBy=defaultOrder

DAILY BLOGS: Schedules, results, coaches’ comments, Questions of the Day, anecdotes, recognition, thank you’s. https://www.usaracquetball.com/news/2023/november/10/u-s-junior-racquetball-team---daily-blog-from-the-xxxiv-irf-world-junior-racquetball-championships

Blog #3 from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends
Blog #4 Photos from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends

Blog #6 from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends
Blog #7 Photos from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends
Blog #8 Photos from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends
Blog #8 Photos from the XXXIV IRF World Junior Racquetball Championships
Photo by: Junior Team Delegation Athletes, Family, and Friends

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