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Tucson, AZ, WPH Press, 5/29/19- The 2018/19 Race 4 Eight tour featured a number of breakout performances on the R48, WR48, and SR48 tours, with the 2018/19 Race 4 Eight tour arguably showcasing more breakout nominees than any Race 4 Eight season in history.

From Ciana Ni Churraoin’s rise to WR48 #2 after starting the season unranked and coming off knee surgery, Fiona Tully advancing to the semifinals of her first two WR48 starts and finishing the season #4, The Flying Cordovas combining to win four R48 titles, Niall O’Connor and Fergal Coughlan, Jr. qualifying on their first attempts to 2018 USHA Collegiate National Champion Leo Canales, Jr. earning points in all eight of his 2018/19 R48 starts, the 2019 Breakout Star could have been justifiably awarded to any of the aforementioned Race 4 Eight stars.

A panel of Race 4 Eight pros, administrators, and coaches tallied their votes, with Juarez’s sensation Leo Canales, Jr. taking the 2019 Race 4 Eight Breakout Star of the Year honors.

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Canales finished the 2018/19 Race 4 Eight season ranked 15th after starting the season unranked. Canales ran through the gauntlet of top qualifiers during the nine-event R48 Men’s Pro season, emerging in all but one instance with a combination scintillating comebacks, spectacular play and consistent ball.

Leo’s season did not start promisingly at the season’s first stop, as the “Juarez Kid” trailed 3-19 in the Atlanta qualifier final to John Wayne Cortez. Canales tied the one game match at 20, took a 24-20 lead and held off Cortez in overtime to author one of the biggest comebacks in qualifier history.

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Juarez’s “Cardiac Kid” staged a second consecutive unimaginable comeback at the season’s second stop at the Tucson Memorial, as Canales trailed R48 veteran Jonathan Iglesias 17-24. Canales fought off six match points and stunned Iglesias 27-25, sending his 30 Juarez teammates watching court side into a frenzy.

Canales would add another dramatic comeback at the Tucson R48LTE/USHA Hall of Fame, overcoming three match points at 10-14 in the third game against former R48 #1 Mando Ortiz.

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Canales also earned impressive qualifier wins against Tyler Stoffel (Portland), Michael Gaulton (Montana), Sam Esser (New Orleans), George Garcia, Jr. (Salt Lake City), and a 17th place finish in San Francisco.

“I definitely think gaining more experience and getting comfortable (on the tour) has helped me to find success,” expressed Canales, Jr. on his breakout season. “When I first started playing the tour in 2016 I hit a lot of passes and roof shots and that’s just not going to do it. I developed a more aggressive mentality from watching the style of play from the top pros and realizing that I needed to play more offense. The level of competition from my regular sparring partners Lucho Cordova, (dad) Leo Canales, Sr., Drft Fernandez, and Noe Arenas in Juarez has also been a huge help to my game.”

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The game’s top players also took notice of Canales’ revamped game.

“Leo was not just qualifying, he was beating top players at each stop,” stated R48 #16 Abraham Montijo. “Iglesias, Mando, and Esser are tough guys to beat and he beat them all and then some.”

“Leo has a lot of upside,” stating Juarez training partner and R48 #4 Lucho Cordova. “Leo did not even start playing handball until college after playing baseball growing up and he has already jumped into the top 15 and beating really good players. I predict he’ll be ranked between 9-12 at the end of next season, if not in the top 8.”

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“Leo knows how to get you into awkward and long rallies and once he gets a bit more experience and learns how to end those rallies more consistently, he’ll become very dangerous,” stated R48 #1 Killian Carroll.

“I have been playing Leo for two years and I have seen the improvement with each stop and each time we’ve played,” stated R48 #5 David Fink. “Leo applies a lot of pressure, he dives all over the court, he hits unorthodox shots, and he is always engaged on every point, regardless of the score. His new commitment to offense has made him a threat against anyone in the game.”

Congratulations to Leo Canales, Jr. on the well-deserved 2019 Race 4 Eight Breakout Star of the Year award!

2018/19 Race 4 Eight Elite Stats HERE

Race 4 Eight Pro Player Bios HERE

WPH Power Rankings HERE

DF’s R48 Fun Facts and Trends HERE

Race 4 Eight History of Champions and Finalists HERE

WPH RACE 4 EIGHT: The World Players of Handball’s 2018/19 Race 4 Eight 8 Powered by ESPN features R48 stops in Georgia, Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Louisiana, and California, all culminating with The Player’s Championship in Utah in May of 2019. Similar to NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and the FedEx PGA Playoffs, players earn points in the Race 4 Eight’s regular season stops to qualify for the season-ending Player’s Championship and bonus prizes.

For more information on the WPH Race 4 Eight, please contact World Players of Handball Executive Director David Vincent at dave.vincent@wphlive.tv or World Players of Handball Development Director David Fink at david.fink@wphlive.tv. For more information on the World Players of Handball, please visit wphlive.tv

Support the WPH and inspiring the next generation of players by becoming a WPH Patreon. Enjoy never before seen videos, pro commentary, special awards, Sports Casts archives and new episodes, live broadcasts, and much more. Become a WPH Patreon HERE

David Fink

WPH Senior Writer


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