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The WPH 3-Wall Big Ball Venice Nationals by David Fink
The first ever WPH 3-Wall Big Ball Nationals in Venice Beach produced the most electrifying atmosphere in outdoor handball history. Hundreds of competitors and thousands of fans gathered on the sun-splashed beach in Venice to crown men’s, women’s, and junior national big ball champions. The men’s and women’s pros dazzled enthusiastic galleries throughout the weekend extravaganza, and the 38 junior players under the age of 20 inspired and captivated the entire beach. In just the first year of the WPH 3-Wall Big Ball Nationals, nearly 500 players competed from both coasts in a celebration of the fastest growing version of handball.
Men’s Pro Singles
Samzon Hernandez entered the event as the number two seed, but most observers considered him to be the favorite. “The man is always motivated, intense, and strong,” claimed big ball national quarterfinalist Ricky Ruiz. “Someone would have to be on top of his game to beat him.”
Two of the “Fab Four” were eliminated before the quarterfinals, demonstrating the incredibly deep talent pool in big ball handball. “There are 16 guys that can easily advance to the semifinals or beyond in these events,” claimed WPH Outdoor Head Referee David Fink. “Every match is so close, and the difference between losing in the first round and advancing to the final is often one shot in a match.”
Top seed Juan Santos and number two seed Samzon Hernandez were both pushed to tiebreakers in the round of 16. “I was definitely worried,” claimed Hernandez when referring to the 7-1 tiebreaker deficit he faced in the round of 16. “I just tried to keep the pressure on and he (Chava) seemed to get nervous.”
Samzon Hernandez cruised to the final after his round of 16 scare, easily defeating former doubles partner Ricky Ruiz in the quarterfinals and “Feo” Venegas in the semifinals. Juan Santos also cruised in straight sets in the quarterfinals and semifinals to reach the finals, defeating Raul Calvillo and rising star Alfredo Morales respectively.
In a rematch of the finals of the Simple Green U.S. Open, Samzon and Santos battled once again for big ball supremacy. Santos plays his best handball on the long courts of Venice, but Samzon applied too much pressure to his rival, dismantling Santos 15-11, 15-4 to clinch the first ever 3-Wall Big Ball National Title. “Samzon appears to be more motivated for each event,” claimed David Fink. “The more he wins, the more it burns to win again."
“I want to say thank you to WPH, staff, players, and spectators for making the Big Ball 3-Wall Nationals a big success,” claimed newly crowned 3-Wall Big Ball National Champion and living legend Samzon Hernandez. “It was a fun weekend. And for all the people that were against me thank you for giving me that extra boost. Can't wait for the next event coming with that fire.”
Men’s Pro Doubles
The men’s pro doubles has historically been the most exciting division in big ball. Rallies often feature multiple dives, 50-plus shot rallies, dramatic momentum changes, and unrivaled passion from the massive crowds cheering on their favorite teams.
Alfredo Morales announced himself on the national stage with a stunning victory over Vic Duran (#13), Sal Duenas (#5) and Shorty Ruiz (#4). Although he would eventually lose to Juan Santos in two very close games (Singles), he would redeem himself in the doubles. Morales and “G-Man” Velasquez survived close tiebreaker wins in all three of their matches en route to the final, as did their final’s opponents Juan Santos and Lobo. In perhaps the most exciting match of the championships, both teams thrilled crowds with amazing diving gets, diving rekills, and nonstop action. Morales and “G-Man” were cool under pressure and ultimately clinched the tiebreaker with a sensational victory.
“I have never played in a pro finals match so to play in one was amazing,” claimed newly minted 19-year-old 3-Wall big ball superstar and national doubles champion Alfredo Morales. “Surprisingly, I didn't feel an ounce of nervousness. I just went out there and had fun and did the best that I could, and luckily it paid off. The energy from the crowd was unbelievable. Whether they were cheering me on or the opposite for me it was such a great experience for me. The pro doubles win meant everything to me. I had trained non-stop the past weeks. Honestly, the yellow jersey meant everything to me. That jersey to me is worth more than money knowing that I trained hard for it. Money comes and goes but that yellow jersey is forever.”
“The doubles final was the last match of the tournament and the crowd was huge,” claimed big ball player and enthusiast Derek Pyper. “Referee Shorty Ruiz constantly had to get people to back up and give the players room because everyone wanted to see the action. I can’t possibly describe what it was like watching this match and the rest of the games throughout the weekend. There were rallies in this match that had to be 90 seconds long, it was truly unbelievable, the athleticism on display through the match.”
Fourteen of the best women’s 3-Wall big ball superstars ascended on Venice Beach to battle for the title of best female in the sport.
In the Women’s Singles, Tanisha Groomes entered the event as the number one seed, having never lost a match in WPH competition. Groomes would face a serious challenge in her semifinal against all-court superstar Danielle Daskalakis. Trailing 11-14 in game one, Groomes appeared to be on the verge of falling one game behind for the first time in WPH history. Groomes won four straight rallies to steal the momentum and the game and cruised in game two to clinch her spot in the final. Ashley Moler entered the event as the number two seed, and easily defeated New York 1-Wall specialist Melissa Sky to clinch her spot in the final.
Groomes was too strong for Moler in the final, overwhelming the WPH Outdoor Director with precise kills and powerful drives. Groomes captured her fourth WPH women’s title in four events. “Tanisha continued her dominant reign in the women's singles,” claimed Ashley Moler. “She's the best and has proved it over and over again.”
Groomes partnered with Lilly Prez to complete the Women’s Slam. Groomes and Perez defeated the New York powerhouse team of Daskslakis and Ng in the semifinals, and defeated the east coast/midwest tandem of Alethia Mendez and Amalia DeSardi in the final.
“We consider Sunday “Kid’s Day” at our big ball events,” claimed WPH Youth and Development Director David Fink. “Sunday is when we have the top players teach clinics to inspire the kids, as well as organizing junior tournaments to allow the kids to enjoy the thrill and camaraderie of playing in tournaments. This event was certainly one of best we have ever had for the juniors.”
The WPH’s commitment to developing the game was evident on Sunday. The juniors took over the courts by midday on Sunday, and most of the enormous galleries shifted to the junior courts to watch the junior clinic hosted by WPH Youth and Donor Director David Fink and 3-Wall superstar Samzon Hernandez and the junior tournament.
“Helping with the clinic was a huge thrill for me,” claimed Samzon Hernandez. “The first shot I taught the kids was a side-front kill, and I used that shot a lot in my match with Santos later in the day. Every time I used the shot effectively, I was thinking about the clinic!”
The 11-and-under featured some of the most promising talent in recent memory. Gabriel Crespio advanced to the final with two impressive wins and faced Eddie Rocha in the final. Crespo emerged victorious in a thrilling match, and became the first junior crowned in Venice Beach.
“There were people strolling through the beach that had never seen handball before that stopped to watched these two kids that were no more than four feet tall and 80 pounds hitting the handball from the deepcourt with both hands,” claimed WPH 3-Wall Big Ball Junior Nationals tournament director David Fink. “I had a basketball coach stop me and ask me if I could teach his group handball because he was so impressed with the athleticism and sportsmanship of the Gabriel Crespio and Eddie Rocha. It looks like we will add about 20 new players at Venice Beach between the ages of 6-13 in the coming months. Exciting times for junior handball!”
The 15-and-under featured a full round of 16. Chris Camilo faced Gabriel Carbajal in the final. Both youngsters won three rounds en route to the finals. In one of the most exciting matches of the day, Chris Camilo edged Gabriel Carbajal by the slimmest of margins to clinch the title.
The 19-and-under division was mistaken for the open by a number of fans. “I play with some of these guys, and these guys are amazing!” remarked top pro Shorty Ruiz. “I tried to enter the pro doubles with Christian Lopez, but I already had a partner.”
Chris Vargas dominated the top half of the draw, and Christian Lopez cruised in the bottom half of the draw to setup of final between two youngsters that will be competing on the elite level in the near future. Lopez’s experience was the difference and he edged past Vargas to win the title.
Erik Gonzalez and Vic Villanueva staged an epic A singles final for the right to call themselves pro players. Villanueva held a match point at 14-14 in the second game after winning the fist game 15-12, but appeared to run out of energy just before he could cross the finish line. Gonzalez won a 17-shot rally to clinch the second game, then held of a late Villa charge to win the title in the third game. “It’s always 50-50 when we play,” claimed Villanueva. “I almost had him today, but I was just happy to be a part of such a great event.” Brian Fombona and Noe Garcia won the Men’s A Doubles over Danny Delacruz and Erik Gonzalez and denied Gonzalez the “A” slam.
The second season of the WPH Big Ball Cup Series started with a surge of excitement. “The tournament was like something I’ve never experienced before,” claimed one of big ball’s elite players and supporters Sal Duenas. “It was like the Olympics of handball at the beach. Every matchup was perfectly set, organization was second to none, and the amount of fans, players, spectators, women participants, and juniors was something I have never before experienced or seen before, and this was just the beginning!”
“The venue, the crowd, the beach, the weather, and the games all made for the perfect ending to a perfect tournament run smoothly and effectively by Ashley Moler,” revealed Derek Pyper. “Thanks WPH for hosting this event and bringing 3-Wall Handball, the most exciting sport there is, to the public.”
The WPH will continue to build on the momentum from the WPH 3-Wall Big Ball Nationals with upcoming stops in northern California, southern California, and Las Vegas. The big ball players have all been challenged,” claimed WPH Executive Director and Outdoor Handball Architect David Vincent. “There are athletes all around the country at parks dreaming of being on a grand stage. The WPH is in search of these elite players as we construct the Player’s Cup Series exposing the game's best from coast to coast. As a result, more players are venturing out of their city, more players are beginning to play this sport, more families are becoming involved, and more attention in the media has been placed on the players and the game. We, as an organization, cannot be more excited for the future of handball.”
For the full results of the tournament go to http://www.r2sports.com/tourney/home.asp?TID=10884. The WPH will hold Player’s Cup #2 July 27-28 in Tracy, CA (northern California), Player’s Cup Stop #3 August 17-18 in southern California, and Player’s Stop #4 September 19-22 at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. Make your plans now!
__________________WPH Youth and Donor Development Director
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