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See Holly's Photo Essay of Recent Handball Championships
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See Holly's Photo Essay of recent Handball Championships

Ben Brettner
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Ben Brettner a longtime player and student of the game is starting provides in depth coverage of this year's One-Wall Nationals

Full Court View of the Nationals
by Ben Brettner

I remember a conversation, with Albert, prior to the Nationals which went like this:

Albert: Who do you like?
Ben: Well, I like Sostre
Albert: What about Sala and Kaplan?
Ben: Sure, they are top contenders. Do you think Rookie Can repeat his performance at the Mayor's Cup?
Albert: We will have to wait and see. by the way, Satish just won the Bailey Park singles and you can't overlook Maisonet, Rojas or Lewis.
Ben: Don't count Durso out either.
Albert: Everyone seems to be peaking at the right time. There have been five different singles champions this season, not to mention the different runner-ups.

But as play began spectators were stunned to hear that Sostre had dropped out due to illness. Later that day, Kaplan was defaulted due to lateness. I couldn't imagine this happening to Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi in a major event.

Cesar Sala did not allow these distractions to deter him from his mission to capture the singles crown. He almost completed a rare "triple" last year winning the Worlds, and placing second in both the Mayor's Cup and the Nationals. A busy year of work, school and some nagging injuries resulted in a few less than stellar performances and left handicappers doubting that this would be his year. He began his quest with a workmanlike 21-6, 21-10 win over talented Tony Roberts. This set up a dream match when Rookie's winning streak continued with a defeat of the quick and powerful Kendell Lewis.

It appeared as if Rookie's Cinderalla ride had ended when Cesar's devastating serves and kills were rewarded with a 21-5 first game win. But Rookie, showing the poise of the number one big blue player in the country, regrouped and took the second game 21-10. That set the stage for a controversial ending. With Rookie arguing over a hinder serve the referee called the score. Still arguing over the non-call, points 10 & 11 were scored with Rookie still in a state of confusion.

Meanwhile, three time National singles champion Ed Maisonet was methodically working his way through the lower half of the draw with impressive wins over Pee-Wee Castro and Andy Rousseau. A three game battle brought out the best between Rojas and Jagnandan. Satish, a math teacher, put his knowledge of geometry to good use and hit all the "right" angles. His quarterfinal opponent was Joe Durso who has his own PHD in handball. His serve and deft touch enabled him to dispose of Satish in an 11-3 tiebreaker.

That set up a semi-final match between Maisonet and Durso. Joe jumped out to a 9-1 lead, but it was all Ed from there on as Maisonet outscored Durso 20-1. In the second game, Joe couldn't hold on to a 13-7 lead and fell 21-17. A despondent Joe talked of retiring after the match; which raises the question "When should an athlete retire?" Athlete's are usually the last to admit that their skills are deteriorating. They always see themselves as eternally young and strong. I feel that Joe still has the desire to win and is still competitive. Plus, he is not in a sport like boxing or race car driving where a loss of reflexes can result in injury.

In the finals, Cesar opened with a succession of serves to Eddie's left. the strategy seemed to relax Sala and exploit Maisonet's weak opposite hand. Maisonet also appeared to be nervous and made many unforced errors resulting in a 21-5 victory for Cesar. In game two, Eddie who possesses perhaps the best one-two punch (serve and kill) in the game today pushed Cesar to the brink before falling short 21-18. A jubilant Sala held aloft his silver platter and drank in the cheers of an appreciative crowd.

Men's Open Doubles

In a scene from "The Natural" Robert Duvall, playing a sports writer, tells Robert Redford's character "Whether you are the hero or the goat tomorrow you will be a big story either way". Expectations were high, and Rookie exceeded them all as he and partner Dave Rojas captured the open doubles. The first time teaming up of Rojas and Wright proved to be a wise decision. Rojas's experience, earned through years of National and World competition, was just the steadying force that Rookie needed. Dave's knowledge and skill at playing the right side enabled him to anchor many championship teams.

Rojas/Wright were tested immediately by Bell/Lewis and needed to survive a tie-breaker to advance to the semis. Lonergan/Roberts followed the same path in their three game defeat of Carbuccia/Castro.

Rojas/Wright outlasted Lonergan/Roberts 21-18, 21-19 in a match which featured trademark incredible retrieves by Paul, pinpoint kills by Roberts, and tremendous all around play by Rojas/Wright.

Defending champs Kaplan/Sala began their assault on back-to-back titles by making short work of Retian/Vassall. Maisonet/Williams, whos names are prominent in the record books, beat multi-time champion Albert Apuzzi and his new partner Shawn Conrad. The power and speed of Kaplan/Sala was overwhelming in their 21-9, 21-12 defeat of Ed and Paul.

In the finals, Cesar and Joe opened out a 9-3 lead but failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities and fell 21-11. The second game was a seesaw affair which saw Kaplan/Sala take the serve at 18-16 but a failed shot by Kaplan and a killer by Rookie send the kids back to the long line. Dave and Rookie surged to a 21-18 victory and Rookie's 1st National Championship.

Women's Open Singles

"The women play amazing long topsy turvy edge of your seat points". That is a quote from a recent issue of Sports Illustrated on the exciting brand of tennis played on the women's tour. This quote would also describe the women's play at the Nationals. Local Tracy Davis overcame some flase starts and nervousness in previous tournaments to secure her first National title. She began her ascent to the finals with a convincing 21-10, 21-8 win over hard hitting Theresa McCourt. Former National Champion Dori Ten now stood in the path of Tracy's march to the finals and Davis had just suffered a loss to Ten in the Mayor's Cup. They are both built tall, thin and athletic. But today, youth was served and Tracy prevailed 21-6, 21-10. She would face McConney in the finals.

Karen, also a former National Singles Champion, had a perilous journey to the finals. She squeaked by rising star Brenda Pares 21-15, 21-13 and then survived a semifinal tiebreaker over the 97 World champion Sydell Smith.

Tracy came out strong and gained confidence with each point she scored against Karen. The match ended with a 21-14, 21-3 victory for Davis who has now joined the many National Champions from the legendary W5th Street handball courts.

There has been an explosion of women's sports in the last decade. It is hard to believe that just half a century ago women were frowned upon and even prevented from attending or participating in sporting contests. Now women are sharing the spotlight with their male counterparts. Venus Williams commands as much attention as Pete Sampras. Every girl playing soccer knows who Mia Hamm is. There was a time when a woman playing handball was a rare occurrence and she was considered a tomboy. Nowadays graceful, skillful and feminine women are competing in large numbers.

Women's Open Doubles

The women's events keep getting tougher every year. This year perennial finalists Canton-Jackson/Ten and Floyd/McConney just managed to avoid tie-breakers, over Davis/Pares and McCourt/Smith respectively, in route to thier annual clash in the finals.

McConney had won at the last three Nationals, with Adrian, and in the 1997 Worlds, with Smith. A victory this year would tie her, Adrian, Barbara, and Dori at four National Doubles titles. Barbara and Dori prevailed at the 2000 Worlds and Nationals and continue their reign as the "winningest" womens doubles team. Canton-Jackson and Ten need just one more title to catch Ruby Obert and Joe Durso at six and are rapidly approaching Albert Apuzzi's (who has a record eight). Is their any other husband and wife team with so many titles in any other sport? Maybe if Agassi marries Graf.

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