Racquetball opens MACRC season with solid showing at UNC Chapel Hill
After traveling to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill over Homecoming Weekend to compete in its first Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Racquetball Conference (MACRC) tournament of the fall semester, Liberty University’s racquetball team is hopeful that it can carry over the success it experienced last season.
“We always have goals that our students would like to achieve,” Head Coach Danny Rodriguez said. “On our team, we put God first. He’s our first goal, and then school’s our second goal. Racquetball’s just here for them to relieve stress. It’s the third thing on their list. If we try hard enough and train properly, I think we’ll be able to retain the (MACRC) conference championship.”
The Flames and Lady Flames both placed sixth at the USA Racquetball National Intercollegiate Championships in Tucson, Ariz., for a best-ever fifth-place combined finish in late March.
“We have a team of four women right now,” Rodriguez said. “We’d like to get more women, but … we have a full team of men, so we are very fortunate. We had a great team last year and we thought we were going to have to struggle this year, (but) we picked up a lot of new players that already knew how to play racquetball.”
Flames senior Trevor Melton and his playing partner, graduate Garrison Walker, are helping Rodriguez train the Flames and raise their competitiveness for tournament play.
“(We) are probably the only two that have several years of experience on the team now, so we’ve been trying to work to get the newer people up to a level that they can compete at, not just for the team, but for themselves,” Melton said. “They’re wanting to learn how to hit the shots that we can hit sometimes and to play at a higher, faster-pace level, because it’s more fun to do that.”
Fellow senior Sadie Barham said it has taken a while to get both the returning and new players up to speed, but they are enjoying the camaraderie within the team as they sharpen one another’s skills on the court.
“Coming off summer break, a lot of us (were) trying to work off some of the rust in our games, trying to get back into the swing of things,” Barham said. “It’s just a really sweet team culture. It’s a great team on the court (and) it’s a great team off the court, so I’m really happy to be here.”
Liberty opened its fall schedule with a strong showing at UNC Chapel Hill, with Melton and Walker combining to win the men’s Division 1-2 collegiate doubles draw and place second and fourth, respectively, in the men’s Division 1 singles bracket. Sophomore brothers Andrew and Alex Bugnacki finished fourth in Division 1-2 doubles and placed first and second, respectively, in the Division 2 Red and Gold brackets.
Meanwhile, junior Timothy Adams and sophomore Andrew Cook finished sixth in men’s Division 1-2 doubles play and fourth in the Division 2 Gold and Red brackets, respectively, while freshman Nathan Cook paired up with Malcolm Whitfield from the University of Virginia and placed third in the Division 4 doubles bracket. He also won the Division 4 Red singles bracket, as did graduate Zachary Cary in the Division 3 Red bracket, with junior Luke Hagberg placing third. Cary and Hagberg teamed up to win the Division 3 Red doubles draw.
Among women, Liberty posted two doubles and three singles third-place showings. Junior Sylvia Growden and Barham formed the third-place women’s Division 1 doubles team and senior Elisa Standridge and freshman Natalie Blank placed third in women’s Division 3-4 doubles. Standridge was runner-up in the Division 3-4 Red singles bracket while Barham (Division 1-2), Growden (Division 3-4 Gold), and Blank (Division 3-4 Red) each placed third.
Rodriguez and Assistant Coach Pamela Passburg teamed up to place second in the Coaches/Alumni Mixed Doubles division while Passburg joined UNC’s Laarni Lapat to win the women’s doubles bracket and also placed second in women’s singles.
The Flames and Lady Flames will travel to their second MACRC tournament from Nov. 11-13 at North Carolina State University.
Video edited by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Coordinator