Racquetball team combines for best-ever fifth-place team showing at nationals in Phoenix
The six-player men’s team and four-player women’s squad that represented Liberty University’s racquetball teams at last week’s USA Racquetball National Intercollegiate Championships in Tucson, Ariz., both finished sixth out of 21 teams competing for a program-best fifth-place combined showing.
The Flames totaled 526 points to finish behind Missouri (880), BYU (877), Northern Arizona (849), Oregon State (784), and Colorado State (670) in the men’s standings, while the women racked up 235 points to place behind Missouri (788), BYU (720), University of the Pacific (580), Oregon State (518), and Baldwin Wallace (Ohio, 460).
“That was the highest we’ve been at nationals,” said Liberty Head Coach Danny Rodriguez, who founded the program in 2012. “We have had many medalists in the past, but didn’t have as many players, so we didn’t place as high as a team, maybe 15th or 16th. It was a great experience and the players were excited when they realized they were generating a lot of team points with their top-four finishes.”
Individually, the Flames and Lady Flames had four players earn Intercollegiate All-America status by reaching the semifinals in their respective gold singles brackets or finals in the gold doubles divisions.
Evan Keener won a gold medal in the men’s Division 4 Gold singles bracket to return as an All-American along with fellow senior Trevor Melton, who finished fourth in Division 3, junior Sadie Barham, who placed fourth in women’s Division 3 round robin singles, and graduate Garrison Walker, who joined Melton in winning a silver medal in Division 2 doubles, as well as placing second in Division 2 Red bracket singles.
“Evan (Keener) is a new player and this was his first nationals and he was able to win a gold medal, which is big,” Rodriguez said, noting that Keener was the program’s first gold bracket national champion. “He said ‘I wish I’d known about the team sooner. I would have joined right away.’”
Other top-six finishers included women’s Division 1 Red doubles silver medalists Danielle Passburg, a junior, and senior Ivana Quintanilla; men’s junior Division 5 Red bracket runner-up Timothy Adams; the women’s Division 2 round robin doubles duo of Barham and freshman Paige Jordan, who also placed sixth in Division 4 round robin singles; and graduate Seth Jordan, who finished fourth in the Division 1 Blue singles bracket and teamed with Keener to place fifth in Division 1 Red doubles.
Passburg also placed third in Division 2 Red singles and Quintanilla finished fourth in Division 1 Red singles. Freshman Andrew Cook placed fifth in Division 6 Red singles play and teamed with Adams to take sixth in Division 3 doubles.
“Everyone except for (Cook) got a medal (for a top-four finish), and he just started playing this year,” Rodriguez said. “We are losing a lot of players, so it was good to send out the seniors with a good experience at nationals.”
He is hopeful that the team can travel to compete in next month’s fourth and final Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Racquetball Conference (MACRC) tournament at UNC Chapel Hill, with Liberty’s men’s team currently in first place and its women second in the team standings for a combined lead on runner-up UNC and third-place North Carolina State.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer