Community Sports

2 local high schoolers qualify for National Racquetball Team

Meridian’s Jake Birnel and Lynden Christian’s Hollie Scott qualified for the U.S. Junior National Racquetball Team and have secured places at the Junior World Championships. They will be representing the United States in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic from November 8-14.

The two athletes will be going to Junior Training Camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado from August 6-11.

Birnel and Scott competed to earn one of the 28 places on the national team in Stockton, California from June 24-28 at USA Racquetball’s 42nd Annual U.S. National Junior Olympic Championship.

Champions were declared in each group for singles and doubles matches. It was a full five days of playing as 191 participants, in different divisions, met each other in match after match to narrow down the winners.

“It was extremely busy,” said Steve Czarnecki, executive director of USA Racquetball. “We had wall-to-wall racquetball, some days from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

Many players competed in more than one division and therefore doubled or even tripled their playing time, Czarnecki said.

Scott, 16, qualified as the Girls’ 18-and-under Doubles Gold Champion. For the same age group, Birnel,17, was the Boys’ Doubles Gold Champion.

“There is a lot of strategy to (racquetball),” Scott said. “It’s a fun game. It’s very aggressive and sometimes people play dirty, but it’s very fast and I love it.”

Playing in a division with girls two years older than her does not intimidate Scott at all.

“It’s a great experience to play against all those girls. There were more girls there this year than before,” she said.

Scott went to the junior world championships two years ago when they were held in Sucre, Bolivia. She has been playing racquetball for 11 years, since she was 5. Her father introduced her to the sport after other activities for 5-year-olds bored her, she said.

With every intention of continuing to play, Scott said she is beginning to look for college scholarships and wants to compete on the collegiate level.

Birnel has been playing racquetball since he was 4 years old. For as long as he can remember, hardly a day goes by without playing.

“It is an experience unlike anything else I do,” he said. “It’s a racquetball family.”

Qualifying for the national team again this year was a huge milestone for Birnel, who was an alternate for the team last year, he said.

Winning doubles in a come-from-behind win in a tiebreaker match in Stockton, was exciting and he is proud of what he was able to accomplish, Birnel said.

His doubles partner, Sam Bredenbeck, was the overall winner in both singles and doubles for the 18-and-under division. Having such a strong player to compete alongside again for the world championship is part of what makes the experience so positive, Birnel said.

The competition is Olympic format, meaning everyone begins in the Gold division and stays there as long as they win. If a player loses, they drop down to the Blue, Red or White divisions, which are consolation divisions aimed at giving athletes the opportunity to continue competing.

Birnel and Scott both competed in USA Racquetball competitions before, and are remembered for their impressive accomplishments in past years, Czarnecki said. Birnel was also on the 2013 U.S. Junior National Racquetball team and went to the championships in Bolivia.

At the training camp for the world championship, Birnel was the overall champion of the boys’ tournament. At 16, he won against all the age groups, even men as old as 19. This was an extremely impressive accomplishment, Czarnecki said.

“They are really remarkable athletes,” he said. “Both have great attitudes and work ethics and contribute to the team as players and teammates.”

The world championship will not just be about competition, but it is a good international youth development experience, Czarnecki said.

“It is the top of junior racquetball, competing against players all across the world,” he said. “These players will get the opportunity of a lifetime, to experience another country, to experience international competition and learn about another part of the world and the people there.”