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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lewis tourney draws top pros in South Dakota

Jack Huczek and Rocky Carson have gone from upstart phenoms in the world of racquetball to seasoned professionals.

Glimpses of their rise have been seen on a nearly annual basis in Sioux Falls, where both will compete in the 32nd annual Lewis Drug Pro-Am tournament today through Sunday at the downtown YMCA.

Carson, 30, is a southern California native who played in his first Lewis event nine years ago. Huczek, 27, a Michigan native now living in Texas, made his Lewis debut eight years ago.

Rivals one minute and doubles partners the next, both players have held the International Racquetball Tour No. 1 ranking at times in their careers.

They have carved out separate legacies side-by-side within the racquetball world. This weekend's event is the latest chapter in a very long book.
"We've played a lot of matches against each other - I really couldn't guess how many," Huczek said. "And we've had a lot of tough matches. We're similar in age - both of us would still be considered young guys, I hope - and we both play with a lot of charisma and passion. I think it's a joy to watch. We both leave it all on the court."

Seven of the top 31 IRT players are competing in doubles and singles at the Lewis tournament. Shane Vanderson, Ben Croft and Andy Hawthorne join Huczek and Carson in the top 10.

Though singles battles between Huczek and Carson have been contentious at times over the years, the rivals maintain a doubles partnership both at the Lewis and on the tour.
They're the reigning national champions as doubles players and have annually used the Lewis as a tuneup for that event.

"He's a great guy to play because he's honest - he doesn't try to take anything he doesn't earn," Carson said of Huczek. "He doesn't say much out there, but when he does it usually puts a smile on my face."
It's common in racquetball for singles competitors to be involved in a heated match against each other one minute and pals the next in a doubles match. But it doesn't automatically work out.

"We're both professionals," Huczek said. "We've been able to leave what happens in singles on the court. We're pretty good at switching gears and taking care of a doubles match."

It has been an annual joke among people close to the tournament that the temperature drops the minute Carson, who has lived in southern California his whole life, gets off the plane in Sioux Falls.
This year, with high temperatures in the teens expected, nothing has changed.

"The people are the reason I come back here," Carson said. "I have real problems with the weather, otherwise I'd probably come back more often. It's refreshing, though, to be around all the good people out here when you're someone from California."
Huczek, who has finished first or second in every tournament he's entered this season, will come in as the favorite - a status he's held coming into the event for all but the first year he entered.

"The event has great sponsors in people like (Lewis Drug president) Mark Griffin and (Howalt-McDowell president) Jeff Scherschligt," Huczek said. "I've developed a fan base in South Dakota by coming back every year, and the tournament people have become my friends."


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