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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

UConn Racquetball

When Jonathan Bailey wakes up in his dorm room in Towers, he knows there’s one thing he needs to do before anything else – call the student recreation facility.

“Whenever we wake up, we just get on the phone and start calling the cage,” Bailey said.
Bailey, a 6th-semester chemical engineering major, is president of the club racquetball team at UConn. He and vice president Prasant Venimadhavan, a 6th-semester accounting and math-stats double major, know they need to get 15 team members to call the gym if they want their typical request of three courts for three hours for practices on Monday, Thursday and Friday.

“We have to call 15 different times to reserve,” Venimadhavan said. “They don’t let student organizations reserve courts. It was kind of annoying at first, but we eventually got used to the idea.”

The UConn club racquetball team joined the echelon of club-status in February 2009 after being a student organization known as “Club Racquetball” for a year before that.

Both Bailey and Venimadhaven had never previously played competitive racquetball before coming UConn. They were simply recreational players, playing at the YMCA club in their hometown, Norwalk, Conn. and even that was an event of chance.

“I was signing up for the YMCA just to use it as a gym and I happened to walk by and some people were playing racquetball,” Bailey said. “I said, ‘that looks like fun.’”

The idea to form a UConn organization came when Bailey and Venimadhavan were playing racquetball at school, where they eventually met several other racquetball players.
“We started trading contact info with people who were kind of serious about it and from there we got a student organization started,” Bailey said.

After coming together as an organization, the team went out and got the one thing every team needs – a coach.

When USG granted funding to the team for a coach, Bailey and company hired Russell Palazzo.

According to USA Raquetball, Palazzo is ranked No. 412 in the country, even as a 60-year-old man.

“He’s won five gold medals in his age group in the national championships,” Venimadhavan said. “He’s 60-something years old, but he still kicks all of our asses.”
The team, headlined by eight men and four women, competed in several competitions within the Eastern Collegiate Racquetball Conference (ECRC) this year and entered the National event held at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO.

In the national event, UConn competed against other Division I schools. A team’s standing is based on what Division their school’s basketball or football program falls into.
The team finished in 17th place overall, and placed better than any other team from the ECRC who competed at the national event.

“It was a lot of tough competition because out in the west, kids start playing at age 10 and by the time they get to our age, they’re nasty,” Venimadhavan said. “For our first year, we did really well. Considering this is our first nationals event and we placed best of our conference, it really shows how we’ll do in the conference next year.”

Both Bailey and Venimadhavan attributed the team’s success this year to Palazzo.
“Once we got the coach, we started skyrocketing with our improvement,” Bailey said.
“Coach has been the biggest factor,” Venimadhavan said. “I don’t think we would have been top four in any of the tournaments we went to if it weren’t for coach.”

With this season coming to a close, the team is actively searching for recruits to join both the men’s and women’s club racquetball teams. Bailey said that with most of the team being upperclassmen, there are many open spots on the teams that he’s looking to fill with underclassmen.

Kierstan Lurcott, a junior human development and family studies major and captain of the women’s racquetball team, was especially excited to bring in new players.

“I can’t figure out what I did last semester before I started playing [racquetball] all the time,” Lurcott said. “It’s really fun. One of the things coach always tells us is that it’s a life sport. I hope I can be as nasty as him when I’m old.”

By Marc Gauthier-The Daily Campus

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