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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oregon State builds racquetball dynasty

Oregon State is rolling in success on the national stage, emerging as a budding dynasty in collegiate racquetball.

The Beavers - coached by Rob Durbin, the director of racquetball at Timberhill Athletic Club - have won five of the last six national combined championships.

"We've done pretty well," Durbin said. "This last year was kind of different - we graduated five really good players (last year), and I didn't know what I had."

What Durbin and OSU had - without scholarship assistance or NCAA sanctioning - was another loaded team.

The Beavers faced teams from Arizona State, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Colorado, California, Oregon, Texas Tech, Missouri, Texas A&M, Utah, Utah Valley State, Brigham Young and more than two dozen other univeristies and killed the competition.

Durbin took 13 players - seven women, six men - to the national tournament at Arizona State the first weekend of April. The women won their third straight championship, the men finished third behind Colorado State-Pueblo and Alabama, and their combined score put them ahead of Alabama for the overall crown.

OSU's run of success - starting with a championship in 2006 - has been built on a successful and vibrant junior and high school program in the state.

"I haven't really recruited, but the best of the best have come to Oregon State from different parts of the state," Durbin said. "We've had some local talent like Joey Lakowske, but more or less it's been the high schools being involved in racquetball."

Michael Carrington and Alyssa Asay have won six national team championships - two at Beaverton High and four at OSU - and the world's top junior player, Taylor Knoth, is the Beavers' No. 1 men's player. Knoth is a sophomore.

"What's nice is there's overlap now," Durbin said. "Not everyone graduates now.

"I emailed (university) President Ed Ray and let him know, this is not a scholarship sport, but people are coming to Oregon State now to play racquetball. People are paying tuition to come to OSU to play racquetball. They want to be a part of something."

It's not just the teen and 20 set, either. OSU's No. 1 women's singles player was 50-year-old Frossene King, who is pursuing a masters of fine arts.

"I've always loved racquetball," said King, who competed in gymnastics at BYU as an undergraduate. "It felt good to be back in a competitive environment and to push myself to see where I wound up."

King wound up winning the No. 1 singles blue division after dropping a second-round gold division match. Her maturity and Durbin's coaching helped mold the team.
"The college kids, I refined some things, but they have their talents," Durbin said. "I'm not teaching them the strokes or mechanics, but the strategy and approach and shot selection."

There was also the matter of taking the individuals and making them greater as a team. Players showed up and supported each other throughout the tournament, something that doesn't always happen at open tournaments.

"Taylor's a superstar, whatever tournament he is in, he's one of the top players," Durbin said. "He texted me afterward ‘That was the most fun I've had in college.' "

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