BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Gustavo “Tavo” Ruiz became the new Men’s Pro Singles Wallball ball champion on Sunday with a dominant performance in the final, defeating Nazir “Naz” Marston, 25-11.
Both players were making their first appearance in a Men’s Singles National final. Ruiz’s years of experience proved to be the difference, as he calmly raced out to a 20-1 lead against the 21-year-old Marston. Despite the deficit, Marston didn’t get upset or argue calls. A timeout helped him regroup and he scored his first points since the early moments of the final. While supporters, hoping for a miracle, cheered Marston on, Ruiz calmly maintained his play to win his first National title.
The Women’s Pro Singles final, featuring a matchup between Jenny Qu and Melanie Garate was dedicated In Memory to Dr. Raquel Sophia Murphy Barnes. USHA Vice President Jared Vale made the announcement and cited her dedication to growing the sport on a national and international level. Once play began, defending champion Qu held off Gerate, 25-11.
In the Women’s Pro Doubles final, sisters Melanie and Jessenia Garate upended defending champions Jenny Qu and Danielle Daskalakis, 25-17.
A completely new lineup of teams competed in the Men’s Pro Doubles final. Cory Vadala and Mikey Mendoza concluded their tremendous weekend run, defeating Chris Miranda and David Velez, 25-7. Vadala and Mendoza started and finished strong, while Velez and Miranda struggled to generate offense. Miranda, nursing a nagging arm injury, was visibly hindered. Yet even a healthy opponent would have had trouble challenging the team Vadala/Mendez onslaught.
In the Men’s B Singles, Manuel Caraballo was the class of the draw, first earning the top seed, then backing it up with excellent play through four rounds. Caraballo held off Maspeth’s Juan Carlos in a tightly contested final, 25-20.
Nicholas Pappas and Mohamad Mansi were held to single digits in last year’s B Doubles final. This year, the team from Flushing earned the top seed and defeated the Bronx team of Jahsheed Petersen and Joey Gonzalez, 25-20. The entire match was contentious and close with some playful banter between rallies–the difference being Pappas and Mansi executing the shots needed to get to match point.
In the Women’s B Singles, Michelle Clara defeated Shantel Mena, 25-22 in one of the day’s most entertaining finals. Mena looked smooth against all challengers, and pushed Clara to the limit; however, playing in her second consecutive B final, Clara was not to be denied the championship.
The day earlier, in the Women’s B Doubles, Clara and partner Vanessa Louie couldn’t break through against Kayla Paredes and Myohwa Hwee. Playing at the indoor Zerega location, Hwee and Paredes won the title 21-17.
In the Men’s 40-plus final, Alex Rivera held 23-17 edge against Yuber “Pee Wee” Castro, but the two-time Small Ball Men’s Singles Champion gained a side out and began a serving clinic. Rivera could only watch as Castro’s overhand power serve quickly tightened to match to a 23-23 tie. Instead of folding under pressure, Rivera regained the serve and scored the final two points for the championship.
In the Men’s 40-plus Doubles, Robert “Iceman” Sostre returned to Nationals competition and teamed with William Polanco to defeat George Figueroa and Ray Lopez, 25-16.
Figueroa and Lopez paired to win the 50-plus Doubles over Phil Amato and Darwin Lee, 25-16.
On late afternoon Saturday, Jose Olivencia avenged last year’s final loss and defeated the defending 50-plus singles champion Ronald Beard, 21-18.
In the Men’s 60-plus final, Richard Mascia stopped Abe Mantell, 21-5.
In the first-ever Women’s Seniors (35-plus) Doubles division, Erica Mendez and Karen McConney defeated Elaine Gillard and Shena Brown, 21-12 for the championship.
With the USHA Summer Board Meeting being held prior to the tournament, many of the board members stayed and watched the action. USHA President Denis Hogan was on hand for the entire tournament, taking in the Wallball Nationals for the first time, while chatting it up with players and supporters throughout the weekend.
For the first two days, rain dampened the streets and courts of New York, but not the spirit of the players! A huge “thank you” goes to Mel Sky and Isaias Rivera of the Bronx’s Zerega Indoor Courts. Matches hummed along on the facility’s five regulation one-wall courts.
Always ready with a plan, USHA Vice President Jared Vale moved all Masters division matches to an outdoor (but dry) location at Francis Lewis Park under the Whitestone Bridge. The move was crucial to get matches done at a reasonable time with the option to play outdoors at Coney Island on the final day.
Thank you to Jared, Castle Hill’s Richie Vera, China Pizarro for amazing court management, Joanne Ly for outstanding help at Whitestone and beyond, all the referees, plus One-Wall Committee members, Alethia Mendez, William Polanco, and Anthony Jones. Special thank you to Albert Apuzzi and photographer Jose Davila. Finally, a big shout out to all the players who cooperated and made sure to hustle to each venue as we adjusted on the fly.
Watch the Men’s Pro Singles final HERE.
Final results posted HERE.
Players resiliently changed their routes to Coney Island and made it to the new site to compete for a chance to play in Championship Sunday’s finals. Matches were played to 21-point games (usually a wallball match is played to one 25-point game) to accommodate the smaller court capacity and disrupted schedule. Masters divisions moved to a nearby location at Francis Lewis Park, playing on the dry courts underneath the Whitestone Bridge.
A new Men’s Wallball Champion will be crowned this year when Gustavo Ruiz faces Nazir Marston in Sunday’s final. Through each round, both players increased their intensity and delivered amazing shots and unmatched athleticism that brought loud cheers to the Zerega facility.
“Tavo” Ruiz’s first hurdle was to get through David Velez in the quarterfinals. Each player was locked in, but Velez was flying all over the court making amazing returns that frustrated Tavo. Building a 19-10 lead, Ruiz was poised to advanced to the semifinals, but a focused Tavo started chipping away at his opponent’s lead. The Zerega crowd grew louder with each Tavo point as the pair reached a 20-20 tie. Knowing the next shot could send one player packing and one to the semifinals, the intensity for each ensuing rally grew. After an exchange of side outs, Tavo delivered a winning shot to the left that a diving Velez nearly reached. A gracious Velez applauded his opponent before they share a post-match handshake.
Tavo, clearly motivated by his near defeat in the quarters, wasn’t fazed in facing defending champion Tywan Cook in the semifinals. Cook did all he could to muster points, but Tavo rolled, 21-9, to punch his ticket to the National final.
On the other side of the draw, through three rounds, nobody could touch “Naz” Marston. His toughest test was facing 2022 finalist Josh Garcia, and he delivered a 21-15 win. In the semifinal, Marston found himself in a battle against Hector “Pito” Velez. With the day’s humidity increasing, players went through soaked shirts and gloves, while referee Larry DuBois watched for slides and wet spots on the floor. Pito thrived in the conditions, racing to a 19-12 lead, making the match’s remaining points a mere formality for the inevitable. Naz wasn’t ready to concede and found a new gear as a raucous crowd cheered his renewed efforts. Naz went on a 8-0 run to reach match point before Pito would score another point to reach a 20-20 deadlock. Serving for the match, Pito delivered an out serve that stunned the crowd. On the ensuing Naz serve, Pito returned the ball wide.
The Men’s final is scheduled for 12:30 EDT at Coney Island on Sunday.
See the draws and results HERE.