Beauties, Beasts, And The Canadian Nationals… cont’d

Last week in part one of this edition, we heard from some of the top Canuck players who competed at last month’s tournament in Kelowna. There are some good developments happening for individual players and for pb communities in our country and that was evident by the strong showing by some of our Canadian pickleheads.

We also had an interview with Seattle player Chris Miller, who has been coming to the Canadian Nationals since the inaugural tournament at Abbotsford in 2012. I am intrigued by the great level of play that takes place south of the border, so this week we will hear from more of the American players that dazzled the galleries in medal play at our Nationals.

* First up is another one of the star players that hails from the Seattle area. He is hitting for the ”cycle”  in open MD play at the Can Nats – he took the gold in 2014, bronze in 2015 and silver this year. Let’s hear from:

Glenn Griffin

1. In men’s doubles at last year’s Canadian Nationals you were partnered with Steve Wong. You guys settled for a bronze medal after a close match against Brian Ashworth and Vonnie Major…In this year’s MD contest you were teamed with the Beard. You two won a tight semi finals versus Larry Moon and Peter Hudachko and then lost a two game finals versus Wes Gabrielsen and Steve Dawson…I watched quite a few of the men’s games and was amazed at the speed and skill level of the players. Overall, were you pleased with way Brian and you played in your matches?

GG – I was pleased with the way Brian and I played. Getting silver is always bittersweet, because you always want to win the final match, but you have to keep in perspective that there were a lot of good teams that would have been happy to be in our place. Wes and Steve played really well and they deserved to win. I’ll just try to improve and play better next time.

2. The Seattle area guys that you get to play and practice with are a very solid and talented group. How many hours do you play in a normal week and what is the atmosphere like?

GG – The Seattle group I play with is great. I’m a firm believer that you need to play against people better than you in order to get better. I’m fortunate that there are plenty of people in my area that are better than me that I can learn from and compete against on a weekly basis. I normally play 2 days a week, and usually 6-8 hours total.

* Thanks for that Glenn, I thought I would give the link to a video that is composed of 4 of the regulars from your practice group:-)… It took place in May 2015 at the Pacific NW Classic in Centralia….Glenn is wearing the blue tee and is playing with Brian Ashworth vs Lavon Major who is wearing red and Chris Miller who is wearing a dark blue tee.

https://youtu.be/vwg_Bk27KWM



 

I like to interview competitors who are relatively new to our sport and this next interviewee won a bronze medal in MX open doubles play in her first appearance at Kelowna. Although this player is from the beauty category there is a touch of beast in the way she can hit the ball. Introducing…

Bonnie Williams

1. Bonnie, I think your hometown is the pb hotbed of Portland…How long have you played and who got you into pickleball?

BW – Yes – I believe you’re right. The Portland area is blessed with awesome pickleball talent….I have been playing pickleball for a little over a year now. The word, ”pickleball”, was first uttered to me several years ago by my tennis partner. The name sounded so silly that I didn’t even bother to look up the sport on YouTube. Then last year, a friend and co-worker, Oscar Garcia, got me to physically try the sport at our local gym. So, I hold Oscar responsible for starting my addiction:-), but…it didn’t hurt that Wesley, Christine, Joy and Sarah were all acquaintances from the tennis court.

2. In the open MX bracket, you and Dalton Vavra got past some top teams (e.g. Kim Jagd, Morgan Evans…Chris Miller, Jennifer Lucore) to get a bronze medal. How would you rate the playing chemistry between Dalton and yourself?

BW – I can only speak for myself…Dalton is a terrific partner not to mention a lovely, positive person. He is quick footed, has fast hands and is incredibly patient for someone so young. That’s a darn good list of qualities that could pretty well accentuate anyone’s play. I have the tendency to hit hard which can get some partners into a bit of trouble. However, Dalton’s abilities allow me to play my game and I find the combination/chemistry to be rather effective.

* Thanks Bonnie, and good luck at the TOC…I noticed you are teaming up with Dan Moore – you like the young guns?:-)

BW – Thank you, Doug…I am very much looking forward to playing with Daniel. It is my style of play that require the young guns…that is until I can better learn the softer and more patient side of the game…All the best, Bonnie.


 

* This video link is from singles play at last year’s US Nationals…The youthful looking pair of Alex Hamner and Bonnie Williams are playing in the 50+ bracket. Bonnie is the all black player – top, cap and leggings…

https://youtu.be/eoQ88JAZ5Nc


 

* I think Bonnie’s playing partner Dalton Vavra is also fairly new to pickleball because there are not a lot of his videos on YouTube…This short link is from last spring’s International Indoor tourney at Centralia, Wa…. Dalton is featured in the first point, and is the player sporting the orange tee. Kurtis Campbell, who won a bronze in men’s singles at Kelowna, is in the second part of the video and is sporting a black tee.

https://youtu.be/ps6DLYDXV54



 

* Our next star could have his own reality show…not because of all the scandal and controversy surrounding him, but because of all the layers to his life story. He has won a lot of medals in his short pb career including 2 gold medals at the Canadian Nationals, but there is a lot more you should know about this fellow, so let’s get started with…

Steve Dawson

1. Steve, you are the owner of the Bobby Riggs facility in Encinitas, Ca…. I believe the space was originally only for tennis. How long have you had pickleball courts at Bobby Riggs?

SD – My wife Jennifer and I are owners of Bobby Riggs Tennis Club and we were both ITF world tennis champions who have embraced the sport of pickleball. In the 2 years we have owned the club, pickleball has steadily grown from 3 taped courts on weekend afternoons only, to 4 permanent courts on a stadium setting, with 6 pickleball courts with multipurpose lines, and 13 that are dotted for taping whenever needed.

2. This year was your first visit to the Canadian Nationals and you won 2 gold medals with your MD and MX+50 doubles partners. How did you enjoy your time in Kelowna and your matches with Wes Gabrielsen and Gigi LeMaster?

SD – It is impossible to go to Kelowna and not enjoy the city, it is impossible to play pickleball and not enjoy it, and it is doubly impossible to play with Wes Gabrielsen and Gigi leMaster and not enjoy it, especially when winning!

3. At last year’s US Nationals you won a silver medal in men’s doubles while competing with your son Callan…Is Callan going to come with you to Canada next year? Your son Tyler and your wife Jennifer are also top players. Are they coming to Kelowna for next year’s event?

SD – I hope to bring my family back next summer to enjoy the experience, wine, hiking, blueberries, honey, cherries, apricots and micro brews.

* Great news Steve…Thanks for the info and good luck at the TOC with your partner Dan Gabenek.


 

* This video link shows a chunk of the Dawson pb clan. It is from rec play at the Bobby Riggs facility. Steve, wearing a white tee, is partnered with his son Tyler, who is dressed in a yellow shirt . On the other side are Bret Bucher and Bob Richland.

https://youtu.be/5xstCWtvb4c



* My next guest was mentioned in the player profile I did with Sarah Ansboury in the July 5th and 20th editions, and in her own profile edition last February 19th…This ‘Queen of the Dink’ has won a trunkload of medals since winning 3 golds at the Grand Canyon State Games in 2011. She has a lot of fans because of her outgoing personality, and I had many great conversations with her when a group of us were sharing a suite at Lake Okanagan Resort last month. Let’s say hi to…

Gigi LeMaster

1. Gigi, you had a long visit at Kelowna this year…The 5 day teaching clinic with Sarah Ansboury at Lake Okanagan Resort, competing and winning 2 gold medals at the Canadian Nationals and an extra day of private teaching at the Parkinson courts…Did you enjoy your time in Canuck land?

GLM – Not a bad week, hey:-) What a great way to get me back into the pickleball groove after spending two months in Belgium. Although the weather gods tried to interfere, nobody was deterred by a little rain and the clinic as well as the tournament ran smoothly. I love the Canuck hospitality and the top competition the Canadian Nationals offers.

2. You and Sarah Ansboury have done well when you team up together, 5 gold medals including WD gold in this year’s Canadian nationals. What can you say about the Kelowna match and the synergy you have had with Sarah in the last year?

GLM – Sarah and I have a great on and off court relationship which makes for a fun experience when competing together. We are fortunate to have won the US Nationals, Canadian Nationals and everything in between we have played together. She is a phenomenal player and will continue to make history with different partners….This year’s Canadian Nationals Open Women’s doubles event certainly brought some challenges with plenty of rain interruptions. Hard to get into a rhythm, and Christine B. & Joy L. are always tough competitors, but at the end of a long day which ended at 11pm, we took the gold in two games with 11-4, 11-7 scores.

3. You also won gold with Steve Dawson in the MX senior’s bracket. I enjoyed watching you two play together. Like you, he is also good with the soft game. Did you enjoy hitting with Steve?

GLM – How much fun was that! I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. Steve is a very smart, funny, patient partner. I really enjoyed playing with him.

* Thanks Gigi, and good luck in the Bend, Or. tourney (Aug 12-14)…I hear you are playing there with Sarah.

GLM – Yes, and with Steve Dawson as well. I’m pretty excited! Thanks Doug and my best to you, Pam and your family.


 

* This match is from last spring’s LeMaster-Davison Classic. Gigi LeMaster, in the white tee, and Dave (the Badger) Weinbach are playing against Steve Wong and Jennifer Dawson (Steve’s wife)….I think Gigi is the  ”pickleballest” of the top players – that’s because she doesn’t come from a tennis background. She had to find out what worked for her without any preconceived notions….In this video you can learn something by keeping an eye on her dinking skills and her other great move – the cross court drop shot.

https://youtu.be/LK2Tld7O3_s



* Alright, I am getting pumped up! Let’s hear from the next top player who is shaping up to be a pickleball super star! He has that right combination of talent and charisma that makes him a fan favourite…This young man is also an engaging pb writer, which is quite an accomplishment considering he is only 21. Without further delay let’s get the word from:

Kyle Yates

1. Kyle, this was your first Canadian Nationals…On the first day of the tournament you had a long (rain delayed) days play to take the top prize in men’s singles. Your finals was a tough 4 game set versus Morgan Evans…You had some highs and lows in your matches, how did it feel when you finally won the day?

KY – Yes, there was a rain delay that lasted several hours. They are inevitable and everyone has to deal with them. What makes rain an issue is refocusing. When the match is about to start, it takes energy to prepare, warm up, and focus for the matches. I was excited to play singles that day because it was first tournament back after the US Open a month prior. I felt good about my game and some improvements I had made that month and so I was anxious to play. It was a long, cold day but I made it through my first couple of rounds feeling good. I was confident with my shots and was looking forward to a possible gold medal. However, things don’t always go as planned…My 3rd round match was against Kurtis Campbell (22) out of Oregon. I had never played singles vs him before, but I was familiar with his style and skill set and knew it would be a great test. I didn’t take him lightly. I got off to a great start and took a big lead early. Sometime around the halfway point of the match, he stepped up his game. He caught fire and started making unbelievable plays and came back to steal it from me. It was a great match that ended 16-14 for Kurtis. Needless to say I was disappointed, not for losing to Kurtis, but because I felt that my intensity dropped after I built my lead. Rookie mistake, and he made me pay for it….Now I was in the back draw and needed to play several more matches just to make it to the medal stand. I had to beat Chris Miller (2 time Open singles National champ), then Tyson McGuffin (Indoor Nationals singles champ), and finally Kurtis again in the bronze match. At this point I felt I was tested enough. I had proved that I deserved a medal – my confidence was back after my previous couple of big wins over singles specialists. I didn’t let up against Kurtis and won the match 15-1. I wish I had done that the first time, but it was more fun to succeed the hard way….I was in the finals against Morgan Evans, possibly a top 5 singles player in the country, who I had had some success against in the past. Unfortunately, this time I needed to beat him twice. It had been a long day with some gruelling matches. I felt confident enough in my shots and my body to get through the match. The first game I came out firing. I wanted to set the tone, prove that I meant business and was going to fight all the way through. The first game was over quickly – 11 to 2, I think. However, drama would ensue. The rain delay had pushed us back several hours to where it was getting dark. We were moved to a different court, one with lights. This was an annoyance that we, as players, would rather not have to deal with, but we are professionals and we are both affected equally. After adjusting to the new lights, court surface, and new net, Morgan and I resumed play. The first game on the new court was a battle. Morgan took the game 11-9, sending us to a game 3 and rekindling his hopes of finishing me in the first match…I had other plans. At the changeover, I ate some snacks and tried to raise my energy level (it was getting late by now). I could feel some cramping settling in my legs but I focused on my movement and placing the ball. I took the third game, forcing a game to a 15 final match. At this point, it was anybody’s title. I was getting nervous about the cramping but I knew I was close to the finish line…Going into the game to 15, I knew it was important to get a good lead at the start. Momentum plays a big role. Again, things don’t always go as planned. I recall him being up 6-0 or 6-1 in a hurry. I told myself to weather the storm and try to claw back into the game and give myself some chance of pulling off a run near the end….That’s what I did. I clawed back down 1-6 to take the lead at 8-7 and we switched sides. That run was all I needed to snag that elusive ”momentum”. My leg cramps were irrelevant. I was focused and wanted to finish off the run. I won 15-8… As soon as the last point was played and I saw his shot land a few inches long, I dropped to the ground. I fell in relief that the day was over, and disbelief at what I had accomplished. I had never ”double dipped” in a singles tournament – although coming close a couple of times. It was a great feeling to see the hard work pay off. There were several times throughout the day, and other tournaments, where I had or would have given up and not put up a fight…It was rewarding for me to see what I was capable of…It’s been a roller coaster and there has been some pretty low ”lows” in this sport for me, but this was a nice ”high”.

2. Your other gold medal was in mixed doubles. Your teammate was Sarah Ansboury…What can you say about your partner that helped you two win the gold together?

KY – Well first off, I really enjoyed playing with Sarah. I wasn’t 100% that day and she was very encouraging and accommodating for me. She’s so tough – but that’s only a small part of what makes her a champion. Her pickleball IQ, her competitive IQ, her willingness to adapt to all situations, all helped us pull off the gold. We were tested in the finals, losing 2 games quickly to Wes and Christine. Before the game to 15, Sarah said some words to me that really fired me up and got our energy level back to power us through for the gold. Above all else, she’s a great partner and that, to me, is why she can’t stop winning everything!

* Thanks Kyle, you have a flair for sports writing…How are things going for you in Seattle? (Kyle is from Florida and has been checking things out in Washington State)…Also, I noticed you are partnered with Wes and Corrine (Carr) at the TOC..cool!

KY – I love Seattle…Yes I think we will do well.



 

* The library of pickleball on YouTube has lots of entries with Kyle Yates in them…He is young in years but, in relative terms, a veteran when you compare his experience to many of the top tournament players. I had lots of videos to choose from, but the one below is from this year’s LeMaster-Davison Classic…Kyle is in a match with Morgan Evans – the same player he ended up competing with in the singles finals of the Canadian Open.

https://youtu.be/xnTVql1JjLg



 

*  The next player has been on the podium at the Canadian Nationals in every year she has competed (2013-2016)…I interviewed her in the June 30th edition of CC and I included the links to her WD and MX finals from last years tournament. I was excited to meet her in person at this years event and I sent her a few questions for this edition…. Here is the lady that I think of as a pickleball wizard:

Christine Barksdale

1. Hi Christine…The open WD bracket at the Canadian Nationals was quite a contest this year…. You and your partner, Joy Leising, had to get past the team of Jennifer Lucore and Tonja Majors in order to make it to the finals. Joy and you won that close 3 game match and then faced Gigi LeMaster and Sarah Ansboury in the gold medal match. Because of the rain delay it was a late evening contest…At that point. how was your energy level after all the preliminary matches?

CB – It was definitely late when we began the gold medal match. Quite honestly, I believe Sarah to be the better player, so winning that match while fresh would have been challenging. Having barely defeated a solid team in Jennifer and Tonja, I was mentally drained but we tried our best to make it a fun match for the spectators.

2. You also got to the finals in the MX bracket. Wes Gabrielsen and yourself won the first 2 games and then Sarah Ansboury and Kyle Yates won the last 15 point game. I was watching the games and I thought Wes and you were playing ”crazy well” together…Were you happy with your performance?

CB – We got to the game to 15 thanks to Wes’s amazing pickleball skills. I have always said I am like a hood ornament when we partner up. I felt like I did my part but when Wes plays like the way he did that day, he makes my job easy.

3. Looking ahead Christine, can you talk about your new job and moving away from the Portland area?

CB – I am excited about my position with the USAPA. When I moved to the PNW I never imagined I would live there for 15 years! I have some amazing friends in the Portland area that I will miss, but I am ready for some major life changes.

* Happy pickleball trails Christine…I included your 2 gold medal matches at the 2015 Canadian Nationals in the June 30th edition of my blog….The link below is an interview with Chris and Kim Tollenar from the Columbia River PB Club site:

https://youtu.be/QpE_2dgEhpo



 

* My last interviewee is on a good start to being crowned as this year’s King of the Pb Court…As well as being a winning player he has been helpful to me by sharing his insights into the game…Introducing a super player and a friend to me and my blog:

Wes Gabrielsen

1. Wes, you won a gold medal in men’s doubles at Kelowna and your partner was Steve Dawson. When I watched you guys competing, I was impressed with how well Steve was doing at the kitchen line with his soft game. How important would you say good dink shots are in top level tournament play?

WG – Steve is a great person and a stellar player. It makes it easy to play with someone and really enjoy it, when they have both of these qualities. Steve has the incredible ability to dink well and play a power game when needed. Steve’s goal in our matches was to dink the other team until they dropped or I could get a ball to put away. He was a mental and physical wall and was very resilient. Dink shots are absolutely essential for success in major top level tournament play. Having the patience and shot tolerance to outlast your opponent is key in our sport.

2. You were competing in the MX finals with your pal Christine Barksdale…It was an exciting match and the crowd was appreciative of the skillful play. Chris and you took the first two games but Kyle Yates and Sarah Ansboury rallied in the 15 pointer to take the gold. When I watch a match like that, I wonder what is the best psychology going forward…Do you think of how well you did to get in the golden games or do you think of things you want to work on improving for your next event?

WG – Yes…Chris and I played with different partners this tournament season for most events, so it was fun to team up with my great friend again for another tournament. We had won this tournament the past two years so we thought we would attempt to make it three in a row. Christine played out of her mind all day – digging out tough shots and doing an excellent job of setting me up for put away shots in each and every match we played in. I was very pleased with our level of play, our opponents just kicked it up a notch in the final game to 15. Hats off to them for a great set of adjustments and for staying mentally tough after we had won the first two matches in the gold round.

3. There was a great field of top competitors at this year’s Canadian Nationals. I know you play in a lot of tournaments, so as a connoisseur, how would you rate the Kelowna tournament and is there anything that you think the directors could do to improve next year’s event?

WG – Yes. Ever since my first Canadian Nationals in 2014 (Abbotsford), the field has gotten stronger and stronger each year. It’s a true parallel for the expanding nature of talent in our great sport. The Canadian Nationals in Kelowna is one of my top 5 favourite tournaments to play in. I absolutely love the venue, the area, the depth of competition, but most importantly, the tournament is run in an extraordinarily efficient and professional way. The Canadian people (especially the tournament committee members) are outstanding, friendly people. I feel like Canada is my second pickleball home – the people and crowds are fantastic!!!!! I truly feel like they did an exceptional job running the event, especially due to the poor weather we endured the first two days of the tournament…Hope that helps Doug.

* Très bon, Wes…My Kelowna subscribers will like hearing that their hard work on the Can Nats paid off with a successful event. I know there are a lot of great US tourneys, so getting a reputation as a ”top 5 event” for our Nationals would be quite an accomplishment!

* There is more Q&A, and video links with Wes Gabrielsen in the May 31st edition of my blog. The link below is a short video from this year’s US Open, but it shows all the essentials of how Wes can discombobulate his opponents. His balanced game, happy footwork, and in my amateur opinion, the ”best backhand in the game” are what sets Wes off as a consistent winner and super star player. Check out the bonus skill he shows at the 2 minute mark of the tape. Wes switches hands and uses his ambidextrous ability to put away a powerful overhead smash.

Gabrielsen, Yates vs Boyette, Luke –  US Open 19+ Gold Medal Match

https://youtu.be/bIyZDRhLQVE



 

* I have some good pictures and memories from the Canadian Nationals. If you didn’t go there this year, I would recommend it for next year…I think there could be an even better show in 2017!…Thanks to all the players that sent in their comments. If you want to get a message to one of your fave players you can send me your email and I will forward your letter to them.

* I’m doing some networking for my next 1 or more editions. I will try to find out some history about the TOC and do some interviews with some of the competitors who will playing there in September…’Til then,

Thanks for the game,

DJ Baker.

douglas.baker50@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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