SARASOTA -- Florida is regarded as a hotbed for racquetball, so the appeal of the Florida IRT Pro-Am in Sarasota won't just be the first half of the hyphenation. The best in the world are only one small part of the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) event which will hand out bids to the national singles championships.
"If they win their skill division they're guaranteed a top-16 seed at nationals," tournament director Chad Bailey said, "but it's more than that because if you win a Florida regional that's pretty big."
Amateur singles tournaments are open age divisions for men and women. Doubles tournaments are divided into men's open, women's open, men's 40-plus, men's centurion-plus and mixed open.
Qualifying rounds for the Florida Pro-Am begin Thursday at 10 a.m., headed by the IRT Pro division, which includes all of the top 17 players in the world and 22 of the top 50. Matches are staged at the Sarasota Family YMCA-Frank G. Berlin, Sr. Branch and the Bath and Racquet Fitness Club.
The tournament concludes with the men's championship match at 7 p.m. on Friday and it's almost a foregone conclusion that Kane Waselenchuk will be there. Waselenchuk is a 10-time world champion, an 11-time at the US Open Racquetball Championships and the clear-cut favorite this week. He holds a record for winning 137 consecutive matches, demolishing the previous record of 54.
"He's only lost two matches in the last six or seven years. He's a notch above everybody," Bailey said. "All these guys, as good as they are, he just annihilates them."
The weekend will also mark the return for Waselenchuk from hernia surgery, which sidelined him for more than a month. His top competition includes former No. 1 Rocky Carson, Racquetball World Championships team medalist Jose Rojas, individual gold medalist Alvaro Beltran and former Pan American Games champion Daniel de la Rosa.
Bradenton's Wesley Miller and Sarasota's Mike Harmon will bring a local flavor to the professional field. Both are longshots for a title, but have teamed up for a pair of state doubles championships.
EVP Volleyball Tour
The 2016 Extreme Volleyball Professionals (EVP) season begins Saturday with the Bradenton Pro Am in Bradenton Beach. The EVP, which is a second-tier beach volleyball league, promises exposure to competitors and a trip to Hampton, Va., for the EVP World Championship for the winner.
The EVP Volleyball Tour's visit to Manatee County begins Friday with a corporate challenge at Coquina Beach. The Pro Am tournament begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday with the junior field beginning play at 9 a.m.
Parade begins with 5K
The DeSoto Heritage Festival 5K run will open up the DeSoto Heritage Festival at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Before the DeSoto Heritage Festival Grand Parade begins, the Hernando Desoto Historical Society is offering the runners the chance to race the course beforehand. Preregistration is closed, but runners can sign up for $35 on the day of the event, where organizers estimate at least 175,000 spectators will line the Manatee Avenue course as they await the start of the parade.
David Wilson, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 941-745-7057 or on Twitter@DBWilson2.