It was a first, but it won’t be the last. For the first time at Colorado Academy, Coach Marcia Richards took a team to the U.S. Racquetball High School National Championship. The team of five surprised their coach and themselves, medaling multiple times. They also learned lessons that will serve them beyond the racquetball court.
“Competing at a higher level, they learned how to keep their focus through a match, how to overcome unknowns, and how to stay in the moment and not worry about winning or losing,” says Richards. “They got so much more out of the experience than I expected.”
‘Working through some tough challenges’
At the Portland, Oregon, national tournament, Juniors Colby Lish, Jason Evans, Levi Pinkert, and Sophomores Alex Hindes and Holden Koch met the 366 best high school racquetball players in the country. The CA students’ competitive experience had been limited to playing fellow CA students during a Winter Trimester course for credit and occasional competitions with the CU Club Team and the Colorado School of Mines Club Team.
The first day in Portland, CA players were competing against top-seeded players in the competition, with some “ups and downs” as Richards puts it.
“But even during those short, sweet adventures, they learned a lot about themselves,” she says.
By day two, the wins started outnumbering the losses, by the end of the competition, Evans and Hindes had taken first place in their division, and Koch had taken second in his division. The other students finished in the top four of their division. Overall, CA, competing with only five players against teams that had six players, was ranked 20 out of 31 schools represented.
“They showed the highest [degree] of sportsmanship and had fun working through some tough challenges,” Richards says. “I am very proud of them.”
‘A different level of focus’
Richards asked her students to write reflections on the experience of competing against the best players in the country. Here are some excerpts from letters to their coach.
“Just the experience of being with our team and playing other people at a super high skill level was a huge learning opportunity both physically and mentally. During the tournament, each match was different. You were playing someone different with a completely different playing style, making it so the ability to adapt was crucial. Just watching some of the best high school players in the nation and watching them control the ball and maintain center court was amazing. You can learn a lot from watching them. It gave me opportunities for growth that I never would have gotten anywhere else. I look forward to next year.” – Holden Koch
“We all immediately started hitting harder shots simply because everyone else was doing so. Watching and reffing games also greatly improved my skills. I could see the games from a new perspective and improved my strategy, especially with the placement of my passes. By the end, I was definitely starting to come up with ways to manage and keep my head in the game.” – Levi Pinkert
“Given that racquetball is a high speed, high intensity sport, we all knew it would be a challenge to compete at such a high level. Our training and teamwork during the season allowed us to prove ourselves at nationals. At every match, there was a cheering, supportive, and constructive CA crowd out-cheering the other teams. As a result of our bonding, I have made deeper friendships, and we were able to challenge top level competitors because we knew we had a world of people behind us. Instead of worrying about other things, in my games towards the end of the tournament, I achieved a different level of focus that led the way to a gold medal.” – Jason Evans
With that kind of response, it’s no surprise that Richards is already looking ahead to next year. “I think we will be taking a bigger squad next year,” she says. “I think there will be even more students who want to go.”