By Cyrus Gutnick
Spring quarter is upon us and as some of the blossoms open for the first time this year, others are closing to rest their weary limbs after a tough season of play. The UC Santa Cruz racquetball team finished its season in San Jose the weekend of March 15. Ultimately the team, with contributions across the board, solidified a third-place finish to their premier season as a recognized UCSC club team.
At the start of the season one could only speculate on how the team would compete throughout the year. In their previous season the team finished in fifth place, but as coach John Bardos admitted, “nowhere near the top of the pack.” Between the two co-captains, Reid Parsons and Adrian Villalba, the leadership was present but a powerful and balanced team was missing. What the players needed was a ringer, a female athlete who could fill a strategic niche to bring in more points each tourney.
They found just that. Actually, she found them.
She will tell you she never thought of competing, just showed up to the racquetball class for the fun of the game. She won’t come off as an athlete who beat her first opponent during her premier tournament play with nine serves in a row. She won’t tell you that she helped rally the team and that her absence at the final tournament might have affected the season standings. But she will introduce herself with a brimming smile as Danielle Evans.
“I had no concept of how good I was,” Evans said. “I was hesitant to play tourneys.”
To the gratitude of the team, Danielle became a spotlighted competitor, securing first-place finishes to bring in many points throughout the run of the season.
“This was Danielle’s first year of competition racquetball,” Bardos said. “Her victory at Berkeley was a fairly close match. I think she lost the first, won the second, and won the third. So to some degree she is pretty close to being upper men’s Division III and low Division II in terms of her skill level.”
Evans knows that she could face tougher competition, but with the spirit of a team player, she competes with the other women in the league. It seems Evans is too humble to extract the credit she deserves for her assistance to the team’s third-place finish by diverting the attention to co-captains.
“Reid and Adrian are in their own class,” Evans said.
“[Adrian] is one of the real standout players,” Bardos said. “A year and a half ago, he was a high Division II player, now he is a high Division I player. [In] the last two tournaments he had two very close matches with guys who finished in second place, [and were] longtime collegiate tournament players.”
Fortunately for the team, Villalba will be returning next year to compete. Unfortunately for the team, Evans is graduating at the end of this year. Her departure will definitely not be as seamless and surprising as her entrance into the sport.
The UCSC racquetball club is now an officially recognized team and holds a position on the podium after just a single season of competitive play. The startup burden of the last few years is lifting off the shoulders of the players.
“Patience and endurance,” Villalba said. “It’s more relieving now that it is solid — it’s not just going to crumble when we leave.”