Having a racquet
Grand Junction's Miller, Caldwell perform well at Racquetball Junior Olympic Championships
In only three years, Matt Miller went from racquetball newbie to a competitor at the USA Racquetball Junior Olympics Championships.
Miller, along with Lily Caldwell, finished among the top four in their respective divisions at the competition in Stockton, California, late in June.
Miller, 18, has a background in tennis, competing with the Grand Junction High School team. He and Ryan Bowen won a first-round No. 1 doubles match at the Class 5A state tournament this season.
But racquetball offered something different for Miller. The focus on racquet play and the pure speed of the game drew him in. Everything in racquetball happens faster.
“Lot faster-paced,” Miller said. “Points are faster, ball moves faster, stuff like that.”
Caldwell, 14, has a wealth of racquetball experience. This year was her fourth trip to the Junior Olympics after 10 years of competing in various local, regional and national tournaments. She glides around the court to make shots, but also has a scrappy edge to her game. She’s not afraid to slam into walls to make a shot.
The repeat Junior Olympic trips have given Caldwell plenty of confidence in her game, even if there’s some added pressure each time she moves up an age division.
“When you go into a new division — there’s 10-and-under, 12-and-under, 14-and-under — each time you go into a new division it feels like there’s more pressure,” she said. “But each time it gets a little easier, too.”
Caldwell made sure to add that she enjoys the competition, especially on a big stage. The tournament featured 183 players from 24 states, all battling for a spot in the 2017 USA Racquetball Junior National Team, which competes at the International Racquetball Federation’s Junior World Championships this fall in Minneapolis.
Caldwell has built a large collection of medals, something coach Carol Pellowski said the youngster has worked hard for.
“She’s able to do a lot of things and she started on the court from a very young age,” Pellowski said. “She decided that this was the sport that she was going to stick with and pursue. It’s what she loves and it shows in how committed she is to putting in the work.”
Miller’s path, picking up racquetball at an older age, makes coaching him different. Pellowski said she’s worked combine Miller’s tennis skills — namely, a powerful overhead shot — with more traditional racquetball skills. The coach complimented Miller’s athleticism and his receptiveness to coaching.
“We’re not trying to make a traditional racquetball player out of him and he’s OK with that,” she said. “He’s very comfortable using his skills as a tennis player and blending them with racquetball.”
Miller, who recently graduated from GJHS, will head to Texas Tech, where he plans to continue playing tennis and racquetball, as well as coaching.
“I think I picked up racquetball pretty fast,” Miller said. “I think tennis helped a lot, playing lots of racquet sports and just playing both (tennis and racquetball) a lot.”