Junior Erin Slutzky represents Team USA at Junior Worlds for racquetball


Rich Carver

Preparing to slam a racquetball into the wall, junior Erin Slutzky stands alert for the next move. Slutzky competed for Team USA at the IRF Junior World Racquetball Championships from Nov. 1-11. “Because racquetball is more of an individual sport, if you lose you pretty much have no one else to blame besides yourself. You can practice whenever and whatever you need to work on to go out next time and win,” Slutzky said.

During the five-hour plane ride to San Luis Potosí, Mexico, junior Erin Slutzky reflected on the eight years of training that led her to one of the most important racquetball tournaments of her life: Junior World Championships.   

Prior to leaving for Mexico, Slutzky and the rest of Team USA prepared for the Championships. Slutzky focused mostly on diverging from the usual technical practices by incorporating more weight training, running and cutting sugar and red meat out of her diet.

“I don’t think I played enough games and got enough experience in [during training]. I did a lot of drilling, but you also need to put yourself in live situations where you’re playing with an opponent and playing the game instead of just thinking about your mechanics,” Slutzky said.

After winning runner-up in June at the National Junior Olympic Racquetball Championships held in Des Moines, Iowa, Slutzky qualified to play for Team USA at the Junior World Championships in the 16 and Under (16U) Singles division. She also got the opportunity to play in 16U Doubles with Annie Roberts of Gresham, Ore.

“When playing with a doubles partner, you both have to be in sync and you have to know your partner and her shot selection pretty well,” Slutzky said. “I never played with or talked to Annie before [Worlds]. That’s where training camp was really helpful because I got to play a lot of games with her. I was able to get to know her well in the week that I spent with her, and it helped us to understand each other’s games so that when we got to Worlds and practiced on the court, it was really helpful.”

Rich Carver
Decked out in Team USA gear, Slutzky poses with Team USA.

In addition to preparing for 16U Doubles, Slutzky used the first three days of Worlds to practice on the tournament’s courts to prepare for pool play. A player’s performance against the three other players in his or her pool determines one’s seed and position during bracket play. Despite there being 14 other girls in her bracket, Slutzky’s first and last bracket play match was against Roberts.

“Annie was in a different pool than me, and neither Annie [or I] won all our pool play games, so we didn’t win our pool. If one person from your country doesn’t win their pool, you’re not guaranteed to not play your country,” Slutzky said. “It sucks that I was playing a Team USA member [in the] first round because I went all that way to play my own country. I wish that would’ve been different. I feel like I didn’t treat it like a regular game because it was against my doubles partner.”

As well as the unfortunate circumstance, Slutzky discovered differences between Missouri and Mexico that hindered her usual racquetball playing.

“Before Worlds, I don’t think I had time to be stressed because I was training so much. I felt like I was ready when I was training here in Missouri, but when I went [to Mexico] I found out that the ball moved faster because of the higher altitude, so I wasn’t prepared for that,” Slutzky said. “I trained myself to come into Worlds knowing that I couldn’t do anything else; I didn’t have another six months to prepare. I just had to play the way I knew how to play. I did get a little stressed when I wasn’t playing well.”

Slutzky won two out of four games in both singles and doubles, and the girls team placed second out of 14 countries.

Steve Slutzky
Slutzky sports a bruise she acquired from her first match against Team Mexico’s Guadalupe Griffin.

“I didn’t do as well as I hoped I would. Throughout the whole tournament I wish I played better because I know I could’ve done better, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m just going to work hard and try to make it back on the team next year,” Slutzky said.

Despite the results of her first appearance at Worlds, Slutzky cherishes memories from the tournament.

“I played Guadalupe Griffin, who is a well-known player in Mexico. She’s beat a lot of really tough players, so I was proud to be able to take a game off her and go to tiebreaker with her,” Slutzky said. “When I played a Costan Rican girl in pool play, that’s probably the best I had played. One of my coaches said about me that I looked like a girl who could win Worlds, which motivated me to do better. It made me feel like I had the potential to be a top competitor in the racquetball world.”

With her first trip to Worlds now under her belt, Slutzky is motivated to train even more consistently for next year.

“I wasn’t happy with my performance at Worlds, but I just have to tell myself that not a lot of people get to represent their country. Seeing that high level of play and playing against other countries is just amazing,” Slutzky said. “Having a jersey with USA on your back is really incredible. Knowing that not a lot of people get to do that, it was just really special. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.”