By Cyrus Gutnick

Walk down a set of stairs into a narrow corridor with red metal lockers to the left and miniature doors to the right. Step through one of the Alice in Wonderland-like doors into a confined concrete arena. This unusual underground turf is the home to the newest UC Santa Cruz club team: racquetball.

With two “unofficial” seasons under its belt, the racquetball team is enjoying a powerful and productive start to its first season as a recognized club team.

Now that the club is official, it is fielding more skilled players and the level of play has started to increase within the team, and is now experiencing productive competition within the ranks.

“Our team has improved greatly since last year,” co-captain Adrian Villalba said. “Our team [members are] fighting for the top spots.”

Just as important, the team has increased in numbers as well. To become a club team, one of the requirements is to have a roster of at least 10 players. Now, with a roster of 12 this season, five of whom are returning, the club is able to enter tournaments as a UCSC team. In previous years, their low numbers had kept them from competing for a spot on the podium as players were only able to compete in individual tournaments until its recent official club status.

A few weeks ago the team placed third overall with strong performances by all at a tournament held at UC Berkeley. Fourth-year Danielle Evans gave an especially outstanding performance, which earned her a first place finish in her division.

But it was only a couple of years ago that the racquetball club was no more than a group of students whose passion for the sport brought them together simply for recreation’s sake. It didn’t take them long to realize that tournament play was what they actually craved.

In the process of getting the club on its feet, co-captain Reid Parsons contacted John Bardos, a racquetball instructor on campus, to coach and mentor the club.

“I want to give John a lot of credit,” Parsons said. “He spearheaded it all. He’s the guy I [approached] to get it all started.”

While some may see the sport as obscure, members of the club see it as a very accessible sport.

“As a sport, it is very easy to pick up and play,” Bardos said. “It can take years of practice, but there is no limit to how good you can get.”

To jumpstart the club and get potential members inspired, Bardos invited an athletic prodigy, Aubrey O’Brian, well known within the racquetball community, to demonstrate the potential level of play that can be attained. At only five foot six inches tall and 16 years of age, she hits the ball over 130 miles per hour, a speed on par and even above many college male players.

Even with the extremely quick pace of play, Villalba reminds everyone that “[it’s] less dangerous than driving a car.”

With an approaching tournament to be held on Feb. 2 at UC Davis, the team is very excited to showcase its talent again.