By Christina Lee
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Voices echo, court lights gleam, and racquets slam, filling the sticky air as the UC Santa Cruz racquetball club practices together until dark. Upon walking into the racquetball courts, a person can watch from the balcony, an aerial view of sweat-soaked men and women in friendly competition.

Four years ago, the racquetball club did not even exist. Today, it is preparing to go back to the Davis tournament, where they took first place last year. Although the Tier II UCSC club team has not yet filled its roster, its members are excited to finally have more women competing this year.

A full team is comprised of eight men and eight women — which may sound easy enough to find, but in a sport dominated by men, in a non-sports-oriented school, female competitors are hard to come by.

“We have five women this time, which is our largest women’s turnout,” said John Bardos, a coach of the UCSC club and member of the United States Racquetball Association Intercollegiate Council.

For women, racquetball is one of the rare sports where they can compete on equal footing as men and tournaments are not restricted to single-gendered competition.

“I just think it’s phenomenal that [in] racquetball, men and women can play on the court at the same level,” Bardos said, “and that there are women players that play in Men’s B and Men’s A in our collegiate state tournaments.”

This past year, however, it’s not just the number of women that has increased. The membership of the racquetball club overall has almost doubled since its first official season last year. Players range from beginners who are learning how to hold the racquet, to those who just want to sharpen their skills.

For Reid Parsons, a fourth-year graduate student and founding club member, racquetball has become an important part of his life.

“I started really young, when I was about eight years old,” Parsons said. “My mom plays a lot of racquetball and she wanted some competition, so she raised my brother and I to be her competition. I’ve been playing off and on since I was very young, but I didn’t play too much recently until coming to UC Santa Cruz … I’ve been really enjoying picking it up recently now.”

Parsons plays in Men’s A, the highest of the three skill levels, though women also compete in the same category. However, for sophomore Trevor Braun and freshman Kim Davis, racquetball is fairly new, and they are taking every opportunity to learn.

“You learn from losing,” Braun said. “You play someone better than you, and you learn what they’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. … I’ve played a couple of Division I guys … and I’ve learned from how they play.”

For Davis, training alongside the racquetball team has proven Braun’s words to be true; she will be going to Davis as one of the five women on the team.

“I just started in the class [this quarter], and the coach asked me to go to Davis for a tournament on Saturday,” she said.

Team members are looking forward to seeing how their training has paid off, and how much they have improved since their San Jose competition last quarter, as well as seeing how their newest female additions contribute in this weekend’s matchup.

“Women can compete at the same level as men,” Bardos said, “in a fast, physical, almost aggressive game that is more about dynamics of the swing and [the player’s] strategy on the court than it is about brute physical strength.”

<i>The UC Santa Cruz racquetball club team faces one of their most anticipated tournaments this Saturday at UC Davis, where they will bring eight men and five women to compete.</i>