Wednesday, November 21

Racquetball enthusiasts take to the courts


Players of all levels frequent the John Wooden Center for competitive, social and leisurely matches

Second-year political science and history student Ethan Scapellati lunges for the ball as second-year astrophysics student Jeff Portwood and second-year English student Derek Groom look on. The three regularly play racquetball at the John Wooden Center as a source of fun, exercise.

Second-year political science and history student Ethan Scapellati lunges for the ball as second-year astrophysics student Jeff Portwood and second-year English student Derek Groom look on. The three regularly play racquetball at the John Wooden Center as a source of fun, exercise. Kimberly Lajcik


Kimberly Lajcik
Second-year political science and history student Ethan Scapellati jumps for the ball as second-year astrophysics student Jeff Portwood (right) and second-year English student Derek Groom (left) look on.

Jeff Portwood takes a few practice swings on Court 6 in preparation for his upcoming match.

Portwood, a second-year astrophysics student, is preparing for a face-off with his closest rivals, friends Ethan Scapellati and Derek Groom.

“I definitely enjoy playing competitively,” second-year political science and history student Scapellati said. “I usually go all out.”

He may not be aiming for a world championship, but as a frequenter of the John Wooden Center’s racquetball courts, Scapellati is always looking to win.

Hundreds of UCLA students, faculty, staff and UCLA Recreation patrons flood the racquetball courts at the Wooden Center on a daily basis.

They come from a range of backgrounds; some are former racquetball champions, others coaches of UCLA’s women’s volleyball team and even more are just students.

With such busy schedules, many students look for balance in their lives with consistent athletic activity.

“I think it’s a good cardio workout, and at the same time it’s a bit of a stress reliever after some hard classes,” Portwood said.

Portwood began playing almost immediately after arriving at UCLA in fall of 2008.

“When I came to school I decided to pick it up because I knew the gym had a lot of courts,” he said. “Me and a few friends from my floor started playing, and we haven’t stopped since.”

For Portwood, who usually competes with his friends ““ and not on Court 2, the “challenge court” which is frequented by the most competitive of racquetball players ““ the sport serves as more of a cardiovascular workout.

Scapellati plays for similar reasons and picked up the sport as something of a transition from having played tennis in high school. He plays racquetball primarily for cardiovascular fitness, but Scapellati says he enjoys the competitive aspect of the sport.

As soon as the final opponent arrives, second-year English student Groom, the three-person match-up begins.

A few courts down from the friends, engaging in a rapid, three-way match, Rafael Silva, a graduate exchange student from Brazil in the Anderson School of Management, is hitting the ball, waiting for a friend to arrive.

Silva arrived at UCLA just a week ago but has been playing at the Wooden Center everyday.

A tennis player at heart, Silva, 26, began playing racquetball 10 years ago as a form of practicing for tennis.

“One thing led to another, and I started liking it,” he said.

Most appealing for Silva is the speed.

In Brazil, he said, tennis is played primarily on clay, the slowest surface. Switching to racquetball, though, Silva said he enjoys the speed at which the ball bounces off the wall.

With the switch of sports comes a change of mentality for Silva.

“Racquetball? No, never competitively,” he said. “Tennis, yes, but racquetball only for fun.”

A pair who does enjoy the competitive aspect of racquetball is more well-known for their volleyball prowess.

UCLA women’s volleyball coaches Andy Banachowski and Kim Jagd frequent the Wooden Center’s courts, often after volleyball practice in Pardee Gymnasium.

Banachowski and Jagd demonstrate their competitive spirit with frequent dives and jumps to secure every possible point.

Getting in a mid-morning game, second-years Chris Klein and Juan Bustamante take a breather after their game on Court 3.

More on the experienced end of the spectrum, Klein and Bustamante have been playing for a considerable amount of time. Klein said he began playing about four years ago, usually with his friends.

A business economics student, Klein said he usually plays with his friends and that it is often a social experience.

“It’s not ever serious,” Klein said.

Bustamante, a geography student and United States Marine, agrees that his matches with friends are not usually serious.

“When I play other people, it gets really competitive,” he added. “I don’t usually have conversations with them.”

The “challenge court,” where Bustamante and many others play more competitive matches with usually unfamiliar opponents, cannot be reserved ahead of time, unlike the other courts in the Wooden Center.

Balls in the challenge court fly lower and faster than in most courts, and the competition is fierce.

Novices and recreational racquetball players usually play on any of the other courts on both floors of the Wooden Center.

For complete racquetball rules from USA Racquetball, visit www.usra.org/rulebook.aspx.

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