Murrysville's Carter solidifies place on national racquetball stage
Murrysville's Thomas Carter turns 19 on July 1, and before he celebrates his latest birthday, the local racquetball champion is hoping for good things in his final crack at the USA Racquetball National Junior Olympic Championships that start Tuesday in Stockton, Calif.
“I've been playing Junior Nationals since I was 12, and it's been a great experience,” he said.
“We're all good friends there with a good sense of camaraderie. But it's still super competitive. With it being my last year in this tournament, I hope to do well.”
At last year's Junior Olympic tournament, Carter suffered a loss in the quarterfinals of the 18-and-under singles, but he took third in the doubles tournament with teammate Kyle Ulliman of Westerville, Ohio.
Carter and Ulliman are teammates on the men's team at Baldwin Wallace University.
Starting in the sport at age 9 through his father, Adam, Carter has become one of the top players his age in the country.
“My dad was a big early influence for me in racquetball,” Carter said.
“It was something fun to do. I would go with him to the club and play a couple times a week. It was a great bonding experience. It just took off from there.”
Tournaments such as Junior Nationals followed, and his advancement in the game continued with his work with coach Jim Winterton the past couple of years.
Winterton, a USA Racquetball Hall of Fame inductee in 2000, has been in the coaching business for 42 years and has mentored the top names in the sport. In 2011, he coached the No. 1 male and female players in the world.
“Coach Winterton has really helped me with my game,” Carter said. “He sees some of the small things I can't see. His plan for me has made me a better player.”
Carter recently enjoyed a great deal of success at the 48th U.S. Racquetball National Singles Championships in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
As the No. 1 seed in the men's open singles championship — involving players of all ages — Carter defeated Arturo Burruel of Grapevine, Texas, to capture the title.
Burruel was the No. 2 seed.
“That was a great win for me,” Carter said. “It was a great experience. It was the first tournament where no one else was with me. No one from my family was there. I was on my own. It was a different feel. The competition was great, and I had to adjust to the higher altitude. You have to work on your breathing more, and the ball moves faster, too. I hope there are more wins like that to come.”
Carter, the second-ranked singles player in Pennsylvania who also is ranked 73rd in the country, regardless of age, was challenged in his semifinal match but won, 15-13 and 15-11, over No. 5 seed Joel Barshaw of Portland, Ore.
“I really had to work for that win,” Carter said.
The win in the title match was the 80th of his career, and he took several steps forward this year after losing in the quarterfinals in 2014.
“It was a good feeling to be able to do so well against a number of older players,” Carter said. “One player was a year older, and another had just finished his college career. (Burruel) is at least 35. The range of ages definitely gives you a range of experiences in the game. The older players have developed a tougher mental attitude. They've been around the block. Every time I play someone new, I see something I've never seen before. I take a lot from those matches.”
Carter said his two seasons so far with the Baldwin Wallace University team has been a blast.
He helped the team bring home national-championship gold last year as a freshman.
This year, he was a part of the Baldwin Wallace squad that took fourth at nationals out of 37 teams in Division I, including perennial powers such as tournament host Arizona State and Colorado State, Oregon State and BYU.
Individually, Carter was the No. 5 seed in the men's No. 1 Gold division tournament, and he won two matches before falling in the quarterfinals.
“As I got better in the game, I quickly knew it was something I wanted to continue in college,” Carter said.
“I love to push myself in this sport and see how far I can go. I don't want to look back and wish I had done more.
“College racquetball is so different from regular tournaments in that you are playing for a team, and that really adds something to it. It's more exciting with teammates rooting you on and counting on you. The game is still the same, but there are more stakes in it. You are representing your team and your school.”
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.