DOUBLES PADDLEBALL TITLE
By Lou Giampetroni
BLOOMINGDALE, Ill. -- Two Riverside, Calif., men started and finished something for indoor, four-wall paddleball at the 2004 National Paddleball Association national doubles championships here April 25,
Kelly Gelhaus and Steve Lerner methodically outplayed Mike Wisniewski and Mike Czabala to win the open title, 21-17, 21-14.
Their victory was a statement for the Paddleball Nation -- a group of West Coast former paddleball legends who have come back to the sport, and many others new to the game.
It also marked the end of the Andy Mitchell-Andy Kasalo domination of the premier doubles event of the NPA.
For Gelhaus, 32, it was a clean sweep after cruising to the national singles crown about five weeks ago.
Mitchell-Kasalo had won 20 of the 23 previous national doubles championships. Kasalo had planned to play with Mitchell to defend their title but came up with an arm injury in his preparation.
Czabala, 27, now lives in California but originally is from the Midland, Mich., area. Wisniewski, 46, an 8-time NPA open singles champion, is from Bay City, Mich.
The 2004 final was a humdinger. All four players showed phenomenal shooting skills, great defensive play -- and an obvious desire to show who's better.
And while the crowd at the Athletic Club of Bloomingdale in this Chicago suburb seemed to favor the Midwest team of Wisniewski-Czabala, there always seemed to be the feeling that the West Coast guys would win.
Even when they fell behind, 14-10, in the second game. On their next serve, they scored nine points -- mostly by Gelhaus -- to take control. Thus, they scored 11 unanswered points to put it away.
The first game was close for a while, with neither team able to stretch it out. They were tied at 14 before Gelhaus-Lerner outscored their opponents, 7-3.
The strategy of the two Mikes was clear -- work on Lerner, 42, who played the left side. But there aren't many holes in that team. Their play was a classic exhibition of TEAMWORK at its best.
Neither player appears to worry about tough-shot situations. Each knows the other will be there to back them up. They don't even look back to check and make sure the partner has taken over. He has.
Just as Gelhaus did in the National Singles, he hit some absolutely spectacular shots in this one. Lerner is more of a fundamental player who does everything well but not with as much pizzazz.
In their semifinal match against Mitchell, of Kalamazoo, Mich., and Mike Carlson, of Eau Claire, Wis. -- a last-minute sub when Kasalo was hurt -- Lerner was superb. He hit backhand after backhand along the left wall with ease to score a bunch of points. In the second game, he missed only two of those shots.
Gelhaus-Lerner topped Mitchell-Carlson, 21-7, 21-14, in the semifinal. Mitchell, 50, was giving away a few years and so was Carlson, 45.
Wisniewski-Czabala defeated Dennis Negrete and John Amatulli, both of Bloomingdale, 21-9, 21-18, in their semifinal.
Afterward, Mitchell said he believes having Kasalo available would have made a difference.
"Mike (Carlson) played great; I can't complain," said Mitchell. "But there's something about having your regular partner there."
Then he said with a twinkle in his eye: "I wish we (Mitchell and Kasalo) could have gotten them in our prime."