LUMBERTON — Having competed last year at the National Junior Olympic racquetball championships for the first time on such a big stage, the Lumberton sibling duo of Dominic and Elena Dent knew some things to expect going into their second trip to the national tournament hosted in Minneapolis, Minn. from June 22 to 26.
“I think (I learned) to keep calm in high-pressure situations,” Elena said. “That’s very hard when you have a lot of people cheering for or against you.”
Elena competed in both the 14-and-under singles and doubles divisions and will make a return trip to the International Racquetball Federation’s junior world championships this year after coming in first in the doubles and third in the singles. Last year, she served as the first alternate for the 14-and-under doubles and found out she made the team after the national championships was held. Winning the doubles this year puts her on the national team and third place in the singles makes her the first alternate.
Having her spot cemented on the national team that will compete in Mexico in November is very relieving after the uncertainty that came from last year.
“I’m very happy with the results and it went better than last year,” Elena said. “It’s definitely exciting and I felt more comfortable having a spot on the team already.
“I’m honored to represent my country again.”
She was paired with Nikita Chauhan of San Ramon, Calif., who also won the 14-and-under singles, and the duo went 3-0 in round robin play to win the doubles tournament and had to channel lessons on what to do in a tight match to win their final match in a tiebreaker.
Making sure they took their time between points and planned their strategy going forward, Elena and Chauhan defeated Hannah and Megan Carver 11-9 in their final match after the score was tied at 9-all to win the tournament and secure a spot on the national team.
“I was honored to be able to play with her and I was definitely excited because I knew she was a really good player,” Elena said.
Much like she learned from her previous appearance at the national tournament, Elena is anticipating what she needs to do looking ahead to the world championships now that she has one trip to her credit.
“I need to be a little more prepared since I know what it’s like this year,” Elena said of the world championship, “and to have fun and hopefully win. I know we can. We have a chance this year.”
While his sister claimed first in the doubles and third in the singles competition, Dominic battled against some of the world’s elite racquetball players to come back and win in the 18-and-under consolation bracket in his second trip to the tournament, and first time competing in the 18-and-under class.
“I played in the 18 and under singles also and I’ll be playing it again for the next two years,” Dominic said. “I wanted to play for it and get some experience and that’s what I got my medal in. I was actually pretty surprised by that.”
Admitting that this being his second trip to the top junior tournament in the country was less “nerve-wracking,” Dominic took on the top seeds in the 16-and-under and the 18-and-under divisions in his second-round matchups and playing them provided a learning experience he can take with him going into the future.
“They’re crazy good,” Dominic said of playing against the top-seeded players. “Jordan Barth is the No. 1 for 16 and under and he’s really good. He had such soft touch and he could mix it up. … One of the things that really got me was he could read where I was hitting it, before I would hit it. So I would hit it and he would already be there and put it away and I would just stand there like ‘Woah, what just happened.’
“I had never played anyone that good before.”
Bouncing back from losses to some of the best players in the nation, Dominic went on win back-to-back matches and win the 18 and under consolation bracket.
“My mom says I’m a fighter and most people during those No. 1 matches they probably won’t try because they knew they were going to lose, but I went out there and gave it my hardest to see how I would do,” Dominic said. “I actually did pretty well and a lot of people were surprised how well I did. Most people get seven points off the No. 1 or three points off the No. 74 (Barth) guy in the world. I kept fighting and gave it my all and good things came from it.”
Brother and sister Dominic, left, and Elena Dent brought home hardware from the 2016 National Junior Olympic racquetball championships hosted in Minneapolis, Minn. This year was their second time competing in the national tournament and both said the prior experience helped them accomplish what they did this year.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.