The night of December 31 was not just any night at Dania Jai-Alai for the 22 members of the roster. In this event, the last of the year 2022, the last points were disputed to occupy one or the other place in the Dania Invitational Tournament.
The matches will begin next Thursday, in a single-elimination playoff system until the grand final on January 27. Last night, January 31, six pelotaris were left out of the tournament.
Let’s put the situation in context. In the year 2021, in November, Dania Jai-Alai closed its doors. Apparently forever. Bad news, lousy news. A year later, however, with a tournament in April in between, the Palace, or what is left of it, would open its doors. Good news.
Ok, the season is short, two months. But the desire is enormous. A team made up of young players who want to please. Two months in the showcase. The dispute of a championship with a prize of $ 5,000 to the winning couple. Not a big deal, but it gives prestige. It is always nice to win to debut or add to the list of winners.
The praise of the fans who come to the Palace of the jai-alai is unanimous. The roster is competitive. Ss far a success, the pools are above expectations. It seems that this year 2023, at the end, there will be another season of two or three months. And the guys look happy. I don’t think Benny, the intendente, will have any difficulty in completing the roster. Two months, or three, is not long. However, it is a great experience for most of them. For the jai-alai, in general, it is good news. Its projection outside the Basque Country, although modest, together with that of Magic City, is a positive aspect. That’s how I see it. It is, in short, the sum that counts and hence the robustness of the modality to test the passage of time. And this robustness is unthinkable without its presence outside the Basque Country.
The final classification was led by Zulaika with 225 points, followed by Bixente with 204, Laduche at a considerable distance. In the back Manci stood out above the rest with 220 points. In second place Bailo with 187 and Atain II with 184, followed by Oyhenard with 168.
The scoring system was based on awarding 5 points per quiniela won; 3 for second place and one point for third place. This will continue throughout the month of December.
The pairings are as follows:
The crossings: 1 vs. 8; 2 vs. 7; 3 vs. 6; 4 vs. 5. Single match to a set of 15 points.
Curiously, 8 pelotaris from Iparralde and 8 from Hegoalde have qualified. Except for the two that are going to play the first match this Thursday. Zulaika-Manci (The South Basque Country) vs. 8. Etcheberry-Portet (The North Basque Country), the rest of the pairs are mixed.
A priori there are always favorite couples. However, given the composition of the roster, the equality in the game so far, except for some slight differences -Zulaika and Bixente standing out in the front. Another both Manci, Bailo and Atain II in the back – contribute to the openness of the tournament. Moreover, playing quinielas is not the same as playing partidos even if they are 15-goal, one-set matches. The majority of the roster is used to playing partidos.
The pelotaris of Iparralde are very competitive. They play with an unusual start. They are daring and they do it with abandon. As if the pressure did not weigh them down. It is true that except for Bixente, the rest of the pelotaris do and undo. The spectacular finishing mixed with a blunder. But they are faithful to that style.
Bixente is different. He does everything well, there is intentionality in every throw of the game. He lacks the power needed to stand out and compete at the elite level, but as my friend Steve says, he’s got all the tools. He’s a smart pelotari, the kind that steals your wallet before you know it.
I ran into Peio Abeberry, the son of the late Jean Pierre, visiting South Florida, in the stands. He put my mind at ease. All these kids from Iparralde play two to three games in different tournaments every week throughout the year. They combine their sports activities with their respective jobs.
Aha!… I thought to myself. That’s the answer. It is impossible to perform as well as they do with four rehearsals every x amount of time. There are many hours on the court in between. They are, for the most part, young people in their early 20s with a lot of room for improvement. That’s true. It’s not easy to get to Florida and play quinielas. But they have in their favor a competitive spirit of the house, Iparralde, which helps them.
The rest of the roster, 13 pelotaris from Hegoalde, is made up of experienced pelotaris: Arrieta, Zulaika, Iturbide, Bailo, Urbieta… mixed with youngsters: Mandiola, Danel, Urreisti (18 years old), Goenaga, Manci, Aaron, some of them called to be stars as is the case of Atain II (18 years old).
The premiere of the Dania Invitational this coming Thursday looks very interesting. Zulaika and Manci against Etcheberri and Portet. A Hegoalde against Iparralde, a full-fledged derby. The difference in the score is misleading, it does not reflect the equality between the two pairs. But it will be necessary to see them to 15 points, with the added pressure that supposes that if you lose you are eliminated.