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Conine Is Decisive Winner of Junior Racquetball Final

Following his win in the final match of the United States National Junior Racquetball Championships on Wednesday, Jeff Conine pointed at his opponent, Mike Bronfield, and shouted to him, “Hey, you owe me a shake! And I want it now!” The players immediately broke into laughter, recalling the chocolate chip milkshake they had wagered on their match.

Judging by their frivolous moods, one wouldn’t be able to tell that Conine had just finished dominating Bronfield to win not only a milkshake but also the national championship of the boys’ 18-and-under division, 15-9, 15-6, at the Newport Beach Sporting House.

Conine, of Rialto, and Bronfield, of Carmel Valley, have been friends for several years. And, even in competition with a national title at stake, their friendship was quite evident.

“When we first met (at a tournament several years ago),” Bronfield said, “he bought me a shake, so ever since then we’ve said that whoever won would get a shake.”

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Wednesday’s match was the fourth time in as many meetings over the years in the nationals that Bronfield has had to buy a milkshake for Conine. However, it was the first time they had ever met in the final.

Conine simply continued doing what he had done throughout the tournament--overpowering his opponents. Not only did he win all 12 games he played in the tournament, but only once did a player score in double figures against him. (Montana’s Dan Hugelen managed 10 points against him in Game 2 of their quarterfinal match on Monday.)

Throughout the five-day tournament, Conine’s ability to hit the racquetball with such incredible power has been a major topic of discussion among the players, officials and fans who’ve seen him play. And on Wednesday, Bronfield was the victim of what was probably Conine’s best performance yet.

“He hits the ball so hard,” Bronfield said. “It’s so hard to return. I was ready for the match, but when he hits the ball 200 m.p.h. at you, you get tired.”

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Well, not quite 200 m.p.h. Conine’s shot has been clocked by a radar gun at 151 m.p.h., which is 9 m.p.h. faster than Marty Hogan, the hardest-hitting pro, whose shot has been clocked at 142 m.p.h.

Bronfield didn’t go down without putting up a considerable fight, however. There were a total of 62 service changes in the match, including 39 in Game 1. Both players said they were especially fatigued after the first game, which undoubtedly was reflected in their occasionally sloppy play in Game 2. Most of the early points in that game came on skip shots or merely poorly hit returns.

“My arm was hurting pretty bad,” Conine said. “It is right now.”

Whatever arm problems he was experiencing, Conine was able to overcome them by the midway point of the game. Trailing, 4-3, Conine won the serve back with a rocketing passing shot, and then proceeded to score eight unanswered points to take a commanding, 11-4 lead.

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As was the case in his semifinal victory against Bobby Rodriguez on Tuesday, Conine’s strongest point was his serve. He aced Bronfield five times in the match.

“I tried to return it better, but it’s tough with that kind of serve,” Bronfield said. “He just kind of tore me apart.”

With the win, Conine automatically receives a berth on the U.S. National Racquetball Team, which will participate in several exhibitions in Japan later this year. However, because Conine plays baseball for UCLA, he may encounter a conflict between the two sports, and thus may have to bypass the trip to the Far East.

“I’ll just have to wait and see if (my baseball coach and I) can work something out. I’d love to go,” he said.

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In the final of the girls’ 18s, as expected, top-seeded Dina Pritchett of Indiana had no trouble winning the title with her victory over Ohio’s Elaine Mardas, 15-7, 15-1. As national champion, Pritchett also qualifies for the U.S. National Team.


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