Meet The Pros – Mario Najera

Meet The Pros – Mario Najera

Mario Najera and Scott Moore - Gold

Duel in the desert in Casa Grande Az. Silver – Steve Cole/Ron Chang, Gold -Scott Moore/Mario Najera  Bronze – Byron Freso

Mario Najera is one humble pickleball competitor, and he also likes to gives back in a big way.  Kudos to Mario and Geri Grodzinsky for running the Nevada Senior Games Pickleball Tournament in October this year. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2017 Grand Canyon Mixed Doubles (MDBL) with Roxanne Pierce 60+  – Gold
2016 USAPA Nationals – MDBL 60+ with Cookie Drake – Silver
2016 Sin City Showdown, Las Vegas, MDBL 60+ with Cooke Drake – Silver
2016 Duel in the Desert Men DBL with Scott Moore  – Gold
2013 MDBL with wife Geri – Silver.  This was my favorite win and my first 4.5 tournament!

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Selkirk S1G Polymer Graphite paddle. I’m a touch player, coming from racquetball. I prefer the soft, touch game to the power game.  This paddle is the best I’ve found for touch. I can really feel the ball with this paddle.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I started playing in August 2011. I’m a racquetball addict. My wife invited me to come play at an indoor place. I learned to play with a wood paddle. It was fun. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was – quite different from racquetball fanatics. A couple of months later, I was invited to compete at the Huntsman Senior Games. That was a rude awakening. I was beaten badly. I stayed to watch some of the top players, like Jim Hackenberg and Mark Friedenberg. Got hooked and didn’t look back.

What’s your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

I first learned playing the game indoors, but I love the outdoor game better. I was raised in San Diego. I’m a So Cal boy. The outdoor game is definitely a faster game.

Mario Najera and Steve Paranto

Mario Najera and Steve Paranto

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I like doubles. I wouldn’t say it was a nice transfer from racquetball. The mechanics and strokes are very different. But I like the cat and mouse of the pickleball doubles game. I enjoy strategizing with my teammate. I do love watching singles though.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

My favorite place to play is St. George, Utah. It is the first town where I fell in love with pickleball. It’s 2 hours away from where I live.  I love the Little Valley courts where 24 courts are available. And I love Bend, Oregon and Apex too! They have beautiful courts.  

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

My secret sauce is my lob! I watched Enrique Ruiz to learn the most effective lob. To get better, I suggest finding someone to drill with.  It’s very important to practice through drills. Also, try to play with a stronger player. It helps you deal with the pressure of competing in a tournament setting.

What’s your day job?

I’ve been retired for five years from a 35 year career in banking.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

Most players in Vegas still work, so my time on the court is restricted by their work schedule. I play 3-4 days a week, about 8 hours. I have a buddy, Pete, who likes to drill with me.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Not really. I try to keep everything in perspective. I stay pretty calm. I feel lucky to be out there playing, and win or lose, I’m still loving the game.  It keeps me healthy.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

Geri Grodzinsky and Mario Najera

Geri Grodzinsky and Mario Najera

Never say no. My wife, Geri Grodzinsky, is a USAPA Ambassador in Las Vegas. She has been instrumental in growing pickleball here. Geri is a person who gets things done and she gets people like me involved.  She holds clinics and shares the sport. I want to continue teaching and helping to grow pickleball here as well. I want to keep healthy too. I want to make more time to play pickleball with my wife, who is as hooked on the game as I am.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

My wife and I became RV’ers, so we are gone 3 months out of the year. I do clinics and  personal lessons in various states. I’m glad to give back and help others in the pickleball community. That doesn’t happen in racquetball. You can’t just show up for racquetball, you have to find someone ahead of time to play the game. In pickleball, everywhere you go, you just show up, and  people are ready to play pickleball. 

Meet The Pros – Dominic Catalano

Meet The Pros – Dominic Catalano

Dominic Catalano and JoAnne Russell

Dominic Catalano and JoAnne Russell

Dominic Catalano lives for this wonderful sport! He plays, he competes, he’s a USAPA Ambassador and he owns his own pickleball business where he gives instruction and runs tournaments and leagues. Enjoy his story!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2017 US Open, 35+ Men’s Doubles with Phil Metz- Silver
2016 Atlantic South Regional, Singles – Gold
2016 US Open, 4.5 Mixed Doubles with JoAnne Russell- Gold
2016 US Open, 35+ Singles – Gold
2016 US Open, 19+ Men’s Doubles with Joshua Elliott- Bronze
2016 US Open, 4.5 Men’s Doubles with Scott Smith – Bronze

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Engage Elite Pro.  I was using the Engage Encore X Series all the way through the 2017 US Open this past season and then switched to the Engage Elite Pro right after and haven’t looked back.  It has a great balance of touch and power that is perfect for my game.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I was introduced to the game up in my hometown of Chicago. While in Chicago I was a high school physical education teacher at Notre Dame College Prep and we were the only school in our area that was teaching pickleball in our curriculum. So my first few years playing pickleball was teaching the sport in my classes. Over time, I started to enjoy pickleball!!  In 2013 I moved to Naples, Florida, taking a job with local Parks and Recreation Department. We did not have pickleball at the park, so I had 4 courts painted on 2 of our tennis courts and started the program with 15 people. When I left the that job to concentrate on my pickleball company this past summer, we had over 300 members at the park.

Dominic Catalano in Blue

Dominic Head to Toe in Blue

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I prefer to play outdoors every day of the week! I just think the game was meant to be played outside on an actual pickleball court. When you play inside, everything is different (the ball, the lighting, the courts).  Plus, outside you have to deal with all of the elements too like wind. Which as any pickleball player know, can play havoc with the ball, but I like the challenge!

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

If I had to choose, I would say I like doubles better. I like the team aspect of doubles and especially when you gel so well with a partner. It makes winning that much more special. I was blessed to play mixed doubles with JoAnne Russell (former Wimbledon champion) for a few years and we just worked so well together! We always knew where each other was going to be at all times. It’s tough to find someone like that and someone that is as competitive as me, but with JoAnne it was easy!

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

Without a doubt, anywhere down here in Southwest Florida! We have some of the best facilities in the country! From the Bonita Springs YMCA to East Naples Community Park (host site for the US Open) to Veterans Community Park and all the private communities in between, we are never short of some great pickleball facilities in my area!

Dominic coordinated Head to Toe including paddle

Dominic coordinated Head to Toe including paddle

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

Well now what kind of player would I be if I gave away my “secret sauce”?!?! Seriously though, I believe that one of the most important things in our game is consistency. Whether it be at the Pro Level or the 2.5 level, the name of the game is consistency. The best way to build up that consistency is by drilling. It’s great to come out and get those competitive juices flowing while playing games, but there is no substitute for some good drill work! Also, confidence helps. No matter who is on the other side of the net, mentally you tell yourself you are the best player on the court!!

What’s your day job?

I own my own pickleball company named 3D Pickleball. The “3D” stands for Dedication, Determination, and DOMination!!  I give lessons and clinics all over SW Florida as well as run 2 tournaments: the 3D Pickleball Turkey Classic in November and the 3D Pickleball Cupid Shootout in February I also run some ladder leagues and flex leagues. It definitely keeps me busy! How could I ever complain being on the pickleball court all the time? I was a baseball player and coach by trade but have traded in my glove for a pickleball paddle and have not looked back!!

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I would have to say I play about 10 – 15 hours a week. Yet luckily for me, when I’m working, I’m still on the court giving lessons or clinics so I’m constantly with a paddle in my hand working on things with my students. We are blessed with some of the top players in our sport that live down here in Southwest Florida. We set aside certain days and times to get together to play and drill. We are kind of spoiled when it comes to that kind of top level play!!

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m very particular about what I wear. I always have to match from head to toe and that includes my paddle.  So my rituals start at home with picking out what I’m wearing for that particular day at that tournament. If it wasn’t for Pickleboat (my clothing sponsor) and Engage (my paddle sponsor), it would make things much more difficult but because they let me pick my color combos with clothes and paddles it makes my life that much easier! Lastly, you will always see me with my headphones on before a tournament starts and it’s only playing one song, the Game of Thrones theme song! I guess I’m kind of a nerd like that, haha!!

Dominic coordinated in neon yellow

Dominic coordinated in neon yellow

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

As a pickleball player I just want to continue to improve each and every time I step on the court. I make sure that every time I’m out there I have something in particular that I am going to work on that day. As an instructor and an ambassador for the sport I just want to continue to grow the game! Going to tournaments and competing on courts next to my students and seeing them have success makes me just as satisfied as when I medal in a tournament. To see the excitement on their face is priceless!

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

Where I’m at right now in pickleball gives me the opportunity to spread the word about our great sport. It allows me to help so many people improve their game of pickleball as well as promote a healthy lifestyle for many, who without pickleball would not be getting much physical activity!

Meet The Pros – Doug Koch

Meet The Pros – Doug Koch

Doug Koch

Doug Koch Grand Canyon Senior Games with Roxanne Pierce

Doug Koch does it all: brings home the medals, organizes high level play all over Northern California  and runs his own teaching business, Pickleball Pimp. Enjoy!

12-time Medalist in Huntsman World Senior Games including 2 Singles Gold Medals
5-time Medalist in USAPA Nationals in Men’s Doubles, Mixed Doubles, & Singles
2014 SoCal Classic 50+ Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles – Gold Medalist

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Selkirk Omni 31P XO Glen Peterson signature paddle. It has a great feel which allows for precision placement and plenty of power plus the extra length allows hitting sharper angles on volleys and overheads.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

My brother Jimmy from Colorado played a few times when visiting his in-laws in Surprise, AZ. He brought some balls & paddles to my daughter’s high school graduation. We tied a badminton net to 2 garbage cans, chalked out a court in my driveway, and wound up playing all weekend. I was hooked!! I started playing with a local group in Grass Valley and soon was playing 5 times a week.

What’s your preference: playing indoor or outdoor?

I do a lot of teaching indoors and play indoors on rainy days but you can’t beat playing outdoors on a nice day!

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I enjoy both. I enjoy the amount of running and the battle of wills that is the singles game and the teamwork and strategy of the doubles game.

Rob Schmidt/Doug Koch Silver

Rob Schmidt, Doug Koch, Silver – 2016 Grand Canyon Senior Games

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

Johnson Ranch Racquet Club in Roseville, CA where I am one of the teaching pros. I love the great competition and the comfort level of having played thousands of games there. My favorite tournament is the SoCal Classic in Encinitas, CA. It is a great location near the beach in the summertime, well run, great competition.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I was fortunate when I was getting started that I got to play & drill with many strong players and teachers: Prem Carnot, Wendy Garrido, Matthew Blom, Steve Wong, Alan Christensen, Ian & Kim Dickson and the Johnson Ranch crew. I tried to learn from everyone better than I was and figured out how to try to make it a little harder for them to beat me (and bruise me).

2014 Grand Canyon State Games - Doug Koch/Roxanne Pierce, Gold

2014 Grand Canyon State Games – Doug Koch/Roxanne Pierce, Gold

What’s your day job?

I was a software engineer for 30+ years.  My 2nd career is pickleball teaching pro, Pickleball Pimp, which is something completely different.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I teach about 15 hours per week and play about the same.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Not really, I’m not very superstitious.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

As a teacher, I would like to help continue the growth of pickleball by teaching adult & junior players. I would also like to try to become a better player and teammate.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

Pickleball is great exercise, let’s you hang out with the nicest people in the world, and is just plain FUN!!

Meet The Pros – Rick Witsken

Meet The Pros – Rick Witsken

 

Rick Witsken

Rick Witsken

Rick has a real passion for tennis and the game of pickleball.  He is growing a pickleball program in Indianapolis that he is proud of because he is saving lives.  Enjoy.

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2017 US Open, Men’s Doubles 45+ with John Moorin – Gold
2017 Great Lakes Regional, Men’s Singles 5.0 – Gold
2016 US Open, Men’s Doubles Pro with Matt Schiller – Bronze
NW Regional – Open Mixed Doubles Open and Men’s Doubles Open – Silver

Rick Witsken - Gold

Great Lakes Regional, Men’s Singles 5.0, Will Willson /Silver, Rick Witsken/Gold and David Seckel/Bronze

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Bantam Ex-L. It is light weight, with a nice solid sweet spot and core.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I was introduced to pickleball about 2 ½ years ago. John Kirstin talked to me about playing. I loved ping pong. I grew up with 7 siblings, including 4 brothers, so I grew up competitive. I’ve always wanted a sport like ping pong and tennis, so when pickleball was introduced, I was very interested. I have a built-in camaraderie with other tennis players. I’m intrigued by the administrative side of tournaments. I have a nice facility and know there are lots of competitive folks around. I put on lots of tennis tournaments and wanted to bring pickleball tournaments to Indianapolis. I have offered 2 pickleball tournaments so far. I’ve also coordinated a Pickleball Powwow Clinic with exhibition games with players Chris Zeilinga, John Moorin, Matt Schiller and myself.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I prefer the faster, up tempo game that indoor games provide. I don’t mind the challenge of outdoor play. Outdoors is more of a finesse game.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Singles at 40 is harder because the competition is so much younger these days, especially in 80 degrees with high humidity like at the US Open in Naples, Florida. 

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

My favorite place to play is at my tennis facility, Pearson Automotive Tennis Club in Zionsville, Indiana. We have over 100 players and it’s growing by leaps and bounds.  I’ve put in lots of volunteer hours to introduce pickleball and have reaped lots of benefits from the game.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I play with both hands, which my opponents do not expect. One tip I can share: Be mindful of how you’re gripping your paddle handle. A lot of players hold the grip the same way throughout the game. You can improve your game if you vary how you grip the handle. If it’s a faster game, then tighten the grip. If slower, then loosen it. It’s also based on pace and how far back in the court you are. I have a scale of 1-5: 1 being light as a feather and 5, tight as a vise.

Pearson Automotive Tennis Club's Grand Opening on March 4, 2017

Pearson Automotive Tennis Club’s Grand Opening on March 4, 2017 – Derek Mandel, Adam Mandel and Rick Witsken

What’s your day job?

I am the owner and director of my own tennis facility mentioned earlier. I coach tennis and teach pickleball. Adding pickleball has been an important improvement to the tennis club business model.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I currently play in tennis leagues and coach some of the top 10 emerging tennis players, so my time playing pickleball is limited to about 3 hours a week. My priority is to run my tennis club, so I don’t get to travel much on the tournament circuit.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

As my tennis club and pickleball program get more established, my goal is to compete in more national tournaments. I hope to gain recognition as being one of the top 10 pickleball players in the U.S.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

I’m coaching two middle school pickleball teams right now. I am passionate about spreading the word about pickleball. I realize I am saving lives by getting folks active in a sport that everyone can play. It gives me great satisfaction to help people and at the same time, to save lives.

Meet The Pros – Ben Johns

Meet The Pros – Ben Johns

There is no doubt that Ben Johns is a fierce competitor.  

 

Ben Johns - Fierce!

Ben Johns – Fierce!

 

Ben Johns fiercer

Ben Johns – Fiercer!!

Ben Johns - Fiercest

Ben Johns – FIERCEST!!!!

Ben can be an intimidating contender who brings his tennis “tenacity” to his pickleball game. Watch out for him at Nationals this year. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2017 US Open Pro Men’s Singles – Gold
2017 US Open Pro Men’s Doubles – Bronze
2017 US Open Men’s Doubles 19+ – Silver
2017 US Open Mixed Doubles 19+ – Bronze
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Men’s Doubles 19+ – Gold
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Men’s Doubles Pro – Silver
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Mixed Doubles Pro – Bronze
2017 SoCal Summer Classic Men’s Singles Pro – Gold
2017 Canadian Nationals Mixed Doubles Pro – Gold
2017 Canadian Nationals Men’s Doubles Pro – Gold
2017 Canadian Nationals Men’s Singles Pro – Gold
2017 PPF Zone Bend Men’s Doubles Pro – Gold
2017 PPF Zone Bend Mixed Doubles Pro – Silver
2017 PPF Zone Bend Men’s Singles Pro – Silver

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Elite Pro from Engage Pickleball because it provides the maximum amount of spin and power. I also love how I can really feel the ball on the paddle.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I first played pickleball in Estero, Florida in February 2016. The Bella Terra Community built pickleball courts right next to the tennis courts where I played tennis with my brother. I saw pickleball played while I was hitting and thought it looked like fun, so I gave it a try and loved it!

What’s your preference – playing indoors or outdoors?

I like outdoors way better. It’s much more dynamic and difficult to play than indoors. Indoors uses a very soft ball that is too easy to control.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I love playing both doubles and singles because of the change in strategy and shots, but I do enjoy doubles more. There’s more variability in the game and the points last longer.

Ben Johns/Joey Farias - Gold,

Kyle Yates/Wes Gabrielsen – Silver, Ben Johns/Joey Farias – Gold, Chris Miller/Tyler Loong – Bronze at the Professional Pickleball Federation Tournament, Bend, Oregon

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

My favorite place to play are the first courts I ever played on, the Bella Terra Community courts. I like them because they’re the most familiar to me.

Clinic at Bella Terra Community Courts

Clinic at Bella Terra Community Courts

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

I don’t really have a secret sauce, but for players that want to improve, my biggest tip is practice smart. Always practice your fundamentals like dinking and 3rd shot drops. Even if you’re not successful with them for a while, you’re going to improve faster than everyone that doesn’t practice them. If you’re playing with lower level players, experiment, try new shots, and don’t worry about winning.

What’s your day job?

I don’t have a regular job, but I do teach pickleball quite a bit.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

How much I play a week very much depends on where I’m at. While I’m in Florida I might play 10 hours a week. While I’m in Maryland it’s probably between 0-3.  I make time to play just by getting everything else I have to get done on schedule.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

I wouldn’t say I have any “lucky” rituals. For me it’s all about preparation. Lots of practice leading up to the tournament helps along with eating well, getting a lot of sleep, etc.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

My main goal is winning gold in Men’s Doubles Pro at one of the big three tournaments: U.S. Open, Tournament of Champions and USAPA Nationals.

Aspen Kern posted on Facebook, “I was asked this week who I least liked going up against, and I answered ‘Ben Johns.'”  You will definitely be a witness to some fierce pickleball if you get to see Ben compete.   Thanks, Ben!

Meet The Pros – Brian Thieme

Meet The Pros – Brian Thieme

Brian Thieme

Brian Thieme in action

 

Brian is fairly new to the game and has already established himself as a formidable, yet humble, competitor with an awesome sense of humor. Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2017 Round Robin Pebble Creek Pickleball Tournament, Men’s Doubles with Kyle Thieme – Bronze
2016 SPA #1, Men’s Open Special Event Day Doubles 5.0 with Erik Fosdick – Silver

What paddle do you play with and why? 

I am currently using the Selkirk Pro S1c. I have tried many brands and many paddles. But every single one of the Selkirk paddles feels great in my hand. I’ve stuck with the current model because it gives me what I think is a perfect mix between power and feel. My tennis game was all power. With pickleball you need that feel and soft-handed touches to keep points alive. This paddle seems to do it for me without making me try too hard. 

The Thieme Brothers - Kyle and Brian

The Thieme Brothers – Kyle and Brian

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?
My older brother, Kyle, was looking for a game that he and his wife could play together.  Both were strong Division 1 tennis players, and were hoping pickleball wouldn’t aggravate her tennis injury. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to play without being in pain. Kyle called me knowing how much I love to compete, and told me to give it a try. So, I give all the credit to him for introducing me to this great sport.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

Being from Arizona and knowing how to handle the intense heat, outdoor is all I’ve known. I’ve spent limited time indoors at the hometown church and recreation centers. Having just moved to San Diego, I’m sure I’ll be spending more and more time outdoors as well.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Growing up playing tennis, I loved singles but was always a better doubles player. Hoping the same would transfer over to pickleball, I tried my hand in a few singles tournaments and discovered that it is a young person’s game. I am only 27 years old, but watching the top singles players run around, dive and leave the matches bloody and exhausted just isn’t for me anymore. I enjoy the “cat and mouse” part of doubles, always having to think and make split second decisions.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

I am not a well-traveled player, but plan to change that this season. I have only played at 3 venues consistently. The Starting Courts have a special place in my memory bank. To me a court is a court, and the people are what make it special.  My brother and I were extremely lucky to stumble into a group of guys in Scottsdale, Arizona that were very much above us. It was an honor to watch and learn while playing with guys like Aspen Kern, Matt Staub, Jotham Darrin and Erik Fosdick. I am now in San Diego, and my home courts are at the world-famous Bobby Riggs Tennis Center run by the Dawson family. The facility is filled with an amazing group of people. On any given night, you can find solid 5.0 matches on 5 to 6 courts.

Bobby Riggs Pickleball Courts, San Diego, CA

Bobby Riggs Pickleball Courts, San Diego, CA

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

Secret sauce? I make a pretty good salsa, if you have extra chips… but as far as playing goes, nothing really. If I had to pick something I would say my unpredictability. My college tennis coach once told me, “You make some of the dumbest shot selections I’ve ever seen. But they work and your opponent has no clue what you’re doing, so keep it up.” In pickleball that strategy doesn’t work quite as well. My biggest tip for those willing to learn is the opposite of my “secret sauce” – hit the ball over and be consistent. It’s extremely hard to overpower someone at the top levels. So just be smart and hit the easy balls over and in.

What’s your day job?

I recently started a new career adventure as a foreman for a construction company working in the San Diego School District.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

Six weeks ago, my answer was very different: only playing 4-6 hours per week. I have now been blessed with excellent pickleball just 10 minutes down the road, available 7 days a week. I am currently playing 20-25 hours per week, and will continue to do so as long as my body permits.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

I’ve never been a superstitious player. However; if you refer back to my “wins” section, perhaps I should try and adopt something. Anything can help, right?

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

The majority of my goals are more off court than on.  In a perfect world, all the top players would be able to use their skills to better their communities. However, my one on-court goal is to always medal higher than my brother.  It’s a must to keep the sibling rivalry alive.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

Have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it.

Meet The Pros – Shane Denning

Men's doubles age 35+ winners. Shane Denning, Nicklaus Williams (gold).

2017 International Indoor Pickleball Champions: Men’s doubles age 35+: Shane Denning, Nicklaus Williams-gold, Tim MacVinnie-silver, Hillbilly Spivey, Sugar Shayne R. Johnson-bronze

Meet the Pros Shane Denning
Shane has a real heart for this game, a healthy respect for the competition and a great talent for organizing tournaments.  Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?
2017 International Indoor Pickleball Championships – Men’s 35+ Gold
2017 Yakima Pickleball classic – Men’s 5.0 – Bronze
2017 Spring Fling – Men’s 5.0 – Gold
2016 Western Oregon Classic – Men’s 5.0 – Silver
2016 Willamette Valley Spring Rally – Mixed 5.0 – Bronze
2015 Pickle Barrel Classic – Men’s 5.0 – Bronze

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Selkirk Pro S1G Graphite  for indoor courts and the heavier Selkirk ProS1G+ outdoors. Great mix of touch and power.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

The game kind of fell into my lap. I am the Athletic Director at an multi-use athletic club and in 2005 a few retired folks came back from Arizona for the winter and asked if they could tape some lines in our gym and play this sport called pickleball. It grew from there and by 2008 we had 6 indoor courts with permanent lines. I still didn’t play much, I admit that I thought it was just a sport for older folks. I would go in and just blast away, refused to dink and the 60+ age players would beat me on a regular basis. Then we ran our first tournament in 2012 and I learned to dink a little. I entered in Men’s 4.5 and played against Wes Gabrielsen in his first tournament. Then I was HOOKED, and have been ever since. Side note: I also haven’t beat Wes since. : (

What’s your preference playing indoor or outdoor?

I know this isn’t a popular answer, but INDOOR is my favorite! I love that the ball is slower and harder to put away. You get a better workout and crazy rallies. I also have no racquet background and have always felt that ex-tennis players have a big advantage outside with a faster ball. I’m much better indoors.

Shane Denning Bronze

2016 Western Oregon Pickleball Classic, Mens Doubles 5.0 Devin Shoquist/Chuck Taylor Bronze, Wes Gabrielsen/Brian Ashworth – Gold, Kurtis Campbell, Shane Denning – Bronze

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

Doubles for sure. Singles are for crazy people! And to be honest, at the 5.0 level I can’t beat anyone in Singles! They are too young and too fast.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

Well I have a young family, and I don’t travel outside of the Pacific Northwest to play much, so I haven’t seen some of the amazing facilities out there. However, I think it would be hard to beat Pine Nursery Park in Bend, Oregon.  Absolutely beautiful courts, with great views of the mountains.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

My secret sauce is my backhand volley. I just pray that a player will leave a ball up for me so I can use it!  As for tips… I would say play LTSU pickleball (Let Them Screw Up). Keep your balls in and low and you will watch your opponents make more errors.

What’s your day job?

I am the Athletic Director at Timberhill Athletic Club in Corvallis, Oregon. I run summer camps, kids basketball leagues, men’s basketball leagues, pickleball tournaments, volleyball and other gym activities.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

My work desk has a window that directly faces our indoor courts so I am inspired to go in and play a lot. I play with other 5.0 players about once a week, and then a few days a week with 4.0 and above, and about once a week with intermediate and beginners. I probably get in about 6-8 hours per week of playtime. I am lucky enough to have a wife that understands my pickleball addiction, so she lets me play a lot!

Open Men's Doubles medalists at the La Pine Frontier Days Pickleball Tournament. Gold: Wesley Gabrielsen and Robert Davidson, Silver: Shane Denning and Shayne R. Johnson, Bronze - Steve Paranto and Patrick Williams.

Open Men’s Doubles medalists at the La Pine Frontier Days Pickleball Tournament. Gold: Wesley Gabrielsen and Robert Davidson, Silver: Shane Denning and Shayne R. Johnson, Bronze – Steve Paranto and Patrick Williams.

Any lucky rituals before a big tournament?

Fortunately, I live in the Pacific Northwest, where every tournament I have to play against Chris Miller, Brian Ashworth, Kurtis Campbell, Wes Gabrielsen, Enrique Ruiz, Matt Goebel, Ty McGuffin and many more top pros. I usually pray before the match and hope to not lose 11-0, 11-0.  

Do you have any pickleball goals you would like to share?

Each year I have gotten a little bit better, so I’d like to continue that path. I would love to travel to Nationals or the US Open in the coming years and watch, meet, and compete against all the players from across the country. I would also love to see the Junior program grow across the country.  In my opinion, that is the best way to grow the sport for the future. If kids can grow up with pickleball, then I think we would see the sport explode in the next 20 years. in that series. 

Anything else you would like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

I absolutely love this sport! I love how friendly the pickleball community is. I love to see older players pick the game up and become addicted.  I have been running beginner clinics for 5 years and I have never had anyone say that they didn’t enjoy pickleball. I also love reading about new dedicated courts popping up all over the nation. This sport is growing at a crazy rate, I am excited to be a small part of it.