Author Archives: Mikel Ezkerro

Pelota on ETB, 10th-12th May

Friday 10th May, Tolosa


Followed by BEROIZ v ALBISU Manomanista

Sunday 12th May, Eibar


Followed by JAUNARENA v ZABALETA Manomanista

To watch, go to http://www.eitb.tv

Manomanista: Urrutikoetxea, Beroiz, Barriola and Jaunarena proceed

The first round proper of the Manomanista Championship took place last weekend. Sebastien Gonzalez withdrew from his match against Mikel Urrutikoetxea before the event with an injury, meaning that the latter goes through unopposed. He plays Xala in the next round. Each of the three matches which went ahead was very different, one close, one reasonably decisive and one a thrashing.

The closest match came on Saturday in Pamplona where Mikel Beroiz beat Joseba Ezkurdia 22-18, striking a rare blow for the defenders. This was a stunning advertisement for the game, with two young players showing the full gamut of their skills. The protagonists were evenly matched for the most part, but it was Beroiz’ devastating use of the volley which gave him the edge, ensuring the pace of the game remained high forcing Ezkurdia into scrapping defence. Beroiz proceeds to the next stage where he will face Jon Ander Albisu in a match to be held tomorrow in Tolosa.

Abel Barriola saw off Iker Arretxe with reasonable ease, winning 22-11 in Legazpia on Friday. Arretxe began the stronger, racing to a 5-0 lead, but Barriola’s patience and experience allowed him entry back into the game. Once he caught and passed his opponent there was rarely any doubt as to who was the better on the day. This is the third time that Arretxe has fallen at the first hurdle in the Manomanista. Barriola plays Retegi Bi in the next round, in Pamplona on Saturday.

It was a triumph of youth over experience in Eibar on Sunday as Jon Jaunarena thrashed Asier Olaizola 22-3. It took last year’s Promocion champion less than twenty three minutes to dismantle Olaizola, winning seventeen straight points from 5-3 to storm to the win. Olaizola made many mistakes, handing Jaunarena gifts at will, but this is not to take away from the latter’s utter domination, a further sure sign that he is a champion in the making at the highest level. He will play newly crowned Pairs champion Zabaleta on Sunday for a place in the quarters.

For all Manomanista fixtures and results, see Asegarce.

In the Promocion Championship, Elezkano II beat Rico IV 22-16, Untoria beat Ladis Galarza 22-10, Lemuno beat Tainta 22-5 and Olazabal beat Apezetxea 22-16. The fixtures for the coming weekend are here.

Pelota on ETB, 3rd-5th May: Manomanista first week!

Friday 3rd May, Legazpi

22:00 (CEST) BARRIOLA v ARRETXE II Manomanista Championship


NB this is not live on the web channels so avoid the result if you want to watch it not knowing!

Sunday 5th May, Eibar


Followed by OLAIZOLA I v JAUNARENA Manomanista Championship

To watch, go to http://www.eitb.tv

Iñaki Iza returns to the fronton after five month absence

Iñaki Iza returns to competition on Friday after a five month absence. He will play in Najera on Friday after overcoming a nerve problem in the biceps of his left arm which has seen him sidelined since 1st December. The Asgegarce defender, who hails from Amorebieta, has been training normally for three weeks and has decided to take the plunge and play. He will pair up with Olaetxea against Saralegi and Aretxabaleta. We wish him well!

Photo: mine

2013 Manomanista draw revealed

With the Pairs final only just in the history books, the draw was announced yesterday for the 2013 Manomanista Championship. Sixteen pelotaris will compete for the title, won last year by Aimar Olaizola.

For Asegarce: Olaizola II, Bengoetxea VI, Albisu, Arretxe II, Beroiz, Idoate, Olaizola I and Urrutikoetxea
For Aspe: Martinez de Irujo, Barriola, Ezkurdia, Gonzalez, Jaunarena, Retegi Bi, Zabaleta and Xala

The draw is as follows:

Group A: Barriola vs Arretxe II (Legazpi, Friday 3rd)> Retegi Bi > Olaizola II
Group B: Gonzalez vs Urrutikoetxea (Labrit, Saturday 4th) > Xala > Idoate
Group C: Olaizola I vs Jaunarena (Eibar, Sunday 5th) > Zabaleta > Bengoetxea VI
Group D: Beroiz vs Ezkurdia (Labrit, Saturday 4th) > Albisu > Martínez de Irujo

The final will be held on Sunday 16th June

Pairs Final: Berasaluze’s dream ends in the blink of an eye

Martinez de Irujo and Zabaleta crowned Pairs champions after injury to Pablo Berasaluze

Sunday 28th April, Bilbao

Irujo and Zabaleta, the long-time tournament favourites were duly crowned as Pairs champions on Sunday, but not in the way that they or anybody else would have hoped. They came into the final very heavily fancied to take the crown but in their way stood a pair who had fought with an astonishing spirit, against all the odds to make it this far. Pure passion could have carried them to the title, with Berasaluze in inspired mood, playing better than ever he has in memory of his late father and determined to dedicate a txapela to him. However, we got a massive anti-climax and witnessed as near as one can possibly get to a sporting tragedy.

Bizkaia was full to the brim with excited and vocal fans, amongst them other pelotaris, former players, and stars of other sports. This sort of occasion is what pelota players live for, the zenith of their sports and the opportunity for greatness on the grandest stage. The match began in a way which lived up to the hype. The first rally was lengthy and packed with quality, with all four protagonists settling well into the melting pot of the final atmosphere. It was won by a skidding drop from Irujo, signalling the promise of great play to come. Albisu handed the Aspe pair a 2-0 lead by hitting high in the next point, but Zabaleta then erred to give the underdogs a start on the scoreboard. A service winner from Berasaluze and it was all square at 2-2. Irujo fired a lethal gantxo in the next play and an over-enthusiastic swipe from Berasaluze, who aimed to pressurise Zabaleta, made it 4-2. This became 5-2 with Albisu’s second high hit of the game but the momentum shifted rapidly with two masterful winners from Berasaluze, one a txoko and one a crafty shot down the wall. It was 5-4 with everything to play for. Both forwards looked on song and both backs, despite occasional errors looked mightily impressive and fairly evenly matched. We salivated at what was to come, but then everything fell apart.

As he ran towards the side wall to retrieve a dipping ball from Irujo, Berasaluze landed awkwardly on his left leg and then, attempting to put weight on it, fell in agony. Stunned silence descended on the fronton, punctuated by the stricken pelotari’s cries for help. It was clear, as he was helped off the playing area, that this injury was terminal. Within minutes, which felt like hours, it was confirmed that Berasaluze had likely snapped his Achilles tendon. It was game over and amid bewilderment and not a little shellshock, Irujo and Zabaleta were proclaimed champions with the battle only just begun. If they did not know how to react, the situation was even more baffling for Albisu, left high and dry in the biggest match of his career. He looked utterly helpless. At least for Albisu, however, there is plenty time to reach more finals; Berasaluze is reaching the end of his career and future chances may prove few and far between. His career had come down to this match, his chance to write his name in the history books after an extraordinary late flowering, but now all was lost.

The crowd did not know what to do either. Should they go or was there something to stay for? The organisers hastily ushered Xala, who had played in the curtain raiser, back onto the fronton and he played with Albisu in a strange shadow of what should have been the showpiece culmination of months of competition. There was nothing to play for other than to give the spectators something to watch for their money, and nobody’s heart, least of all Albisu’s, was remotely in it. For the record, Irujo and Zabaleta won.

There followed the presentation of the trophies and txapelas, to a tumultuous reception from the crowd, especially when Berasaluze hobbled out on crutches to soak up their cheers. It was both warming and heart rending. In this melting pot of emotions we must not fail to celebrate the achievements of Irujo and Zabaleta however. Despite the lack of competitive final, they were the best pair in the competition and deserved their spoils. Irujo had failed to win a major championship since the 2010 Cuatro y Medio and this was quite a resurgence. Alongside him, we must applaud to the rooftops the  achievements of Zabaleta, a tournament rookie who took to the big time as if he had always been there. The young defender had been carefully primed for the top level and he proved week upon week that this was where he belonged. He has a great future, of that there can be no doubt. As for Berasaluze, a scan confirmed the diagnosis and he will undergo surgery tomorrow. It is estimated he will be out of action for six months. We wish him all the very best.

Photo: mine

Promocion Pairs Final: triumph for Ezcaray as Gorka and Cecilio are crowned

Saturday 27th April, Logrono


Adarraga was in full scale party mode on Saturday evening for the Promocion final, in which all four players were Riojan. Each pair had its faction in the crowd but the biggest single group of supporters came from Ezcaray, the home town of both Gorka Esteban and Cecilio Valgañón, and they did not leave disappointed as the dominant pair of the championship took the spoils. This is a second Promocion crown in a row for Cecilio, who won last year with Jon Jaunarena. Despite the emotion of the occasion, the match itself was not a vintage one. The contest was riddled with errors, especially from Rico, who never found any rhythm. Cecilio, too, was below his best but provided dogged defence and just enough of a platform for the player of the match, Gorka, to do what was necessary. Seven winners in open play plus four on serve represented an excellent return for the forward in such an error strewn match.

Gorka and Cecilio fought their way through the semi-finals by the skin of their teeth, living very dangerously after losing their penultimate match 21-22, and relying on a 22-21 win in their last for their final place, but they came good again when it mattered. They were easily the class act of the round robin stages, winning nine of their eleven games with one of their losses coming while Gorka was injured and replaced by Aritz Lasa. It is justice that it is they who stand atop the podium. While Cecilio has won this title before, it is a first professional txapela for Gorka who has looked more and more solid this year. It could prove a springboard into greater things. For the moment though, Ezcaray’s finest will revel in their local celebrity and the adulation of the wider pelotazale.

There is a short video with highlights and footage of the presentation here.

Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-7, 6-7, 6-9, 7-9, 7-10, 10-10, 10-14, 13-14, 13-20, 15-20, 15-22
Service winners/errors: Rico 2/0, Gorka 4/0
Winners/errors: Rico 3/7, Untoria 2/2, Gorka 7/3, Cecilio 2/5
Match time: 64:02
Balls hit: 493

Photo: mine

Presenting the Finalists: Martinez de Irujo and Zabaleta

Juan Martinez de Irujo Goñi is one of the defining pelotaris of his generation and there is little that has not been said about the greart forward. Irujo, now 31, hails from Ibero in Navarre and made his professional debut in Pamplona in 2003. He hit the ground running in dramatic style, becoming Manomanista champion within a year of his debut having already reached the Pairs final in the same year. Titles continued to fall at his feet, culminating in the apotheosis of 2006 when he won all three major championships. Irujo’s career has slowed down of late; he has not won a major title since 2010, partly due to a dip in his own form and partly to the extraordinary flourishing of Aimar Olaizola who has usurped him as the sport’s number one in the past three years. However, Irujo remains Irujo and he has played a blinder for the majority of this year’s Pairs, inspired to reach the heights by his young partner Zabaleta, himself on a golden path to the top. It is not an exaggeration to say that, along with Olaizola, Irujo has changed the style of the modern game. To watch these two greats play each other is to watch a virtual whirlwind. Such pace and relentless attack set the pattern that all others would have to try and follow. Irujo has bad days and can sometimes be the architect of his own demise but when on song he is extremely hard to stop. This task will fall largely to Berasaluze on Sunday. He has done it before but can he do it again on the biggest stage of all?

Pairs record
2004 with Lasa III, finalist
2005 with Goni III, winner
2006 with Eulate, winner
2007 with Goni III, quarter-finals
2009 with Goni III, winner
2010 with Beroiz, semi-finals
2011 with Merino II, semi-finals
2012 with Barriola, group stages

Previous professional titles
Pairs Championship in 2005, 2006 and 2009
Manomanista in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010
Cuatro y Medio in 2006 and 2010

Jose Javier Zabaleta Lasa, who hails from the tiny Navarrese village of Etxarren, has been the revelation of the championship, though in truth his promise was so obvious that his rise is no big surprise. Zabaleta, who celebrated his 22nd birthday last month, made his professional debut in Eibar at the start of 2011 and impressed immediately. As an amateur he won the Campeonato de Lezo in 2009 and a year later took both the Federacion de Clubes Pairs title and the senior world title and given this pedigree, Aspe threw him into the Promocion Manomanista a few months later, where he lost to Olaetxea in a tight first round encounter. The following year he fell only at the semi-final stage, 21-22 to eventual winner Jaunarena. He missed out on selection for the Pairs with a broken arm in 2012, so the 2013 top tier championship is his first in the discipline at the professional level. He won his place on merit with a succession of outstanding performances against more experienced opposition and repaid the faith of his empresa from the word go. Zabaleta has looked older that his years, consistently inspired and constantly solid throughout the many weeks of the championship. He is quiet, polite and unassuming off the court and unflappable on it, and is clearly totally undaunted by both the massive chance and the great responsibility that comes in playing with Irujo. He is already destined for the bigtime and a win on Sunday would take him there with immediate effect. Whatever happens, 2013 has, so far, been the year of Zabaleta.

Pairs record
2013 is his first appearance

Previous professional titles

Photos: mine

Pelota on ETB, 26th-28th April: Pairs Championship Final

Friday 26th April, Altsasu


Followed by MERINO II v EZKURDIA Manomanista preview

Sunday 28th April, Bilbao


Followed by BERASALUZE II – ALBISU v MARTINEZ DE IRUJO  – ZABALETA Pairs Championship Final

To watch, go to http://www.eitb.tv

This weekend also sees the Promocion Pairs final between RICO IV – UNTORIA and GORKA – CECILIO. This will take place on Saturday in Logrono, with the first match of the evening commencing at 17:30 (CEST).

Presenting the Finalists: Berasaluze II and Albisu

Pablo Berasaluze Zabala was born in 1977 in Berriz, a town of around 5000 inhabitants nestled between Durango and Zaldibar in Bizkaia. He made his professional debut in 1998 at the age of 20, at the Municipal Fronton of Bergara, after a successful amateur career which saw him take the Liga Vasca de Clubes title in 1994 and the Torneo El Diario Vasco pairs title in 1997. Although he has been a regular feature in the top flight of pelota for many years, Berasaluze has yet to win a major championship title. His Pairs Championship record is not a stellar one; he has reached the semi-finals on only two occasions in seven attempts, but the second of these appearances came last year with Albisu, his partner this time round. On that occasion they won only one of their semis in what was essentially a dead rubber against Titin III and Zabaleta (the latter replacing Merino II for the eventual champions). This year they have fought to the death and come through against all the odds, testament to the fighting spirit for which Berasaluze is famous. He plays with commitment and extraordinary verve, his small stature combined with his determination reminding one of a terrier at work. A terrific player who has bloomed late in his career, Berasaluze surely deserves at least one major championship txapela to show for his efforts and in the year when he changed his playing name from Berasaluze VIII to Berasaluze II in honour of his late father, a win on Sunday would be a fitting tribute.

Pairs record
2003 with Beloki, group stages
2004 with Zearra, group stages
2005 with Patxi Ruiz, group stages
2009 with Zearra, semi-finals
2010 with Begino, group stages
2011 with Apraiz, group stages
2012 with Albisu, semi-finals

Previous professional titles

Jon Ander Albisu is, at the age of 22, a pelotari just coming into his own. Regarded since the start of his career as a huge talent who could not find consistency, this tournament has represented a watershed; his playing has at times been erratic but at times inspired and coupled with the dynamism of Berasaluze his determination has seen him through. Albisu was born in Ataun, in the Goierri region of Gipuzkoa. He has an impressive amateur palmares which includes the Torneo del Antiguo pairs title in 2008, the championship of Euskadi individual titles in 2009 and 2010 and the GRAVN individual crown in 2010. These showings were enough to merit a contract with Asegarce, with whom he made his debut in July 2010 in Tolosa. A year later he took his only professional title to date, winning the Promocion Pairs Championship with Olaetxea, beating Gorka and Merino I in the final. In 2012 he was promoted to the top tier tournament, making the semi-finals with current partner Berasaluze. Whatever happens on Sunday, the 2013 Pairs final will be a defining moment in Albisu’s career, the moment he moved from promising young player to genuine title contender. He has shown a great deal of grit in this championship, absorbing much criticism in the press to come good when it matters. He will be scrutinised more than anyone else, for Asegarce’s victory bid rests on which Albisu takes to the fronton, the confident new star or the inconsistent youngster.

Pairs record
2012 with Berasaluze II, semi-finals

Previous professional titles
2011 Promocion Pairs Championship, with Olaetxea

Photos: mine