Sweet pickleball as 2014 Utah Summer Games hits final days

Brad Johnsen and Lucinda Johnsen, Utah Summer Games pickleball competition, St. George, Utah, Jun. 27, 2014 | Photo by Shelly Griffin, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The dozen or so pickleball courts out at Little Valley are busy most nights, so it’s a little surprising that pickleball fans are as enthusiastic as army recruiters when talking about their sport. But pickleball, no doubt, is on the rise.

Eric Mathis returns a shot, Utah Summer Games pickleball competition, St. George, Utah, Jun. 27, 2014 | Photo by Shelly Griffin, St. George News
Eric Mathis returns a shot, Utah Summer Games pickleball competition, St. George, Utah, Jun. 27, 2014 | Photo by Shelly Griffin, St. George News

A sort of hybrid racket sport with attributes from racquetball, tennis and even table tennis, pickleball is not as strenuous and hard on the body as some other sports. But make no mistake, pickleball will give you a workout.

“You get sore, but in different ways,” said Chris Mathis, who took gold along with partner Shaylin Magnuson in the final pickleball event of the Utah Summer Games Friday night, the 4.5-5.0 mixed doubles. “Actually, your knees and legs don’t get that sore, but your butt does. It’s because of all the bending and squatting and lunging.”

After a Round Robin preliminary round found them seeded third, Mathis and Magnuson got hot in the single-elimination tournament, eventually defeating top-seeded couple Brad and Lucinda Johnsen in the gold-medal match, which ended after 10:30 Friday night in Little Valley.

Mathis, a tennis pro at Tonaquint, is like most pickleballers — an ambassador for the sport.

Brad Johnsen and Lucinda Johnsen, Utah Summer Games pickleball competition, St. George, Utah, Jun. 27, 2014 | Photo by Shelly Griffin, St. George News
Brad Johnsen and Lucinda Johnsen, Utah Summer Games pickleball competition, St. George, Utah, Jun. 27, 2014 | Photo by Shelly Griffin, St. George News

“It is so relatable,” he said. “It’s a simplified game. I can take someone that’s never played before and have them playing a decent game in 10 minutes. A lot of tennis players play pickleball, too. The two sports really compliment each other.”

Pickleball at the Summer Games featured four days of competition with 13 different age/skill categories. The competition culminated with the mixed doubles at the highest skill level (4.5-5.0). The matches featured a best of three games format with game-point being 11 (win by two). Mathis and Magnuson used a withering volley game to edge the Johnsens in three games, 11-13, 11-8, 13-11, clinching the gold after  Johnsen volley landed wide out. The Johnsens took silver with the duo of Craig Poarch and Denise Allen winning bronze.

With the courts surrounding the gold and bronze matches late in the evening full of recreational pickleball players, it was plain to see pickleball is gaining momentum.

“It’s just so fun and highly addictive,” said USG pickleball director Patricia Loghry, a former tennis player who made the switch. “It’s a great workout — very aerobic. And it’s also a very social game. You make a lot of friends playing pickleball.”

Loghry, a St. George transplant from Oklahoma, said she had no plans to be a pickleball addict. It just happened.

Rick Lambson, Utah Summer Games pickleball competition, St. George, Utah, Jun. 27, 2014 | Photo by Shelly Griffin, St. George News
Rick Lambson, Utah Summer Games pickleball competition, St. George, Utah, Jun. 27, 2014 | Photo by Shelly Griffin, St. George News

“I’d played racquetball and tennis, but was looking for something else to help me get out and be active,” she said. “A friend of mine said I ought to take up pickleball and I said: ‘What in the world is pickleball?’ There was an open group that plays at Vernon Worthen park and I decided to go see what it was all about. You know, I wasn’t there two minutes and they had me out on the court. And I ended up playing for three hours.”

Allen, who has been playing the sport longer than most in St. George (five years), said pickleball works for all ages and sizes.

“It was slow (growing) at first when I started five years ago, but now it’s the fastest growing sport out there,” she said. “It’s good for all ages. It’s just growing, growing, growing. I’m a fidgety person and there’s a lot of movement in pickleball. I remember I watched it one night and then I played it and I was hooked.”

The Utah Summer Games have a busy day Saturday and then conclude with the lone sport of archery on Sunday, then will pack up the medals and start preparations for 2015.

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