Kurtis Cullen has made a lot of changes this racquetball season.
The 22-year-old Brandonite moved away from home to Hamilton, became more independent and started training full time in racquetball. With all the changes, his personal expectations for the national championships in Brossard, Que., have increased.
Cullen is no longer looking at a top-eight finish in men’s singles competition, but is in it to win it this year, although he knows the road will be tough.
"I kind of already know my draw, if you go by the seedings," said Cullen, who’s ranked the 13th best men’s player in Canada. "You have to beat everybody in order to make it there and there will be some tough draws from (the round of) 16 straight through to the final. I think if I do play well enough then I have a chance, but I feel if it isn’t this year then I know the next few years it will get more likely and more likely."
Cullen comes into the singles competition as the 11th seed and will meet Matthew Swaine from Etobicoke, Ont., in his first-round match Wednesday.
Cullen is feeling good going into nationals. He pushed his body to the limit training all year alongside Mike Green, Canada’s top-ranked men’s player. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Cullen feels his game has improved a lot, especially with him being able to control his diet and sleeping patterns a lot better now.
He’s also coming off of a successful run at provincials, in which he cruised to the men’s singles and mixed doubles championships. He lost the men’s doubles final in a match in which he tweaked his back and was playing through pain. Cullen took a week off to let his back recover, which it has, and is now doing light workouts as final preparation for nationals.
While singles competition doesn’t start until Wednesday, Cullen is teaming up with Coby Iwaasa from Lethbridge, Alta., for the men’s doubles event, which starts on Monday. The pair, who could meet in the round of 16 in the singles event, are ranked fourth in doubles and Cullen isn’t taking doubles lightly as he feels it may be his best chance to become a national champion this year.
"It is nice to have doubles before, but there is a lot riding on it," he said. "You do get a big chunk of points if you are competing for the national team. Unfortunately I didn’t have the best results throughout the year, it doesn’t really mean anything for me, but I think we have a better chance of winning a doubles nationals title than I do of winning a singles title. And a national title is a national title. I actually do think we have a good chance coming in as the fourth seed."
Although he has high hopes for himself at nationals, Cullen won’t be disappointed if he doesn’t live up to them. He’s treating this season as a development year. However, next year he hopes to see his ranking climb and he plans to compete for a spot on the national team, a chance to play at the Pan American Games in Toronto and national glory.
"It’s all a learning process," he said. "I’ve learned from the last two losses that I’ve had and now I can go into this with a lot more confidence and knowing I can play really good racquetball consistently. I just need to come out and treat every game like it’s my last game."