After defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the University of Miami, and the College of Charleston, Swarthmore took home the Hawthorn Cup, squash’s G division championship.
It’s not a typo. Swarthmore emerged victorious in three separate sporting events against well-known NCAA Division I schools. Swarthmore went blow for blow against schools that have produced a myriad of notable professional athletes including Kris Humphries, Ray Lewis and Brett Gardner.
Although it is not a NCAA sport, squash is run by the College Squash Association. At the tournament, held at Trinity College in Connecticut, the CSA split up the 64 teams into eight divisions of eight teams. Swarthmore was placed in the G division (the seventh top division), six divisions behind acclaimed squash program Trinity College.
In the Cup, each team sends out nine players to play nine individual matches. Teams with five or more wins move on to the next round. Since there were eight teams, the Swarthmore players knew going in that they would have to win three matches to become champions.
The Garnet made easy work of the University of Minnesota, winning 7-2. Then, in the semifinals, they faced off against the Miami Hurricanes, defeating them 6-3. In the finals, they beat the College of Charleston 6-3 to wrap up the title. This last victory against the College of Charleston was especially meaningful for the team because Charleston had knocked Swarthmore out of last year’s tournament, trouncing them 8-1.
According to Shawn Pan ’17, “It was an emotional moment for a lot of people, especially for the seniors who played for four years.” Pan went on to note, “I know the captain [Jason Hua ’15] cried after the last game he won.”
Last weekend was understandably emotional for the two captains, Hua and Harshil Sahai ’15. Perhaps it was even more gratifying because their responsibilities included organizing everything related to the squash team, from the coach to the transportation. Since squash is not a varsity sport, Hua and Sahai are required to take responsibility for many of the nuances that the athletic department takes care of for varsity sports. The squash team needs to reach out to other collegiate teams, schedule its own matches and coordinate lodging accommodations for teams that travel great distances. They also need to arrange transportation to and from their practices, which are held 30 minutes away from the college.
According to Sahai, the team practices Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with optional practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So for dedicated members of the team like Sahai and Hua, squash takes a varsity level commitment.
Sahai said, “It’s clear that we are more or less a varsity sport, with the difference being administrative and recruiting influence in admissions.”
Since the athletics department considers squash a club sport, squash players do not undergo the recruiting process and therefore receive no preference from admissions in their applications to the school. Though Sahai and Hua take their commitment to squash very seriously, neither of them trained competitively in high school. In fact, Hua didn’t play at all.
Hua and Sahai may make squash have a varsity-like feel; however, some of the players do not see it that way.
One player admitted, “I could have gone [to the championships in Hartford]. I chose not to go. I had a hackathon.” Though academics reign supreme here at Swarthmore, missing the championship for another event is something that distinguishes club sports from varsity sports.
That said, for the people who participated in the tournament, their accomplishment is a major one. And squash itself is not an easy game. Sahai said, “Winning in squash is more about strategic placement of the ball, efficient movement on the court, and [the] alertness of [the] opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. In other words, outsmarting your opponent.”
At a school where “outsmarting someone” is the norm, perhaps more Swarthmore students will be drawn to squash in the coming years.