Not many Swatties know that squash is one of the few co-ed club sports offered on campus. This could be for a number of reasons; the squash courts were torn down to make way for the construction of the Matchbox in 2014, or because it is a team with just twelve players. These players spend more than fifteen hours a week preparing and traveling for competitions against colleges and universities throughout the Northeast. Their season culminates in the national squash tournament, during which over 100 teams across the country gather to compete. This relatively unknown club team has consistently managed to put together a formidable squad and and most recently finished the season ranked 53 in the country –– their highest ranking since 2012. The club was originally formed in the 1970s at the school, but later ended, only to be revitalized in 2008.
Although the smallest club sport, the experience required to join and the level of commitment is akin to other club sports like frisbee. Most players join the team with little to no formal squash experience. Many players have experience with racquetball sports such as tennis, making the transition to squash easier due to the similar techniques and rules of the two sports. Many of Swarthmore’s current top players however, started playing in high school or well before.
Squash is played in a boxed room, surrounded by three walls, with one continuous line stretching across these walls. Matches are between two players and as in most racket sports, a ball is served and a rally occurs between the players until one player cannot continue the volley. As one can imagine, it gets quite exhausting, and according to sophomore star James Sutton ’21, a previous high school football and tennis player, “It’s the best cardio workout there is.” Sutton even plans on running a half marathon now the season is over, and claims it will require minimal training as squash has greatly improved his fitness.
Squash is a unique team sport, in that the best player is just as important as the worst. In a two team competition, there are a total of nine individual matches between the teams. Opposing players are matched up with each other based on previous rankings, meaning the best on each team play each other, while the second best players on each teams play and so on. This makes the competition as fair as possible. In each match, there are sets that are played to eleven points and whichever player manages to win three of these sets, is awarded the match. For a team to win the overall competition, they need to win at least five of these matches.
The season starts in late October and concludes in late February. While in season, the team practices three times a week at the Fairmount Athletic Club, located in King of Prussia, a 45 minute drive away. They are coached by Jason Hua ’13 who also coaches at Fairmount.
On weekends, the team travels to mid-atlantic and northeastern schools such as Vassar and Collegiate to compete. The team is fully funded by Swarthmore, which allows them to use school vans for their trips, stay in hotels, and book practice times. The team makes around nine of these trips a year with the final trip being to nationals.
The serious time commitment for a club sport may be part of the reason the team has so few members, but according to Sutton the time commitment is manageable and the experience is very rewarding. From meeting great people, to traveling to different schools and staying at hotels, Sutton said, “It is the ideal club, it’s a lot of time, but totally worth it.”
The squash season officially ended two weekends ago with the national tournament, which was located in Stamford, Connecticut. Going into the tournament, Swarthmore was seeded into the G bracket, which competes for Hawthorn Cup. There were eight brackets in total, A-H, A representing the colleges, mostly Ivys, that had the best overall records, while the lowest bracket, H was comprised of teams with the poorest records.
To understand how Swarthmore fared this season at nationals, it is important to understand the college squash league and the structure and nature of the competition. There are around 115 colleges and universities, predominantly located in the mid atlantic and northeast that compete in what is known as the CSA, or the College Squash Association. Some teams, like Swarthmore’s, are clubs, while others, such as those in the Ivy League, are varsity sports with coaches and recruiting. However, Swarthmore is one of the few teams that is co-ed.
Swarthmore ended up placing fifth in the Hawthorn Cup, finishing ranked No. 53 in the country. Swarthmore likely could have finished higher had it not been for a heartbreaking loss against Lehigh. Swarthmore lost the match 6-3, but many of the matches went to five sets and were decided by only a few points. Lehigh ended up finishing second in the bracket, losing to Colgate in the final.
Swarthmore’s success this season can be attributed to the four seniors on the team, Amanda Izes, Matt Peterson, Davy Qi and Nathaniel Sandalow-Ash. Senior captains Qi and Sandalow-Ash have done a great job of building the program. Additionally, a recent emphasis on recruiting first-years into the program has helped Swarthmore compete against varsity programs across the country.
Next season, however, the squash team is losing all four of their seniors and top players. The club will also likely be forced to practice at Haverford’s squash courts because their current practice courts are closing. This certainly presents a new challenge for the team, but Sutton has faith in the leadership to come to a solution. With rising junior Nathan Pitock and rising senior Robert Gunn taking over the captaincy, Swarthmore’s young core will look to continue to improve the team.
As a tennis star in high school, Sutton found the transition to squash relatively fluid, but he encourages all students, experience or no experience, to come out for the team. The sport has grown since its revitalization in 2008 because of the group of students who run and manage the club. Swarthmore has managed to continually improve in part because of their consistency throughout the year, but also because of extremely high player retention rate. With the group of players that the team has now, club squash will look to build off of their continued commitment and success.