Last season proved quite unusual for the Vassar squash team. Due to both graduating seniors and study abroad commitments, the men’s and women’s teams combined with one another, forming a single squad. This made it hard for many of the female players, who now had to fight for playing time. Thankfully, the women’s program garnered enough interest this year for head coach Jane Parker to reinstate the women’s team in what has effectively become a “re-splitting” of the program. This “re-split” is not without its challenges, but has proven quite constructive for the Brewers.
The women’s team currently sits 4-4 on the year. The opportunity to train and compete with the men’s team last season seems to be paying off for the women as many players have gained valuable experience. Freshman Hannah Nice (Full disclosure: Hannah Nice is a member of the Miscellany News Social Media Team), has been particularly integral to the team’s success thus far. Nice, a Squash Scholar-Athlete for three years in high school, has been playing at number one for the women’s team and holds a record of 9-3 on the year. Although she is still a freshman, she gave her thoughts on the “re-split,” explaining: “[It] has allowed for the players on the women’s team to really hone in on their skills. It’s also great to have more women around—we all relate well to each other and have formed a nice support system for one another. But, it’s great how the men and women’s teams still get to practice together—everyone has distinct styles of playing, so it’s great having a large pool of players to practice with; it really steps up the training.”
Junior Tim Veit weighs in on the changes as well, believing that while the split has been good for both squads, it has benefited the women more. He elaborates in an emailed statement: “Last season, the men and women on the team had to compete for spots on the squad and because the coed team were facing mainly all male teams, it left only a few women to compete because they were being outplayed by the men who are used to a game of a faster pace. Not to say that the women on the team are not skilled players, but male and female squash are two totally different games and now that there are two teams again, more women are able to compete in the matches.”
Yet despite being separated in competition, both teams maintain a strong bond with one another. Senior captain David Garfinkel believes the split went smooth as well. He wrote, “We had a lot of new players, men and women, join the team this year so more of the focus was getting them assimilated to the Squash team. Additionally, both the men’s and women’s teams are very supportive of each other, so its almost like the split didn’t happen at all.”
The men stand 2-9 on the year so far, facing several tough opponents. Despite these losses, Coach Parker finds a silver lining. “One could think that having a poor win/loss record would have a negative effect on the team,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “It seems however to have produced more motivation to improve. Losses, after an initial grieving period, are generally treated as free lessons. This attitude has helped to deflect a downward spiral in player confidence and team morale.”
How, then, does Vassar squash look to improve both its team and program going forward? Coach Parker stated, “The simple answer would be to recruit a higher caliber of squash players to Vassar. Obviously, achieving this is not that simple, as we would already have done it!” Parker went on to add that there is only a small pool of academically-qualified high school seniors available to play for Vassar amidst a growing collegiate squash organization. Still, Vassar continues to promote itself to the junior squash world through events like camps, clinics and tournaments. This has allowed them to already recruit a strong female and male to start next year. Parker adds that the team may get some more via regular decision.
Veit, too, looks to something more internal. “I’d have to say [the high point] would be the growth of the new male and female players in the program, who have been able to accomplish so much because of our coach Jane Parker and our new assistant coach, and former touring professional, Shahid Khan,” he wrote. Khan, formerly from England, has played in the Professional Squash Association and was ranked as high as 114 in the world in 2007. He has played and coached squash in both Philadelphia and Rye Brook, N.Y. and taught a few sessions at Vassar last season. This is his first year working frequently with the Brewers.
Despite their records, the Brewers’ focus this year has been on improving and coming together as a team. Where there is effort, there is progress. As Nice wrote, “I feel like there haven’t been any lows; everyone’s focused on grooming their skills, and takes each match as a growing experience. Win or lose, we all take the time to reflect on what we did well and what needs improvement. We try our hardest each time we step on court and view every match on its own. So, when we reflect on our previous matches and compare it to our more recent ones, and do see improvement in certain areas of play, it’s really exciting!”
This year has proven to be an effective transition period for the teams. They still have both Team and Individual Nationals to look forward to and do not seem to be doing so in angst. As freshman Hannah Nice concluded, “That’s the nice thing about playing squash: there are both individual and team aspects to it. On court, we push ourselves as hard as we can, knowing that stepping out of the match, each of us will have either won or lost, and regardless the outcome, the rest of the team will be there supporting us, cheering loudly. So, for the rest of the season, I hope (and know) that we’ll maintain our optimistic attitudes, continue to take everything one step at a time, learn from our prior matches, and finish out strong—with no regrets.”