Squash offers undaunting learning curve, competitive fun

The women’s squash team poses for a group portrait. Courtesy of Vassar Athletics.

Squash can be something of a mystery for those who don’t know what it is. Indoor, fast-paced and with a variety of thundering pongs, all within a dorm-sized arena, it is enough to both intrigue and intimidate a nearby bystander. If you haven’t gotten it yet, we are talking about the sport, although perhaps the food might inspire similar feelings for some.

It turns out the sport’s obscurity dates back to its origin. Although humans have been hitting circular objects against walls for centuries, it was actually prisoners, concealed within the walls of the Fleet Prison in London, that would use rackets to hit balls against their cell walls as a way of exercise, naming the game “rackets.” From here, the modern deviation of the sport known as “squash” was then founded in the elite boarding school known as the Harrow School after participants found that puncturing a racket ball allowed for a game with a higher variety of shots and impacts.

Squash is now a worldwide sport, praised for its endurance, hand-eye coordination, individuality and its challenge. Luckily, for Vassar students, there is a team that is both accessible for students with experience and those without any exposure. Senior captain Sydney Nemphos has been playing since she was 10, after looking for a winter sport between soccer and lacrosse, while sophomores Jonah Miles and Max Swan both joined the team after taking squash classes. “I got into playing squash by taking the squash class last spring. (Head) Coach David Ames was incredibly supportive and asked me if I had any interest in joining the team next year. I was thrilled to have this opportunity and after training over the summer at home, joined the team this fall,” recalled Swan.

Whether it’s beginners transitioning into senior players or more experienced team members further developing their craft, all interviewed displayed a keen admiration for the sport and their journey within the sport. “As someone who’s also on a team sport, I really like the individuality of playing squash (as you are the only one from your team on the court), while still being on a team and having that connection with everyone else. I also love how fast-paced the game is and I always come off court feeling like I got a solid workout in, which is nice,” Nemphos described, who also plays for Vassar’s women’s lacrosse team. Miles further elaborated on how the sport provides a necessary alternative to classes, “My favorite aspect of squash is how great it can be for stress relief. After a day of classes going to practice and smacking a ball against a wall for two hours is a great catharsis.”

Similar to fencing, swimming, cross country and track, there is a strong connection between the men’s and women’s programs, where they train, compete and travel together. Nemphos explained, “Very few teams on Vassar’s campus have the connection we do with our men’s team. Very few teams in the league as a whole have an interconnected team like we do as well. We get to practice with them, and hang out with them every day, that we are honestly just one giant team. We are all so supportive of each other, and really enjoy traveling and practicing with each other.” It’s challenging being at a Division III school but facing more established Division I teams. Nemphos explains, “we have been playing a lot of teams that are better/ higher ranked than us, which is challenging as we aren’t winning as many matches as we have in the past, both as individuals and as a team. However, I, as well as the rest of the team, have improved immensely from playing these opponents who are better than us, and our matches get closer and closer every weekend.” The senior sees this obstacle as an opportunity to better her own play as well as the level of her teammates.

Pictured above is the men’s squash squad. Courtesy of Stockton Photo Inc
note: dog doesn’t play squash but I wasn’t about to crop them out

The women’s team is currently 6-14 as they are near the close of their season. This last weekend, they competed in the Liberty League Tournament. On Saturday they overpowered Bard College (9-0) and fell to William Smith College (0-9). Their tournament came to an end on Sunday with a loss to St. Lawrence University (9-0). Similarly, the men competed in the Liberty League Championship losing all four games to Bard College (0-9), Hobart College (0-9), St. Lawrence University (1-8), and University of Rochester (0-9). Currently, the men are sitting at a 5-18 overall record. Both teams will finish out their regular seasons at home this weekend. The women’s and men’s squash teams will conclude play the following weekend during the CSA Team Nationals at respectively at Yale University and Princeton University.

If you’d like to check out their next game, the squad plays at Kenyon, and you might even catch President Bradley there.

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