By Scott Leighton
Juniors from the U.S. and Ontario arrived at White Oaks Resort and Spa in Ontario (Canada) excited for an intense weekend of training and competitive play. Over the past seven years, juniors from the U.S. and Ontario have been competing annually against one another in the “Battle of the Border,” with Ontario defending the title this year after last year’s excruciatingly close 12-12 battle which was decided by a tie-breaker. This year’s competition, which took place over the weekend of June 27, was nearly as close, with Ontario winning by a razor-thin score of 13-11.
Many of the juniors participating gained first-time experience playing in an international competition. After playing their compatriots for most of the junior squash season in the winter, the “Battle of the Border” provided an excellent chance for many juniors to play with a new group of kids they may not have played with in the past. Also, with many of the competitors too young to have played on a middle school or high school team in the past, the event was a great opportunity for many of these juniors to play competitive team squash for the first time. The bond that was created with their squad mates and the pride of playing for one’s country are certainly feelings that won’t be taken for granted. The U.S. team was supported by a staff of world-class coaches led by Junior Men’s and Under-23 Head Coach Martin Heath and Junior Men’s Assistant Coach Adam Hamill along with Steve Scharff, Nathan Dugan, Pam Saunders, Meredeth Quick, and U.S. SQUASH Director of Junior Development Conor O’Malley.
Both teams trained and held practice matches against each other on Saturday. After a night exploring the local area, including a trip to beautiful Niagara Falls, both teams went back to their respective lodgings in eager anticipation for the competition. The “Battle of the Border” was decided on Sunday with Ontario winning the clinching match after over three hours of intense competition. Sean Vallejos-Sevilla of Team Ontario won an epic five-game decider over TJ Dembinski of the US in the Boys Under 15. Coach Steve Scharff commented: “TJ played an incredible match that showed his resiliency and mental strength against a physically stronger opponent.” Ontario showed strength at the more senior positions on the team, winning all three matches in the Boys Under 17 and three matches in the Boys Under 15. Team USA was particularly successful in the Boys Under 13 and Girls Under 13, although all six divisions featured competitive matches. Many matches went to four and five games including clutch performances in five games from Olivia Wherry (USA) in the Girls Under 15 and John Fitzgerald (USA) in the Boys Under 13. “The scores don’t indicate how closely this match was contested as every game featured hard-fought points between opponents who challenged and respected one another,” said Scharff.
Although the US team didn’t bring home the trophy, coaches from both teams were impressed with the improvement the squad showed over only a weekend of training. Both teams exhibited high levels of sportsmanship and developed excellent camaraderie throughout the competition. Coach Heath commented that, “while it would have been obviously nicer to take the trophy back to NY, the trip was a great success due to the closeness of the contest, the high standard of play, and the impeccable behavior of all players from both teams.” Scharff was also impressed by the level of play, “particularly as emotions were running high and both teams managed to keep their composure under tense circumstances.” Overall, the weekend was a huge success and hopefully the “Battle of the Border” will continue to be a marquee event on the junior squash calendar for years to come.