By Anne P. Bello and Michael T. Bello
Photos by Michael T. Bello
The final match of the 2009-2010 college squash season may have been its best. Trinity junior Pamela Hathway took Harvard first-year Laura Gemmell to the wire in the Ramsay Cup finals at Trinity College.
Gemmell hadn’t lost a match, much less a game, during the regular season, and after she won the first game, it looked like she would roll to the women’s individual title. But Hathway, who had gradually been regaining her game since being out the first part of the season with an illness, hadn’t played her best squash yet. She won the next two games, with Gemmell fighting back in the fourth. The match could have gone either way until the final points, when Gemmell finally pulled away to win the title 11-9 in the fifth.
This was college squash—and squash—at its best. There was excitement and suspense and explosive play from the first point to the last. Both Gemmell and Hathway put forth tremendous effort, and on Hathway’s part especially, conducted themselves sportingly. You couldn’t ask for a better end to the season.
That match may set the tone for this season. As the Gemmell-Hathway match showed, individual dominance may be impressive, but nothing beats close competition. “This will be a banner year for college squash with a parity at the top that we have not seen in recent years,” Trinity head coach Paul Assaiante predicts of the men’s season. “It’s anybody’s championship to take.”
Twelve-time defending men’s national champions Trinity have lost two of their top three players—two-time individual champion Baset Chaudhry and three-time All-American Supreet Singh—and have no recruits coming in. Of course, the returning Trinity players aren’t inexperienced; five of them earned All-America honors last season.
Even so, keeping their 224-match winning streak alive may be a challenge. Yale, the team Trinity defeated 6-3 in the finals last spring, should be even stronger this season. Like Trinity, Yale lost two top-three players to graduation. However, former No. 1 John Fulham will be back in the lineup after seeing limited action last season due to injury. Ryan Dowd, a former top-five player, will also be back at full strength, and two first-year players will contribute to the team as well.
The teams that finished right behind Yale—Princeton and Rochester—should be in the mix as well. Princeton got off to a slow start last year due to injuries but finished strong, and will have two new recruits to balance the loss of two seniors from last year’s squad. Rochester, who almost beat Yale in the semifinals, lost four-time All-American Jim Bristow to graduation, but will gain two players and should have more depth.
Like Rochester, fifth-place finisher Harvard lost a key player in in the form of 2010 national individual champion Colin West but will see a large first-year class join the team. Both Cornell and Dartmouth should be stronger this season as well, putting more pressure on the top teams in the A Division. The increasing competitiveness should continue throughout the top twenty, with Franklin & Marshall and George Washington among the teams to watch.
For the women, Harvard is the team to beat. The Crimson were untouchable last season, going undefeated and vanquishing a game Penn squad 6-3 in the Howe Cup finals. Harvard has only lost two top-nine players to graduation, while Penn, Trinity, and Princeton have all lost four varsity players each. All three schools have brought in talented players to fill the spots in their lineups, but replacing the experience and leadership of players like Penn’s Kristen Lange or Princeton’s Amanda Siebert will not be easy.
The top-five program poised to potentially make the biggest move is Yale. The Bulldogs have only lost one senior to graduation, 2010 Richey Award-winner Alia Aziz, and with a deep first-year class they should be substantially stronger than last year.
The bottom of the A Division should be competitive as well. Stanford and Cornell were very closely matched last season, and Dartmouth and Brown are both hungry to get back into the A’s.
There’s a lot to be excited about in college squash beyond of the top divisions. The sport continues to grow, especially in the Midwest and Southeast. Columbia has elevated its teams to varsity status. Almost forty players attended Notre Dame’s first squash club meeting of the year, and the University of Vermont teams have been busy raising money to build their own courts. The Drexel squads have been thrilled to welcome the university’s new president, John Fry, an avid player and U.S. SQUASH board member. New programs like Lehigh, Charleston, and Johns Hopkins are continuing to expand, and there’s been interest in new programs from Oklahoma to northern Michigan.
There have been a number of coaching changes in the off-season: Niki Clement has replaced Damon Leedale-Brown as men’s and women’s head coach at Haverford, and Chris O’Brien is taking over for Bill McNally at Connecticut College. Belkys Velez has been named head coach of the Tufts women, and Kelsey Engman will lead the Columbia women. Following the departure of Craig Thorpe-Clark, Jack Wyant will coach the Penn men as well as the women; Wendy Lawrence has taken on the GW women, succeeding Maura Meyers, and Peter Robson has added the Amherst women, succeeding Tom Carmean.
Perhaps the highest profile change has been at Harvard, where Mike Way was named the Gregory Lee ‘87 and Russell Ball ‘88 Endowed Coach of Squash. Way replaces Satinder Bajwa, who guided the Crimson to three national championships last season.
Another notable departure is that of Hall of Fame coach Bob Hawthorn, who retired this summer after fifty-four years of leading the Fordham program. Hawthorn, for whom the G Division of the Men’s National Team Championships is named, began coaching the Rams in 1956 and was the first recipient of the CSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
According to Bob Callahan, Men’s CSA President and Princeton head coach, “Bob has made a lasting and significant impact on generations of Fordham squash players. In addition, we thank him for his consistent support and contribution to college squash. We will miss him dearly but deeply appreciate his friendship and support of the game.”
Women’s CSA President and Wesleyan head coach Shona Kerr expressed similar sentiments. “In the increasingly competitive and cut throat environment in which we live, Bob remained true to developing the person through the medium of squash,” she says. “I hope that the ethos of the Fordham program may pervade others and keep our sport true to it beginnings.”
The 2010-2011 season may mark a new era of parity in college squash. In the aftermath of several highly publicized incidents last year, the new season also brings with it the CSA’s renewed commitment to promoting sportsmanship and fair play.
If this season can fulfill the competitive promise of Gemmell and Hathway’s final match last season and stay true to the spirit of Hawthorn’s career, it could be one for the ages.
The Women’s National Team Championships (Howe Cup) will be held at Princeton, February 18th-21st. The Men’s National Team Championships will be held at Harvard, February 25th-27th. The Individual Championships will be held at Dartmouth, March 4th-6th.
Follow the action all season long at CollegeSquashAssociation.com.