By Kevin Klipstein
In the March issue, I promised that being part of the World Junior Championships hosted in the US could be one of the most memorable squash experiences of your life. Reflecting on this after the event, this seems accurate, however not necessarily in the way I expected.
When one anticipates what these events will be like, mostly you picture the moment of victory; the exultation. While there were incredible examples of this, such as Haley Mendez defeating Aparajitha Balamurukan of India (11-8, 4-11, 11-9, 11-9) in the deciding match to send the US into its first World Team Final ever; or Amanda Sobhy playing an incredible four-game match against Nour El Tayeb, defeating the newly minted World Champion to even the Finals against Egypt and keep the US in it (I can still see Amanda fist pumping and hear her roaring with enthusiasm); what stands out are the smaller details and nuances that made this World Championship so special.
On court drama is only a minor part of the full story when nearly 100 young women came together from 19 countries for the highest level of competition. As impactful, are the things observed which are less scripted or expected, such as the isolation of a past champion seen walking the halls of the hotel alone, buffered from the rest by a combination of expectation and admiration, and the shock mixed with deep concern for the player and coach who fell ill and were hospitalized during the tournament.
Clear to me was the commitment to the cause by coaches and players alike. To a person, they demonstrated pride in themselves, their team, their country and each other. Often less considered, yet a critical component of the competition, are the interactions among coaches who need to work closely, and under intense scrutiny by many, including parents, to map the strategies for the team, and support each player’s individual needs as they each ride a physical, mental and emotional roller coaster throughout the competition. One expects officials to be there and to make the tough calls. The precision, efficiency and empathy the referees demonstrated in working with the players, coaches and each other was remarkable and made the tournament as professional as any I’ve seen.
Regardless of the competition, at any level, I was struck by the passion to compete and to win. Whether it’s for first place or nearly last, to the players and the coaches, it’s the most important match and they always, with the rarest exceptions, give it everything they have. This was as much the case in the Egypt versus US match as it was with Guyana and Ecuador competing for 15th place.
Perhaps most noticeable was the palpable relief of all the players during the closing ceremony Boston harbor cruise, free, at least for that evening, from the months and years of hard work, daily routines and the expectations. They only had to enjoy the sunset views, and each other’s company.
Special thanks to Harvard University in providing access to their world class Murr Center on such short notice, Massachusetts Squash for summoning more than 100 volunteers to support the two weeks of play, the officials who traveled from around the world and around the corner, the professional trainers, Chris Smith who served as Event Director, and the entire extended U.S. SQUASH staff who worked long hours before and during the event.
Patrons who gave generously made it possible for us to host the event, Kathy and Al Gordon especially. Finally, a personal thanks to the coaches and players of the 2011 U.S. Junior Women’s Team, who unexpectedly taught me about what it means to represent your country with honor, to work hard, and to persist in the face of adversity, both on and off the court.