From US Squash Making it Count

By Kevin Klipstein

Last season I provided some detail on my experience with jumping back in to team leagues after a hiatus from organized play. It was going well, our team was undefeated and we looked solid going into the playoffs and ultimately the National League Finals. The Squash Magazine curse struck soon after as we had a string of injuries and lost three matches in a row. We ultimately did win the division title and competed in the National League Finals (NLF) in Boston. Although the Boston teams swept all the team titles, it was great to once again have my squash matches count for something.

League play is the backbone of adult squash in the US. With a combination of collegial atmosphere and competitiveness, last season saw tremendous growth in sanctioned adult team leagues, with 20 separate districts competing throughout the season, culminating in the inaugural NLF. The buzz generated from the first year team event was extremely positive and it portents to be one of the most exciting tournaments of the championship season.

In my wrap up from last season, in trying to underscore the rich history of team play, I had mistakenly cited 1935 as the first year that team competitions were recorded by the Association. Thankfully this was pointed out to me by Jim Zug, author and squash historian. He noted that in 1908, the second year Nationals were run in the US, the seeds of the NLF were planted, with each city supplying their best five players (minus their players who qualified for the 16-man National singles draw).

When the National team event was separated out in the 1980’s from the Nationals weekend, it was called the “five-mans” and this event continued until it was replaced by the more structured NLF, linked to the team league season. The women’s team event, now known as the Howe Cup, started in 1928 and is still building as it kicks off the 2011-2012 season in Baltimore this October. More than 200 women from around the country will compete in this ever popular event.

The adult tournament calendar is extremely full, with singles and doubles events for all skill levels. The U.S. Skill Level Championship Series will consist of eight regional qualifiers, culminating in the U.S. SQUASH Skill Level Championships, March 23rd-25th, in Baltimore, MD. Once again this season players must qualify through participation in a regional event in order to compete in Baltimore, with division winners and finalists gaining free entry.

The U.S. Masters (Open Age Group) Championships return to Harvard University this season, albeit slightly earlier on the calendar, March 2nd-4th . Last year, for the first time, U.S. SQUASH offered a “Second Flight” as well as the “Open “ age group divisions, in order to encourage more participation in the event and we will do so again this year. Similar to the NLF, this led to many first time tournament participants, and we see this positive trend continuing.

Since not everyone can participate in league play or travel to tournaments, PLAY SQUASH is a great alternative. Teaching pros or volunteer coordinators can use our online software to organize in club or district wide challenge ladders and box leagues. This provides the everyday player with the opportunity to compete on their own schedule, while still being able to garner ratings and rankings. Last season we saw a great mix in the use of PLAY SQUASH, from league teams using the challenge ladders to set their lineup each week, to club box leagues consisting of as many as 80 players.

We also realized there were still members who did not want to join a ladder or box, though they may want their regular match, against their regular sparring partners, to count for something other than bragging rights. For those members, we introduced “Club Matches” at the end of last season, encouraging players to enter the results of those “Friendly” matches into the U.S. SQUASH system, just as they would a non-tournament or non-league league round of golf with the expectation that with more results being entered , our new adult ranking system will prove to be more accurate.

All of these adult programs help drive more accurate rankings by providing additional data on which to base them. We are continually pursuing ways to improve the accuracy of adult rankings. More changes will be rolled out during the season and will likely include introducing an updated ratings algorithm and, as suggested previously, more basic steps, such as allowing players who feel they are over or under-rated to “reset” their rating once. Accurate rankings are critical to seedings and fair outcomes, and they will continue to be a focus of ours.

I encourage all of our adult members, whether you’re a tournament participant, a league member, or a recreational player, to get on court as often as possible this season, and “Make it Count”.