By Dent Wilkins
The top echelon of junior tournament players is a frequently shifting landscape; players who were once dominant fall back into the pack, new stars emerge, and others continue their reign as the competitors whom all others are chasing. The 2012 U.S. Junior Championships (Closed) showcased all of this, as five first-time Champions were crowned, while five past Champions claimed new titles.
Leading into the Junior Men’s World Team Championships in Doha (Qatar) this summer, Dylan Murray has cemented his place as the dominant U.S. junior throughout the season. His last loss to a U.S. player in a junior tournament was to Faraz Khan in January of 2011. Since then, Murray has won four Junior Championship Tour events as well as the 2011 Junior Closed Championship. Murray faced Khan in the final of this year’s Boys’ Under 19 Junior Championship and continued his streak in dramatic 3-2 fashion to take his second BU19 national title in a row. With two years of eligibility remaining, Murray will have a chance to make a run at 2 more BU19 Championships in 2013 and 2014.
For the first time in many years, the Girls’ Under 19 draw did not feature the dominant forces of Amanda Sobhy and Olivia Blatchford. In this newly open field, 15-year old Sabrina Sobhy (younger sister of Amanda) rode the momentum she gained last summer as the youngest member of the 2011 U.S. Junior Women’s World Team to a dominant year. Sobhy won three Junior Championship Tour events, and capped her season with a run through the draw to claim her first U.S. Junior Closed Championship title without dropping a game, beating Maria Elena Ubina in the final.
In the Girls’ Under 15 and Under 17, similarly dominant performances were on display from Olivia Fiechter and Helen Teegan. Philadelphia’s Fiechter, who has been competing throughout the season primarily in the Girls’ Under 19, finished her run through the Girls’ Under 17 draw with a 3-0 win over Kayley Leonard. Fiechter did not drop a game in the tournament, a feat that was equaled in the Girls’ Under 15 by Teegan of Seattle. Teegan, also a national caliber junior swimmer, concluded her 2012 title run against Casey Wong, a rematch of the 2011 Girls’ Under 13 championship match.
Anders Larson showcased possibly the greatest improvement of any player from the 2011 Junior Championship, in which he finished tied for 7th place in the Boys’ Under 15 draw. In 2012, Larson proved to be the class of the field in the Boys’ Under 17. Down 2-0 to Max Martin in the quarterfinal, Larson battled back to a 5-game win. Larson proved that this toughness was not a one-time affair in the final, fighting back from a 2 games to 1 deficit to Hayes Murphy with a 15-13 win in the fourth game before grabbing the fifth game 11-8.
The Boys’ Under 15 Final was a cross-country encounter as Gabriel Morgan of Menlo Park (CA) took on Timmy Brownell of Belmont (MA). Brownell had previously dispatched No. 1 seed Sean Hughes in a dramatic 5-game semifinal, but the Californian proved too much for him in the final, as Morgan took his first Junior Championship title 3-1.
Both Under 13 finals featured rematches of the Under 11 championship matches from 2010. On the Girls’ side, Elle Ruggiero faced Laila Sedky, who had won the 2010 Under 11 Title in a thrilling 5-game showdown. 2012 proved to be different, however, as Ruggiero entered the finals without losing a game, and continued this streak with a 3-0 win in that match to add the 2012 title to her 2011 Girls’ Under 11 Championship. On the Boys’ side, the 2012 event also proved to be a mirror image of 2010. Two years ago, Ryan Murray had entered as the No. 1 seed in the Boy’s Under 11 draw, yet fell in 4 games to No. 2 seed Charles East in the final. This year, East came in as the No. 1 seed, but the No. 2 seeded Murray (younger brother of BU19 champion Dylan) claimed his first Junior National title, 3-1.
Two first-time champions were crowned in the Under 11 divisions. Matthew Lazor dropped just two games in the tournament on his way to defeating Morgan Huberman 3-0 in the finals of the Boys’ U11. On the Girls’ side, Olivia Robinson won her first National title by defeating Avni Anand in a four-game final.
As another squash season comes to a close, the level of play in junior squash has never been deeper. For the first time, both the Boys’ and Girls’ Under 11 draws were completely full. Players across all divisions are playing world-class squash. Attention now turns to the World Junior Championships in Qatar this summer, in which the best U.S. juniors will test their mettle against the finest the world has to offer. All signs point to great potential for success for Team USA this year, and for many to come.