By Kristi Maroc
Photos by Steve Line
Four recognizable American faces will reunite to represent the United States in June, with the stars of the last World Men’s Team Championship again chosen as the national team to compete at this year’s event.
The U.S. men’s team will consist of Julian Illingworth, Chris Gordon, Gilly Lane and Todd Harrity, who were selected through a combination of current rankings and recent play. The team will head to Mulhouse in France to participate in the prestigious tournament, which is the highest level team championship in the world, and involves the best players from 32 countries.
At 29 years old, Illingworth is a household name in squash in the United States, as the longstanding leading American player and eight-time national champion.
Despite some recent setbacks, including food poisoning which forced him to withdraw during the quarterfinals of the Houston Open, Illingworth is still in top form and one of the sharpest players the country has to offer, recently winning the Florida Open to mark the ninth tour title of his career.
Illingworth has been playing on the professional tour for ten years, reaching a career high ranking of #24 early last year. Currently ranked #55, the New York-based Oregan-native says he’s looking forward to representing his country at the men’s team championships.
“It’s always an honor to play for your country. I think it’s particularly special because apart from the Pan American Games, this is really the only competition that we as a national team play in, and it only happens every two years so it doesn’t come around very often,” he says.
“In Paderborn  we probably had the strongest team we have ever put forward. Everything sort of came together over the week, we played pretty well, we had some good wins, finished in seventh and ultimately got bumped up to sixth [when Italy dropped out], which was a really good result and we were ecstatic about that.
“I know the guys on the team so well – especially me, Gordo and Gilly. We’ve been playing together forever, and with Todd coming on the scene for the last couple of years, not only are you playing for yourself and your country, but also for your teammates. That’s always an exciting component to squash because it is usually an individual game so when you do make it a team event that brings in some new dynamics that you don’t normally get.
“I think our team is probably even stronger than it was two years ago. Gordo’s been playing really well now. It’s really great to see Gordo really coming on this year and playing the best squash of his career for sure. Todd has really developed in the past two years, and Gilly’s probably playing around the same level too. I like our chances this time to do at least as well, if not even better. It’s exciting!”
It’s been one high after another for 26 year old Gordon recently. From a landmark win over Hisham Ashour in the 2012 Delaware Investments U.S. Open, a breathtakingly close Tournament of Champions battle against world #11 Tarek Momen, to his first professional world tour title on home soil in the NY Metro Open, Gordon has been riding a wave of success.
To top it all off, Gordon summed up the 2012-13 season being crowned National Champion, and in the most recent professional world rankings he jumped impressive ten places to achieve the highest ranking of his career so far at world #44.
“It’s always a dream to win a national title. I’ve always hoped to have some success on the PSA World Tour, and always dreamed as a little kid about playing on the glass court at major events,” he says.
Having played on the professional circuit for eleven years, since the tender age of 15, Gordon is a veteran of competitive squash, but the chance to represent his country alongside his US teammates doesn’t fail to excite him.
“Representing your country is always a very special experience. We play all year round for ourselves but we only actually get to represent our country every so often, so that’s something special and it’s always memory provoking.
“I think it’s a really great team. We’re all really familiar with each other. Gilly, Julian and I were all on the tour together, and Todd’s coming on the tour this year. We are all on the same page, we have a really good understanding of what each one of the others is doing currently in terms of our professional lives and event to some extent our personal lives. I think it’s a really nice team to be a part of.
“The World Team Championships are one of the biggest events out there, so it’s a special event to play because all the best players in the world are there. Hopefully I can carry on the momentum I’ve been building on the world tour and carry it over to this event and get some good results for the US.
27 year old Gilly Lane will return from retirement after a back injury forced him to give up professional play at the end of 2011. At the time he was world ranked #48.
Since then he has pursued a coaching career, developing his coaching business GL Squash, and has continued to be heavily involved in the squash community.
Lane says his motivation to return to the court for the World Teams was the opportunity to represent the United States again, as well as to compete alongside his teammates once more.
“This is probably going to be my last World Teams I think, and so I really wanted to go out with a good event. The reason I played was because I thought these guys were going to be on the team again and I really wanted to experience that same camaraderie we did two years ago,” says Lane.
“Julian, Chris and I didn’t get to know each other very well until we started playing on tour together, with Chris being in New York, I was in Philly and Julian from the West Coast. We all really connected once we were all on tour together and started rooming together and hanging out a ton.
“Unlike other countries, there’s only three of us. So while the English team has twenty guys to pick from of who they want to hang out with at tournaments when they’re all travelling together, it’s just the three of us. So we formed a close bond very quickly as representatives of U.S. Squash.
“There’s very different dynamics to our friendships I think – where Julian has the very laid back West Coast lifestyle approach, I’m definitely the more energetic East Coaster, and Chris is definitely somewhere in the middle.
“Todd fits in perfectly because he’s the young guy on the team, and he brings that youth. It’s great to have – I say this in quotations – a ‘rookie’ on the team…although he is not a rookie by any means, considering if we did not have him at the last World Teams then we wouldn’t have finished where we did. He’s probably 80% of the reason why we did so well.
“Representing my country means everything to me. My mum was a US athlete, she played on the national team for lacrosse. So early on in my life it was clear that to be able to wear USA on your shirt in any competition was the highest compliment.
‘You only get so many opportunities to represent your country in your lifetime. For me there’s nothing more important than representing the US and wearing the red, white and blue.
Harrity, although the youngster of the team, can undoubtedly hold his own around the courts. At 22, and having just joined the PSA World Tour this year, Harrity has already made an impressive name for himself as the first American in 21 years to win the U.S. College Championships after he took the title in 2011.
A recent Princeton graduate, Harrity has a quiet confidence and calm and controlled game that is destined for big things. Although the team junior, he has had an impressive career to date already, and has plenty of positivity for what the future will hold as well.
“I hope more than anything that squash gets admission into the Olympics. It would be an incredible opportunity, and a huge motivator for me. It would be the best event in squash and all the best players would be playing their hearts out,” says Harrity.
“Playing at the World Team Championships in 2011 was a great experience for me, actually one of the highlights of my life really.
“I had the time of my life two summers ago in Germany when we played together, and I can’t wait to go to France in June.
“To be representing your country makes you feel so special and important, you feel so motivated. One of my greatest feelings is being part of this team.
“It’ll be great being on the team with Julian, Chris and Gilly again. We were a good team last time, we all know each other, and we’ll have a great team dynamic.
“It’s great because I can learn from these guys. They’re a little bit older but there also more experienced with the pro tour. It’s always a great experience for me to be playing with these more experienced players.
“I think we have great chemistry, and we build off each other for momentum to help get us through the tough matches.
“If we play well, this could be our best World Championship yet.”