[Above: Thomas Rosini and Olivia Robinson]
by Chris McClintick
The 2019 U.S. Junior Championships yielded several firsts since the inaugural 1977 National Juniors. The first National Juniors ever held in Charlottesville, Virginia, saw the boys’ and girls’ five seeds—Olivia Robinson and Thomas Rosini—make tournament history by capturing the U19 titles. There were also no repeat divisional champions as all ten victors stood atop their respective age division podiums for the first time—a feat that hasn’t occurred since 2010. Of the ten champions, six celebrated their maiden national junior title in any age division and both U19 winners saved match balls en route to victory.
New York City’s Robinson proved to be the story of the National Juniors, not only because of her shock semifinal upset over three-time defending champion Marina Stefanoni, but because of her remarkable comeback from suffering a life-threatening stroke. In 2016 during the summer before entering ninth grade at the Chapin School, Robinson suffered a stroke on a volunteer trip to Wyoming, leaving her partially paralyzed on one side of her body. Her rehabilitation required months of physical therapy, and she eventually built up the strength to step back onto the squash court that season, finishing fourth in the U17 division at nationals.
Robinson has since continued her ascent, which reached its pinnacle in Charlottesville. In the semifinals up against arguably the most promising U.S. junior prospect of the past decade in the form of sixteen-year-old Stefanoni, Robinson fought off a match ball in the fifth game to pull off the upset, 13-11 in the fifth. In the final, Robinson stormed to a four-game victory against two-time finalist and World Juniors veteran Elisabeth Ross to complete her unexpected, yet deserved, triumph. Robinson—who also won the U11 national title earlier in her junior career—will make her debut at the World Juniors this summer alongside both Stefanoni and Ross.
While Robinson commanded the attention of all present at the McArthur Squash Center, Philadelphia’s Thomas Rosini determinedly paved his own path to a maiden national title. Following on the same court the match after Robinson’s upset over Stefanoni, Rosini took out top-seeded Ayush Menon in three games to reach the final. The boys’ U19 final, the last match of the tournament on the blue and orange all-glass show court, proved to be a spectacle. Three seed and World Juniors veteran Dillon Huang made a strong start, taking the first two games 11-6, 11-7. Rosini bounced back in the third and fourth games, 11-8, 11-2. In the fifth, Huang earned three championship balls up 10-7. Rosini then mounted an incredible comeback, saving all three points and clinching the title on his first 12-10.
Avni Anand and Conner Stoltz both augmented their national junior title records with their first in the U17 age division. Anand, a Californian, defeated Stoltz’s sister, Molly, in the final, capturing the title as the four seed and adding to her 2017 U15 title. Stoltz collected his third title as the three seed against Christian Shah, following his 2015 U13 and 2013 U11 titles.
Tad Carney completed his banner season by fulfilling his top seeding to win his maiden national junior title. Earlier in the season, Carney won both the U15 U.S. Junior Open and National High Schools with Brunswick. Mika Bardin, a Californian-turned-New Yorker, provided another tournament surprise by upsetting top seed and defending GU15 champion Lucie Stefanoni in a four-game final.
Sarita Popat proved to be New Jersey’s national champion representative, earning her first as the GU13 top seed. California’s Ahmad Haq has now won both U11 and U13 national titles, upsetting the top four BU13 seeds as the five seed.
Connecticut’s GU11 top seed Grace Lodge came back from 2-1 down against Ariana Shah to win her first national title in five games. Brooklyn’s Jack Elriani followed up his U11 U.S. Junior Open title with his first U11 national title.