Intercollegiate squash, entering its ninety-eighth season, is looking as vibrant as it ever has.
Diversity is the current watchword in the College Squash Association: there are more teams from more regions of the country and more players and coaches from across the country and around the world. Players hail from over thirty states and there are programs in twenty-six states and the District of Columbia (and Ontario). Nearly three-quarters of collegiate players are from the U.S. The other one-fourth come from fifty-two countries.
At the same time, as it has for decades, intercollegiate squash remains one of the most powerful engines for the game in the country. Over a quarter of U.S. courts are on college campuses. Thousands of newcomers are exposed to the game each year. Moreover, with eighty-one men’s teams and fifty-four women’s teams, about 400 seniors graduate each year having had a collegiate squash experience. They are a robust cohort that go on to deeply impact the American scene: they join clubs, they enter tournaments, they proselytize the game.
“We are very excited for another season of college squash,” said David Poolman, the executive director of the CSA. “It’s early in the academic year, but enthusiasm is already growing for the high level of play that will be on display this season. Only eight of the forty All-Americans graduated last year, which means most teams will be more experienced and the individual competition will be so strong. The road to the championships will be fascinating to watch.”
One of the central priorities for the CSA in the offseason, Poolman noted, was clarifying and standardizing regulations, including those governing recruitment of prospective college student-athletes. With a wide range of NCAA, league and club v. varsity rules, there has long been a desire for rules that ensure as equitable a process as possible. “We are working with CSA member schools and conference offices to establish clear, consistent regulations that all of our teams will follow,” said Poolman. “The work completed this summer is only the foundation of a greater effort to provide a steady and pragmatic structure for our organization.”
At the top of the heap, Harvard looks very strong for both women and the men’s teams. For the men, Trinity and Penn are predicted to push Harvard, with Princeton a dark horse. “Give credit to Harvard,” said Gilly Lane, the men’s head coach at Penn. “They are extremely well coached and have great recruiting classes. Last year we thought we had a chance in the regular season and then they came back with a vengeance and beat us 8-1 in semis. Our main focus this season is on ourselves. We lost three guys who contributed heavily. We are welcoming in fresh faces and we are a hungry and young program.”
Penn spent last year renovating their famous courts, where the world’s first full glass-back wall was built in 1968. Penn’s new facility, the Martin & Julie Franklin Squash Courts, will open this month with twelve courts including two four-wall glass courts. “Having no home courts last year made us tougher,” Lane said. “It kept our practice focused due to limited time. But we are extremely excited to come home this year. At the same time, we play one of the hardest road schedules this year, so last year’s experience will be helpful. Overall, the CSA is incredibly strong in terms of depth. You’re going to see some awesome talent this season.”
Trinity seems like they will be the strongest side to challenge the Crimson women, with Princeton, Stanford and Yale also looking to make an impact at the top.
“I respect Harvard and the results they have achieved,” said Lynn Leong, the associate head coach at Yale.” They have a great coach and have done very well recruiting. Our goal is to challenge them on the recruiting side. We are working hard to knock on their door. They will be dominant again this season, but we want to improve our mindset when competing against them. Our women’s team had a strong finish last season. We are very positive about upcoming season. We have three first years who represented their countries at the World Juniors, which has never happened at Yale before.”
Just below that upper echelon, there are a number of schools looking to break into the top eight and play in the top division at the National Teams. For the women, Cornell, Dartmouth and Virginia are poised to do that, while for the men Cornell, George Washington and Virginia are the hot picks.
“We had a great recruiting year,” said Mark Allen, the head coach at Virginia. “Each recruiting class has been slightly stronger than the one that came before it. You don’t suddenly go from where we were to where we are in one year. That being said, a few of the players we have coming in have the chance to move us into the top eight for the first time in the program’s history, and that is our goal. We are on the right path to be tough competition for Harvard, and we have had two recruiting classes now that are on that level, but, to compete for a championship, you need four years. I can’t see any team challenging Harvard this year if I’m being honest.”
The men’s basketball team at Virginia victory in the NCAA tournament has affected the squash program. “UVA’s athletic profile on campus is massive,” Allen said. “Student athletes are well known and respected, no matter the sport. Being an official varsity program make us a part of that. We have great crowds at our matches. After March Madness, UVA had its best athletic fundraising year and highest yield in admissions in the last two decades.”
One of the newest and youngest head coaches in intercollegiate squash is Anderson Good. The Philadelphia native played at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and then St. Lawrence. He graduated in 2015 after captaining the Saints to a No. 2 national ranking. He then moved to Washington, DC and spent four years as an assistant coach at George Washington before succeeding retiring head coach Wendy Lawrence this summer.
One of Good’s initiatives has been creating the country’s first squash-specific athletic conference, the Mid-Atlantic Squash Conference. With most top colleges already in a conference (Ivy League, New England Small College Athletic Conference and Liberty League), Good came up with the MASC. The first annual championships were head at UVA in February 2019. For next year’s tournament, Dickinson, Drexel, Franklin & Marshall, George Washington and UVA will field both men’s and women’s teams, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Naval Academy will send men’s teams.
“The goal of the conference is to add infrastructure to college squash, offer a landing spot for future programs and create the foundation for rivalries to develop,” Good said. “I am very lucky to have been here at GW for the past four years as an assistant. I can continue what Wendy Lawrence built. I think being a young coach is helpful across the board: having a young coach is a different option that some players may be interested in—I am using it as a recruiting tactic—and because most current coaches didn’t play college squash like I did, I am using that experience to better relate to my student athletes. Mostafa Mantaser might be the best player ever recruited on the men’s side at GW; he’s part of the best recruiting class our men’s team has ever had. Our team goal for the past few seasons has been to reach the top eight. I went through this same thing at St Lawrence as a player, so I know what it takes to make the jump. I know the difference between a team that is ninth in the country versus a team that is sixth. Getting to the top eight is a stepping stone to a national championship in the future. It is our goal.”