Squash News Cover is a Trip Down Memory Lane

By James Zug

Twenty-five years ago, the cover of Squash News, our predecessor magazine, featured fifty-three young athletes. That February 1996 issue was historic. It not only contained what is thought to be the most players ever collectively pictured on the cover of a squash magazine—in a masterful photograph by Viktor Von Dracek—but an insightful six-page article inside written by Dave Rosen.

Those players were competing in a special tournament, the 1995 Black Knight/Squash News USSRA Hunter Lott Junior Olympic Squash Championships. The event, held at Penn, was in its third year. It is now called the U.S. Junior Open, the world’s largest individual international junior event. The 2021 event will take place at the Arlen Specter US Squash Center, located on the campus of Drexel University just blocks from the 1995 iteration.

The tournament in 1995 was an inflection point for U.S. squash. It was the first time that a significant number of top-class overseas junior players descended on a U.S. event. Two hundred and ninety-seven players came to Penn from Bermuda, Canada, England, Mexico and the U.S. American players captured only two of the eight draws.

Some of the players were destined for greatness on and off the court. Jenny Duncalf, one of the eight English players, has too much “pace and pressure,” according to Rosen, and scorched the GU14 draw, losing just eleven points in three matches before her final with Louisa Hall. Duncalf took that 9-6, 9-3, 9-3. Duncalf went on to reach world No. 2, serve in many leadership roles with the PSA and in 2017, along with Rachael Grinham, broke barriers by becoming the first openly gay active pro squash player.

Other players of note: Julian Illingworth lost in the quarters of the BU12 draw, years before he would go on to capture nine National Singles titles. Amy Gross topped England’s Tina Rix in the finals of the GU12; Gross went on to be an All American at Yale, an assistant coach at Penn and a columnist for Squash Magazine, while Rix went on to reach world No. 69 and then coach at Episcopal Academy and Pingry before her current job at Hackley School. Dent Wilkens, now a US Squash staffer, lost in the third round (9-8 in the fifth). Sixty-two boys entered the BU16 including Josh McDonald, who lost 9-7 in the fifth in the finals. McDonald went on to the pro singles tour (world No. 113), pro doubles tour and now works as a teaching pro in Toronto. Shawn DeLierre, who came in fourth in the same draw, went on to reach world No. 35 and in January 2015 set the record for the world’s longest pro squash match (two hours and fifty minutes).

The U19 draws were a veritable future who’s-who: Dana Betts, who lost in the third round, has won three National Doubles titles. Future National Singles champion Dave McNeely lost in the finals to Peter Yik, the future Princeton star. Preston Quick, future National Singles and Doubles champion, lost to Yik in the semis—he is now on staff at US Squash. Preston’s sister Meredeth, who lost to eventual winner Katie Patrick in the quarters, has twice captured the National Doubles. Lauren Patrizio, who lost in the third round, went on to become the executive director of Squash Drive, the urban squash program in Oakland, CA. And Julia Beaver, who lost in the finals, went on to win three straight National Intercollegiate titles at Princeton.

The event was mammoth. Black Knight and Squash News sponsored it. Demer Holleran and Ned Edwards, the Penn coaches, served as tournament directors. Ken Jaffe handled scheduling. The DeRoy Foundation generously paid for referee clinics run by Craig Thorpe-Clark.

“I remember first being incredibly impressed by the athleticism of the athletes—especially the movement,” Jaffe said. “And also by their sportsmanship. These superb young athletes able to dance around the court together, sometimes not speaking a common language, and having few, if any, disagreements or arguments. One other specific memory I have is of the GU12 division, where a young Amy Gross was matched against a well-refined, very talented, top-seeded British player, Tina Rix. I remember Amy, two handed backhand and all, just refusing to give in, willing herself to an incredibly gutsy win. I also remember the final of the BU19. The match was between David McNeely and Canadian Peter Yik. The tournament ended on Sunday, so there were at least semis and finals on the same day. McNeely had a physically draining semi against a top-seeded British player, Steve Ayling, and was spent going into the final versus the very fast Yik. I believe that match was a key example of why the major tournaments were adjusted so that the finals would be moved to Monday.”

The McNeely/Yik match was memorable for many players. “One thing that I have always remembered from that tournament was watching Peter Yik beat David McNeely,” remembered Eric Pearson who was in the BU16 draw. “I watched from the rafters and I simply could not believe that somebody could dominate Dave so handily. Dave was a senior in high school and at the top of his game, head and shoulders above any juniors in the U.S. at the time. Peter Yik was like a little ninja and he was flashy in his shot making and creativity—such a great contrast to Dave’s precise, methodical, almost robotic style. Peter wanted to bury the ball in the nick and his deception could literally turn people’s legs to mush. To this day he’s the most exciting player I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. And it was clear on that day that the ‘bogey’ had moved, the bar had risen. I don’t remember a single match I played that week, but I’ve never forgotten that Yik match.”

“Penn had three international courts at the time and the U19s were played on those and then maybe semis and finals of the other age groups,” Thorpe-Clark said. “This was pre-internet, so on the first day, we had an informational meeting at 7:30am in the Palestra for all players and parents. That’s where everyone got their first round start time. It was such a big event, and communication is not what it is today. The U12s then started off at 9am. I think some of the older kids were a bit grumpy having to get up so early and come to Penn and then find they were not playing until later in the day. Some things never change.”

Thorpe-Clark led a series of clinics for refereeing and spent the rest of the weekend refereeing matches. “There was just a lack of experience with softball rules,” he said. “No one was quite sure how things were meant to work. Parents were stepping in to help but they had played hardball. In softball there was more of an emphasis on clearing—because hardball was a bit narrower and the angles were different, there was just less clearing. I remember reffing and the kids weren’t making an effort. I’d be giving no let if they just ran into the player. I’d say, ‘You’ve got to go get that,’ and they weren’t used to that.”

As the fifty-three players on the cover could attest, it was a special event. “As players headed home for the holidays,” Rosen presciently concluded in his article in Squash News, “there was talk of how next year’s tournament could possibly top the 1995 edition. Somehow it always does.” With nearly 750 players representing 44 countries in the 2019 U.S. Junior Open, his comments have proved to be prescient.

Please help us fill in the missing names in this photograph! The identified individuals are listed below the image; submit any additional names you can by contacting editor@squashmagazine.com – thank you and have fun sleuthing!

1 AJ Mcrery*
2 ________
3 ________
4 ________
5 Liz ____*
6 Duncan Pearson
7 ________
8 Alice Affleck*
9 KC Giese
10 Andrew Merrill
11 Sara Kreiner
12 ________
13 ________
14 David Yik
15 ________

16 ________
17 ________
18 Elizabeth Geddes*
19 Blair Morris
20 Chrissie Arrowsmith
21 ________
22 Louisa Hall* or Farrar Mansfield*
23 ________
24 Avery Broadbendt
25 Amanda Todd


* not confirmed

26 Joanna Gee
27 ________
28 Chris Olsen
29 Andrew Scott
30 Coly Smith
31 Ben Oliner
32 Zachary Stern
33 Kyle Sleasman
34 Asher Hochberg
35 Ali Pearson
36 Jenny Duncalf
37 Adrienne Ellman
38 Becky Field

39 Dent Wilkens
40 Adam Achenbach
41 Ruchika Kumar*
42 Tina Rix
43 Lindsey Raden
44 Freddy McNeely
45 Katie Hendricks
46 Amy Gross
47 ________

48 Kari Betts
49 Julian Illingwortth
50 Tripp Kyle
51 Will Simonton
52 Sean Seese
53 Tyler Kyle