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GW recently became the first school to offer scholarships for squash.
January 19, 2010
By Julia Parmley
It’s like tennis. Only a lot louder and a lot more intense.
The game is called squash and while its roots lay in tennis, this sport is a little different. The ball is softer, the racquets longer and narrower, and the courts are wider. To an unschooled spectator, it appears like there are no rules. But for the GW men’s and women’s squash teams, it’s a competitive, cardio-inducing sport that is also a lot of fun.
Squash, which is played one-on-one, begins with a player serving. A serve must hit the front wall first, but then the ball can hit the side walls any number of times. Matches end when a competitor scores 11 points.
Coaches Wendy Lawrence and Maura Myers, of the men’s and women’s teams respectively, are both seasoned squash players that have helped the teams rise in the national rankings since they became official GW varsity sports in 2002. Founder of the D.C. Squash Academy and former nationally ranked squash player, Ms. Lawrence is in her third year of coaching the 12-member men’s team, which is currently ranked 22nd in the country.
“We had a great record last year, and we hope to break into the top 20 this year, but you never know with injuries and illness,” says Ms. Lawrence. “The average squash team size is 16 players, so our small size can make it hard, but I’m hoping to move up a few spots this year.”
Ms. Myers, a former squash player from Colby College, says her 12-member women’s team, currently ranked 23rd in the country, faces a “tough season” with the graduation of their best player last year. “Finishing 15th last year established us as a strong program with a history of success,” says Ms. Myers. “Our mind set has had to change, as now we have to defend our ranking and continue to find new ways to grow as a team. It is an exciting change, as we are now a legitimate player in college squash and not the new kid on the block.”
Both teams face a full schedule during the four-month season, with opponents including Georgetown, Franklin & Marshall and Dartmouth. The teams practice up to six times a week on six international regulation squash courts in Lerner Health & Wellness Center. “Former President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a squash player himself, wanted a program at GW so he was instrumental in getting the courts included in Lerner when it was built,” says Ms. Lawrence. “GW’s squash program is continually creeping up in the rankings and we’re aiming to compete closely against the Ivy League teams in a few years.”
But one thing GW’s program has over any other school in the country is scholarships. In 2009, GW became the first school to offer scholarships for squash players, allowing the coaches to actively pursue ranked squash players, many of whom are international students. The men’s team’s current top player, Omar Sobhy, was ranked seventh as an under-19 player, in the United States last year. “It’s unlikely we would have been able to get [Sobhy] to GW without the scholarship, but with it we can now recruit top players,” says Ms. Lawrence. “It’s a real advantage to us and also shows that the University supports our program.”
The men’s and women’s squash teams were able to offer such competitive scholarships thanks in large part to a major gift from Jeffrey and Pamela Grossman whose son Matt is a member of the men’s team. “Providing an endowment for the men’s and women’s squash teams ensures that the program has a bright future,” says Mr. Grossman. “Students who attend GW after our son has graduated will now be able to continue the team's legacy, while participating in varsity athletics for a world renowned institution of higher learning.”
When asked to describe a typical squash player, Ms. Lawrence and Ms. Myers both say focus and attitude are vital qualities. Between practice and travel, teammates spend a lot of time together, and getting along is key. “Every coach looks for a skilled player, but you need to get along with the team,” says Ms. Lawrence.
Sophomore Caroline Shumway, the number two player for the women’s team, says she began taking squash lessons in the seventh grade and was hooked. “I wanted to continue playing squash and came to GW, because I wanted to be in the city and I really liked Coach Myers,” says Ms. Shumway. “It’s been really fun, and our team is very close.”
“In terms of sustained team growth, increased recruitment and rankings, the squash program has been a great success for GW,” says Ms. Lawrence. “We’ve made tremendous progress since 2002, and the new scholarships are a great testament to how strong we have become.”