Although Penn’s No. 13 men’s squash team has progressively gotten better this season, it still has plenty of room for improvement.
The Quakers have an overall record of 3-4 so far this season, coming off of two decisive losses to No. 3 Harvard and No. 8 Dartmouth.
What’s missing? One answer could be international players, who in recent years have been the key to winning titles for most successful squash programs.
“We have worked hard recruiting internationally, but we just haven’t been luck with getting those kids to matriculate,” coach Jack Wyant said. “We want our squad to become more diverse, and that’s something that we are working on with the men’s roster.”
Junior Justin Ang is currently the only international player on Penn’s squad.
Among the top six teams in the nation (Princeton, Trinity, Harvard, Cornell, Rochester and Yale), there are 49 international players. So for every 11 players on a roster, almost five of them were born overseas.
No one knows the value of international talent better than Paul Assaiante, Trinity’s coach since 1994. In 1996, Assaiante popularized recruiting international players to his program.
Trinity is now one of the best squash programs in the nation. The program once went on a 252-game winning streak that stretched over 14 years and was only snapped last season.
“International recruiting is the change that has occurred in the world of college squash,” Assaiante said. “This change occurred about 16 or 18 years ago. And while U.S. squash is getting stronger every day, the best squash is still being played in other countries.”
Due to this fact, squash coaches in the U.S. have begun recruiting international players more aggressively.
The result of international recruiting in collegiate squash has been huge. Among the top 10 players in collegiate squash last year, eight of them were from overseas. But why the discrepancy?
“The international players have more exposure and more experience,” Assaiante said. “Also, international players are singularly focused. [Squash] was the sport of their choice. In the U.S. they have more options … [The] good news for the U.S. is that it is changing.”
Sophomore Ramit Tamdon is an Indian squash player at Columbia University. He is No. 2 in the college ranks, and knows both the Indian and American versions of the game quite well.
“In India, squash is a bit bigger, with more players than in the U.S.,” Tamdon said. “There are more clubs, but there’s no college squash.”
Tamdon sees the quality of play in the U.S. as subpar to its Indian counterpart, but believes things are changing.
“Maybe in five or seven years it will be better, and that’ll be great,” he said.
International players have helped U.S. squash immensely. The U.S. women’s team placed second at the world championships, while the men placed sixth.
In addition, Princeton’s Todd Harrity became the first American player to win the national collegiate squash championship in 21 years in 2011.
American squash is on the rise, and it seems that domestic players are becoming better and better. But international players still hold a pretty big advantage.
Meanwhile, having such talented athletes both to practice and compete against will only stimulate American players’ growth.
Cornell coach Mark Devoy, whose team is currently ranked No. 4, saw the situation as mutually beneficial to international and American players. As the international students raise the standards in American squash, the American players absorb all they can.
“Everyone benefits,” Devoy said. “Everybody wins.”