As expected, Penn women’s squash is led in wins by a young Malaysian star. The surprise is that it’s not Yan Xin Tan.
Michelle Wong, a freshman from the Sarawak province, has burst onto the scene and played an integral role in the No. 3 Quakers’ 8-2 record this season.
Wong was introduced to squash through her father, Max Wong, who played recreationally and told her to try it out.
“When I was eight I was trying a lot of sports,” Michelle said. “Turns out I was good at [squash], so I decided to stay with it.”
Wong terrorized the Malaysian squash circuit. Between 2009 and 2013, she won a total of eight state, national and international championships before her arrival on campus.
This dominance raised eyebrows in the United States and brought colleges out of the woodwork.
Out of all the schools offering spots on their team, one school in particular stood out: Penn.
“It was a great opportunity,” Wong said. “I couldn’t pass it up.”
Wong admitted that having Tan already at Penn had a small impact on her commitment, but asserted that it was not the guiding factor behind her decision.
“I’m really kind of an independent person, I don’t need someone to be here,” Wong said. “But it was nice having her here already.”
Once at Penn, she barely missed a beat en route to her 6-0 start to the season. Wong has played most of her young career at the No. 6 position on the ladder, one of the first matches in the rotation.
“The first round of matches is really great for the confidence of the team,” assistant coach Richard Dodd said. “She’s played a part in getting early momentum for us in matches.”
Up against No. 1 Harvard, Wong made her presence known to the college squash world by knocking off the Crimson’s Julianne Chu, who was ranked 50th nationally at the end of last season.
“[Wong]’s been doing really well as a freshman,” Tan said. “I’m really proud of her.”
“She’s been winning important matches for us,” Dodd added. “When she becomes a senior, I’m sure she’ll be one of our important assets”
And in last Saturday’s crucial 5-4 win over No. 5 Yale, Wong took down Lillian Fast in four games to give Penn its first win in the matchup.
Wong has not shied away from the pressures of playing for a top-ranked squad and has used her athleticism to take down players of all ages and ranks.
Wong’s 8-1 record is good for the team lead in wins alongside co-captain Courtney Jones. Together, they have become some the most reliable producers for the Penn squash lineup.
“[Wong]’s put in the hard work,” Dodd said. “She knows what works for her.”
Despite her many individual achievements, Wong attributes her success to the support around her.
“My team means a lot to me,” she said. “When I play, I play for them.”
Wong also has a secret weapon that she uses to make opponents look silly. By using a two-handed backhand swing, Wong has tricked plenty of opponents by taking away their ability to read the way she hits the ball.
“No one can read how she hits it,” Tan said. “It’s really rare.”
A move like that will come in handy at the Howe Cup.