As Drake so eloquently said, “Started from the bottom, now we here.” For Max Reed, that story is all too true.
The freshman from Lebanon, N.H., has taken a unique and — at times — bumpy path in his short career, but certainly is back on top. At a young age, he first picked up a racket on the advice of his father, Mark, who himself played for Dartmouth squash.
"That’s how I first got into it, around when I was 10, and I quit hockey and really focused on it,” Max said.
This transition was not easy for the avid fan of the ice, seeing as the outlets were few and far between for Max to get involved in squash around Hanover, a region most known for its passion for hockey.
“My favorite part of hockey was the kids I was playing with. So what I missed the most was those guys because it’s a great team sport and you’re traveling with all of them. So when I went to squash, I was totally on my own,” Reed said.
Going solo, Reed had to scramble for opportunities to better his game, an issue unknown to the vast majority of players combed through the junior circuit systems.
“A lot of kids played in Connecticut or Massachusetts and they had a school team or a club team and some junior clinic, but I didn’t really have anybody,” he explained. “I played with a bunch of adults, and sometimes the Dartmouth players but there really wasn’t a huge junior squash scene in Hanover. That’s probably what I missed the most.”
Along the way, Reed began training with Dartmouth men’s squash coach Hansi Wiens, an icon in the sport. However, even after putting hockey behind him, Reed was still not dedicating all of his athletic attention to squash. A true athlete, kept his springs free for tennis, in which he lettered all four years of high school.
“I’ve always felt like squash made my tennis better and tennis made my squash worse, but it may have actually helped in the long run because it gave me a mental break and was good cross training.”
Reflecting on the interplay between the two sports, Reed believes some of the tendencies from the hardcourt may have manifested on the wood court.
“My game is a lot more physical. You’ll see a lot of players that are really polished and have nice strokes. I would say my game is a little rougher around the edges.”
Coach Jack Wyant agrees with this notion, noting that Max’s serves sometimes resemble those found in tennis. The coach gave his mid-ladder stalwart much credit.
“The main thing that I notice about Max positively is that he has a great understanding of the game and what to do,” Wyant said. “I think in large part it stems from his lack of instruction and the fact that he learned the game from watching and practicing on his own, thinking about it and competing at a high level.”
Although the vast majority of his team has developed via the typical processes, Wyant lauds the individualist approach to learning the game.
“The only downside to being part of a junior squash program at big club is you don’t really think as much, you just do what you’re told because you have great coaches around you,” he said. “Max wasn’t afforded that opportunity so he got to figure some things out on his own which is one of the reasons he’s such a good player.”
While developing into one of the nation’s top rising stars, things turned south for Reed when injury devastated him in his freshman and sophomore years of high school. After suffering hamstring and abductor injuries, he was prevented from competing in the Under-17 National Championships both years.
However, in Reed’s junior year, the World Junior Team Championships were being held, and it was indubitably his biggest challenge to make the cut.
“I was just coming back from my injury and I played a bunch of tournaments, and barely squeezed on. It came down to one match in the playoffs to make the team and I won, like, 13-11 in the fifth. It was between me and the other kid: Whoever won made the team, whoever lost didn’t. He had like three match balls, but luckily I won.”
This victory gave Reed a chance to go to Africa with the rest of U.S. delegation to compete on the world stage in 2014. Not bad for someone still nursing wounds and essentially taught himself the sport only a few years prior.
“Namibia was awesome,” Reed reflected. “That was so cool for me because I had never really gotten to play on a team, so [it was great] training with a bunch of other kids my age at the same level of squash that had the same love and passion for it.”
It just so happens that the coach for Team USA was Penn’s associate head coach Gilly Lane, who helped guide Reed to don the Red and Blue down the road.
Looking forward, Wyant expects Reed to bulk up some more.
"Physically he’ll get a little bit stronger and I think that will make him tougher to beat than he already is.”
In the meantime, with Nationals on the horizon, the unconventional maestro is looking to continue his journey from zero to 100, real quick.
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