Ever since she picked up a squash racket at the age of ten, Penn sophomore Nabilla Ariffin has done whatever it takes to win, even if it meant cutting a few corners.
“I remember when I was 13, my friend and I were playing against an English pro player,” Ariffin said. “We wanted to win so badly that I stepped on his foot, and my friend dropped a shot while I blocked the guy.”
While her foot-stomping days are behind her, she has no regrets. “It was funny,” she said. “We had to use all our moves to beat him.”
At any cost, winning has always come as a second nature to Ariffin, who found herself traveling to international tournaments just two years after she had began playing.
“Once I became better, I started thinking that I could make something out of it,” Ariffin said.
The Penang, Malaysia native took two years off from squash before coming to Penn. When she started playing again last year, she struggled.
Ariffin went 10-10 overall, losing four out of her six matches against Ivy League opponents.
“To be frank, she wasn’t winning matches, and I think that was really disappointing to her,” coach Jack Wyant said.
Ariffin admitted the collegiate squash scene was intimidating. “There were a lot of good players,” she said. “It was pressurizing.”
She also quickly found that talent wasn’t enough on the collegiate level.
“I learned that you have to work for every rally,” Ariffin said.
“You have to put in the work, so when you go out there, you have the confidence to make the shots,” Wyant added.
Having learned that she needed to hone her skills, Ariffin came into this season with a different mentality.
“She has worked out twice a day [and has] come to the courts twice a day at least four days a week, if not five,” Wyant said. “And the results she had this semester, playing at number one, reflect the effort she put in.”
Ariffin has gone 7-7 this year at the top of the ladder, with her biggest win of the season coming against Princeton sophomore Julie Cerullo.
“We had played before three times, and I lost to her every time before that match,” Ariffin said. “It was a great turning point, because by winning, I had a big boost of confidence that let me know that I can play with all the top players.”
Ariffin will take her newfound confidence into this weekend’s Individual Championships.
Of the 32 players competing, four will be Ariffin’s teammates. When asked how she feels about competing against other Penn players, Ariffin smiled.
“I just hope I don’t play any of them.”
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