Championships are won in the offseason — so goes the age-old cliche. This saying holds true for the members of Penn squash, but there’s another more accurate saying for what they do in the offseason: championships are won all over the world.
Just as it does with other sports, the offseason presents an extended opportunity for squash players to hone their craft and improve specific aspects of their game, be it fitness, technique or movement.
What gives the squash offseason a twist, however, is that the players are from a variety of different countries, meaning that the players on the team are returning home and playing all over the world when they’re not playing in the college league, whether it be training with their youth coaches or playing on the professional circuit against players well beyond college-age.
“There’s nothing really formal in our sport, like a summer league or something like that,” women’s coach Jack Wyant said. “The reality is, for our players, both male and female, there aren’t many cities in the world where they’re going to get a ton of competition. It’s not like basketball where all the college kids might go back to their hometowns and all play in the same gym or at place like Rucker Park in New York or wherever.
“One of the great things about the players who go home for the summer, however, is that they get to reconnect with their youth coaches who generally were the ones who brought them up and taught them how to play game, so the more input they’re getting from those coaches the better off we’ll be.”
For example, sophomore Rowaida Attia returned to her home in Egypt for the summer and underwent an intense training regimen under the guidance of her youth coach, sometimes practicing twice a day to improve her fitness while also playing games against other players to maintain her form. And while she didn’t train with any of them this summer, she knows there are other players from Egypt she used to play with who came back and trained just like she did.
“When we played Trinity, I played against an Egyptian girl who I used to play against in literally every tournament we played in, so I was familiar with her game and everything, and it motivates me to be better,” Attia said.
For other players, formal competition is a staple of their offseason training, taking them all over the world in pursuit of the best competition they can find.
“What our sport does have is a bunch of tournaments all over the world,” Wyant said. “If our student-athletes can find their way to tournaments, if they can try to qualify for a professional tournament, a lot of them will do that. A lot of the incoming freshmen play for their national teams in world juniors tournaments, and those normally take place in the summer.”
One player who had an especially active offseason was junior Marie Stephan, who traveled all over the world to train with and compete against some of the world’s top squash talent. Before returning to her home country France to train with the national team in Paris, Stephan traveled Calgary, Canada, in March and Richmond, Va., in April to play in tournaments as part of the Professional Squash Association World Tour. She is currently ranked No. 133 by the World Squash Association.
After her time with the French national team, Stephan also traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, to compete in the Ukrainian Cup, where she reached the quarter-final round of the competition. Most recently, Stephan traveled to Toronto just last month to compete in the Granite Open.
Stephan has even won a championship on the world tour before, winning the Montreal Open in March 2015, defeating fellow Quaker Melissa Alves in the final. Some of the same players that Stephan faces in the college league are players that she faces on the world tour too.
“A couple of the girls on the Trinity team play in the world tournaments too, I actually played one of them in a tournament in the past, and I think a couple of the girls on the Harvard team as well are playing on the world circuit. I see them a little bit more, so it’s nice to know what’s coming when I play them here in the college league,” Stephan said.
While there are plenty of lessons to learn and titles to pursue on the world stage, the Penn squash team will hope that all of these different experiences will allow them to finally bring home a national championship in the college league right here to University City.