Sometimes Red, White and Blue comes before Red and Blue. For Penn squash phenom Reeham Salah, that was the case when she joined up with Team USA for the Women’s World Team Championships last weekend in Paris, France.
Up against top talent from around the globe, the sophomore held her own, helping to guide the U.S to a fifth place finish — its highest to date. The squad notched impressive wins against Wales, Canada and third-ranked Malaysia, in which Salah took down world No. 17 Delia Arnold in a 77-minute five game nail-biter games.
Though she is no stranger to international competition, this was Salah’s first time on the world stage at the senior level.
“It’s a whole different experience playing on the senior tour. I’ve always played Junior World Championships, but never senior, so watching players that I watched growing up, and actually playing against them is really inspirational,” she said.
Recounting her most memorable moments, she pointed to the quarterfinal match against powerhouse Egypt and being star-struck with her opponent.
“My favorite player on tour is Raneem [El Weleily] and she’s ranked number two in the world,” she said. “Growing up, she was always my favorite player, and then playing with her was such an experience because you’re finally on court with someone you idolized your whole life, so that was a very surreal moment for me.”
Aside from the memories, Salah will be taking a wealth of experience home with her to enhance her collegiate game and the rest of the team, something Penn coach Jack Wyant is excited about.
“Reeham took her game to the next level, going from junior to senior level,” Wyant said. “Squash, like a lot of games, when you’re around someone with so much talent it makes everyone better. And for her, the opportunity to play against the top-ranked women in the world gives her an incredible chance to improve.”
While the current squad certainly benefits from her competing in tournaments like this, on the larger scale, her successes overseas are vital to the future of the program, especially recruiting, as Wyant noted. While there’s no question having a top-tier player like Salah puts Penn on the map, he added that when she’s on the circuit with some junior players, she can get others interested in playing for the Red and Blue and pull in other future superstars.
Fans will have to hold their breaths for a bit before Red and Blue squash is back in action, as the team is next slated for Harvard on Jan. 14. This extended break was fully intentional, Wyant explained, and meant to give his international players the opportunity to represent their countries in Paris.
“We purposefully built in the lull, since we knew we’d have players in this about a year ago,” he said. “We didn’t travel with the men’s team last weekend for matches. It is our job to develop the players academically and also athletically, so we’re willing to accommodate them with the schedule, which is not the case at some other programs.”
Salah is ready to get back into the swing of things, only taking Monday off before rejoining her Penn teammates yesterday for training, though she’ll take her well-earned recovery time.
“I think just taking it easy this week is best, because I don’t want to overexert myself. Then next week when I go home I’ll get some intense training there, and then come back to Penn and have another intense week before the match. I think all of us just pushing each other, like the men’s pushing the women’s team or vice versa, will really help,” she said.
When the Quakers face the Crimson, it will be a bit of a reunion for the two teams’ aces. Harvard’s number one, fellow sophomore Sabrina Sobhy, joined forces with Salah in France, and the two have a unique bond as competitors.
“Sabrina and I have been rivals since we were seven years old, so it doesn’t really change things. On the team together, we are super close, and we’re actually good friends as well,” she said. “But when we go on the court, we always try to have the best time possible, and whoever shows up the better player that day wins. We both understand each other’s talents and always have fun out there.”
With their next duel set just past the New Year, Salah will look to capitalize on an experience of a lifetime, and take aim at an Ivy League title.