As the classic song goes, “anything you can do I can do better.”
For Penn women's squash’s Reeham Sedky, this very well could be the case. The two-time defending CSA finalist has taken her game up yet another level, now training with Penn's men’s team.
Yes, she is that good. As the reigning United States Olympic Committee Athlete of the Year, the No. 1 ranked female player, and the proud owner of a 23-league-match winning streak, the unstoppable junior is always seeking out new challenges.
This year, Penn’s registrar helped force the issue with CIS course offerings incompatible with the women’s training schedule. For an Academic All-Ivy honoree and a dedicated engineering student, school requirements do have to take the front seat. So, like all champions, Sedky made the best of the situation which, per her coach Jack Wyant, has been a blessing in disguise.
“So, what happens is when she has a class conflict, Gilly and the men are very open about her getting on the court with them. It’s true in just about every sport that if you have the opportunity to compete with better players, that will help you improve the most,” Wyant said. “She does that for all the women on a daily basis. So, for her to have an opportunity to train with the men has been really positive, because she needs the competition, to be out there with guys or girls that are better than her.”
Echoing Wyant, Sedky reaffirmed the importance of pushing herself further, especially with respect to the distinctly challenging playing styles possessed by the men’s side.
“They definitely push me to become better. They run so much and smack the ball, whereas girls have a different type of game, so I get to practice different styles,” Sedky said. “With the conditioning games, the guys have stronger legs physically, so it’s tough. I think I’m a lot more consistent and can reach a lot more balls, because when I play with guys, I’ve gotten used to them getting everything, so that’s translated to my game.”
Having just taken top prize in the Men’s A division of the Reggae Cup over winter break, this atypical training seems to be working for her. Interestingly, it’s not just “the Hammer” that’s benefiting from these inter-team training sessions. With her in the mix for drills and hitting, the tempo and competitiveness has certainly spiked for the guys as well, as attested to by senior captain Hayes Murphy.
“Whenever you’re on court with Reeham you can expect her to be focused and putting you under pressure. It’s great having her — she fits right in and she competes with everyone on the team,” Murphy said. “There’s usually a little bit of a separation between women and men in the pace we play at, but not with Reeham. She’s often the one pushing the pace, and it’s good practice for us.“
Concurring with the assessment of his No. 2 player, men's coach Gilly Lane sees Sedky's participation in his squad’s practices as a means to bring everyone’s game up a notch.
“I think it’s a win-win for everyone. She’s a two-time intercollegiate finalist, and she’s put herself as one of the best, if not the best, player in the country on the collegiate and international level," Lane said. "She brings a great style, an attacking style of play to the men's practices, and it’s great for our boys to see different styles of play and adjust to the pace that she plays at."
Adding that there is some precedent for Penn’s women to train with the men, Lane mentioned that some of his most productive workouts were with female pros when he was on the professional tour. He continued that while there may be two teams, it’s all just Penn squash.
“We’re a family here both programs, and we want everyone doing well, and however we can succeed in both programs, we’re gonna do it,” he said.
From cheering on one another during matches, sharing unending bus rides to Hanover, N.H., and now practicing together, both teams certainly have each other’s backs. Sedky noted that this camaraderie supports an atmosphere where all the Quakers can excel.
“I think this year, our guys’ and girls’ teams are closer than ever. [Senior captain] Melissa [Alves] also plays with them, and we do extra fitness with them, so it’s a great dynamic between us,” she said.
For those wondering where Sedky would rank on the men’s ladder, no one knows for sure. While Lane couldn’t quite put his finger on the number, Wyant encouraged challenge matches down the road for her to really prove her worth.
Although already at the top of the squash game, Reeham Sedky has no plans of stopping here, as she is always in search of that next level of greatness.