With the temperature falling, many Penn students smartly headed south for winter break. Unless you are a member of Penn women’s squash, in which case you opted to holiday in the frozen tundra that is Canada.
Of course, braving the sub-zero temperatures and seemingly endless bus rides was not purely for fun. This “vacation” was actually an NCAA-sanctioned international tour, which is allowed once every four years. As this was the lucky year, coach Jack Wyant took his squad north for the training retreat.
“We like to go to places where there is a rich squash history and tradition, where we can get our name out for recruiting purposes, and make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our student athletes,” Wyant said. “It took us a while to hone in on Canada, and actually, Gilly [Lane] suggested it. Because of its proximity, it wasn’t on my mind, but, as soon as he mentioned it, I realized it was perfect.”
So, after a short turnaround from finals, the team journeyed from Philadelphia to Montreal. Day one was spent almost entirely at the Club Sportif MAA, a 130-year sports facility in the heart of the city, where everyone got a few matches under their belts. After crossing into Ontario, the team took on new opponents at the Toronto Athletic Club, enjoying views of the city as the courts were perched on the 36th floor.
The final challenge was waiting for them at the White Oaks Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake, host of the esteemed Reggae Cup. This two-day Jamaican-inspired squash extravaganza welcomed players from all over, and presented the Quakers with a unique opportunity to face unusual challengers, as Wyant explained.
“They are playing against adults, recreational players, and people who played in university some time ago. The styles are certainly different, and I’m a believer in exposing yourself to as many play styles as possible to diversify your game and help you grow as a squash player,” he said.
For junior Reeham Sedky, reigning US Squash Athlete of the Year, besting a world masters squash titleholder to secure the Cup’s Men’s A division was a test unlike any other.
“It was a very different game, because the men basically pick up everything. So, I had to think differently about what shots to play,” Sedky said. “It really improved my fitness because they just kept the ball in play. Everyone there was super nice so it was just an amazing experience.”
While the trip was certainly business, the team found time for a little leisure on the side. From the iconic CN tower to scenic views from Mount Royal, Wyant stressed the importance of seizing the moment.
“I’ve traveled all around the world and have been to places that I have no recollection of because all I did was fly there, go to the hotel, and play in the tournament, and I really regret that,” he said. “So, especially, when you’re employed by an institution of higher learning, you may as well try to pick up some of the culture and see some sights.”
And that they did. The Quakers indulged in Canadian classics such as five-pin bowling, a hockey game, and, naturally, Tim Hortons donuts. For Sedky, making memories with her teammates epitomized the whole trip.
“Seeing Niagara Falls was pretty awesome because it was frozen over on the American but was really pretty on the Canadian side,” Sedky said. “There was a lot of bonding during the trip because it was only us for ten days. A ten-hour drive is never easy, but we got very close and got to know each other better.”
Welcoming in the new year together in the heart of Montreal was certainly one of those formative experiences, explained senior Melissa Alves. Laughing, she described the now-infamous Taiwanese meal the team shared beforehand with their coach.
“He gets extremely excited about food, especially Asian food because he loves that cuisine, I guess,” Alves said about Wyant. “He just talks, and orders the entire menu, eats from everybody’s plate, comments on every vegetable, and calls the waitress 10 times to change the order. So, it’s very tough to sit next to him.”
With a grueling schedule awaiting them to kick-off 2018, Wyant took advantage of this uncommon opportunity to achieve both diligent technical preparation and light-hearted team building.
“We had a decent number of matches, on average, each girl played around 10 matches over the course of the break. There was a lot of competition, and we spent five days inside a squash club from breakfast to dinner. I hope we struck the right balance, but that will remain to be seen,” Wyant said.
Coming off a split weekend hosting Yale and Brown, the Red and Blue (5-2, 1-1 Ivy) will hope their international tour pays dividends when taking on a slew of Ivy opponents in the coming weeks.