—The “Big Three” in sports is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that's becoming more and more popular as teams seem to be deliberately building around a dynamic trio. LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh; Steph, Klay, and Durant; Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft.
Penn men’s squash seems to have adopted this approach with its own freshman big three — Aly Abou Eleinen, James Flynn, and Michael Mehl — all of whom have helped propel the program to the very top of collegiate squash.
The freshmen have combined for a 24-0 record in their individual matches. In terms of games, they are a stunning 72-14.
Eleinen, like his teammate senior Karim Hussein, hails from Egypt. The freshman is recognized as potentially the best squash player to ever come out of his high school alma mater, the Brooks School. There, he was All-New England three times, twice an All-American, and in his senior year, he was recognized as New England co-player of the year.
Mehl, who stands at an imposing 6-foot-4, served as the captain of the Canadian Junior Squash team. He led the group to a gold medal in the Canada Winter Games in 2015, while also claiming an individual gold medal.
Flynn brought his team to the Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario Championship from 2015-2018, serving as the captain of the team his senior year.
Their contributions have helped Penn soar to unprecedented heights. For the first time in program history, the Quakers sit atop the College Squash Association’s rankings.
Squash, despite its individual nature, is still very much a team sport at the collegiate level. So beyond their talents, these freshmen attribute much of their success to the welcoming environment around them, which provided a smooth transition from high school to the top of the college squash world — something that could have been incredibly jarring in a less accommodating environment.
“I think the seniors have played a huge role in our success so far,” Eleinen said. “Speaking on behalf of the freshmen, we came in and they helped us in right away. If we needed anything, they were always there for us, and they showed us what it means to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”
Mehl echoed these sentiments.
“It feels as though the seniors, on this team at least, lay the foundation for the whole of the team,” he said. “Whenever we’re down, they’re people who bring us back up.”
There is a palpable sense of excitement around the team, a feeling that perhaps has never been felt to this extent before. The Quaker Meeting House’s article “Recognizing a Significant Moment in a Program’s History,” published on the Penn Athletics website, is tangible proof of this energy.
The writers are barely able to contain their excitement, citing quotes from sports film classic "Field of Dreams" and commenting on how nice of a ring “Penn Squash — National Champions” has to it. The pressure and expectations could be too much for a team with less experience.
Eleinen, Mehl, and Flynn are more than up for the task.
“Obviously, it’s a lot of pressure because college squash is pretty competitive,” Eleinen said. “But I think so far, the freshmen have been doing a good job. It’s all about working hard and doing what you can do, and everything works out in the end.”