Despite there being no winter squash season, Aly Abou Eleinen is still playing squash and connecting with his team.
The Penn men's squash junior grew up in Alexandria, Egypt and moved to the United States when he was 15 years old to attend Brooks School, a boarding academy in North Andover, Mass. He has been playing squash for 15 years and has played in tournaments all around the world.
“Coach Gilly [Lane] would come to my junior tournaments and watch my matches and just express a lot of interest in me,” Eleinen said. “He even once drove up to Brooks School, a seven-hour car ride from Penn, to meet with me and tell me about the squash program at Penn.”
Despite not being able to play squash as much these past few months, Eleinen has been able to still train and connect with his teammates.
“It’s been great to be able to live with my teammates this semester and has definitely brought us closer,” he said.
Eleinen and some of his teammates have gotten memberships at a racquet club in Philadelphia, which is a great way they have been able to train and play together.
“Even though we play with masks on, we are making the most out of it, and it’s better than not playing at all,” he said.
Eleinen and his teammates all train together, something which he said has really helped the team stay in shape and have structure to their day. He has also been playing matches in the suburbs of Philadelphia with other professional squash players whenever he gets the chance.
A junior majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Eleinen has had to figure out how to balance squash and his school work. Luckily for him, he has been balancing squash and academics for nearly his entire life, so it wasn’t a big change for him when he came to college.
Growing up in Egypt, Eleinen took academics as seriously as he did playing squash. Eleinen also said that attending a boarding school at a young age helped him become independent, and he had to learn how to manage his time.
“I always wanted to play squash at the highest level, so I had to figure out how to balance squash with the rest of my life,” he said.
Eleinen has had to learn how to prioritize and manage his time in order to balance squash and academics, but he said it has definitely paid off.
This season, it has been harder for Eleinen to maintain this balance because he doesn’t have any official team practices or a schedule. Over quarantine in the spring, Eleinen didn’t have access to squash courts, so he had to think outside of the box to keep training.
“I had to make sure that I wasn’t giving in and I had to keep finding ways to improve as a player and do things in my control to get better,” Eleinen said.
For Eleinen, this meant he would watch videos of him playing in old matches to see what he can improve in his game, did many workouts at home, and worked on his movement. By doing all this, Eleinen was able to come back to the courts without having to catch up.
Over his past three years on the team, Eleinen has improved in both his skills and his maturity as a player.
“It’s amazing being part of a team full of great players and having such amazing coaches,” Eleinen said.
Eleinen also credits much of his improvement to the 43 matches he has played throughout his years, which is abundant experience for someone his age.
One of Eleinen’s favorite things about Penn squash is that the team is so diverse. With players from all around the world, Eleinen has been able to train and spend most of his time with great people who have made him a better player and person. He also values that the team and his coaches focus on mental performance as well as strength and conditioning.
“All of these resources have made me a better squash player and a more mature person, and I’m forever grateful for it,” Eleinen said.
Eleinen’s favorite memory on the team was last year when the Quakers beat Trinity in the semi-finals of the national championship, the first time the Quakers had beaten the Tigers in over 40 years and the first time ever that Penn squash made it to the national championship finals.
“There is nothing better than winning a big match and celebrating with your team,” Eleinen said. “And being a part of that was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Eleinen appreciates how the individual sport of squash is turned into a team environment at Penn. He loves playing with his teammates every day and pushing each other to the same goal. Eleinen has many memories with his teammates he is going to remember for the rest of his life. Whether it’s the matches, no matter what the outcome was, or the countless hours spent training, those moments are unforgettable to Eleinen.
Eleinen is grateful he has been able to play squash for this long, and he hopes to go on and play professionally once he graduates college.
“I still have potential to get better and I’m not ready to let go of squash,” Eleinen said, “I still have room to improve, and I’m going to continue working hard to get to my goal.”