COLLEGE SQUASH EXPERIENCES
Info on the experience of playing college squash --with insight, analysis, memories, and tributes from influencers and alums that hail from various program's storied traditions and legacies over the years and through the ages.
"How playing College Squash prepared me to go Pro"
Harvard University, Class of 2016
Highest WSA Ranked American Ever (# 7)
Played # 1 Harvard, 2012-2015
Went Undefeated over her college career
4 Time Intercollegiate Individual Champion
3 Time Team National Champion
4 Time All-American
When I was a senior in High School, I had the option of either going to college and playing college squash or going straight onto the Professional tour for squash. I was already ranked in the top 20 and playing my best squash to date, so it would have been ideal to play professionally instead of going to college. However, I chose to go to college for the next four years and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. College squash was something completely new to me and an experience that I learned immensely from and will forever cherish. Having competed for myself since I started playing tournaments whether it was in juniors or professionally, I never got to experience that team aspect and camaraderie that exists in college squash. No longer are you playing just for yourself, but you are now playing for the team of a group of girls or guys where your success translates to the overall team’s success. Going to college and playing in a team aspect prepared me for playing on the professional tour once I graduated because I had to learn how to perform under a lot of pressure with boisterous crowds cheering for me and against me. Since I was recruited to play in college, the level of college squash has only gotten stronger and made it much more possible for kids to raise their level and compete at the highest level.
When I graduated in May 2015, I was ranked #10 on the PSA World Tour, which was my highest ranking at the time. People ask me all the time how I managed to go to college, play college squash, and keep up playing in professional tournaments (as an amateur at the time), all while still improving my squash and keeping on top of my studies. It came down to time management and organization. I had the resources to improve my squash whether it was working with the coaches, hitting with the men’s team, or training with players in the area. At times, academics would have to take priority over squash when it came to exam time. However, during the season or when the academic course load was lighter, I would be able to get proper training in for squash. If anyone is ever deciding over going to college and playing in college squash versus going straight onto the Professional tour, I always encourage going the college route because it’s an experience that one cannot obtain elsewhere. Playing for a team is something really special and it pushed me to work harder for my teammates and become a team player, which I’ll never forget.
q & a session
yasser el helaby
PRINCETON CLASS OF 2006 - 4 TIME INTERCOLLEGIATE CHAMPION
1. CS Insiders: You grew up in Cairo. How did you get recruited to Princeton and navigate the process of preparing international forms and applications?
I went to a British school in Cairo and when I was 10 played my first international junior tournament, WGC in Welwn Garden City (a warm-up to the British Junior Open and I think they only had it that year because it was much stronger than the Scottish Junior Open). I played in the U12 and finished 2nd to Peter Barker, one of England’s best players and was a regular on the top 10 PSA ranking list for a while. Since then, I would play 3-4 junior tournaments a year (the British, the German, the Dutch and then a 4th depending on where I wanted to visit and explore). I wasn’t aware of the US recruiting system nor was I interested in in studying in the US. But I was definitely interested in studying abroad, given all my travels as a top junior squash player. I though the UK would be a good fit given it top notch schools, the fact that I went to a British school guided by the British Circular, England’s status as squash power house and finally, its relative proximity to Cairo.
2. CS Insiders: What was the impetus for attending university in the United States? Was your journey self-guided? Was it always a dream of yours to attend school in the U.S.?
As we all continue to realize as we get older, many of the best things that happen to us are completely unplanned. I hardly knew anything about Princeton other than the fact that it hosted the World Junior Squash tournament Under 19, a tournament that I did not play in but several my older Egyptian teammates did. They raved about how beautiful campus was and mentioned something about Einstein studying or working there. I thought it must have been cool but didn’t think twice about it. I was set to study in the UK, perhaps University College London. But one day my father told me that he was speaking with a childhood friend of his living in the Philly area and this friend insisted that I apply to Princeton. (US colleges require applications 4-6 months earlier than their UK peers). Coach Callahan and I connected and I managed to put in an application in time for Early Decision and it worked out. I then visited Princeton two weeks after submitting my application and fell in love with the place and thought everything about was so cool. I didn’t apply to any other school.
3. CS Insiders: How prepared were you academically for a top university? What challenges did you face?
I went to a school in Cairo where all my classes were in English so the transition as an international student wasn’t so bad. And given my travel for squash (and perhaps all the fun I was having) I wasn’t really getting home-sick. Academically, the toughest aspect was writing at the Princeton level. The IGCSE program hardly requires any writing as it is more test based even in disciplines such as History. So writing papers was tough. Nevertheless, I majored in philosophy although I didn’t feel comfortable writing until I got to my senior year. Also, I think time management academically was a learning process Freshman year. There is so much to do and if you’re an athlete and you’re social, you don’t have time to read everything so you need to be efficient and decide what to focus on – this took time to figure out. Otherwise, I enjoyed my time academically – I was all about the liberal arts with a focus on philosophy and politics.
4. CS Insiders: What was your experience like playing college squash?
Honestly, more fun than I ever imagined. First, I loved being on a big team with an amazing group of smart, fun and competitive guys. And we were close with the women’s team as well so it was just a great dynamic all around at practice, at matches and socially. The level of college squash was very solid too. Each year had something special about it. Loved competing against other schools and playing in front of friends and representing Princeton. Fond memories.
5. CS Insiders: Why did you choose to play college squash and not go pro right after high school?
It wasn’t a matter of college squash vs. pro but rather my aspiration to go to the best college I could attend. Skipping college for pro squash wasn’t in the cards. When I was a senior, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do post-college and I knew I loved playing squash so I played pro for two years. But I was always looking for what’s next and never got into it. I think pro squash can be a tough career decision and you need to really, really, really want to do it to pass on an opportunity for a college experience, regardless of where it is.
"how college squash became my senior thesis"
Brown University, Class of 2003
Played # 1 at Brown for four years
Two-time team captain
Assistant Coach, Vassar College 2004-2006
High School Coach, Poly Prep CDS 2011-Present
Chair Ivy Prep League, NY
Committee Member, U.S. Squash-- High Schools
When I first arrived on the campus of Brown University, I wasn’t sure about where I was in my relationship with squash --after having specialized and played consistently year-round since I was 10, I was burned out. As I got older and the game was getting more physical, playing multiple matches over the course of a weekend tournament became more challenging and I would get very sore and exhausted both mentally and physically from playing. In addition, I found that it was harder to improve -my muscle memory had been instilled into my technique and my weaknesses were more apparent to my opponents. This was particularly jarring to me because I still had a competitive streak that burned and each loss felt like a gash to my chest. So I came to campus as a freshman ready to embrace new passions, accept loss more readily, and redefine the game to myself and play just for fun all the while making new friends and enjoying being a part of a team.
Throughout the fall pre-season months of my first season, I gave my new outlook a try. I explored new classes and activities and simply treated squash practices as a fun stress reliever -kind of like spending time with an old friend. Then, the season began. I was slated to play # 1 and our schedule had us competing against the best teams in the country. As a result, my freshman year, I had the opportunity to compete against every All-American player in the country. I struggled. But, in that struggle, I discovered that I still loved the sport and that I still hated losing and that I loved the adrenaline rush of preparing to play masters of the game in front of a crowd as well as in trying to keep up with their pace of play and outlast their immense skill. I discovered that I still wanted to get better and that I had a lot of work to do to get myself to play at a standard comparable to my opponents.
One thing that always struck me at Brown from the moment I stepped on the school's campus was how hard my classmates worked and studied. They would dedicate hours towards researching their topics of interest -simply because they were inspired. At the late hours of the evening, after we had all finished our days and were relaxing, I would see my classmates eyes light up as they shared information about their days and, in those moments, I learned so much about organic chemistry, anthropological languages, the history of agriculture in sub-saharan Africa, as well as the whaling industry in 19th century New England. In these conversations, I never quite could contribute the same level of passion towards my academics studies, but, I could engage them with elaborate and lengthly discussions on the sport of squash -it’s various strategies, tactics, and angles as well as the cast of characters and coaches and their life stories I had had the opportunity to know through my involvement in the sport.
It was in these casual conversations that I discovered that squash was my passion and soon thereafter, I dedicated myself 100 % towards the sport. I treated the sport like an academic course and studied by traveling over school and summer breaks and planning training sessions with the best possible coaches and players that I could. With the support of my teammates, coaches, and classmates, I worked hard and embarked on a journey that inspired me to continue playing after college professionaly and has led me now towards coaching students and sharing my passion for the last fifteen years in various capacities and places that have included coaching college students at Vassar as well as coaching and counseling high school students who have gone on to play at St. Lawrence, Bard, Connecticut College, Trinity, Bates, Middlebury, Boston University, and also students who have gone on to careers in college coaching.
The experience of playing for my team and, in particular, choosing to go to a school where I could compete amongst the best in college squash has greatly changed the trajectory of my life. It’s something that I will always cherish and that continues to inspire me to help others strive towards achieving.