By Jasmyn M. ’23
To be completely honest, when I first came to Crystal, I had absolutely no idea that “squash” could represent anything other than a vegetable. I saw a couple of squash racquets here and there and figured they were some sort of odd, outdated version of a tennis racquet. By seventh grade, I did begin to think of squash as a sport, albeit only another version of badminton. Yet by this point, our squash team was already competing at the national level. Who knew? According to Forbes magazine, squash is the world’s healthiest sport, so why is the sport thought of as so obscure?
People watch sports for competition, to be able to cheer and root for their team, and to follow the game’s every move because they can understand the rules, the trick shots, and the nuances of the game. For these more common sports, there is an already entrenched community, which sadly Crystal’s squash team has yet to achieve. Since Crystal has no squash courts on campus, support through viewing is not as accessible. As senior Arav Bhagwati says, “All the school teams, you see them playing on their fields. Basketball, soccer, you see the track people running around… but no one sees us playing.” Team captain and senior Rohan Valia adds, “The harsh reality is, more people are going to want to watch football, since it’s just the more popular sport, whereas squash is a little bit more niche and not many people have heard of it or watched it, so the pull isn’t really there.”
When you’re the only official squash team on the whole West Coast, not only are options for competition scarce, but they are purely nonexistent in our area. Freshman Ilya Kipkalov points out that squash is “not really prevalent on the West Coast because it’s an indoor sport and people would rather be out in the sun playing tennis or soccer.” Crystal’s squash team plays no official school tournaments all year until Nationals. However, the idea of a Crystal-UC Berkeley matchup has been thrown around, and an exhibition in San Francisco at some point may be possible.
Despite its current seemingly light participation by students, the pull of the sport seems to be getting stronger and stronger every year. Valia is hopeful for the future of squash at Crystal specifically, noting its rising popularity and the team’s great success. “Having been a part of Crystal’s squash team for seven years now, I feel like our team has grown astronomically since I first started,” says Valia. “Hopefully that [foundation that we built] gets carried over as I graduate and as all the rest of the players start to develop and take over the team. Hopefully what we’ve built over the years is going to be carried forward.”
Many of the team members interviewed commented on the close-knit nature of Crystal’s squash program. “The three seniors on our team are kind of like the parents of the team,” says Kipkalov. Although the lack of matches and variety of opponents may seem like a disadvantage, it may just be what brings our squash team together. Bhagwati remarks, “Even before a lot of people got to Crystal, we’ve all known them for a while, so right when they came in, they kind of just fit in. And when I was a freshman, I kind of fit in too, because everyone knows everyone in the squash community over here since it’s not that big, so we’re all very tight and close with each other.” Because of the squash community’s small size, the knowledge that they are all in it together helps bring the team closer and gives them more opportunities to play together.
Regarding their practice schedule, the squash team marches to the beat of their own drum. Official school practices are only twice a week during weekdays with an additional weekly Saturday practice. Due to low court availability, these weekday practices are from 6:30 to 8:00… in the morning. Teenagers are known to cherish their sleep, but, amazingly, overall sentiment on morning practices is highly positive. Valia says, “Credit to our team – they don’t really complain. They show up, they’re ready to play. No one is really cranky in the morning. We’re just business as usual and just play hard. [The morning practices] can be brutal at times, but just seeing everyone show up at 6:30 a.m. shows how much everyone cares about it and how everyone is willing to put in the work for the team and come together and train as a group[…] it’s dark and everyone’s groggy, but […] then by the time you’re done you’ve already played an hour and a half of squash and it’s bright outside and you feel like you’re so much more productive by the time you go to school.” It seems that the shared experience of knowing they are getting something done while most people are still asleep brings them closer together as a team. Valia adds, “Sharing that with our teammates and really seeing each other put in the work and pushing each other to work even harder, I think that’s what’s made the morning practices really rewarding.” Outside of the triweekly school-sponsored practices, the squash players go play with friends, work out in the gym, and play solo, nearly every day. Many of them also attend clinics that allow them to play with other squash players and coaches as well as with each other.
As a runner, I know I subconsciously push harder when I round a turn and there is a crowd of people yelling at me, encouraging me to go faster. Any other sport has the same connection to support from fans on the sidelines; the home-field advantage is real, and squash, although lacking a physical home court, is no different. “It really elevates your game when you have an entire row of spectators and people cheering you on. You really push harder,” says junior Paul Cherian. “And then when you win, it’s incredible. We all go crazy and we’re jumping off the walls. It’s a phenomenal experience.”
When asked how to give them more recognition, the players’ ideas seemed very much within reach. Multiple players pointed out that they would love to have their picture up next to the other teams’ photos in the hallway of the Gryphon Center. Another idea mentioned by a few players was to give athletic shoutouts to the squash players, both at Community Time and on Crystal’s athletics Instagram account. Although many of the squash players’ accomplishments are not tied to Crystal due to the school not having regular matches, they are still participating in national tournaments individually and doing very well, which should be recognized.
Crystal Springs Uplands School is seeded fifth in Division One for the National U.S. Squash Championships, which are coming up from February 25th through February 27th. This is incredible! When asked what we can do as a community to show support, the answer was the same as it would be in any other sport: just watch them! Kipkalov says, “It’ll be live-streamed, so if people would watch that and cheer us on, that would be really cool.” Crystal’s squash team is currently the most successful sports team on campus. Yes, it does take a little more effort to support the squash team than to stop by the soccer field for a few minutes, but considering how hard all of our squash players work, I think it’s the least we can do. Go Gryphons!
Check out the US SQUASH YouTube channel to support the team the weekend after next: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCApmg7J-jrjcZF9P7p55TNw/videos