By Ashley Kate Kesler
Squash is a sport that’s growing in popularity around the country. UVA's Squash teams are spreading the sport across the South as they continue to move up steadily in the national rankings and cultivate a promising reputation.
Though squash at the University of Virginia has a history dating back to the 1930s, now more and more people are starting to take notice and engage with the sport. The state-of-the-art McArthur Squash Center at the Boar’s Head Sport Club serves as the University’s squash hub. It is the home of the Virginia Squash teams and a facility open to all IM-Rec Sports and Boar’s Head Club members. The venue has played host to major squash events, from amateur tournaments, to the US Squash National Championships, which took place there Mar. 12-15.
Mark Allen is the head coach of Virginia Squash. He’s internationally renowned -- a former top 50 player in the world and a England Squash Level 4 Elite coach, the highest coaching qualification in English squash). Now, he’s leading the team to national recognition.
In an interview, Allen talked about the significance of hosting and competing in the National Championships for the second consecutive year.
“Once again, it was a tremendous experience for us as hosts and for all of the players competing,” Allen said. “The crowds were huge, the players were excited, and the Charlottesville community was treated to a unique event.”
Allen also shared a heartwarming story of great sportsmanship from the National Championships.
“In the 75+ age group final, one of the true heroes of the game, Rev. Robert Hetherington showed the young men how it was done,” Allen said. “Though he was up eight match points, he knew he would not be able to come back on Sunday to play in the finals (he was asked last minute to lead services at a Richmond church). He retired and gave his opponent the chance to play on through the event.“
The Virginia Squash teams excelled at the National Championships. The men’s team finished with an official rank of #29 in the nation, while the women’s team ranked #23 overall, according to the Dunlop Men’s College Squash final rankings. Individually, Mason Blake and Carey Danforth were UVA’s top seeded players this season -- Blake achieved an 88% win percentage, and Danforth an 84% win percentage.
Men’s captain Matthew Brown described the team’s bright trajectory. “Even though we lost two members of the team to graduation last year, we had three strong first-years pick up where they left off,” Brown said. “We will have an even stronger team next year with some of the top high school seniors in the US coming to play for UVA.”
Allen talked about the importance of being challenged. Playing against top ranked teams, he said, will only improve UVA’s national ranking.
“We’ve been working diligently to put together a more competitive schedule for the coming season,” Allen said. "We now have matches lined up with Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, Hobart, Connecticut College, Stanford, and Tufts … With the strength of our squads rapidly improving, we need these challenging regular season matches to ensure that we enter [next year’s] National Championships with experience and confidence.”
Allen hopes members of the UVA and Charlottesville community will continue to support the squash teams.
“We love serving as a gateway for the sport’s progress into the South,” he said.
Ashley Kate Kesler is a second-year student in the College, a member of the IM-Rec Sports marketing team and a tennis instructor.