SA Squash Team: A Great Balance of Sports, Friends and Fun

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Cole Rychel, grade 10, serves the ball during a match against Will Stevenson, grade 11, in the courts of the Edgeworth Club. The Sewickley Academy squash team borrows these courts twice per week for practice. Like some squash players, Rychel has experience with other racquet sports, including standard and paddle tennis. Lekha Amin/Sewickley Academy

Evelyn Safar and Ella Zhou

Despite the cold, the gyms, courts, and rinks of western Pennsylvania come alive every winter with Sewickley Academy students eager to make a three-pointer, score a hat-trick, cheer on the home team, and just have fun with friends. One of the more unusual forms of athletic entertainment available during the second trimester is a racquet sport that shares its name with a popular Thanksgiving vegetable: squash.

Senior Lekha Amin has played on the SA squash team for all four years of high school and says the team has a unique relaxed environment.

“We aren’t a part of any type of section,” Amin said, “so the matches we play against other schools are solely made for us to get some more experience and see what other schools’ squash program looks like.” She continues, “ At these matches, there is absolutely no pressure to win. They are used as a learning experience. Everybody is there to learn in an environment and be at ease.”

That, however, doesn’t stop the team players from helping and pushing each other to be better. Sometimes during practices when underclassmen or less experienced players are practicing, Amin said, “a few upperclassmen will come down and give some tips to help them improve their game.”

The SA squash travel squad. Cole Rychel (grade 10), Jeremy Gu (grade 11), Will Stevenson (grade 11), Landen Shirley (grade 12), Alex Gordon (grade 12), Mauve Donohue (grade 12), Maggie Paul (grade 12), Abby Villella (grade 12), Lehka Amin (grade 12) Ron Kinser/Sewickley Academy

The SA squash team, according to its coach, Senior School biology teacher Dr. Ron Kinser, is fun “because it’s student-driven and there’s a real passion and excitement from the kids who participate.”

But squash wasn’t always a Sewickley Academy sports team. It was first founded in 2012 by Sam Claber, Class of ’14, as a SS club sponsored by Mr. Steven Collier, a history teacher at that time. The club flourished, and squash finally made the transition into a full-fledged sport after two years as a club.

Today, students who play not only get experience in a sport that Coach Kinser says “you can play for a lifetime,” they also get a physical education credit for the winter trimester.  As to the nature of the team, he added, “our numbers are good but we’re mostly all casual competitors.”

The team has grown steadily in size since Amin joined. “When I started, there were not as many underclassmen as there are now,” she said.

When Amin first joined the team, most of the players had previous experience in either squash or another similar racquet sport. But now, she said, players without a background in racquet sports are giving it a try and she feels “excited to see the progress of a lot of newcomers and to see where the season takes us!”

Seconds away from hitting the ball, freshman Omar Malik participates in a drill called “King of the Court.” In this exercise, a lone player on one side of the court, the “king,” faces off against the rest of the team, who rotate into the game one player at a time. If the challenger wins the point, they become the king, and the drill continues.
Lehka Amin/Sewickley Academy

As more students join the squash team, it does face one big challenge: the lack of home courts. Squash practices at the Edgeworth club, but there are only two courts; and for a team that boasts over thirty players, that’s not much space. Coach Kinser does the best he can.

“We have to stagger practice times for different ability levels and we don’t really have time and space to do drills,” he said.  However, they make it fun by playing “more of a king-of-the-court, little modified-matches setup,” said the coach. “We’re trying to play more real matches, though.”

Squash’s away match setup is different from other Sewickley Academy sports. While most varsity teams all travel together, whether individuals have playing time or not, squash instead takes a smaller squad.

Coach Kinser explained, “a small number of the team competes and students who haven’t made it to that level just practice. In a sense, you have to make the travel squad.” This travel squad is composed of about nine players, and travels to play teams from schools like Winchester Thurston and Shadyside Side Academy.

The coach said that all of the players are excited to learn and improve. In addition to being a teacher, he said, “being a coach is important because I get to see another side of students and I get to know them more personally.”

As Coach Kinser said, the sport is a “perfect blend of physical and mental [energy],” and combined with the laid-back team environment, that pairing keeps players coming back to squash year after year.