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The Westminster Bi-Line

Boys squash rallies at Yale to win national championship


The path that the Westminster squash team took on the way to Yale University in New Haven, Conn. had been tread by the SquashCats many times before. After all, the team has been competing in the national championship held at Yale every year since 2006. This time, however, the return trip was a little different for the SquashCats: they came home with a title.

After a disappointing performance in Division 4 last year, the team was moved to a less challenging Division 6. Since the change of division, the team has dominated the competition.

“We had a pretty bad performance last year and that affected our seeding,” said senior Kyle Dhillon, “but we didn’t let that set us back.”

The change of division was only one factor in the team’s success.

“I think the team as a whole probably had easier matches than our potential could have shown,” said freshman Henry Harris, “because of the division we were in.”

The change in division was not the only big change for Westminster squash this year. The school formed a new varsity girls team.

“This year was the first year that the girls came up to nationals with us,” said Dhillon, “so we got to meet and hang out with them.”

“It was really exciting to have a girls team this year,” said head coach Rick Byrd, “We saw a lot of girls improve a lot at nationals. I hope that more girls will want to come out for squash. It’s a neat game, and there are a lot of opportunities for female athletes.”

As a young and relatively inexperienced team, the Cats’ main strategy was to perfect the most basic fundamentals of the game, gaining important experience with each match.

“Squash is a game that, if you do certain fundamental things right, you’re going to have a lot more success,” said Byrd. “We had a tenth grader, three seniors, one junior, and two ninth graders, so we’re very young. We tried to emphasize the fundamentals over and over again, and it paid off.”

The tournament has been a staple of the squash team’s experience since its founding only a decade ago; however, the team’s performance has never been at this caliber.

“Before this year the best finish we ever had was maybe fourth or fifth,” said Byrd. “We played very consistent squash once we got to nationals. In years past, from top to bottom of the line-up, we had not been as consistent.”

“We stayed very focused and dominated most of our matches, winning all 28 of our matches and going 84 and three in games,” said Dhillon. “It was by far the best tournament I’ve ever seen us play.”

A few matches tested the Cats’ dominance. Harris played the number three match against the toughest competition Westminster saw at the tournament, against a player from Radner High School in Philadelphia.

“You had to win four matches to win the overall team match, and I was the fourth to win,” said Harris, “You play best three out of five, and it was 2-2, and I won the third. I had a bunch of people watching me, which was really cool.”

“He was under a lot of pressure as a ninth grader,” said Byrd, “and he performed very well.”

The team’s consistency allowed it to win by such a large margin.

“If you get ahead early in the game, it is tempting to start doing other things, or playing another way,” said Byrd. “The guys were willing to be boring, and therefore be good.”

The team feels extremely proud of the progress it has made in the last decade, as it has developed into a dominating power despite its location and youth.

“At this point we’re only one of two high schools with a team south of Virginia,” said Dhillon, “so we don’t have the luxury of playing a lot of local teams like northern schools do.”

In that sense, this victory belongs not just to Westminster, but to the entire southeast.

“This national championship shows the potential that the sport can have in the south,” Dhillon said. “And hopefully we might see an emergence of teams around the region in the next few years.”

“When I started coaching squash 11 years ago, winning a national championship was not something I was thinking about,” said Byrd. “To realize that the guys were going to get a trophy, and that I was a part of something that was much bigger than anything I’ve ever done athletically: that was the best moment.”

“When I first joined, it was only in its fifth year,” said Dhillon, “so it was great to be a part of the team and watch it develop over the years.”

“I was very happy for the seniors, because they’d all put in four years, and they’d had some frustrating performances at nationals before,” said Byrd, “and for them to have their last squash match be the nationals and win the trophy was very nice for them.”

The last four years have helped the seniors to carry the team and be true leaders at the tournament this year.

“I was allowed to give pump-up speeches before our matches at nationals, and that was a great privilege,” said Dhillon. “[Over the past four years,] I’ve really enjoyed getting to know our coaches: coach Byrd, renowned historian, and coach Tom Rumpler, a world-class squash player and coach from Midtown Athletic Club. They’ve both made Westminster’s squash program in the last ten years out of nothing.”

Byrd hopes that the younger players will follow the example of the graduating seniors and play the game throughout the rest of high school in order to gain experience and perhaps even find similar success in more competitive divisions.

Harris seemed optimistic that the team would continue to step up. “Most players on our team only play during the season, and we’re going to try and change that,” he said. “For the summer, I’m planning on just working out and getting better and getting faster, and playing with friends, so I can keep it up.”

“I want them to be in love with the game to such a level that they will be willing to work at it over the summer and get better so that they become competitive at the next level,” said Byrd. “Wherever we’re at next year, I want them to have improved enough to enjoy the competition.”

The love for the game is the most extraordinary part of the sport, which drives its players forward.

“I’m hoping to play squash in college–if not on the varsity level then at least at the club level or recreationally,” said Dhillon.

“I like the quickness of squash,” said Harris. “You have to be on your toes at all times. It’s not that well-known a sport, and I know that people enjoy it in the eighth grade PE unit, and it would be great to have more people try out.”

“It’s a sport for life,” said Byrd.

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