Squash team faces new challenges following championship season

The Wildcats take pride in the plethora of region and state championships trophies lined up in the hallway of Turner. But last year, the squash team accomplished a feat that solidified Westminster as a national athletic force. Last February, under the leadership of four talented seniors, the varsity boys’ squash team became the first team south of Virginia to win a National High School Championship. Now, as the 2012-2013 season begins, the young squash team is faced with the challenge of replacing the five upperclassmen that led the team to its first title last year, all while attempting to solidify their newfound reputation as a national powerhouse. With not a single senior on the court this season, repeating the glorious run by the 2011-2012 team may be difficult, but the young squash team is willing to put in the necessary effort to once again contend at a national level.

This season, the men’s squash team will be playing in division V rather than division VI, where they won the national championship last year. The promotion means that this year’s squad will be facing tougher competition and higher expectations for their performance. Coaches Tom Rumpler and Rick Byrd have accounted for this increase in competition by putting a new emphasis on strength and conditioning for their players this season.

“When they are not on the court, our guys are in the fitness center with the strength and conditioning coaches, on a program,” said Byrd. “That means we spend less time on the court conditioning and more time practicing.”

The men’s team has undergone vast changes not only in the vigor of their preparation, but also in the experience of their roster. When the Wildcats took the court for the first time on December 14th in Mercersburg, PA, they did so without a single senior on the roster, compared to the four seniors who led the team last year. The lack of senior leadership has not deterred the team’s drive to perform, as returning junior Garrett Donnelly has taken over as the team’s captain and number one player. His experience and leadership, along with the help of other returning players will play a pivotal role in the team’s success.

“We have a lot of new talent coming up this year,” said Donnelly. “I am really excited to see everyone develop and to help this new squad contend.”

The squash team has collectively responded to the challenge of replacing four seniors and competing at a higher level through team bonding and by pushing each other to play the best they possibly can.

“Once you get a banner on the wall, everything changes,” said Byrd. “I believe that these kids understand that well.”

The team will be competing against more experienced opponents this season, but the young team feels as though they are ready for a challenge. Being the only varsity squash program south of Virginia, the Wildcats blaze the trail for the expansion of the fast-paced racquet sport in the south. Unfortunately, most of their competition takes place in the northeast, which means quality competition in practice is sometimes difficult to come across. Fortunately, the team prepares thoroughly for every trip, and develops together as a unit after every practice and every match. In addition, their success has led to more teams forming in and around the southeast, which will make competing significantly easier for the Westminster squash teams.

“We are able to challenge each other as a team to get better,” said sophomore Henry Harris. “It will, however, be nice to play some more teams down south in the future.”

Although the girls’ squash team has not gotten nearly as much recognition as the boy’s program in recent years, it has performed incredibly well for a team that has only been around for two seasons. Last year, the girls made it to nationals and fought their way to the “elite eight,” playing against older and more experienced teams. Rather than using their lack of experience as an excuse, the girls’ squash team embraces their youth and rises to the challenge of building a program from the ground up.

“It has really been great playing with these girls and trying to build this program,” said junior Courtney Clement. “It is really cool to be apart of such a historical and special group.”

Finally, one of the largest challenges that both squash teams will face this season is the rigorous travel schedule that is imposed on them and all other southern schools competing in a northern sport. The team travels all across the northeast for their tournaments, which can often be a burden and cause fatigue among the players. However, rather than looking at the travel as a disadvantage, players like sophomore William Black or former junior Zach Hoffman look forward to the travel as a chance come together as a team.

“I love just sitting on the plane with some friends and having time to relax and just talk,” said Black.

Even players who left the program behind reminisce upon their time on the squash team with nostalgia over the unique opportunity to travel with teammates all across the nation.

“Traveling with the team was always such a great time,” said Hoffman. “I definitely miss hanging out with those guys in-between matches or in the hotels more than anything else.”