Squash is more than just a gourd. It’s a fast-paced competitive sport enjoyed by people all over the world. Though it may not be as popular as basketball or soccer, its players and fans are fierce and loyal. At Tabor Academy in Marion, the love for the game has been strong for decades.
“I don’t care about winning. I care about kids playing because that’s how you get better,” said Connie Pierce, who heads player development for Tabor Academy’s junior varsity women’s squash team.
Most of the kids she works with don’t come from a background rife with intense, weekly squash lessons.
“Squash courts aren’t available to everybody,” Pierce said, citing the popularity of sports like tennis and basketball, which tend to get more public space for play than many sports.
Pierce herself was a competitive tennis player before discovering squash. She was living around Manchester, England in the 1970s when a friend invited her to play a game in an old airplane hangar. She’s been with the Tabor program since the 1980s, and her colleagues and players lovingly refer to her using nicknames like “Squash Mother” and “Mother Hen.”
There is an instantaneous appeal to the game of squash. Small, oval-shaped rackets are used to hit a rubber ball slightly bigger than a golf ball. The players volley back and forth, hitting the ball against the wall opposite their positions.
“Most people, if they do it when they’re younger, they play most of their life,” said Tabor Academy varsity head coach Will O’Leary. He was a hockey player in his youth who played squash for fun. O’Leary has been coaching for about six years and is in his second year at Tabor.
The program at Tabor is decades old and the original wooden courts are still standing on the campus.
“We don’t usually go in there too often to play because the game has changed so much since then. We call that the dungeon. These are the newer courts,” O’Leary said as his players warmed up in the white and plastic boxes at the athletic center on Saturday before a tournament against Phillips Exeter Academy.
Tabor senior and varsity team member Delaney Teceno had never played squash before arriving for her freshman year. Before ninth grade, she’d been a soccer and tennis player, but an injury during her first year at Tabor forced her to quit the soccer team by her junior year.
“My dad had played squash a few times and he recommended I give it a try,” Teceno said. She joined the junior varsity team during her freshman year and was hooked.
“I’d never had that. It was something I wanted to get really good at,” she said.
She progressed quickly, getting moved to the varsity team by the middle of her sophomore year. Since she began playing tournaments last year, she has been nationally ranked as the 78th best female player under age 19.
This season, she has her work cut out for her.
“I’m playing girls who are much better than me. A lot of them have been playing all their lives. So far, I’m holding my own,” she said.
The thrill of the challenge is shared by the whole team.
“It’s much harder here at the high school level,” said freshman varsity player Karina Lazaro. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native has played squash for about five years.
“I find it very interesting. Nobody really knows what it is but it’s a great opportunity to play,” she said.
Pierce sees it as a learning opportunity as well as a time for fun.
“They go from knowing absolutely nothing to being able to keep the ball in play. It’s amazing,” she said. She also works with student helpers, who provide assistance to the team in a variety of ways.
“It’s great. I can send them to the weight room to work with other players. It gives them leadership and service opportunities. Maybe we’re training future coaches,” said Pierce.
By Nicholas Veronesi