The UConn squash team is gearing up for their first ever national championships games. Taking place this upcoming weekend in Philadelphia, the College Squash Association’s National Collegiate Club Team Championships is the nation’s defining squash club tournament. UConn Squash will be facing off against other collegiate club teams from all over the country. As the single most important event for the team up to this point, this has been a long time coming.
For readers unfamiliar with the relatively unknown sport of squash, it is played one-on-one in a closed court. The game’s structure is similar to that of racquetball but with different court dimensions, racquets, balls and scoring. After the serve, each player takes turns hitting the ball against a common wall, attempting to outplay their opponent. If a player fails to return the ball to the wall or lets the ball bounce twice, their opponent scores a point. Games are played to 11 points, and matches are played best-of-five.
UConn Squash is spearheaded by Daniyal Athar, a sixth-semester molecular and cell biology major. As the team’s founder, president and head coach, he has built the organization from the ground up. Having played squash competitively for most of his life, UConn’s lack of facilities or team left Athar feeling stranded.
“In the summer of 2021, I started to think, ‘Is there a way to start a UConn squash team?’” Athar said.
In 2019, the UConn Recreation Center scrapped its plans for building squash courts, opting for racquetball instead, but a team would need somewhere to play. Athar reached out to Richard von Hirschberg, an old friend he used to play squash with weekly at Trinity College. Hirschberg currently runs the Connecticut Squash Center, a facility located 15 minutes from UConn.
“I started to talk to him, and he was like, ‘If you ever start a team, I’d be open to you guys using my facility,’ — a very nice gesture on his part,” Athar said.
The UConn squash team currently practices at the center four times a week.
With the organization up and running and the location secured, UConn Squash needed members. Athar created a poster and advertised at the fall 2021 involvement fair.
“It was amazing,” he said, reflecting on the experience. “I had people from all different backgrounds [come] up to my stand and say, ‘No way! UConn has squash? That’s awesome!’”
Soon after, an open house for the team was held at the CT Squash Center, attracting new players and veterans alike. The team’s roster currently boasts 12 members.
In spring 2022, UConn Squash became an official club under CSA. Their first official match would not be until months later, in October. In a team match, the nine best players from each team are ranked and face off against their opponent of the same rank. Whichever team wins the most individual matches wins the team match. On Oct. 23, UConn played Northeastern University, winning 8-1.
Since their October match, UConn Squash has kept busy. Their season culminated in a round robin tournament against Boston College, Swarthmore University, Yale University, Cornell University and Northeastern University. The tournament, which took place on Feb. 4-5, was hosted by the UConn team itself at Avon Old Farms. UConn went 5-1, losing only to Cornell and finishing their season with an impressive 9-4 record before nationals.
Following their upcoming attempt at nationals this weekend, what’s next for UConn Squash?
“My goal is to make squash a varsity sport at this school,” Athar said.
Despite their recognition as an official collegiate squash club under CSA, the team remains a Tier-II Student Organization under UConn.
Athar’s other goals include convincing UConn to build a squash facility on campus to attract potential players.
“We are in a prime location to have a really strong squash team,” he said.
Finally, Athar plans to get the team more involved with volunteering in the near future.
“I think it’s important what you do on the court but also off the court,” he said. “Next season, we’re definitely looking to do more community service events.”
From merely a concept to an official collegiate club team competing for a national championship, UConn Squash has seen tremendous growth in a very short time. You can keep an eye on what the team is up to by visiting their Instagram page, @uconnsquash.