The MIT Squash team recently closed out their season, competing in both the team and individual College Squash Association (CSA) Championships the past two weekends. The team took second place in their bracket, placing 34th overall.
Squash is played with a ball and rackets in an indoor court with four walls that the players bounce the ball off of. The players take turns hitting the ball off the front wall, in between the “out line” near the top of the wall and the “tin,” a metal plate attached to the front wall along the floor indicating the lowest valid place to play the ball.
Once one player hits the ball off the front wall, the ball can bounce any number of times off the side and back walls, but can only bounce once on the ground before the other player must play the ball. Both players stand side-by-side facing the front wall. They are not allowed to obstruct each other from getting the ball, but they constantly move around each other and try to make the ball bounce in a place were it is difficult for the other person to make a good play.
Squash traces its origins to France roughly 800 years ago; a game called “rackets” developed from the original French sport and was popularized in England. When it was brought to the United States in the late 19th century, it was influenced by a variety of other racket sports before evolving into the modern game. The name “squash” comes from the spongy, “squashable” nature of the rubber ball, which can be made with different bounce and speed properties depending on the desired level of play.
Collegiate level squash in the United States is governed by the CSA, which organizes matches between 64 participating schools. In a typical match, the top nine players from each team play each other, and the team that wins at least five of those matches wins. While some college squash teams can field an all-male and an all-female squad, schools can also field a co-ed top nine, and there is no rule preventing a match between male and female players.
While there is no distinction between Division I and Division III schools in the CSA, each school is ranked according to the abilities of the players, and this ranking serves as a fairly accurate indicator of the team’s ability. In the CSA championship, the 64 teams are divided into eight groups of eight players, where the top eight schools participate in a playoff, followed by the next eight, and so on. MIT was ranked between 33 and 40 and placed second among these teams at the CSA championship, beating the University of Washington and UC Berkeley before losing to Vanderbilt in the final to place 34th out of the 64 teams. In the individual CSA competition, one player from each team, as well as the top nationally-ranked players, compete in a one-on-one bracket tournament.
Like most athletes here, the members of the squash team balance dedication to the sport and commitment to the academic demands of MIT. West D. Hubbard ’14, who competed in the individual CSA tournament, described the frustration of having “our time often infringed upon by academic obligations,” but that “[team] policy was always to place academic obligations over team obligations.” Because of occasionally limited practice time, there is sometimes a trade-off between conditioning and court practice, both of which are necessary to improve as a player. Under the guidance of second-year coach Nadeem A. Mazen ’06, the team was able to find the right combination of training methods, and they look to improve upon their training methodology next season. Mazen also credits long-time assistant coach James W. Taylor ’65, who is “the lifeblood of the team,” for the team’s success. Taylor was honored at this year’s squash nationals for “over 50 years of service to MIT and the squash community.”
Lastly, and most importantly, the atmosphere of the team is friendly and inviting, which West believes is one of the main reason students join and stay with the team.