It’s March and the U.S. junior squash season is coming to a close. Players have been training and contending and accumulating points since the prior spring to earn a spot at the 2016 U.S. Junior Squash Championships (Nationals) at Harvard’s Murr Center. The top 32 players in each division prepare for the big event, coming from all corners of the US. Most U11 players are coming for their first time and U19 players, many of them, for their last junior tournament. US Squash officials and referees and photographers descend on the Murr center to ensure a smooth event and witness the ups and downs of the competitions. NorCal players are well-represented at the event. Most have travelled early to manage jet lag. They have put their schoolwork on the back burner for a short time. They are ready to compete!
GU11 player Madison Ho, of Brisbane, CA, seeded # 1 in her division, breezes to the final, finishing on Sunday as Champion, having lost only one game all weekend until the finals. Riya Navani of Freemont, CA, the only other non East Coast player in the draw, took the one game from Ho in a second round match up. In the final match, Madison fought of two match points coming back from 2-0 10-8 down to win the Championship title in five!
Seven BU11 players represented NorCal at Harvard this weekend with Ahmad Haq of Santa Clara making it to the quarterfinals in the main draw and finishing 5th in the tournament.
The GU13 and GU15 draws each had three California girls, and of the GU15 three, each won her first round match, with Avni Anand of Saratoga, CA finishing 3rd and Esha Lakhotia, also from Saratoga, coming in 10th in the tournament.
Four NorCal players made it into the BU13 draw. Varun Chitturi of Fremont, CA placed 9th and Mukunth Gopalakrishnan, also of Fremont placed 10th in that draw. Two NorCal boys and one from Oregon played in the BU15 division. Udai Pal, from Hillsbourough, CA, placed 6th in the BU15 division.
Juliette Love, Alex Dworetzky and Aditya Kankariya were the NorCal players in the GU17 and BU17 draws. West Coast player, Laila Sedky, from Washington state won the GU17 Champion title.
Behind the very impressive NorCal results outlined thus far, of juniors “beginning” their junior squash careers, is the backstory of the older players looking at the end of their junior careers. For most of the U19 players, this is their last junior tournament. Most, by now, know where they are going to college and plan to play intercollegiate squash. They loyally sport the gear from their soon-to-be next major allegiance. The moment is bittersweet. For many of the parents, (unless they have younger players on a similar track), it is also their last tournament. The taxing travel schedule of missed work and airplane homework, pizza in the hotel room before an early match, canceled flights home from the East Coast…will even be missed, because the hotel parking lot snowball fights and this unique and wonderful shared experience with their kids is coming to its final hours.
While the players may be into college, the results for the U19 players still have some high stakes. The top 6 players will be invited to play in the Junior World competition in Poland this summer. Only the top 4 play the individual competition and the top 6 in the team event.
In the GU19, Mariam Kamal of California was seeded first. She placed 3rd after a hard-fought, 5-game semifinal loss to 13 year-old, phenom, Marina Stefanoni, who went on to win the GU19 division, making her the youngest Junior National Champion. Tara Arya from Cupertino, CA also contended in GU19. Kamal will represent the U.S. on the National Team this summer.
Gabriel Morgan and Cole Becker of CA along with Salim Kahn and Terrence Wang of Washington state represented West Coast Squash at Harvard this past weekend. Morgan finished 5th; Kahn, 9th and Becker, age 16, won a round in the main draw and 2 in the consolation draw. Gabriel Morgan, secured the #4 spot on the National Team this summer, through his performance at Nationals this past weekend.
This group of U19 players started their squash careers, most of them, almost a decade ago. They have paved the way for West Coast Junior Squash. When this group played U13s, there were 45 total junior West Coast squash players, including all age groups (3.5% of U.S. junior players at that time). In the 2015-2016 squash season, there are 158 West Coast players, making up more than 10% of all U.S. junior players. Their graduation marks an end of an era. We wish them well and give gratitude for their model of hard work, good sportsmanship and accomplishment.
contributed by Liza Geary