College Squash 2012 Howe Cup Preview

February 28, 2012

The Smith College Squash Team heads into the 2012 Howe Cup with several formidable challenges:

Tough Opponents.  Seconded seeded Smith (ranked 16th in the country) has a very tough path to the Epps Cup Championship to be held at Harvard University this coming weekend, February 24-26, 2012.  Club teams are always an unknown quantity as their rankings are notoriously inaccurate due to few matches played – the team was blindsided in the second round last year by eventual winner Georgetown – this year’s first round opponent is the University of Virginia.

If the team gets past UVA they will play Seven Sister’s opponent Vassar.  Smith lost their season opener to Vassar 6-3, and squeaked by a very tough squad on February 4th at the Seven Sister’s Squash Championship by the narrowest of margins: 5-4.  Here is the score card from that match – note that eight of the matches went four or five games:

If the Smith team gets by Vassar in the semi-finals on Saturday, they will probably face #1 seed William Smith in the Finals.  Smith beat WS by a score of 7-2 at the Wesleyan Invitational in early December, but they had added four players into their line-up (most from Junior Semester abroad) by the time they beat Smith 6-3 at the Smith Invitational on January 28.  The team will have to play their best to reverse this score.  Here is the score card from that match – note that four of the WS wins went the full five games – as did Jen Krain’s win at the #3 position:

Injuries & Sickness

Most teams have minor injuries and sickness at this point in the season – and the Smith Squash team is no exception:

  • Senior #7 Catie Blunt is recovering from a vertebral fracture (two cortisone shots in January) and so has seen only limited practice time and is under strict instructions not to run for the ball!
  • #5 sophomore Helen Queenan has had a bad heel calcaneous bruise since Seven Sisters and has also seen limited practice (but lots of bike intervals);
  • 2012 CSA Wetzel nominee (best player who started at College) Senior Co-Captain #2 Clair Oblamski just picked up a severe chest and painful ear infection and will be a doubtful starter for Friday morning.

Last year the team defeated Wellesley 5-4 in the 3rd/4th playoff on Sunday – despite the challenges the team is hoping to go all the way and improve to take first in the Epps Division (for a 15th Division III National ranking).

Smith Squash’ Clair Oblamski Nominated for CSA 2012 Ann Wetzel Award!

February 24, 2012

The College Squash Association’s Ann Wetzel Award goes to the best female college squash player who started playing squash at college:  each nominee must provide an attestation that they did not even hit for a few minutes during high school.  The criteria for the Award are:

  • Outstanding growth technically as a player (records and results);
  • A sound understanding of the rules of squash;
  • Positive on-court poise and demeanor.

Clair started playing squash during her second year at Smith College in November 2009 – a member (and currently a Captain) of the tennis team, Clair came out for her first squash practice on Monday, November 2, 2009 – and played in her first match six days later.  Clair’s tennis skills got her to the number 7 spot on the Smith Varsity Ladder for the team’s first match against Wellesley College – Clair won 11-6, 11-2, 11-5 against Lindsay Rico in helping her team win the season opener by a score of 7-2.

Two and a half years later,  her last regular season college match was also a win against Wellesley on February 4, 2012 at the number 2 position, an extremely tough 11-9, 10-12, 11-7, 12-14, 11-9 against Emma Haley at the 2012 Seven Sisters Squash Championship at Vassar College. Although Clair has played at the #2 spot for most of the 2011-12 season, she does have two wins playing at the #1 position:  a 3-0 over William Smith’s Caroline Moxley at the Smith Invitational, and a win over Haverford’s #1 Caroline Nightingale at the 2012 Pioneer Valley Invitational on January 20th (3-2).  Video of this match is available was taken by CSA Executive Director Michael Bello.

This progression from being the weakest player on the team during her first practice, all the way to playing in the number 1 position in her final year is all the more amazing when one considers that she did not play in the Spring semester of the 2010-11 season as she was abroad studying in Denmark – so only 2.5 seasons worth of squash!

In addition to improving her playing effectiveness, Clair has also made great strides with her technique as evidenced by video and photos from each part of her career.  As recently as January 2010, Clair was still working on her squash wrist and cocked wrist position as seen in the photo below.

Her continuing hard work has paid off, and at the end of her college career, her technique, including her grip and backhand wrist position, is extremely solid. In the video below Clair demonstrates a great cocked wrist and open face playing difficult balls off the backwall (January, 2012):

There are two key matches that clearly demonstrate Clair’s growth as a player.  The first is her match against Mount Holyoke College’s #7 Marie Ozanne, the second Ann Wetzel nominee for 2012.  In an extremely sporting gesture, MHC Coach Allen Fitzsimmons suggested that Clair and Marie play at the number 10 exhibition spot since they would be unlikely to meet during regular season play.  In a very hard fought and sporting match, Clair won in four (8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 11-8).  In this and other video of Clair her positive on-court poise and demeanor are clear – she turns away quickly from mistakes, accepts officials’ decisions quickly without dispute, and generally has an upbeat attitude throughout a match:

The second key match is from December 2010 in a dual match against Amherst College.  Amherst Coach Robson, in a sporting gesture, sat a couple of players from the top of his line-up, so Clair, playing at #2 got to play the 2011 Ann Wetzel Award winner Mimi Bell (usually #4-#6) – Clair won the match 3-0.  Here is the some video from the final game:

Here is the first match video available of Clair – another match against Wellesley in December 2009 at the Wesleyan Invitational (match information to be confirmed):

Here is the first stroke analysis video available for Clair from mid-November 2009 – racquet face pretty flat on both sides, and definitely not a cocked wrist on the backhand:

Here is Clair’s college squash playing record – note the improvement in both playing position and winning record:

Clair’s knowledge of the rules is excellent – as a #2, she has officiated the #1 players for the past two seasons without a complaint.  It is evident from the videos of her play that she is clear on when to ask for a let and when not to.  In her match with Ozanne one can observe her break a string and then simply reach outside the door without leaving the court to pick up her second racquet – resuming play immediately.

In addition to the Ann Wetzel criteria Clair has grown as leader on the squash team and in the squash community.  despite being away from the team for her Junior Spring semester Clair was appointed Senior Co-Captain and has done a great job assuming leadership of the team.  She is also a great role model on the academic side with a GPA qualifying her as a CSA Scholar-Athlete.

She spent the summer of 2011 as a non-paid intern at StreetSquash, and is hoping to obtain a position with a NUSEA program upon graduation.

To sum up – Clair Oblamski is a very worthy candidate for the CSA 2012 Ann Wetzel Award.


Division III Women’s Team Squash Rankings – February 12, 2012

February 18, 2012

Here is the second published ranking for Division III Women’s Squash Teams (click here for the CSA combined Division I and III rankings).  Click here to read the rational for publishing a separate ranking for squash-playing Division III schools. Bates dropping to #2 from #3 is the main change.

  1. Trinity College
  2. Middlebury College
  3. Bates College
  4. Williams College
  5. Mount Holyoke College
  6. Hamilton College
  7. Franklin and Marshall College
  8. Bowdoin College
  9. Amherst College
  10. Wesleyan University
  11. Colby College
  12. Connecticut College
  13. Tufts University
  14. Wellesley College
  15. William Smith College
  16. Smith College
  17. Vassar College
  18. St. Lawrence University
  19. Haverford College
  20. Johns Hopkins University
  21. Rochester, University of

Smith Squashers Head to Harvard Graduate School!

February 11, 2012

The Smith College Squash Team is one of the strongest (if not the strongest) academic teams in the U.S. In this video, Coach Tim Bacon interviews Catie and Xi regarding their recent acceptance to Harvard (amongst other) grad school (Chemistry and Engineering respectively).  The team will have 6-7 CSA Scholar-Athletes (GPA 3.5+) on the 2011-2012 team!

Division III Women’s Team Squash Rankings – February 9, 2012

February 10, 2012

One of the guiding principles of sport “fairplay” is the concept of a “level playing field” – in other words, participants who compete against each other should have access to similar resources and play under similar rules – including rules related to eligibility, recruiting, and access to coaches and training resources (e.g., strength & conditioning coach).

Although theoretically desirable, a level playing field is not always entirely possible.  A very good example of this is U.S. college squash where a number of inequities affect a college’s national ranking.  The most obvious inequity is that there is almost a perfect correlation between academic ranking (e.g., U.S. News College Rankings) and squash ranking(some exceptions), in other words, the best academic schools attract the best high school squash players – perhaps more so than for other college sports, as the use of squash to get into a highly rated college or university is well documented.  This provides an unfair recruiting advantage to the Division I schools, particularly the Ivy League Schools.  Read the rest of this entry »

Best Place to Study and Play College Squash? Smith College!

November 11, 2011

Squash is not a NEWMAC sport – but the same supportive college environment that produced 20 fall sport NEWMAC scholar-athletes helps the Smith College squash player succeed at both squash and academics!

Unlike other teams which pressure students with practices five days a week – so far this season the Smith Team has only been practicing three times a week – with days off (today for example is Otelia Cromwell day at Smith – a day that celebrates diversity) to help with academic pressure.  At Smith College, the average athlete GPA is higher than that of the general student body!  Read the rest of this entry »

College Squash: Smith College is First Out of the Blocks!

October 11, 2011

The Smith College Squash Team is the first U.S. College Squash team to start the 2011-12 season!  The Smith College team started practice on Monday, September 12 at 4:30 p.m.

What was the topic of the first practice?  Smith Coach Tim Bacon, the only Level 4 Certified Coach with a Master’s Degree in Coaching in the world (and he is a Registered Mental Training Consultant and a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) introduced his team to the two tactical models the team will use to base their improvement plan on:  “The Egg Model” and the “System 3” zone model of tactics.  These models guide players in the shot selection based on the tactical context a player finds themselves in when about to play the ball (e.g., on defence in back of court with difficult ball).  The latest motor learning research has shown that a “tactics first” approach accelerates learning and improves match performance.

How and why was Smith able to start so early, and why are none of the other teams practicing?  According to Bacon “the NCAA rules concerning season length are the single most important factor in the extremely high America College athlete injury rate“. “Although well-meaning, no one in the NCAA has the sport science background to understand proper training planning and methodology – they are only administrators – the result being rules that restrict season to very short lengths – almost ensuring inadequate athlete preparation and high injury rates prior to very intense competitive seasons”.  Read the rest of this entry »