Smith College Squash’ Clair Oblamski Wins CSA 2011 Ann Wetzel Award!

February 29, 2012

The CSA Ann Wetzel Award was given on Saturday to the women’s college player who started playing squash at college – not even a single lesson or game is allowed in order to qualify for the award – Smith college’s Clair Oblamski!

Clair only actually played for two and a half semesters, making her achievement even more remarkable.  She beat last year’s winner, Amherst’s Mimi Bell 3-0 just before her junior semester abroad in Denmark (where she had no access to squash courts). A captain on both the Smith College Tennis and Squash teams, Clair played won her first match at the #7 spot in the fall of 2009, and her last match at the #2 spot, leading her team to a 5-4 win over William Smith in the 2012 CSA Epps Cup final at Harvard University on February 26, 2012.  More specific details on her progress can be found here.  Here is a short interview with Clair after her first college squash match – at the end of her first week of squash:

Clair had beaten the second place nominee, Mount Holyoke College’s Marie Ozanne 3-1 at the Wesleyan Invitational in early December 2011.

Clair interned at StreetSquash in the summer of 2011, and although she is a CSA Scholar-Athlete and a double major in Neuroscience and Psychology, following graduation, she will be seeking a position with one of the NUSEA programs.

A historical note that Smith College has had more Ann Wetzel winners than any other college in the CSA since its inception in 1995:

  • 1998: Karen Carniol (Wesleyan College)**
  • 1999: Kanta Murali (Smith College)
  • 2005: Ashley Kilgore (Smith College)
  • 2006: Jennifer Recht (Smith College)
  • 2012: Clair Oblamski (Smith College)

**Note that Smith’s Patty Jang, a 1998 nominee, did in fact beat the 1998  Wetzel Award winner according to CSA Ranking Rules (2-1 overall having won the most recent match), was a three-year co-captain of the squash team, and an exemplary sport with excellent technique (shot-maker style of play).**

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.


College Squash Novices Rock at Smith!

March 17, 2011

This season the Smith College Squash Team was one of only a handful of teams to improve upon their initial CSA season ranking – the team moved from a pre-season ranking of 29 to 27 – third place in the Epps Division at Howe Cup.

Concrete evidence of the team’s hard work and improvement comes from looking at the team’s first match on November 13, 2010 – a 5-4 loss to Sister Wellesley College – and their last match of the season on February 20, 2011 at Howe Cup (with both Clair and Jaimi away on semester abroad programs – AND a score was entered incorrectly – Xi did not play it is “Eunice” of the famous Zhao clan who played at #7):

Most of the squash players on the Smith College Squash team have never touched a squash racquet (never mind playing high school or junior squash) before coming out for the team – yet they are absolutely critical to its success!  Let’s look at the experience of this year’s squad:

1. Meg Oliverio ’11 – no high school squash team, several weeks of clinics, 4th yr. on team.

(2. Clair Oblamski ’12 – zero prior, Spring semester abroad, so only 16 weeks of squash! Beat Amherst’s Mimi Bell, 2011 Ann Wetzel Award Winner 3-0 in December).

2. Jasmine Wallas ’11 – no high school squash team, a few lessons and some rec play, 4th yr. on team.

3. Helen Queenan ’14 – Newton Country Day squash team, 1st yr. on team.

4. Eunice Zhao ’13 – zero prior squash, 11 weeks of squash! 1st match of year was at #9!

5. Jen Krain ’12 – zero squash, 11 weeks of squash! Undefeated at Howe Cup!

6. Elizabeth Guyman ’11 – zero prior squash, 7-3 record this year (2 losses as a lefty due to injury), 4th yr. on team.

(7. Jaimi Inskeep ’12 – zero prior squash, Spring semester abroad, so 4 weeks of squash!)

7. Catie Blunt ’12 – no high school squash team, a few clinics, 3rd yr. on team.

8. Elena Plesco ’12 – zero prior squash, 2nd yr. on team.

9. Xizhu Zhao ’12 – zero prior squash, 3rd yr. on team.

10. Julie Wang – ’11 – zero prior squash, started in Jan. so 6 weeks of squash.

11. Szilvie B. Kiss – ’13 – zero prior squash, started in Jan. so 6 weeks of squash.

Here is where Eunice and Jaimi in their second week when we were trying to loosen up their tennis swings for squash (they play on the Smith Tennis Team):

Here is Jaimi playing #6 at the Wesleyan Invitational (so 4 weeks of squash):

Here is Eunice also at the Wesleyan Invitational playing #7 (so 4 weeks) – she moved up to #4 by the end of the season to beat her Wellesley opposite (she started at #9 in our first Wellesley match).

Unfortunately no match footage of Jen (???), but here she is in January practicing with Meg our #1 – she was undefeated at Howe Cup at #5 – amazing (so been playing 5-6 weeks in the video):

A quick word about Clair Oblamski who is on a spring semester abroad program in Copenhagen – here is a link to Clair chatting about her first ever college match (a win at #7 against Wellesley in November 2009 after playing for 5 days!).

The College Squash Association Ann Wetzel Award goes to the best (and most sporting) college senior squash player who stated playing in college – this year’s winner was Amherst’s Mimi Bell – Peter Robson kindly sat out a few players when we played them in December, so Clair at #2 got to play Mimi – and beat her 3-0 (so in her second season – but since she plays tennis in the fall – only her 16th week of playing squash)! (Note that Smith has won more Ann Wetzel Awards than any other team).

Our last video example is Julie Wang’s interview after her first match after only five days of squash! Julie, who plays on the Smith Rugby team, answered a mid-semester call for extra players as a last semester senior.  She won her last match at Howe Cup!

Unfortunately – since as the team #11, she spent her Howe Cup playing for several club/emerging teams such as Vanderbilt and NYU (she won some matches for them!), we do not have any footage of Szilvie – just a photo of her hitting a backhand with a perfect cocked wrist as she helps out at the Smith College Recretional play evening:

So if you think about which team improved the most amongst the college teams…you may want to ask how good were they (where would they be ranked on Day 1 of the season)?

  • 5 of the 13 women who played for Smith this season had not picked up a squash racquet before October 13, 2010;
  • Of the remaining eight, only one had played for a varsity high school squash team – and three of these eight had never touched a squash racquet before coming to Smith; so a total of 8/13 complete novices – guaranteed more than any other team!
  • without these 8 novices – that would leave Smith with a team of only 5 (good for the emerging division at Howe Cup!:)

So finishing 27 out of 38 teams is quite a feat considering the experience of the team – and if you take out the Division I schools (since all other sports are ranked within not across Divisions) Smith finished with a national ranking of #16 (#1 academic) amongst the Division III schools, and #3 amongst the Seven Sisters Colleges.

The team still has a lot of improving to do – a four-week spring season starts next Monday – the goal being lots of technical improvement (fix those grips, wrists, learn new skills, etc.).

Next year will be a slightly different story with the return of Clair (#1?), Joanne (#3-4?) and Jaimi (#5-6) from their study abroad, along with two new international recruits: Jacqueline Zhou (#1-3?) from Singapore and Korea’s Vivian Lee (#3-5?) – and possibly two other recruits who have just been admitted but have not made their final decision.