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  • Sigrid Drefke

Inspiring Excellence: Cornell University Squash Teams

Image: Dave Burbank, Cornell Athletics

I sat in the backseat of the car on a chilly day in the spring of my 8th grade. My sisters, two and four years older than me, were talking about their experiences in high school and what my oldest sister, a high school senior at the time, had experienced during her four years. One of my sisters then turned to me and asked, “What are you looking forward to most in high school?” I thought for a second but quickly responded, “Joining the squash team.”

Four years later, I stepped off court after my senior night, filled with emotion and surrounded by friends, family, coaches, and teammates. It was my last time playing a squash match, knowing that I wouldn’t play competitively again. For the players on the Cornell varsity teams, however, squash was more than just a hobby in high school, and their competitive careers are still very alive. 

Cornell’s varsity squash teams are some of the best in the nation, with the men’s team ranked #6 and the women’s team ranked #8; these athletes have dedicated their time to this sport since they were children. Ashley Hatstadt ‘25 on the women’s team told me about her journey with squash: “I'm 20 now, so I've been playing for like 11 years. Next year will be my 12th year and then it'll be like my full career of squash because I probably won't like to seriously play after college.” 

Although many of these players have played for over a decade, these players are working harder than ever to improve their game. Training on and off court at six in the morning and later in the day, squash players put in hours of work during as well as before and after the season. Arnav Tevatia ‘27, a freshman on the men’s team, told me about their training schedule: “It’s not just something that’s black and white, it’s something that’s constantly changing. It’s a really dynamic training schedule. There’s always a plan.” 

One aspect of squash that makes it unique to other sports is its physical component. The particular movements in it, specifically the amount of turning and short sprints, make specific training especially important. But the particular nature of the physical aspects of squash means that anyone can play and rise to the highest levels of the sport because different physiques have different advantages. 

“There isn’t really an ideal height because there’s advantages to being short: you're nimble, and agile. The advantage to being tall is you have a better reach and you can be more dominant on court,” said Tevatia. 

Despite the physical isolation of being on the court by yourself, the squash team becomes a major component of their student-athlete experiences. As Hatstadt explained, “it’s so mental and individual when you’re on the court and you’re playing, and then the second that you’re off the court or you’re in between matches, so many people are dependent on your energy and your win. So it goes the other way too—if you lose, it sucks to lose individually. If it’s a big match for you, your team can still win and it’s really crucial that you are a team player.” 

Image: College Squash Association

Additionally, the squash teams are unique in their high percentage of international students. Different countries teach and practice various styles of squash. “You not only get to interact with this diverse group of people, you also get to see changes in their game styles,” noted Tevatia. “You are able to see how squash evolved over time and how it’s different in different parts of the world—how they train, their  mindset, how they play. We all learn from each other and that’s what makes us a cohesive team.”

Despite the success and unique nature of the squash team on campus, the team and the sport overall aren’t widely known: “TV coverage is also a big aspect of it,” Tevatia explained. “You can’t really see the ball as clearly because it’s so fast or there is only so many frames you can see in a point, but even on the professional tour they either have to invest in a lot of good quality cameras and hide the cameras or they have to slow the pace down which makes it less appealing because now you think it’s a slow-paced game.”

One player on the women’s team, senior captain Wen Li Lai ‘24, competes on the professional circuit as well as for Cornell. To prepare for both levels of playing, she practices and trains extra most days. However, she said that the college squash circuit is more difficult than the professional one: “[In] college squash, you're so pressured because you're not only playing for yourself, but rather you're playing for a team. Every match counts. Everyone’s depending on you and you’re depending on your teammate, whereas on the professional side, you’re playing more for yourself, so it’s definitely different.” This team accountability underpinned the comments of every interview I conducted with the squash players. The reliance and dependence on your teammates to do well seemed to push each player to work better for their team.

For the people who are familiar with squash, it is commonly associated with the wealthy in Northeastern United States, like many other “country club” sports, but squash’s reach has been growing exponentially. 

“There’s an element of how niche the sport is because not that many people play it and it’s usually associated with people who are in the wealthier tax bracket, and I feel like there’s more to it. It’s a pretty old game,” Tevatia said.

Hatstadt also commented that “it’s just not as widely known in terms of the general country.”

The lack of knowledge and commentary about squash, though, is changing. Squash is becoming an increasingly popular sport in the United States and all over the world. Notably, squash just got added to the Summer Olympics for the Los Angeles 2028 games. Despite trouble with TV coverage due to the small size of the ball and the fast pace of the game, this development will undoubtedly increase the popularity and coverage of squash.

Squash is increasingly becoming a more popular sport in the United States and in the rest of the world. As it grows, I encourage anyone looking for a fun, new hobby to try it out. When I first tried squash, I was hesitant because I knew so little about it and had not played many sports similar to it. However, as time went on, I began to love the sport and the people in the squash community. My high school squash team became a family I was excited to see every day at practice and even sometimes on the weekends for tournaments. The friends I made through this sport will last me a lifetime, and I’ll always cherish my time on the court. I hope that whoever tries this sport finds the fun and community that these Cornell squash players and I have discovered through this sport.


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