Squash, it seems, is finally having its moment in the United States.
This past summer at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, the U.S. men’s team won its first-ever gold medals in both doubles and team play. And this month, for the first time in its over 50-year history, the World Squash Federation (WSF) Men’s World Team Squash Championship is being held in the U.S. – right here in DC – on December 15-21.
The tournament will take place at Squash on Fire, a state-of-the-art facility that opened on M Street two-and-a-half years ago. Built on the site of one of DC’s oldest fire stations (hence the “on fire” part), Squash on Fire features eight squash courts, a café and a pro shop in its downtown location.
With no membership required, Squash on Fire is just the kind of place to help popularize the sport across the country.
“The game in the United States is exploding,” says Paul Assaiante, the legendary coach of the U.S. men’s squash team. “Junior squash is up something like 500 percent in the last decade, and it’s one of the few countries in the world where squash is, in fact, growing. Squash had always been something of a private school/private club activity. Now, with clubs like Squash on Fire, we’re seeing this game go much more public in the U.S.”
Assaiante knows what he’s talking about, with 44 years of coaching squash under his belt.
“I’m as old as dirt,” he laughingly puts it.
He’s been with the U.S. squash team for 20 years, and at Trinity College for 26. He holds the record for longest consecutive winning streak of any college sport and led the Trinity team to 17 national titles.
On the U.S. men’s team, he has help from assistant coach Thierry Lincou, another squash notable who was formerly the top player in the world and currently coaches the MIT squash team. The current U.S. men’s team players are some of the best in the world as well, including Andrew Douglas (ranked 119), Christopher Gordon (ranked 94), Chris Hanson (ranked 67), and Todd Harrity (ranked 48 in the world and number one in the U.S.)
Harrity, who was sidelined by injuries earlier this season, is back on the court and ready for the tournament, he says.
“It has been a nightmare season for me so far as I have been hampered with injuries,” Harrity says. “I had torn ligaments in the wrist and ankle. But thankfully, I am healthy now and it feels great to finally be fit to compete again.”
Harrity says he looks forward to the team aspect of the upcoming championship since it’s a change from the usual solo matches in squash.
“Squash is an individual sport and as a professional squash player, you spend a lot of time focusing on yourself. So being part of a team for once is very special and requires a slightly different mindset.”
Assaiante has nothing but praise for Harrity, who started playing squash as a young child and went on to be the number one varsity player during his four years at Princeton.
“He had a storied college career and he’s having a great pro career,” Assaiante says. “He’s such a deep, thoughtful and introspective guy, but really fun to be around.”
For his part, Harrity is thrilled about the fact that the world championship is finally being played in his home country.
“It is very exciting for us that the event will be hosted in the U.S. The home team always gets a little extra attention, and it will be quite invigorating to have our families and friends come watch us compete. Perhaps there is a little more pressure, but I try not to think about that.”
Assaiante says the players know they can’t rest on their laurels after winning gold at the Pan American Games. They’re fully aware that the world competition is even tougher.
“We know the mountain is much steeper,” he says. “The good news is, the team has experienced this together. They have a higher level of confidence and belief in each other. They know anything’s possible.”
He says they are super excited about the upcoming tournament, and after all, why shouldn’t they be? This is the moment for squash and its top U.S. players to shine, according to the coach.
“If you can’t get excited for this, then you’re in the wrong sport.”
Catch the 2019 WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship on Sunday, December 15 through Saturday, December 21. General admission tickets start at $25. Learn more about the championship at www.worldteamsquashdc.com.
Squash on Fire: 2233 M St. NW, DC; 202-241-2233; www.squashonfire.com