Men's Squash in London

Feature story by Kenisha Rhone

Feb. 18, 2003

While most University of Pennsylvania students were enjoying their time during the winter break catching up on sleep missed throughout the rigorous first semester or reconnecting with friends and family at home, the men's squash team was hard at work overseas.

The Quakers spent their winter break in England, honing their skills against athletes in a country where squash is a much more popular sport. It is also more organized and formalized on a club level whereas in the United States, advanced and structured playing occurs on the intercollegiate level. This difference allowed for the Quakers to play against players at several different age and skill levels.

Competing in London was a familiar feeling for Head Coach Craig Thorpe-Clark who in his fourth year at Penn. One of the Quakers' first stops was the Roehampton Club, where Thorpe-Clark had spent seven years as a pro. Penn's athletes enjoyed great matches with the club members and were welcomed to England with a great dinner.

Next on the schedule was an afternoon at the University of Surrey in the town of Guildford. The Red and Blue were given the royal treatment, being taken on a tour of the school and surrounding area by the university's president. They even had the pleasure of being introduced to the Lord Mayor of Guildford.

The Red and Blue wrapped up their competitive schedule by competing against club players from the prestigious Eton College. Thorpe-Clark also coached there prior to coming to Penn. Highlighting this leg of the tour was a visit to Windsor Castle.

The team stayed in historic Piccadilly Circus, the English version of New York's Times Square and one of the areas most visited by tourists in London. Not a bad way for a group of guys to spend their winter vacation.

"The last time a Penn squash team went overseas was eight or nine years ago, so I'd say the program was due for such a trip.

"[Traveling abroad] is more than just a reward for the players. Many of our players have traveled the world extensively (playing in squash tournaments) but it was quite surprising to me that not many had been to London. So it was great sharing that experience with them. It's an honor to be able to travel and represent your school and your team," said Thorpe-Clark.

The hard work was not only on the squash courts but also in the effort to make the trip a reality. The team did a tremendous amount of fundraising, including telethons. Some personal investments came by way of the athletes themselves.

Penn Athletics administrator Mary Di Stanislao agreed. "The trip to England was a wonderful opportunity for the squad to train hard together and compete against some formidable opponents. Their schedule was intense and every match was a learning experience - win or lose. The value in a trip like this is to forge tighter team bonds and to expose the players to high-level competition almost daily. It pays big dividends when they return to the regular season."

The Quakers returned from their London excursion with a renewed vision of where they saw the program going for the remainder of the season. Already among the nation's top-10 teams according the College Squash Association, the Quakers railed off a series of wins in the month of January that they hope will move them even closer to a top-5 finish at the end of the season.