You wouldn’t see them playing unless you were specifically seeking them out. They’re near the basketball courts, but there’s only one bench for fans. Yet despite being out of sight, the Williston Girls Squash program is looking to make a splash with a successful campaign this season.
As we enter a new athletic season, the Varsity team is navigating the twin challenges of filling the spots of graduated players and welcoming a new coaching staff. The resilient team consists of seven girls, ranging from middle schoolers to seniors.
Girls Squash started at Williston as a varsity sport in 1954. Over the years the program has grown and often been able to field a varsity, junior varsity, and thirds team. The program has also sent many athletes on to play at the collegiate level.
The team this year consists of seniors Louisa Coughlin, Mia Grady, and Coraly Siegel; junior Betsy Gaudreau; sophomore Zoe Zhang; freshman Isabel Sorkin-Camacho; and eighth grader Olivia Zaiken.
Gaudreau has been playing squash for seven years and believes the sport is very underrated.
“I think people don’t watch squash because they are not very familiar with it,” she said. “I really love the camaraderie of the game. The NEPSAC has some pretty competitive teams that make the season challenging—but very rewarding.”
Zaiken acknowledged that this year is very different from the last.
“Last year we had many seniors, more people that were familiar with squash, and a different coach,” Zaiken said. “This year we only have a few seniors, not as many people familiar with squash, and we have two new coaches. This year I feel that we are working hard to try our best and it’s paying off. I really enjoy playing and I really like the new team this year.”
Olivia currently holds the No. 1 spot on the ladder for the squad. In squash, the ladder consists of all seven players ranked in order of skill. Throughout the season players on the team are able to challenge each other in hopes of moving up in rank. When the team competes against their opponents the players play against the corresponding player on the opposing team’s ladder.
Coughlin, a senior captain, also noted the challenges a new season brings.
“This season is different because we have a much smaller team but also it makes us closer to each other,” Coughlin said. “It has been different but has allowed us as a team to make the changes that we want to see. It has been a great opportunity for us on the team to have a voice in the sorts of drills we do at practice.”
Last year the girls team graduated six seniors, including Praghya Athavan Raja, the NEPSAC Class E champion for the 2021-2022 season.
Joshua Schmidt takes over the head coaching duties this season, and is accompanied by two other coaches—George Peppard, a squash pro, and Ellie Ballard, who played collegiately for Amherst College. The assistant coaches aid Schmidt and the team by going to a few practices a week and introducing new skills and strategies to the squad.
Although new to the girls program this year, Schmidt is familiar with the sport.
“I started coaching squash in the 2019-20 school year with the Thirds squash team,” he said. “I transitioned to Boys JV the following year and then Varsity Girls this year. Like Coach [Peter] Gunn before me, I have learned the sport at Williston. It’s a great sport to learn and the squash community is very welcoming to new folks.”
As the seven-girl lineup looks to the rest of the season, many—including Schmidt—are very excited to see how the season progresses.
“I am most looking forward to seeing how much better everyone is at the end of the season,” he explained. “Even over just a couple of weeks the team has gotten a lot better. It’s going to be amazing at the end of the season to look back at where we started and see how far we have gone in just a couple of months.”
The New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) holds many season-ending tournaments. Unlike many other sports at Williston, in squash a team’s class is determined by how they compete throughout the season. Historically, the Williston program competes in the Class E tournament, which consists of six to eight schools of even skill.
On December 14, the team beat The Albany Academies, 4-1.