US Junior Nationals 2002
At Yale University's Brady Squash Center March 8-10, junior squash showed a depth of competition that it simply never had before, as 251 juniors gathered at Yale for the annual Junior Closed (a.k.a. Junior Nationals). While Junior Chairman David Palmer reported an increase in junior participation this season in a presentation after the Boys Under 19 final, a glance at the results, or a stroll around the courts, also revealed more talent and far more parity than used to exist. While we still have our champions, in many draws the fight towards the final began as early as the first day, and upsets were handed out like tournament shirts. This is good. It means the pool from which national team members and even fulltime touring professionals emerge has been growing steadily larger, which can only help American squash in the upcoming years.
Girls Under 19:
Following the junior American squash scene over the last few years, it was difficult to avoid talk of The Dynasty, a group of girls who would surely lead American squash to places it had never been before. They were known for playing one or two divisions above their own and then meeting each other in the final anyway. This past summer they made history by placing fourth at the World Championships in Malaysia, a finish so much higher than American teams were accustomed to it's a wonder they didn't get nosebleeds. How interesting then that our national champion for 2002, the last year before most of The Dynasty goes to college, is a girl who did not even have an Under 19 ranking last year. Just 15 years old, Lily Lorentzen, who entered the tournament unseeded, took down the numbers one, two and three seeds on her way to the title.
Boys Under 19:
Even with an impressive blockade of strong players in their way, Julian Illingworth and Will Broadbent advanced to the final in a hurry. While Broadbent was crushing on his way to final, never losing more than five points in a single game, Illingworth was more so, dropping a total of five points in four matches.
Matches against each other are the only tests these two face in junior squash, and they don't come often given that they live on opposite coasts. In this meeting, Illingworth proved that he is the better player when focused and capped his undefeated season with a national title.
Emily Park, a sixth grader from Manhattan, NY, is a name many squash fanatics may want to remember. Just 11 years old, Park has played squash since age eight, when she began in the Saturday Morning Program at the NY Athletic Club. Since then, she's entered numerous tournaments, frequently ending as the finalist or better yet, the winner. During the 2001 USSRA Junior Olympics, Park was the only American to win a division in this prestigious event, clinching the Girls U13 title. She went on to the USSRA Junior Closed (Junior Nationals), where she defeated Julie Cerullo in three. Currently Park is ranked No. 1 in the U13 division.
Park trains with Lee Whitham at the Princeton Club in NYC, and also is under the close eye of her parents, Victor and Jennifer Park, also recreational squash players. “Her family is very disciplined, one of the first things I noticed about them,” explains Whitham. “There is no wasted time—everything is very planned. They make sure she doesn't wander.” At the same time, Whitham is quick to point out that Emily, by her nature, may benefit from the structure her family creates: “People always ask, 'Will she burn out?' Most people don't realize her outlook. She is shy, easygoing, and laid back. Her parents are disciplined, but I feel she needs that because she's so laid back.”
Whitham's goal for Park in the near future is to have her competing in the women's game, not the juniors. He'd also like to see her perform strongly at next winter's British Junior Open (Park took 4th in 2001's British). However, he cautions that he does not frequently discuss the large goals, or even bring up the names of potential competitors of Park, so that she won't become overwhelmed. “Keep doing what you're doing and you'll beat these gals” is Whitham's mantra.
In addition to pounding rails and boasts on the squash court, Park enjoys such diverse activities as lacrosse, chorus, and acting (she was recently the lead in the school play, “Jonah the Whale”).
Joe Raho, Jr.
Mention the name Joe Raho, Jr., and you'll likely hear the following comments: “Great kid,” “Very special,” “Such a nice guy,” “Highly talented.”
Joseph Raho, Jr., a 14-year-old from Rye, NY, took home the Boys' U15 trophy from the Junior Nationals in March, just two months after being a finalist in the same division at the Junior Olympics. Raho comes from a family of squash players. His parents both play, and his siblings—older brother Nick and younger sister Emily—are both ranked in their respective divisions. And in the latest USSRA junior rankings, Joe comes in No. 8 for the BU15.
Not only is Joe a squash fanatic, but he's earned varsity letters in three sports: football, baseball, and of course, squash. “There is little doubt that he is among the school's more gifted athletes,” says Cam Hopkins, squash coach of Joe Raho at the Rye Country Day school.
“The greatest thing about Joe is his spirit and work ethic as an athlete,” says Hopkins. “He takes every opportunity to not only make himself better but also his peers. As a coach, I certainly feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him.”