The UNC club men’s squash program finished a memorable season with a final record of 8-8. The theme for the men’s squash team is clearly improvement as the team has accomplished more each season.
“We’ve played more and more matches over the past four years, every year, and we have had better records every single one of those years, so clearly there is an upward trend,” said assistant coach Patrick Noonan.
The men’s team ended their historic season with a fierce showing at the 2019 College Squash Association Men’s Team National Championship, where they finished 47th in the country, three spots better than last year. The climax of the team’s performance was a win over Duke University, who the team had previously lost to during the regular season. Senior captain Hazim Mukhtar explained that during the match at nationals, UNC was able to create a better ladder of players that resulted in better match-ups versus the Duke players, allowing UNC to be victorious.
In addition to the men’s team performing better than it has before at nationals, the UNC squash program also celebrated the creation of the women’s squash team, which played its first-ever season and ended the year ranked 40th in the country. The UNC squash program is now able to have separate women’s teams because more male and female students have shown interest in squash.
“We’ve had historically a coed team, but really it's been mostly guys. This year we had a lot of women participate and be really big contributors to the women's team,” Noonan said.
However, the addition of the women’s team is not the only exciting news surrounding the program. Currently, UNC’s squash courts are not regulation size, meaning UNC squash is unable to host official home matches. However, the University has decided to renovate four non-regulation courts, as well as build four new regulation courts with both of these projects expected to be completed by next fall.
Squash, a sport typically reserved for Northeastern schools, has been rapidly making its way south. Senior captain Christopher Gsell explained that being a part of this new popularity of squash in Southern schools is part of why he joined UNC squash in the first place.
“There’s a big revolution happening. A lot of schools are starting squash programs. UVA just made their squash program varsity, and so I really wanted to be part of a growing effort and UNC Squash kind of catalyzes that,” Gsell said. “Since we started really competing and growing our club here, other clubs have been growing, as well, side-by-side because of us. Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Davidson. All of those teams are just growing and popping up.”
For Mukhtar, playing squash at UNC has been an invaluable part of his undergraduate experience. When the squash team holds their weekly practices Monday, Wednesday and Friday, he is always present, working hard and trying to get better.
“I tell people like from 5 to 8, I won’t be around," Mukhtar said. "They know where to find me."
Both Mukhtar and Gsell agree that another major reason for their involvement in UNC squash is the incredible people they have connected with through the sport. The team is composed of players with varying levels of experience, with the only commonality between them being a love for the game.
“It’s really just a great community. There’s a lot of overlap between players, and people just getting involved,” Noonan said. “We have a baseline of guys who have a background in the sport and then we also have a group of freshmen who are coming in and making a huge difference, some of which have never played squash before.”
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