By: Alex Duh
Last year, the Gilman varsity squash team returned to the courts as a mostly veteran team, having only lost one player to graduation. They earned their ninth consecutive MIAA title with a dramatic 4-3 win against McDonogh and ended their year as 13th in the nation after the U.S. High School Team Squash National Championships. When asked about the team experience last year, Charlie East (’19) explained that, “We went undefeated and had a lot of fun while doing it. The best part was the team unity, and that while we were pretty confident, we still didn’t get cocky.”
Coach Boo Smith compares this year’s team to last year’s: “Our lineup’s pretty veteran. Everyone has returned other than Mitch Ford.” He elaborates, “We have a strong nucleus returning on the team” and that “over the summer, everyone has improved their game.” Charlie East agrees, adding “a few of our players had some rough patches of their game – we had a few injuries.” Coach Smith believes that if the team can be kept healthy, it looks even stronger than it did last year. Interestingly, the squash team will have four captains this year. He explains, “We have four seniors… Wiatt Hinton (’17), Brad Levin (’17), Matt Katz (’17), and Braxton Antill (’17)… who have dedicated the last three years to squash… With the time and energy they put into the program over the last three years, I couldn’t see one of them not being a captain.”
While the team will be mostly veteran, Charlie East notes that there is a freshman who is a part of the varsity – Ned Gildea (’20). Charlie’s impression of Ned is that “Ned’s a great player, and has really improved over the past few years. Every time we play it’s a very close match… I think he’ll definitely play very highly on the team this year because he’s gotten much, much better.” Coach Smith believes Ned may fit somewhere into spots five through seven in the varsity lineup. Charlie explains that “we all know Ned pretty well, and Ned gets along with us very well. I think it’ll be more of the same team unity, and passion to continue the streak.”
The coach and the players on the team all feel real passion for the game. Coach Smith says, “It’s just a really great game.” He is most impressed with the analytical and highly strategic nature of squash. “It’s not just hitting as hard as you can,” he says, “upper level opponents can get to most of your shots. You’ve got to use your shots to force your opponent into part of the court to open up another part of the court. … You’ve got to plan out your points and orchestrate your shots. You can’t just react one at a time.” From Charlie’s perspective, squash is fun because “It’s so fast-paced. … A lot of people say lacrosse is the fastest sport played on two feet, but realistically it’s squash. I love the quickness of the game and the excitement in between points.
So, what are the squash team’s goals for this year? Coach Smith lays them out, saying, “We want to win the MIAA again, and would like to place as high as we can in Division I in the nationals.” Addressing McDonogh, he says that “we are faced with a strong challenge from McDonogh, who has a veteran group returning as well. In the championship match, we won only 4-3.” Charlie East explains, “Last year, a few of the players did not play too well, including myself, and we ended up losing matches that we probably should have won. I think we’ll be able to pull out a victory again this year.” Coach Smith states more plainly, “McDonogh will be a very big challenge. On any given day they can win, because they have four excellent players that can beat our players, and it only takes four to win.” He believes that keeping the team healthy and working on faster-paced practices to improve conditioning further will make Gilman’s currently strong team even stronger. When asked about the mindset of the team and practices, Charlie replies that “Coach Smith had the saying ‘Focus Forward’ that he repeated throughout the entire year. We’re trying to follow that mindset – hopefully it’ll work out as well for us this year as it did last year.”