Colesto Williams is an 8th grade student at SquashSmarts, Philadelphia's urban squash program. SquashSmarts is the local urban squash partner of the U.S. Open Squash Championships, and helps to facilitate Kids Day at the U.S. Open which is designed to expose hundreds of Philadelphia students to the global world of squash.
"October has become one of my favorite times of the year; being able to see the country’s top squash players play each other is truly astonishing. Sitting in the crowd of the U.S. Open Squash Championships, one can feel the excitement over who might win the next point. Each point is nearly silent with only the sound of the squash ball hitting the glass wall. Seeing how much time and skill goes into one point is mind-blowing.
Last year, my teammates and I watched two amazing female players, Kasey Brown and Laura Massaro, play each other. They played such an amazing match and just by watching, I have learned a lot from their skill and technique. Fortunately, my teammates and I got the chance to meet both women. It was such an honor being able to meet such talented female players. Talking to them inspired us to work harder on court and become the best possible squash players we can be.
Not only did I get to meet some amazing squash players, I also got to try out the speed radar for the US Open Kids Day. The speed radar was to test how fast a person can hit a squash ball in a red and white target tarp. It was fun to see how fast each person’s shots were and seeing several squash players show up their friends who haven’t played. The friends showed great interest in squash and how to become involved in the sport. My personal favorite activity was playing squash on the Nintendo Wii; it was a challenge playing on a screen!
So how did I, a pubic school student from West Philadelphia, become a squash enthusiast? I started my journey as a squash player as a 6th Grade Student in the SquashSmarts Program in the basement of the Daskalakis Athletic Center at Drexel University and at The Lenfest Center, our headquarters in North Philadelphia. SquashSmarts is a youth program that works with 5-12th Grade Students on academic and athletic achievement. Starting off, I didn’t know how much practice it would take to get better, but over my two years of playing squash, I have learned that practice makes perfect! In order to become better, I attend SquashSmarts practice five days a week for academic and squash support. Some people may consider squash a sport- I consider it a gigantic part of my life. I am always looking for ways to become a better player. I’ve realized that even the best athletic skills mean nothing without an education. While expanding my squash skills, I have also expanded my writing talents, even winning a writing contest through the National Urban Squash and Education Association. Even when not at SquashSmarts, my teammates and I discuss ways we can improve both on courts and in the classroom. We are “squash pros in training” and becoming better people every step of the way!
As a squash player, I can’t wait to see what this year’s squash players will bring to the court. I am truly excited to sit in the stands, cheer on the players and celebrate all that is squash. I hope to see you there!"
- By Colesto Williams
Buying a ticket to the U.S. Open helps support the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA). A portion of U.S. Open proceeds benefit Urban Squash member organizations including SquashSmarts which run after-school enrichment programs to help motivated and talented young people from economically disadvantaged households fulfill their academic, athletic and personal potential.
To find out more about SquashSmarts, head to www.squashsmarts.org
To find out more about NUSEA, head to www.nationalurbansquash.org
Article by Kristi Maroc
One of the biggest shake ups of the 2011 Delaware Investments U.S. Open was during the quarterfinals of the women’s event when sixth seed Kasey Brown, ranked #6 in the world at the time, beat the robust and long-standing world #1 Nicol David.
In what was one of the greatest wins in her career, Kasey outclassed the rarely beatable Nicol in a smooth four game match that lasted just under an hour, and then went on to beat third seed Madeline Perry to make it through to the U.S. Open final.
The super-fit 27 year old Aussie, who lives and trains in the United States, says that the experience was thrilling and has been one of the biggest highlights in her career so far.
“The 2011 U.S. Open was probably the best WSA tournament I’ve ever played to date,” she says.
“I don’t think anyone really expected me to win that match [against Nicol]. I had to play really well to beat her…and I think things just came together.”
“It was a huge match for me, and it was just a fantastic tournament overall.”
“It was really good. I was training with my coach Rod Martin here in the States and he was able to come to the event as well which really helped me get through to that final.”
“The finals atmosphere at the U.S. Open is fantastic, and I really just took it all in and took it in my stride. Unfortunately I lost the final against Laura Massaro, but it was a fantastic tournament overall.”
Kasey has been playing on the professional women’s tour for eight years now, since she was 19 years old, and has solidly climbed through the rankings to reach a career high of world #5 at the end of last year.
Kasey’s introduction to squash happened at a young age through her mum’s work at a local squash center as she was growing up in the Australian country town of Taree.
“I used to go there with her on the weekends and after school and just hit balls by myself for hours and hours and play games with myself while she was working. It all really started from there.”
At 13 years old Kasey won the highly competitive Australian Junior Open and realized that becoming a professional squash player was a realistic goal for her future.
“At the time I won I thought ‘yeah I want to become world number one!’ and I think that has always been in my head. It still is!” she smiles.
“It’s been a long term goal and hopefully I can get there one day.”
Boasting an athletic physique that screams fitness and strength, and the proven ability to beat the unshakable Nicol David, there’s no doubt that Kasey is in optimum shape and at the pinnacle of age and experience right now to do whatever she sets her mind to in her career.
Currently at world #8, she’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience behind her to achieve her ultimate dream. She has competed solidly in a throng of eminent world tournaments and boasts an impressive list of career achievements, including winning the esteemed Greenwich Open last year.
Kasey has represented Australia at two Commonwealth Games, in 2006 and 2010. In 2010 she was the only player to take home three medals in the mixed doubles, women’s doubles and singles. Added to that was the prize of a career highlight win in the singles during a marathon match that saw Kasey fight back from two games down to beat England’s Madeline Perry, proving a life lesson to herself about her capability and endurance. She also won a bronze medal with women’s doubles partner Donna Urquhart, and a gold medal alongside mixed doubles partner Cameron Pilley.
"It’s just a dream come true really to play for your country. Especially with Australia having such a strong history in the sport.”
“Another highlight for me was winning the World Team Championships in 2010. The Australian team beat England, and to win that title and win for Australia was a huge thing for me.”
“Having Michelle Martin as our coach and part of the team was great. She was my idol growing up so to have her there was just fantastic.”
Growing the profile of women’s squash is important to Kasey. She’d like to see it more closely aligned with the men’s tour in terms of popularity as well as prize money.
“With the U.S. Open, the gap [in prize money] is closing, which is fantastic for an event like that, and also great for women’s squash,” says Kasey.
“In terms of the appeal of women’s squash, I think the spectators relate a little bit more to the women's game and I think we need to use that to promote the WSA."
“It’s such a great sport for women to play. Not only does it keep you incredibly fit, but it’s a really social and fun way to mingle with other people.”
Along with her exceptional squash, Kasey has also become well known in the squash world for the eye-catching and glamorous dresses she wears on court, with their fun design making them a standout favorite in on-court fashion.
During her U.S. Open match against Nicol, Kasey was wearing one of the favorite designs – a black racer-back dress with lavish metallic embellishments.
“The reaction that I got from that dress has been just fantastic,” she says.
“A friend of mine and I, we really wanted to create a statement for squash through a bit of fashion, so we found a design and put some ideas together, and my friend’s mother made the dress up.
“We actually made a whole set in different colors, we have a pink and a blue one as well,” she adds.
The outfits have been popular amongst many squash fans.
“I’ve been coaching here at camp with Karen Kronemeyer, and these kids from Philadelphia have said ‘oh, you’re the girl with the dress!’, remembering it from when they were watching last year’s U.S. Open! So I’ve had a really good reaction from it,” she says.
“I think it’s really important, for the girls especially, to show their personality through what they wear on court. I think it’s a big part of the game, and hopefully others will follow suit.”
Rather than relaxing over the summer break, Kasey chose to spend her time training with her coach Rodney Martin, coaching at school camps, and mentoring at New York’s urban youth program CitySquash.
“I think it’s really important to give back, and CitySquash is a fantastic charity and so a great way to do so,” she says.
“I try to volunteer as much as I can for that program when I’m around. I think they’re all just an amazing bunch of kids, and they really open up to you after a while and you see their personalities come out. It’s a really beneficial program.”
Kasey has just returned from Australia where she competed in the Australian Open at the beginning of August. Next up she’ll head over to the Malaysian Open, before returning to her home base in New York to prepare for another attempt to win the crown in what she lists as one of her favorite tournaments, the U.S. Open.
“It was such a fantastic event last year. Drexel University had the glass court set up, on one day the SquashSmarts youth program from Philadelphia came out and watched which was fantastic,” she says.
“I thought that U.S. SQUASH did a great job with the event and I hope that things just become bigger and better each year.”
Article by Kristi Maroc
Player lists have been released for the 2012 Delaware Investments U.S. Open Squash Championships, revealing that all of the world's top ten men and women will be competing in this year's event!
With every major star in the squash world heading to Philadelphia to compete for the prestigious title, the U.S. Open is certain to conjure up an abundance of skillful and exhilarating squash battles among the best of the best.
The confirmed player list includes the world's greatest competitors such as skillful Englishman James Willstrop (#1), his compatriot Nick Matthew (#2), feisty Frenchman Gregory Gaultier (#3) and captivating Egyptian Ramy Ashour (#4), as well as last year's U.S. Open winner, Amr Shabana from Egypt (#6), who has also won four World Open titles in his lustrous career.
All will have a long and challenging road to make it through to the final deciding match and take home the grand prize on October 12, and with the bar set so high it's anyone's guess who the champion will be.
No one wanted to miss out on their shot at the U.S. Open title in the women's draw, with all ten of the world's top 10 ranked women showing up to compete for the crown. The draw includes the powerful Nicol David (#1) from Malaysia who is yet to win a U.S. Open title in her astounding career history of 63 professional titles to date, as well as Egyptian sensation Raneem El Weleily (#2) who recently made a big jump into the top of the rankings, last year's defending champion from England Laura Massaro (#3), and athletic Aussie Kasey Brown (#8) who toppled Nicol David at last year's U.S. Open to make the final.
After an off season to prepare, and big prize money up for grabs, all players will be looking to bring their finest game to the center stage in October to progress through the challenging draws.
The U.S. Open forms part of the 2012 World Series for both the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and Women’s Squash Association (WSA), and offers $185,000 in combined prize money.
Article by Kristi Maroc
Losing isn’t something she takes lightly, and it was a rare occasion for Nicol – one of very few losses amid an incredibly lengthy list of wins in recent years.
“Everyone knows that I hate losing. I just want to keep on winning all the time!” Nicol chuckles.
World #1 for the past six years, Nicol has been virtually unbeatable in professional women’s squash throughout that time, but was unexpectedly knocked out of the U.S. Open last year by talented Aussie Kasey Brown, who was seeded sixth in the tournament.
There are very few professional titles that Nicol hasn’t won. However despite her astounding career history of over 50 titles, Nicol hasn’t yet won the U.S. Open –something she is looking to change in October.
It seems last year’s loss has only acted as a motivator for her and this year she is hoping to challenge for the title and add it to her extensive list of career achievements.
“The U.S. Open again this year will be exciting, being there knowing that it’s not mine to defend, it’s mine for the taking,” she says.
“It’s something to look forward to, and it will be good to be back in Philadelphia again.
“The challenge is always there, all the time, and no doubt you have players that are there gunning for you. But it’s a tournament where I’m not defending it – I just want to go for it!” she smiles.
Nicol’s determination, drive and achievements have earned her a household name status in the squash world. She is arguably the most well known female player of modern day squash, and one of the most prominent in the history of the game.
Nicol was named WISPA Player of the Year for six consecutive years from 2005 to 2010. At the end of last year she was inducted to the World Squash Federation’s Hall of Fame, a prestige usually reserved until late in the career of long standing professional athletes, however due to her extraordinary accomplishments she was given the honor whilst still at the peak of her career and actively competing.
At the time she was quick to dispel any rumors that the honor might mean she is nearing retirement.
“Even though I have been playing the professional circuit for over ten years, this honor doesn’t mean I plan to finish yet!” she warned.
Nicol holds a celebrity status in Malaysia with an intensity that surpasses any squash athlete of current time. She has earned the devotion and admiration of adoring fans across the country due to her achievements in squash on the international stage, and has brought attention to the game in Malaysia at a level that is rare in squash in most other parts of the world.
She has won the Malaysian Sportswoman of the Year a remarkable eight times, and has also been ranked as one of the top most influential Malaysian women of all time. She was the first Asian woman to achieve world number one status in squash.
Nicole was honored with a Darjah Bakti (Order of Merit) award in recognition of her immense contribution to the nation, and the former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi once told her that she was the pride of the nation and “you are now more famous than me".
So far this year, Nicol has won all of the championships she has competed for, including the World Open, British Open, Kuala Lumpar Open and the Cleveland Classic, showing peak form in the lead up to the U.S. Open.
Next stop will be the Australian Open in August, before she heads to the States to challenge for the U.S. Open title in October.
“The 2011 U.S. Open was a tournament where I learnt a lot. I lost in the quarterfinals and from then on I’ve really picked things up and found ways to really stay on top of things and going to other tournaments with a clearer mind and being ready for anything.”
When asked for the secret to her success throughout her career, Nicol says her parents have made a significant contribution.
“I have a good family upbringing and my parents have played a huge part in my squash success. They have supported me all through my squash career in juniors and also in school, and have never put any pressure on me to perform. They’ve just always been there by my side all the way.
“Also I have a very good support team behind me, and good sponsors, and all this has played a huge role.”
Recognizing her talent and marketability, Nicol is sponsored by Prince, Asics, Oakley, Gatorade, Hotel Equatorial and CIMB Investment Bank Berhad.
Nicol’s training is six days a week, twice a day, and a total amount of 2-4 hours a day depending on whether it is off season or pre season.
“If it’s pre season I’ll reduce the workload and pay more attention to squash, but it’s a combination of squash and physical – physical meaning fitness, gym, agility and movement and everything you can think of basically.”
On her website, Nicol lists some of the qualities that she feels are most important in life as power, skill, creativity, mental toughness, drive and passion.
In her own words, “You have to want something so badly that it pushes you to the limits”.
With Nicol’s eye on the prize, the battle for the women’s 2012 U.S. Open crown is going to be an exciting one.