Women in Sports Day began with an exciting squash practice at Drexel. A dozen girls from SquashSmarts, the Philadelphia urban squash program, trained with Drexel squash coach Kelsey Engman and PSA stars Jenny Duncalf, Dipika Pallikal and Donna Urquhart. They worked individually, in pairs and played queen-of-the-court for a full hour down in the Kline & Specter Squash Center. Nicol David, the world No.2, also joined the practice.
A capacity crowd then gathered downstairs in the well-appointed lobby of Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center. Last year Dickinson College’s new squash coach, Chris Sachvie, brought his women’s team all the way from Carlisle, PA; this year he doubled down by bringing both his women’s team and his men’s team. Other guests were U.S. national champions like Demer Holleran, Sam Howe, Ralph Howe, Gail Ramsay, Amanda Sobhy, and former executive director of US Squash, Craig Brand; many current PSA stars like Rachael Grinham and Laura Massaro; and PSA leaders like Tommy Berden and Lee Beachill. The event was chaired by PSA board member Ashley Bernhard and Merion Cricket Club leader Katharine Joyce, with a committee of over sixty women and men from Philadelphia and around the country.
Kevin Klipstein, the CEO of US Squash, acknowledged Jen Gabler, who was awarded the 2014 Achievement Bowl at the Howe Cup last fall. The Achievement Bowl is the oldest US Squash award, given out annually since 1955. Gabler spoke warmly of first learning the game from Aggie Kurtz, her coach at Dartmouth, and Richard Millman, the teaching pro and recent mentor in masters squash. “Women’s squash is all about friendships,” said Gabler. “Friendship is the glue that keeps our community together.
Karen Dougherty Buchholz gave the keynote address at the Women in Squash Day reception. Buchholz, a senior vice president of administration for Comcast, leads Comcast’s operations for corporate real estate, facilities, aviation, diversity, political affairs, corporate services, travel and security, as well as Comcast’s new Innovation and Technology Center. Buchholz compared parity in squash to soccer and basketball and told about the wonderful effect the sport has had on her family.
She then awarded the President’s Cup to Alicia McConnell for “her substantial, sustained and significant impact on squash.” US Squash’s highest individual award, the President’s Cup dates back to 1966.
McConnell is one of the greatest American players in history. She won seven National Singles and eleven National Doubles titles. She reached world No. 14, played in six world championships and was a silver medalist in the 1995 Pan American Games. In 2000 she was a member of the inaugural class of inductees into the United States Squash Hall of Fame. After retirement, she was a Team USA national coach for four years and directed the squash program at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn, including changing the name of the club’s long-standing women’s tournament to honor Carol Weymuller.
Since 1998 McConnell has worked for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, coordinating training sites for thousands of athletes and many governing bodies, overseeing Olympic development programs and giving scholarship assistance and career counseling. In addition, she has given squash a strong and passionate voice at the USOC.
McConnell thanked US Squash; her family including her father Vincent, mother Jane and sister Patrice; her former doubles partner Demer Holleran; Larry Sconzo, the great referee who first took her to men’s league squash matches in New York in the late 1970s; and Liz Irving, her fellow touring pro in the late 1980s who is now Nicol David’s coach.
“Squash taught me how to ask for help,” McConnell said. “It taught me how to share, how it is so much more rewarding to collaborate with others. Life is so much more fulfilling when you share the journey.”