Novices contribute to Blue sports teams
Squash and fencing programs accept beginners on their varsity teams
Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 6, 2012 11:04
The squash team was ranked 23rd in the country by the end of their winter season, yet half of the team’s starting lineup hadn’t played squash before coming to college. Seven out of the 11 varsity squash players were walk-ons to the team. Squash is not alone in this phenomenon. Other Wellesley varsity programs, like fencing, accept and train beginners.
The fencing and squash coaches began accepting novices on their squads because they had empty spaces and were open to new participants. The fencing team, for example, graduated eight seniors after the 2010-2011 season and was looking for people to fill those spots.
Of course, finding athletes to join these teams can be difficult, since many students don’t know that there are opportunities to walk on to varsity teams. This is why squash coach Wendy Berry actively seeks out first-years who show promise and interest in her physical education (PE) class. She also runs several “fitness breaks” during orientation to introduce the sport to beginners. Two current team members got their start in PE class, and another was recruited after attending a fitness break.
Emaline Surgenor ’13, one of two former softball players on the squash team, joined because a hallmate convinced her. When she first started on the team, there were more beginners than returning athletes. Surgenor doesn’t notice any sort of divide on the team between the recruited athletes and the beginners, and both she and Berry agree that the different levels on the team contribute to a nice team dynamic.
“Sometimes during the season we have weeks where we only play those close in skill level to us,” Surgenor said. “But other times we will also be totally mixed up on courts and that’s fun too because you get to play with people you don’t get to play a lot with and either help them, or learn from those above you.”
Her teammate Sara Del Balzo ’14, a former racquetball player, decided to play squash because there aren’t many college racquetball programs. The transition to squash was made easier by the fact that she had considerable experience playing a racquet sport at a competitive level. She didn’t have to relearn some of the basic ball control skills that were the same in both sports.
Squash can be practiced individually, so new athletes can work on their skills by hitting against the walls for hours. This eases some of the burden on the coaches, who work hard in the early part of preseason to give beginners the individual attention they’ll need to learn the basics of the game.
Luckily, this doesn’t take long. “After a few weeks of getting that solo attention, help with molding their technique and [exposure] to game play, they are able to coexist with other members of the team during the practices,” Berry said.
Because squash is an individual sport played with a team scoring format, new players are given early opportunities to play in matches and contribute to the team’s score just as much as the returners do. “From the top down, all matches contribute towards a team win,” Berry said.
The fencing team filled some of its vacancies with new recruits, but also added first-years as walk-ons. Diana Lee ’15 contacted the fencing coach about her desire to learn the sport, and she thought he would enroll her in the fencing PE class. Instead she was placed on the varsity roster.
“Learning a new sport while on a varsity team was very intense,” Lee said. “I think the biggest challenge was learning how to keep practicing the sport, even if you don’t feel that you are doing well.”
Kanwen Zhang ’15 also joined the fencing team largely by accident. She had envied the muscles of her older friend, a member of the fencing team, and joined the team to get stronger. The process of learning this technical new sport was challenging, and Zhang had doubts about whether she wanted to stay with the program, but she’s glad she successfully made it through her first year on the squad. “[I] developed a love for foil, quite unexpected[ly] and I’m looking forward to the coming season,” she said.
Since the larger fencing team is composed of three smaller groups—epee, sabre and foil—several fencers had to learn entirely new weapons so that the team would have enough competitors in each category. Kathryn Ledbetter ’15 fenced sabre in high school, but switched to epee at Wellesley. While some of the basic rules and techniques are the same for both weapons, it was a hard adjustment that took a lot of time.
The novices in both of these varsity programs are not just benchwarmers. Many beginners have gotten the chance to compete in games and meets for the Blue.