Cavalier Corner

October 2017

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OCTOBER 2017 25 The funds that enabled squash to be el- evated to varsity status and to expand the McArthur Squash Center were the result of philanthropy. "One of the key things for squash be- ing able to make this leap of faith was by being able not to add a dollar to the UVA budget," Allen explained. "It was zero cost commitment for the ongoing future. "All I focused on was squash because we had a key donor behind it. I focused on putting a professionally run program to- gether and attracting good players with the hope if UVA would consider it as a varsity sport there would be an easier transition for the people involved. I didn't anticipate it happening as soon as it happened." For those not familiar with squash, two teams play nine singles matches in a best- of-five format. Each game is played to 11 points. The player who scores 11 points first wins the game except if the score is tied at 10. In this case the game continues until one player leads by two points. Each match is worth one point toward the team score and the team that wins five singles matches is declared the winner. "I think the support from the school will be huge," Blake said. "We can attract better talent. The recognition we're going to get at UVA is going to attract new tal- ent and will help this program rise. "It helps prospective players see us as a legitimate team." Because UVA will be able to award scholarships, Allen will be able to extend the boundaries when it comes to recruiting. "We've had incredible success attract- ing U.S. players," he said. "We would get requests from players from other countries. What's really changed with this access to scholarships is we'll be ag- gressive in recruiting U.S. players and in- ternational players. The U.S. has become very strong in squash. Now, we aren't restricted in that regard. "We reached a stage where a number of players were looking at other schools and they had a chance to go there. For some of them it was a leap of faith to come here where squash wasn't a varsity sport. For some kids this was a sport they've played since they were 8 years old." While Blake captains the men's team, fourth-year Carey Danforth is the leader of the women's squad. Allen didn't hesitate when saying they're the two highest-profile players he recruited and both have played a major role in their respective team's success at the club level. But each had opportunities to play in- tercollegiate squash at other schools be- fore deciding on Virginia. "I was going through recruiting offers from the Naval Academy, Dartmouth and Penn," Blake recalled. "I knew UVA was a club team and was building the McArthur Center. I visited my senior year, toured the campus and met with Mark. I knew the way the college was structured we could play teams at a high level. "I valued what UVA of- fered and felt this would be my best experience." Danforth, understand- ably, had her own reasons for choosing UVA — one of which is that her mother played tennis for the Cava- liers. "It came down to Dart- mouth and UVA," she said. "When I vis- ited UVA in the fall, I fell in love with it in terms of its size because I was looking for a smaller school. What impressed me when I met with Mark was he was serious about the program and had high hopes. He said my goal is to win the national championship. I was pleasantly surprised. "A ton of coaches had said Mark was great, plus he said I was going to be his No. 1 [female] recruit and could make a difference." That's exactly what happened. "They were high-profile players and had choices with other high-profile teams," Allen said. "Here they are in their fourth year [at Virginia]. "It's a wonderful thing for them to have taken a chance, especially now that it's a varsity program." Understandably squash players must have a specific skill set. "Obviously I'm biased but squash does touch on everything," Allen noted. "You need to be fit and fast. There is a high level of strategy involved. It's one of the most athletic sports you can play. Objectively the nice thing about our sport is it's not like you're recruiting for a position. When we're recruiting players most of them have head-to-head results against each other. "It's not like having a player on the West Coast so you can't make a compari- son. Plus, there's a push for it to become an Olympic sport. Hope- fully that will happen." Blake was even more spe- cific regarding the traits a squash player must possess. "Physical fitness is the number one factor," he said. "It's extremely important because squash is a gruel- ing sport. Having speed over short distances and the ability to change directions is important. "You need great eye-hand coordination and the quality of your shots is important." Subjectivity also factors into the equation when Al- len is recruiting players for both programs. "On the subjective side, what's been important as a fairly new program is we felt getting the right players was impor- tant as well as players with the right char- acter," he said. "We've factored that into our recruitment. "They must be academically successful and diligent." At the end of the previous academic year, the men's team had a combined 3.49 GPA, while the women's team had a com- bined 3.45 GPA. "All of us are hard workers and care about our academics," Danforth said. "Mark does a great job in terms of em- phasizing we are students and that's our priority. That demonstrates our mental and physical skills. It also reflects on our team as people. Mark also emphasizes time management." Since the CSA season runs from Novem- ber through late February and culminates with the team championships Feb. 16 for the women and Feb. 23 for the men — and that the Cavaliers will play the maximum 15 matches — to say time management is es- sential would be a massive understatement. Danforth is pleased at the notice the squash teams will receive now that they've attained varsity status. "It's nice for all of us to have that rec- ognition from the UVA community and other schools plus the country," she said. "We feel like we've come a long way in a short time. "Squash is growing and all eyes are on us." "It will be a major challenge to contest for the national championship. We'll be around the top 15 in the nation. The trajectory is very high." FOURTH-YEAR CAPTAIN MASON BLAKE Under head coach Mark Allen's leadership, the men's team finished last year ranked 18th nationally, while the women checked in at No. 13. Both were club sports then, but make the move to varsity status this year. PHOTO BY JIM DAVES

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