Rusty Feldman ’10 doesn’t have the traditional story of a Yale squash player.
The New Jersey native grew up in Short Hills, a suburban neighborhood about 45 minutes from New York City, and attended a public high school. Unlike most of his teammates, he was not a recruited player and walked on to the team at the beginning of his freshman year.
“I knew that I wanted to try,” Feldman said in an interview. “And I also knew that Yale’s team had a long winning tradition and great teams in the past. I e-mailed the coach when I was applying, and he said, ‘Let’s see what you’ve got.’ ”
Though not a regular starter for the Elis, Feldman cruised past all four of his opponents in the Yale Round Robin this past weekend. Earlier this season, Feldman also won his matches when Yale — which faces Princeton on Saturday in a pivotal contest — defeated Bowdoin and Amherst.
Since the junior is ranked No. 14 on the team, his teammates say, his contributions can sometimes be overlooked.
“Rusty’s in a tough position because he’s not in the top nine,” Francis Johnson ’09 said. “But he still brings energy every day to practice and to matches. He’s always cheering the loudest and organizing people to come watch the matches. Rusty does the dirty work.”
Feldman, a member of Ezra Stiles College, is regarded universally as one of the team’s most dedicated members. “Rusty is clearly one of our hardest workers,” head coach Dave Talbott said. “His work ethic is such a tremendous motivator for his teammates and proves every day that he’s still in it for the love of the game.”
Feldman started playing squash when his older brother picked it up. His dad became his squash coach and mentor, traveling to tournaments on weekends.
“Those weekend excursions were fun regardless of whether I lost 3-0 or won the whole thing,” Feldman said. “It was always just fun hanging out with him.”
For most walk-on freshmen, generating respect from upperclassmen can be difficult. But for Feldman, gaining that acceptance came more naturally.
“I remember being in the team room during the first few days of my sophomore year. I leaned over to the guy next to me and said, ‘Who is this guy?’ ” captain Ethan Oetter ’09 said, referring to Feldman. “Now, he’s one of my best friends at school and is the glue that holds the team together.”
Feldman’s love for the game and dedication to the team has led the junior to go the extra mile in practice every day. During the last year, he has become leaner and quicker thanks to a rigorous workout and careful diet.
But Feldman would be the last person to build himself up. He is more likely to talk about his teammates, his brothers in Sigma Chi, or his mother’s cooking skills — her cookies are a team favorite — than about his own accomplishments.
“Rusty’s modesty really speaks volumes about him,” Colin Campbell ’09 said. “He always wants his other teammates to be highlighted and never wants to be that guy. He’s the most selfless and giving guy on the team.”
In interviews, Feldman’s teammates described him as a quiet, friendly person with a great sense of humor. And above all else, they said he always puts his team first.
“Sometimes people ask me why I continue to play even though I’m not in the starting lineup,” Feldman said. “But ever since I promised to make the commitment in freshman year, I’ve realized that I couldn’t imagine my Yale experience without being on the squash team. So many of my friends and my time has been linked with squash. It’s a huge part of what I do here and a huge part of me. Whether it’s serendipity or fate or whatever they call it, I’m glad it happened.”