With the exception of a disappointing loss to No. 1 Trinity, Yale’s No. 2 men’s squash team (10–1, 3–0 Ivy) has had a strong season so far. Squash player Naishadh Lalwani ’11 has been ranked as high as 261 in the world in April 2005. He was voted captain of the team after a strong junior year season, during which he helped the team finish second in the nation in the 2009–2010 season and win the Ivy League title. The News spoke with Lalwani about his expectations for this year’s team and his thoughts about his last season.
Q What does this season mean to you? What makes, or will make it, one of the most memorable years of your life?
A Squash has been such a big part of my life for so long and this season is sort of a culmination of all the time and effort that has gone into it. This is my last chance to achieve something on the squash court and hopefully it will all work out. The team this year is definitely what has made this year so memorable. I’m extremely lucky to be on a team with such a great bunch of guys and to win an Ivy and National title with them would be the perfect way to end my collegiate squash career.
Q How have you adjusted to the role of being the captain and being the person everyone looks to for answers?
A Being captain has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve enjoyed the additional responsibility and I think it has helped my squash game as well. I don’t think I am the person who “everyone looks to for answers,” but one of the best parts about the job is the conversations I get to have with guys on the team. It is something I’ve truly enjoyed and is a great bonus that comes along with being captain.
Q Do you have any long-term ambitions with squash?
A I love the game, so I’m sure I will carry on playing as long as I can. Unfortunately, I think this is the end of my competitive squash career. Hopefully I will be part of some kind of squash league next year, but nothing will ever compare to college squash.
Q What has changed most about you, as both an athlete and person, since you were a freshman?
A As an athlete, I’ve definitely become much fitter and stronger these past four years. The pace of the game has increased and pretty much every college squash player is in great shape, so you don’t have much of a choice if you want to be able to beat these guys. We have great coaches, who have helped me get better technically, and I think they wouldn’t argue if I said I’m a completely different player today than I was when I walked in four years ago.
It’s really hard to answer the “as a person” part – my coach would be able to give you a much better answer. In the context of squash, I’m tougher mentally and appreciate the mental side of the game more today than I did as a junior. It’s the same thing that happens to every athlete as you get older and more experienced.
Q What do you find especially challenging about this season?
A Being the second-ranked team in the country comes with a lot of pressure. Every team is gunning for us and the teams are so close this year that the margin for error is so small. But it is a challenge that everyone on the team is really enjoying. We take a lot of pride in being the No. 2 team in the country, and we are really hungry to change that to the No. 1 team by the end of the year.
Last week was probably the most challenging week of our season. Anyone who plays squash knows how hard it is to play six matches in seven days. We came out of the week strong, with only a loss to Trinity and strong wins against Western Ontario (No. 8), Cornell (No. 5), F&M (No. 9) and Rochester (No. 4).
Q How do you handle being both a student and athlete?
A I don’t think it’s that hard to do. There’s enough time to do both easily. Obviously there are instances where you are traveling all weekend and then have a midterm on Monday. But you get used to it and it’s not that big of a deal.
Q Who do you look to for support during matches?
A After a big point I love to look at a teammate or a coach. Most guys on our team are very animated while watching matches and that energy often transfers to the guy on court. There is nothing better than playing a match with a bunch of your teammates aggressively cheering you on.
Q How do you try to motivate other players when they are struggling, or how do you try to help players maintain their focus in matches?
A Luckily, motivation is not a problem for this team. Everyone knows what is at stake this season and is pumped to try and achieve our goals for the year.