I can remember my first Yale squash match better than any other I’ve played since — it was at the Ivy League scrimmage held in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale in November 1999, and I was just a freshman.
Kellen Heckscheler, a junior from Cornell, looked fit and ready to play as she warmed up with the squash ball. I, on the other hand, almost hit her with the ball — a sure sign of my nervous energy.
I wasn’t sure what intercollegiate sports would be like in comparison to my high school experience at Hotchkiss, but I thought I was prepared. The fall training my coach had put our team through was tough.
When I won the serve on the racquet toss (squash’s equivalent to the opening coin toss), I took it as a good omen. The first game was long and well-played. Although Kellen was a little more skilled and experienced than I was, I used all my athletic ability to win the first game with a definitive edge.
Coming off the court, I was ecstatic and shocked that I was doing so well in my first college match. In order to win a squash match, one must win three out of five games. And I was almost there, right?
To make a long story short, I eventually lost that match — and quickly!
Kellen had realized my weaknesses and easily exploited them. I was heartbroken after the scrimmage. I was a girl who hadn’t lost a game since her sophomore year in high school, and my first taste of being a Yale athlete was over before I could do anything about it.
But as much as college athletics is at first about adjusting to the level of play, you aren’t a rookie for long.
I beat Kellen easily at the Ivy League scrimmage held at Cornell when I was a sophomore.
I didn’t hit her with the ball or lose my pace after the first game. I beat her systematically and patiently — a testament to the kind of maturing I had undergone in the year since our first meeting.
After that first scrimmage in 1999, official team practice began. Mark Talbott, our coach — and one of the most respected names in American squash — was there critiquing our every swing. I feel like Mark and I have a particularly special relationship since I was his first recruit as the Yale coach.
Mark’s support as a friend and coach, as well as his vast reserve of knowledge of the sport, has played a large part in my improvement. He is willing every day to put in extra hours outside of practice and give the members of the team lessons.
This year, Mark’s recruiting efforts will bring in six new girls to join the squash team. They will be joining a close group of athletes with a great teacher. But I’m sure that they will nervous — just like I was — when they take the court for the first time this winter.
Gina Wilkinson ’03 plays varsity squash for the Bulldogs.