Though squash is not an Olympic sport, if it becomes one in nine years, two Bulldogs could be leading the U.S. delegation.
Julian Illingworth ’06 and Michelle Quibell ’06 recently received $3,000 grants from the International Olympic Committee to train. Illingworth and Quibell spent their first season of collegiate squash near the top of the individual national rankings and showed no signs of slowing down.
Both players will receive $500 from the IOC for sixth months and will receive the same amount for another six months, contingent on each player making the U.S. World Team. Quibell and Illingworth have been training throughout the school year to qualify for the World Team. Among other competitions, the World Team travels to the Pan-Am games, which makes squash eligible for IOC funding.
“Clearly [Michelle Quibell and Julian Illingworth] have established themselves as the two leading Americans players as freshmen in college,” men’s squash head coach Dave Talbott said.
Neither Quibell nor Illingworth had difficulty adjusting to college squash.
On Jan. 21, Quibell defeated Trinity’s Amina Helal, the defending national champion, on the Bantams’ home courts. Helal went on to repeat as national champion in February.
Illingworth performed well against the best college squash had to offer as well, twice taking national champion Yasser El-Halaby of Princeton to five games and nearly pulling off the upset both times.
Both finished the season ranked fifth in the nation.
While some athletes might be satisfied with such impressive results in their first year of competition, Illingworth and Quibell are not.
“The thing about both Julian [Illingworth] and Michelle [Quibell is that] they both really want to get better,” Talbott said. “The motivation that both of them have is pretty extraordinary.”
With the grant from the IOC, both athletes have plans to improve their games over the summer.
Illingworth, who has traveled to India and England already this academic year to compete, could train in Canada and Australia for parts of the summer.
“Toronto is a big squash city and there should be five or six top pros there that would make training a lot more competitive and much more intense than anything I’ve done before,” he said. “You can work on your fitness and work on your shots anywhere, it’s just the experience of working with top players and top coaches that money allows you.”
Quibell has a more specific idea on ways to improve her performance.
“I’m working on my all-around game but specifically my mental game,” Quibell said. “I really need to work on being a much more steady player.”
Both freshmen have managed to remain focused despite the recognition of the IOC.
“It’s an honor and it’s really fun and you just have to keep things in perspective,” Quibell said. “I still have a lot to work on and a long way to go.”
Yale is clearly fortunate to have both of these emerging American squash stars.
“It’s unique to have both here at the same time, both as freshmen,” Talbott said. “It sets the tone for the whole program.”
While squash has been eliminated as a possible Olympic sport for the 2008 Beijing games, the possibility remains that it could be added for the 2012 games, for which New York is a potential host city.
“That’s definitely one of my dreams, [but] that’s obviously a long way down the road,” Illingworth said.