Edward Columbia ’18 has played a big role on the Yale men’s squash team this season. After taking a gap year to study theater in New York City, Columbia currently starts for the Bulldogs and has contributed a number of important wins, including two victories this past weekend against George Washington and Navy. Columbia spoke with the News about his experience adjusting to collegiate squash and playing as part of a young team, and about the Elis’ hopes for the rest of the season.
Q: How has the transition to collegiate squash been for you [after taking a gap year]?
A: The summer after my senior year — that would be the summer of 2013 — I played in my third Junior World Championships for the U.S. [team] and then I was done with junior squash because I turned 19. When I think about college squash, it’s a continuation of that very intense competition but at a higher and more concentrated level. A lot of the same guys I would have competed with and did compete with as a junior are people that I’m facing in college squash. What’s happened in the last six or seven years is colleges have looked to recruit outstanding squash players from all around the world, and those players as a result choose to go to college in the U.S. rather than going professional. A lot of the guys I would have faced at the world juniors those three years are currently at the top of their college teams, so … I feel as though I’m back in an intense, highly competitive squash arena with some of these same guys. But — I think this is more important — I really feel like I’m on a squash team now. I played on my high school team but mostly I was an individual squash player. When you play for your country, that’s also a team, but for the first time and what I value most about college squash is that I feel as though I’m on a team, part of a group — the cliché is ‘part of a unit,’ — but I really value that.
Q: What are your feelings about the team’s performance at this point in the season, as well as your own?
A: Everybody is working very hard and people are competing at such a high level at what is a very densely packed month-and-a-half of matches. We have had exciting upset victories and disappointing losses so it’s been a mix. We’ve had both those things and we’ve had less exciting matches in which we’ve performed well and gotten the job done. I think people are really excited for this coming weekend because these are really big matches, especially for the Ivy League, and we’re excited for what lies ahead in the next four weeks. The sky is the limit when it comes to Nationals and the Ivy League title, so there is that sense of daring and positivity. In terms of my own performance, I, like everybody on the team, have a lot to work on and a lot to improve on. One thing that I really respect and love about our coach, Dave Talbott, is that he facilitates that. I’ve had conversations with Dave about what I specifically need to work on and he’s been on the same page with me figuring out how we’re going to do that and making adjustments accordingly and making sure that I and every other individual gets what he needs to better the team.
Q: How has the team been affected, both on and off the court, by the losses of Kah Wah Cheong ’17 and Zac Leman ’16 due to injuries?
A: Those are two excellent players, both in the top half of our ladder, who unfortunately have had very serious injuries. We’re rallying behind both of them because they’ve had successful surgeries and they’re doing very well physically and, in terms of attitude, they’re dealing with a hard situation very well. It’s put pressure on everyone else to really step up and to push himself harder. However, I think after the first wave of shock and concern swept through when we learned about Kah Wah’s injury, the team has been pretty strong-minded that it’s not going to keep us from having a good season and a strong fight for the titles.
Q: How does it feel being one of five freshmen playing in the team’s top nine?
A: Great. I love that there are so many freshmen. I think it speaks to the potential of the team and I’m happy to be part of that group. These are guys that, in a sense, I’ve grown up with and have known for a long time. We’re a good group in and of ourselves but we’re also freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors — you’re all teammates [and] there’s no real distinction at the end of the day.
Q: What are your expectations going forward, both for yourself and the team?
A: Our expectations … are that we continue to perform better and better. We’ve been concentrating on making fine adjustments as individuals and as a team to perform better and edge our way to victory in tight matches. We have tough competition coming up, close matches, a very challenging National Championship that’s still a few weeks off, but our goal is to win these matches — all of them — and to do so making the adjustments we’ve come up with in the last month or so.