Spencer Lovejoy’s ’20 squash story currently takes place in the city in which it started: New Haven. After years of learning the sport in the Elm City growing up, the Branford native now finds himself dominating on Yale’s courts at the Brady Squash Center as the Bulldogs’ top player.
Lovejoy played tennis at the New Haven Lawn Club starting at a young age. When the tennis courts closed up for the winter of 2007, however, Lovejoy decided to move indoors to try out squash. He quickly began taking lessons at the club from Lynn Leong, a former All American at Trinity College and Lovejoy’s private coach to this day. According to Leong, Lovejoy quickly fell in love with the sport when he was just nine years old.
“It was fun for him, and he wanted to learn more,” Leong said. “He got hooked on it. He would start coming literally every single day.”
Within a few years, Lovejoy was competing in national tournaments. By the end of his first season playing in the under-11 division, he was ranked in the top 10 nationally and climbed his way to No. 1 by the time he reached the under-15 age group.
Around that same time, Lovejoy was selected for the junior national squash team, and after years of participation at the international level, competed in the No. 2 spot for the United States team at the World Junior Championships in Poland this past summer. The team finished third at the tournament, the highest a U.S. under-19 team has ever finished at the championships.
The squash standout attended the Hopkins School in New Haven, where he played squash for six years. Josh Cardwell, the men’s squash head coach at Avon Old Farms School — an annual Hopkins opponent — said that he knew Lovejoy was going to be a special player from a young age.
“When you’re playing against a [player like] Spencer, you’ve just got to remind [your players] that they really have to go out there and play and make sure that they don’t go light on him,” Cardwell told the News. “If you give him a little, he’ll take a lot.”
Cardwell added that Lovejoy is one of the most skilled American high school players he has ever faced as a coach and that Lovejoy appeared to take an especially massive leap in playing ability between his junior and senior years at Hopkins.
When it came time for choosing a college, Lovejoy said that Yale stood out in part because the Eli squash team worked harder and was a closer-knit squad than that at any other school he visited.
“I’ve always seen that the Yale team sticks together and that they’re very close with each other,” Lovejoy said. “When I went to visit Harvard, their team seemed very disjointed compared to ours.”
According to Yale men’s squash head coach David Talbott, a freshman has not held the team’s No. 1 spot since Julian Illingworth ’06 did in the 2002–03 season. Illingworth finished No. 5 in the Collegiate Squash Association’s annual rankings following his freshman campaign.
While now a member of Yale’s team, Lovejoy will also compete in U.S. Junior Open Squash Championships in New Haven later this month. Talbott’s policy has always been to disallow freshmen from competing in the tournament because it overlaps with exams, but said he is making an exception for Lovejoy because of his experience with junior tournaments and his keenness for the game.
“He loves the game from the heart,” Talbott said. “It’s genuinely infectious. I’ve coached a lot of good players over 34 years … Spencer has a sheer love of the sport.”
The Elis’ captain TJ Dembinski ’17 said that he trained with Lovejoy at the New Haven Lawn Club for years and played together for one year at Hopkins, but has never lost to him until Lovejoy came to Yale as a freshman. Dembinski added that though he came into the season not expecting to compete with Lovejoy for the top spot on the ladder, it is special for him to see his younger teammate succeed.
Lovejoy, who spent time this year ranked No. 2 in the nation in the under-19 age group for junior squash, told the News that defending a national championship as a freshman in Yale’s No. 1 spot creates little pressure.
“It actually takes some of the pressure off of me so that I can play my game and not worry about it,” Lovejoy said. “I know that I have four more years to keep improving.”
Lovejoy and the Bulldogs will take on No. 16 Brown in their Ivy League opener on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Brady Squash Center.