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Playing the Ultimate Team Sport

Harvard Squash

By Michael Stankiewicz

Few team spots are as individual as squash. But ask the players in Harvard's highly successful squash program, and they'll be the first to argue that squash is the ultimate team sport.

"I felt so much that squash was a team sort and lacrosse an individual sport [at Harvard]," says Co-Captain Jenny Holleran, the 1990 individual women's national champion. "Squash was a wonderful community, the most supportive, wonderful place in my experience here."

That is the attitude that Harvard Coach Steve Piltch has striven to foster by overseeing the integration of the men's and women's teams into one program.

"It was a logical transition. Both teams had begun to work closer together over the previous four or five years," Piltch says. "It was natural. I think you'll see more colleges headed in that direction to best utilize their coaching talents."

And the move has been enthusiastically embraced by members of the two teams. Following the squads' banquets this spring--which were held separately--the captain s of the two squads requested that Piltch schedule a combined banquet next year.

"It was a good idea," Co-Captain Jim Masland says. "Before, the two teams were tight. Now, it just meant that we were on the court together more. There was more on-court camraderie with both programs."

"The squash team is one of the closest teams around," Holleran says. "The people really, really care about you."

Closer relations have done nothing to limit the teams' effectiveness and competitiveness. The nation's strongest squash program continued its dominance of the squash world again this past year, with the women capturing their third national championship in the last four years and the men just missing another national championship because of a 6 3 loss to Yale in February. Co-Captain Jon Bernheimer joined Holleran to give Harvard a sweep of the individual national championship last February.

"Steve tackled a really tough job," Fish says. "Despite the difficulties, he came one or two points shy of two national championship teams."

Success is nothing new for the Hemenway racqueteers. The men's teams have won 29 titles, including seven in the last decade. Since 1983, when women's champions were first crowned, Harvard has claimed four titles--including the three under Piltch's four-year reign.

Today's graduating class of seniors has won five national team championships and lost only three matches in four years. Holleran and Hope Nichols will graduate today having participate on a team that is 30-1 in four years of competition. Bernheimer and Masland were on a team that lost only two matches in four years--including last year's loss to Princeton, which snapped the team's 72-match winning streak.

Much of the success carries over from the legacies of Harvard's coaching legend, Harry Cowles, Jack Barnaby an Dave Fish.

Fish--who resigned last year to concentrate on the men's tennis team, which he also coached--and Barnaby closely involved with the program as associate coaches. Fish works with the men's team, and Barnaby coaches the women.

"We [the coaches] know that the program can't be anything until the players are a team," Fish says. "That's why it's important that the team sees us work well together."

Such support makes life a lot easier for Piltch.

"For me to step in has been both fun an easy because [Fish and Barnaby] are always ready to help out," says Piltch, who served as Fish's assistant for three years before taking over the women's program four years ago.

Also helping Piltch is men's Assistant Coach John Ansz and women's Assistant Coach Doug Lifford '89.

"We have much more coaching than most collegiate programs," Masland says, "It's a great resource for the team to discuss squash techniques with Dave and Jack."

But don't believe that there is a special "Harvard style" of squash taught by these coaching legends.

"One of the plusses of the program over the years is to let each individual take advantage of his or her strengths," Piltch says, "instead of a set style."

Ever since Piltch came to Harvard eight years ago, the trophy case has been the only part of Hemenway that has kept pace with the fast-growing program. And ever since Piltch came to Harvard, there has been talk and only talk of a new facility Currently, plans have been drawn for new squash courts next to the Varsity Club in The Stadium parking lot, but they remain tentative and the state of the team's facilities remains a major problem.

"The facilities at Dartmouth and Yale are much better because they are more conducive to accomodating large numbers of people for spectating," Masland says. "Hemenway gets overcrowded."

"Everyone we compete with has recently renovated or built new courts," Piltch says. "Their squash facilities are relatiely superior."

According to Fish, the major burden of the lack of space falls on the JV squads, who are "enormously patient."

Even without superior courts, Harvard remains on top of the squash world, just ahead of Yale and Princeton.

We Are Family

But Holleran returns to the team's close-knit nature as the key to success and fun at Harvard--two things she plans to bring with her to her new job as an English teacher and squash and lacrosse coach at Deerfield Academy.

"I'm going to emphasize the team concept, like at Harvard," Holleran says. "You don't tolerate any selfishness, you value every member as an important member, and you don't single people out too much."

Not in the ultimate team sport--not even when they win individual national championships.

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