To say that the 2019 Head U.S. Squash High School Team Squash Championships was an upsetting one for Brooks School doesn't sound like a good thing. But oh, was it ever! The boys and girls 1st teams each upset the No. 1 seed in their division — and played with such determination that they surpassed all of their coaches' hopes.
"It was a very good tournament for us," said boys 1st squash coach Doug Burbank of his team's third-place finish in the consolation bracket of the Division III championships, held February 1 through February 3 in Hartford, Conn. "To be able to beat two of the four teams that were seeded higher than us — and with each one of the first three coming down to just a matter of points separating us — was great. Our goal was simply to be better as a team after the weekend and they exceeded my expectations. Each player at one point during the weekend played their best squash of the year."
After falling to Pennsylvania's Springside Chestnut Hill Academy 4-3 in their initial matchup, Brooks' boys beat No. 1 seeded Masters School of New York 4-3 in their first consolation round, then lost to New York City's Horace Mann School 4-3, and finally beat fellow Mass. Independent School League team Groton School 5-2.
Looking forward, they will be fine-tuning their game for the rest of the season. "The players learned so much from watching their teammates and others play this weekend," said Burbank. "I think they realize that in order for them to get to the next level, it's small tweaks not big ones. Now, the idea is to find which tweak it is and make it."
Meanwhile, the girls 1st squash team kicked things off with a 5-2 win over Maryland's Potomac School and never looked back.
"They played brilliantly" versus their opponents in the quarterfinals, New Haven A from Conn., said coach Kihak Nam '99. Another 5-2 win then advanced the team to the semifinals against The Bryn Mawr School, from Maryland, which was seeded No. 1.
Brooks was seeded fourth, so Nam admitted that going into the match, "none of us was sure how we would measure up against Bryn Mawr, as we don't get to play schools from Maryland during the regular season, but we did our best to mentally prepare."
Despite having played at 8 a.m. earlier that day, the team remained ready for the 6 p.m. contest and played one of their best matches. "They were focused, found their opponents' weaknesses, and executed their shots to win their matches," said Nam. "Simply put, our girls were more hungry, more eager to win than Bryn Mawr was."
And while they took that hunger to the finals versus Connecticut's second-seeded Westminster School, the Brooks squad ultimately lost 4-3 and finished as the Division III National Runners-Up.
"I anticipated that the result would be either 3-4 or 4-3," said Nam. "We had two five-gamers and lost both. If we had won either of these two, we would have won the National Championship. In one case, a Westminster player scored only three more points than our player! It is mind-blowing to know how close we were to winning the Nationals."
All in all, Nam said he was "thoroughly impressed by the level of squash our girls played this weekend. Not a single person lost a match against a player with a lower rating than them."
Nam is also proud to point out that his team's conduct was winning. The last group to finish the tournament on Sunday, they saw that the Wesleyan Squash Center, where they'd been playing, was filled with empty water bottles and Gatorade bottles. "Only our team voluntarily cleaned all the trash that people had left behind," he said. "I felt proud that the team not only showed great respect for their sport at this championship, but they also showed great respect for the facility and for others. They made me proud!"
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