By Alex Pijanowski
Nestled deep within the bowels of the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) and inconspicuously situated near the bottom of the staircase to the basement is a memorial of sorts to Kenyon’s club squash program. It was not consciously designed as such — rather, it is the sort of memorial which human hands have forgotten, but which time has not. This one lonely bulletin board is filled with various papers furnishing information like tournament rules, brackets and team rosters, most of which date from the 2009-2010 academic year.
Kenyon enthusiasts of the sport will be glad to discover that, thanks to new leadership and increased interest, the club team is being rejuvenated this year. Kenyon’s squash squad has been practicing two times per week (Mondays and Thursdays) since the beginning of the year. The club faced its first intercollegiate competition in two years last semester, when Denison University’s team visited Kenyon for a scrimmage.
Gabe Kohrman ’17 is one of the student leaders of the organization; he serves as the group’s treasurer. Kohrman was motivated to help rebuild the team by a personal desire to play squash in a more organized manner, and by finding a lack of such opportunities upon arriving at Kenyon.
“When I was a freshman, the team had, I guess, discontinued,” Kohrman said. “A large amount of seniors [graduated], and they [had] made up the majority of the team. It was kind of hard to get other people to be actively involved all year long.”
Nicky Lenard ’15, the captain of the team, has different memories from his freshman year. He recalled that, during his first two years at Kenyon, the team still enjoyed the high levels of interest and organization that allowed it to appear at the national tournament.
The team’s coach, John Knepper, said that came as a result of two or three years of incoming first years with an interest and background in squash. “Kenyon was lucky in the sense that we got some players in here that knew the game and were pretty good,” he said. “We had two or three years of very successful competitive squash.” Knepper noted that the team was even able to reach 30th in the national rankings. However, he added, “those players have left and graduated, and they haven’t been replaced.”
Although different from Kohrman’s, Lenard’s first-year experience pushed him to work toward the same goal. When Kohrman approached him and suggested rebuilding the team, the proposition struck Lenard as “a great idea.”
Lenard and Kohrman handled the bulk of the clerical work in getting the project off the ground. Luckily, because the club was successful in the recent past and has increased its membership, regaining certification from the College required little more than attending a few meetings. The help of Knepper, the team’s long time coach, who has been involved with Kenyon’s squash program since the KAC opened, was invaluable. The team isn’t back to the competitive level it was at a few years ago, but it is definitely in a revival period. “Right now, we don’t have a team, per se,” Knepper said. “We have a recreational club.”
Planning a scrimmage for the program was a bit difficult. Knepper said he wasn’t sure if he would be able to retain the nine players needed to make a team between setting up a scrimmage and the actual date of the scrimmage. “[Arranging a scrimmage] has to be done many months in advance,” he said. “I couldn’t do that, because I couldn’t field a team.” Another problem is that there are not many intercollegiate squash programs close to Kenyon. Aside from Denison, which has a competitive and highly ranked program, the closest college squash teams are outside of Ohio, as far away as Chicago and St. Louis.
However, interest in the club picked up enough last semester for Knepper to organize a scrimmage with Denison. Kenyon’s renascent program’s first true test came when it welcomed the Big Red’s squad to the KAC. The encounter with Denison could very well have been discouraging, as Kenyon’s is a team currently in the process of rebuilding, and Denison’s program is an established one and a regular contender at nationals.
For Lenard, his team’s scrimmage with the Big Red put into clearer focus what sort of program Kenyon’s club is at the moment. “It definitely opened up our eyes to what a more intense squash program looks like,” Lenard said. “We’re much more recreational.”
While a victory against Denison is perhaps out of reach at the moment, it seems realistic that Kenyon’s team could be reasonably competitive in the near future.
“Even though we didn’t get too many wins, [the match] showed that, if we want to, we can go out there and compete with other teams,” Lenard said. He added that “the team right now is in a good place.”
Knepper said that, even though Denison was tough competition, he thought “it was a fun afternoon.” He also hopes that Kenyon can play host to more scrimmages in the future. “We have one of the finest facilities in the country here,” Knepper said. “It does make me wish that somehow we could use it for the purposes intended.”
Another benefit of more scrimmages on the home courts as opposed to travelling is more spectators from the area. Knepper likes to joke that in Ohio, “people think squash is just something you get at the farmer’s market.” More student spectators at games could boost interest in joining the team as well. “I don’t know how you build enthusiasm for squash at Kenyon if everything you do is out of town,” Knepper said.
One aspect of the process that Kohrman has especially enjoyed has been the opportunity to facilitate squash at the team level for a diverse group of individuals without having a level of intensity that might drive away those without much experience in the sport.
“It’s great that we’re revamping the squash club in the sense that we’re getting a lot of different people from all different levels, with different histories of athletics and squash experience, to come down to these incredible courts we have, and play pretty consistently,” Kohrman said.
Where recruitment is concerned, measuring success is a relatively simple matter. “Getting people down to the courts is usually enough,” Kohrman said, “because then they realize how much they enjoy it.”
Knepper added that the KAC’s nice courts are a major factor in attracting players, and that each year there are a few prospective students who reach out to him to find out about the program. Will the team be able to compete at the national level again? “I sure hope so,” Knepper said.
The team is currently seeking individuals with the desire to play squash in a more organized setting; those interested may contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Anna Dunlavey contributed reporting.