Phil Shannon, president of University of Richmond's club squash team, thinks next year is the year.
Despite the lack of funding and court space the team has been struggling with since its establishment on campus three years ago, club squash is trying to reach its full potential next year with the promise of a young team and no graduating seniors.
The team ranked No. 43 in the nation after a strong performance at the Men’s College Squash National Team Championships held at Yale University in late February this semester, junior Tyler Britt, a third-year member of the team, said. Rankings are independent of whether a team is recognized at the varsity or club level, so they competed against some of the best programs in the country.
Shannon credits former president and founder of the club squash team Jon Patteson for getting the program started, saying he laid the groundwork and developed relationships with other coaches who didn’t have interest in playing an unranked team. During his freshman year, Shannon, along with eight other first-year students, joined the team and fell under Patteson’s leadership.
Of the freshmen who tried out for the team that year, three of them had been recruited to play at the varsity level but chose to come to Richmond instead.
“It was just lucky that there were so many people interested,” Pep Ruckpanich said, who was ranked 85 in the nation and had plans to attend a different college before tearing his ACL in high school.
Patteson, who graduated last spring, was the only upperclassman to stay on the team during the program’s first official year, Ruckpanich said. The team is currently made up of five juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen.
“I’m really excited for next year,” Shannon said, “both for the fact that nobody is graduating and that we have a really talented team in place.”
Shannon said the team’s biggest win this year had been during the first round of nationals against the Boston College Club team, who had won its division last year. “We’re just a bunch of kids from Richmond who showed up and beat them,” he said on being considered the underdogs.
The squash courts at the Weinstein Center are not regulation-size courts, Britt said. Therefore, the team holds its practices at Westwood Country Club, which is yet another expense that the team is responsible for.
“How are you supposed to get better if you can only practice with your team twice a week?” Ruckpanich said.
Two years ago, Patteson and his father, who is also a Richmond alum, pitched the idea to renovate the squash courts with the support of both alumni and the Richmond community.
Shannon said that in the long term they would love to build and develop squash courts on campus that are the right size.
The team has gone to great lengths in order to cut costs and save money. This includes measures as simple as carpooling to practices and nearby tournaments, but also squeezing 10 people in two hotel rooms, or sleeping on the floors of family members’ homes for tournaments that are further away, Shannon said.
Sophomore Morgan Simmonds has an uncle who lives in the Annapolis area in Maryland.
“We had a tournament at the Naval Academy coming up, so I just asked him if we could crash on the floor of his house,” he said.
Shannon and Simmonds both agreed that the parents’ involvement and support has helped the team come to where it is today. “That’s the way we’ve overcome budgeting shortfalls,” Shannon said.
Dues are currently set at $400 for the year, but players also incur costs such as registration and travel fees. “The lack of funding has held us back in some ways, but we always find a way to figure it out,” Ruckpanich said.
Shannon even paid for squash equipment – balls and new grips – as well as the team’s website out of pocket so that next year they would have some money left over.
Seth Thomas, the assistant director of sports, said that competitive clubs – under which squash is ranked – received approximately $3,000 in funding per year. This is in contrast with the $6,000-$9,000 that Shannon estimates the team spends in a given year.
“A club squash team is only as successful as how passionate its players are going to be,” Shannon said. “I think it does help involvement that we as students own the program.”
Because the team is completely student-managed, Ruckpanich said that he had become even more passionate about the sport and the team. These different financial barriers could be seen as a detriment to the program, but in a lot of ways, the team has bonded over its shared experiences.
“If we had more funding and more court space, we could make the team more inclusive, which is another long-term goal of ours,” Shannon said.
There is great potential for the growth of the program.
“I think interest levels are pretty high because the university draws from a lot of students that are from the North,” Simmonds, a Connecticut native, said.
Another goal Shannon has for the team is to be ranked as a top 40 squash program next year and get a signature win against an established team.
Former Richmond president Edward Ayers said he was delighted to hear about the success of the club squash team.
“I was a late adopter of the game, and am still not very good, but it’s a wonderful sport and I’m glad the Spiders are flourishing in it,” Ayers said.
Contact reporter Jessie Bursma at firstname.lastname@example.org