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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

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Richmond hosts Virginia Professional Squash Championships

The surveys are in: no one seems to know what the giant glass box constructed in the Tyler Haynes Commons is, but everyone is eager to find out.

The University of Richmond is the co-host of the third annual Virginia Professional Squash Championship. With the Country Club of Virginia, the university will host the four-day tournament, which began with the first-round matches yesterday evening and will conclude with the championship match at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Game Room. The winner of the tournament will receive a $30,000 prize.

The driving force behind bringing the tournament to campus was James Davis, a professor of mathematics and squash enthusiast.

Davis began playing squash while on sabbatical in England. While looking for an alternative to racquetball, which does not exist in Europe, Davis began playing squash, and has continued playing for the last 10 years.

The Virginia Squash Racquets Association (VSRA), an organization Davis is closely affiliated with, contacted Davis earlier this year looking for a venue for this year's tournament. When the proposal for the auxiliary gym in the Robins Center was turned down because of construction, Davis suggested that the court be built in the Commons.

Davis said the Commons was the perfect location. So many people pass through the building that everyone would be introduced to the game, he said.

Although choosing the university to host the event may seem random to the uninformed, Carla Shriner, assistant director for university events, said the goal of the university was to familiarize the students with the international game.

"The hope is that students will be exposed to an international sport that people really don't know anything about," she said.

Les Carter, treasurer of the VSRA, which is headquartered in Richmond, has volunteered much of his time in the effort to bring the tournament back to Richmond for its third year. Carter, who was in charge of the logistical side of this year's event, described the process as enormous.

"Everything about this schedule is tight -- both the space and the schedule," Carter said, referring to the task of fitting the glass court into a room barely large enough to fit it, as well as having to schedule a 15-game tournament in a four-day period.

The construction process for the entirely glass court began Monday evening with the unloading of glass, bleachers to seat 100, lighting apparatuses and other things necessary for a successful tournament. Though there were doubts about how easily the construction of the court would be given the spatial constraints, after working through the night early this week, workers finished setting up the court by midday Wednesday.

"As far as I know, everything went as planned," Shriner said.

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With the construction complete, players began warming up, as well as drawing large, curious crowds in the Commons by yesterday afternoon.

Among those in the crowd was senior Matt Schaffer.

"We're just hanging out," Schaffer said. "I don't really know what's going on -- how to play or what this tournament is -- but, at a minimum, I'm definitely getting geared up for intramural racquetball."

Schaffer is not alone when he says that he is not familiar with squash. Sophomore Lisa Feden doesn't understand the game, but couldn't help but stop and watch from the second floor of the Commons.

"It's just so random, but I'll definitely stop by as I'm passing through," Feden said.

Junior George DiFede is one of the few students who has spent time on squash courts in the past, though he won't be stepping on the courts this time around.

"I only get hit by the ball when I do it, so now I'm just watching," DiFede said. "I think there's a lot of student interest and curiosity."

Shriner said the students benefit from the court being located in the Commons, and not the Robins Center, because of the heavy student traffic, allowing more people to stop by while crossing campus. But the location has drawbacks for the players, Carter explained.

"It will be an interesting test of their concentration with so much movement from student traffic and the beautiful scenery of the lake," he said.

After the warm-up rotations yesterday afternoon, the competitors were pleased with the court and all agreed that those passing by would not likely be a problem.

"The biggest problem is probably the spectacular setting of the lake," tournament fourth seed Adrian Grant of England said. "It's quite distracting." Grant is ranked 22nd in the world.

John White, the No. 1 seed in the tournament and No. 10 in the world, from Scotland, said that most players were highly familiar with the setup of this tournament.

"Most big tournaments are set up on glass courts like this," White said. "Some of us played in a tournament that was set up in Grand Central Station in New York, so playing in a university student center shouldn't cause any problems."

The matches will continue through the weekend. All matches are played at 5 p.m. or later because the sun needs to set before play can begin.

"With the reflections from the lake, combined with the glass of the court, it would be near impossible to see the ball if the matches were held during the day," Carter said.

Graham Ryding of Toronto, seeded third in the tournament and director of the Professional Squash Association (PSA), said all that is necessary is contrast.

"You have to make the outside of the court dark and the inside light and you'll be ok," he said.

Although this tournament might not be the largest PSA tournament this year, it benefits both players and students.

"In the sizing scheme of pro-tournaments, this one is pretty middle of the road," 78th world-ranked Lee Drew said, "but it's great exposure to the sport"

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