March 23, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 90  

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Women’s squash team in danger of disappearing

By Alison Stolz
Gazette Staff

It has been a drastic change for the Western women’s squash team this year. They have gone from an Ontario University Athletics gold medal-winning, fully-funded team to a hard-working, OUA bronze medal winner without funding.

“Our funding ended about two years ago,” says coach and veteran player Vanessa Steinwall. “Now we struggle to finance the squad, and the girls have to pay $100 just to keep our team going.”

Along with the financial challenge for women’s squash came the lack of a full-time coach. For the past three years, the squash team has looked upon team members for coaching assistance. Veteran player Leah Bishop held a coaching role in the 2001/02 season and last year, Andrew Mount, a member of the men’s squash team, coached the women, but was unable to make the commitment again this year.

With the loss of Mount as coach, an end to the squash team appeared imminent. Fortunately Steinwall, a fourth-year squash player, stood up for her squad and took on the role.

“Vanessa is a key player [to the team] as a coach,” says third-year player Kim Farah. “Without her, we would be nothing — she kept the team together. She really is amazing.”

If Steinwall had not assumed coaching duties this year, not only would there have been no Western team, but also no league, as it takes a minimum of six teams to compete in the OUA.

“I think that all the girls on the team and in the league really appreciated what Vanessa did for them. She took time out of her schedule to help out, and she was respected for it,” Farah says.

“When I first came to Western, the team was doing amazing; they were winning gold and being funded. I didn’t want to see an end to a great sport,” Steinwall said.

With the lack of regulation-sized courts available on campus, the team was forced to look to the London community for support. Both the London Squash Club and the Town and Country Club allow the Western teams to use their facilities. Teams have to purchase memberships at the squash clubs, however, fees are provided at a lower cost.

“We have an arrangement with the Western varsity teams. We have offered our facilities for 20 years now,” says Fio Marin, pro manager at the London Squash Club. The two clubs allow the athletes to practice on their courts during downtimes, usually later at night.

Recruiting players is another difficulty for the Western squad. Without the funding, facilities and a real coach it has been tough for the team to attract new players.

“We have nothing to offer players and we didn’t get much help from Western athletics this year,” Steinwall says. “ [Men’s squash coach] Jack Fairs has the time to visit high schools and introduce the squash program at Western to [high school] graduates, but we just don’t have those kind of resources.”

“If anything, we are trying to solidify the squash teams,” says Chuck Mathies, manager of Western Athletics. The athletics department have regrouped this year and intend to zero-in on self-funded teams, he adds. “In regards to the women’s squash team — we plan to be more involved next year and become more visible.”

These factors have made it difficult for Steinwall and other top ranked players such as Farah to keep a high calibre status.

“I spent most of my time looking out for the team — I didn’t get much of a chance to improve my own skills,” Steinwall says. Both Farah and Steinwall were awarded OUA All-Star honours this year despite the lack of guidance.

“It was a tough season for the team and there was a lot of first-year players, but we had a strong season despite it all,” Steinwall says. “We won bronze, which is a lot of hard work when no one is behind the team backing it.”

Next year, the women’s squash team will be led by men’s team member and third-year student Brad Hanebury.

“If Brad didn’t step up, the team probably wouldn’t exist,” Steinwall says.

“It is tough for Western to recruit new players [to women’s squash], especially if they have to pay their own way,” Hanebury says. He plans on targeting the existing student body at Western to find eager squash players. “Since we can’t attract new top players, I will look at the badminton and tennis teams for racket athletes.”

“There are keen players already on the team — with a few more, and a little practice, we can only improve with time,” he says. “If we can match third place again next year, that will be great.”



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