In an effort to promote opportunities for women athletes on the Hilltop, the Georgetown University Athletic Department announced Jan. 29 that the women’s club squash team will transition to a full varsity program in the next academic year, marking the department’s 30th varsity program.
Squash was first introduced as a sport on the Hilltop in 2007 as a club program. The team has risen to success that has culminated in two national championships in the club division and a third-place ranking among all club teams in the nation. The Blue and Gray also currently sits at 31st in the Collegiate Squash Association rankings, making it the nation’s top-ranked nonvarsity squash program.
The current captains of the team, seniors Kaleigh O’Connor, Maddy Forbess and Kaitlin Hughes, have witnessed firsthand the program’s growth over their time on the Hilltop. The captains helped in the transition of the team from the club to varsity level, communicating with the athletics department and providing feedback during the transition. Chief of Staff and Associate Athletics Director for Sport Administration Kelli Myers praised the co-captains for their professional composure and dedication to the team.
“They’re not even as disappointed that they’re graduating as they are so proud that the program has taken the next leap,” Myers said in an interview with The Hoya.
When it comes to promoting the squash team to the varsity level, the senior captains expressed gratitude for their involvement in the program’s long-awaited transition.
“We’re calling ourselves pioneers, even though we won’t be on the team. It’s been coming for a long time,” Forbess said in an interview with The Hoya.
When asked about the transition of the program and what it means for the team going forward, the captains provided insight on how important access to resources through the athletic department will improve the team.
“We already have the pool of people that a varsity squash team should pick from and we have the skill level and the dedication,” Hughes said. “But the resources have been lacking as a club team, obviously, and for how well we’ve done with the little that we have, I think being varsity we’re just going to skyrocket.”
For the women, having recognized varsity status means having access to a full-time head coach dedicated to the team’s improvement. Currently, the team has some support from coaching staff but does not identify a true head coach or have someone who travels with the team to its matches. The seniors spoke of the need for a support structure and coaching staff for sustained success in a sport characterized by its individualistic nature.
When it comes to the changing team dynamic at the varsity level, the captains acknowledged how the transition to a varsity program recognizes their place as student-athletes.
“I sort of told them ‘Now, you’re going to be squash players and not just students at Georgetown who sometimes play squash,’” Hughes said.
Another major transition that comes with the promotion of a club program to varsity status lies in the commitment of the athletes. Currently, the team practices three days a week with each athlete required to attend two practices. On average, the team travels three weekends each season, including nationals each February, to satisfy the CSA’s 10-match minimum. As a varsity program, training and practices will become more rigorous, and the team can play up to 15 matches annually.
As of now, the club team consists of 16 members, including its three graduating senior captains. Of its 16 members, 10 currently compete in matches. Myers explained that all of the women currently on the club team can transition to the varsity level next fall and are encouraged to do so. In accordance with the policies of many of the other varsity sports on the Hilltop, open tryouts will be held early in the fall of the next academic year once a coach is hired later this spring. An open house will also be held this spring for anyone interested in the new program.
For the current members, the news of varsity status comes quite unexpectedly although the team has been working toward the status for years.
“It makes so much sense for Georgetown as a school and the students that Georgetown attracts,” said Hughes. “It was something where I was always like, ‘I don’t get why this hasn’t happened’ but it wasn’t something I ever saw happening anytime soon.”
Myers, who is new to the position and joined the initiative to make squash a varsity sport back in November, explained that conversations surrounding the transition have been happening for years. For the athletic department, seeing the transition to fruition began with getting people to take the conversation seriously and to push for its implementation in the fiscal year of 2021.
Since applying for CSA membership back in the fall, Myers noted the tremendous reception the program has received. The transition was rather seamless, according to Myers, as the collegiate association and its current teams are eager to add new members to the league.
The deciding factor for the athletic department in selecting this women’s squash team came down to how well the program aligned with the athletics department, especially in terms of what the department could take on given the other 29 sports currently managed. Myers acknowledged the team as a perfect fit given their overwhelming success since 2007, their already-established competition and practice site and their inclusion in the CSA.
In the fall, the squash team will call the Squash on Fire facility, located two miles from the Hilltop, home for its matches. Myers, who pointed to Georgetown’s limited facilities for athletic programs, also noted that the addition of the women’s team would not add additional strain to venues on campus, allowing for a seamless transition.
Lastly, this transition coincides with the athletic department’s mission to promote women’s sports on the Hilltop. Myers spoke to the program’s desire to increase representation of young women in the athletic department, saying that the department is prioritizing the women’s squash program and does not have plans to facilitate a transition of the men’s club team.
“We’re adding opportunities for women student athletes and the underrepresented sex so that’s really for us to add women’s squash, to add them into the department, that’s our priority right now. We’re disproportional in numbers in terms of the number of women competing in sports versus our men at Georgetown,” said Myers. “This is really about us increasing opportunities for women. Right now, there’s no immediate or future plan to add another men’s sport.”
The women’s squash team officially begins its inaugural varsity season in early November and competes through the end of February. While the team has faced varsity programs before, including three this season, its future schedule will feature greater competition on the varsity level in the Mid-Atlantic Squash Conference, including opponents like George Washington, Drexel University and University of Virginia.
The CSA does not allow collegiate teams to compete on both the club and varsity level, meaning the women’s club squash program will no longer be in existence following the transition. The entire program now enters the athletics program with ambitions of increasing opportunities for female athletes on campus.