In the world of squash, Nicol David, Ramy Ashour, Raneem El Weleily and Nick Matthew are all household names.
And before each one of them made it big in the sport, they all competed at the World Squash Federation World Juniors – the premier international competition for the best of the best of teenage squash players.
And among the growing list of talented young athletes who’ve competed on that stage is Grade 12 SMUS student Grace Thomas, who travelled to Eindhoven, the Netherlands in July to play for Team Canada.
“It was amazing to be there and see all the different countries. I actually didn’t realize how high of play the rest of the world is. We have some really good top athletes [in Canada], but countries like Egypt, their national sport is squash. Their players came first, second, third and fourth in individual competition,” she says. “It’s just amazing to see them play and play with such great athletes. It inspires you to set higher goals for yourself.”
Team Canada, which included Grace and three other junior women from Ontario and Quebec, performed well at the international event, finishing overall fifth in the world in the Team Championship tournament. (Grace competed in both the individual and team tournaments.)
Before travelling to the Netherlands, Grace and the other Team Canada athletes convened in Toronto for a few days to train together and get to know each other.
“I’ve played against all of them before, but it was great getting to know them as teammates,” Grace says.
The team flew into Amsterdam in late July and spent nearly two weeks in Eindhoven, about 130 kilometres south of the capital city.
“It’s actually a little bit like Victoria – same weather, same population, but their downtown is bigger and a bit more lively,” Grace says.
The individual competition was played first. While Grace lost her first match, she came back to win the next three comfortably before losing in a tight match in the semi-finals of the consolation draw.
The team competitions were Grace’s first matches against the international powerhouses, Egypt and the United States. Despite a couple of losses, Team Canada performed better than expected and beat higher-seeded teams like Hong Kong and New Zealand to eventually win the fifth-place playoff.
While this was Grace’s only chance to play in the biennial team competition (she’ll be aged out of the next one in 2017), she hopes to compete once more in next year’s individual tournament.
“It was cool to be a part of it. We had so much support from people who I had no idea who they were; squash players from Canada who were cheering for us and interested in how we did. It was great!”
Read more about Grace’s squash experience at the World Juniors on her blog.
(photos courtesy of World Squash Federation)