This January, instead of our usual week of training at the end of Christmas vacation, when the Yale Women's Squash team typically resides in snowy, deserted New Haven, we traveled out to California. The intense week of double practices culminated with a historic match against the Stanford Men's team. The match marked the first time in the history of intercollegiate squash that an official match was played between a women's and a men's squash team. Not only was the outcome of the match, a 9-0 victory to the Yale women, momentous; the location was significant as well. The competition between the two teams demonstrates how drastically the quality of women's college squash has improved over the last few years. Additionally, the fact that the Yale team traveled out to California to play a season match illustrates how much the game has spread recently from the northeast.
The unique nature of squash, and the reality that it is a sport which relies heavily on skill rather than sheer power, makes it one of the only intercollegiate sports in which a competitive match could occur between a men's and a women's team. As our coach Mark Talbott said in an email to the Dean of Yale College, "Their team had a lot of class and was great about playing women. They just appreciated the competition. It was terrific that men and women could compete on an equal basis and treat each other as such." The captain of the Stanford Men's team, Rich Sherwood echoed Mark's sentiments regarding the mutual respect and admiration between the teams. "We were all very impressed with the way your team played and acted, we certainly all agree that we lost to very talented opponents. Leading up to the match, we did not view the match as a 'Battle of the Sexes' but more as good practice."
Traveling to Stanford was a fantastic experience for everyone on the team. The overall match score did not reflect how competitive the individual matches were. Playing against men provided a true test of the physical training we have been doing throughout the season, as well as valuable preparation for upcoming matches against other strong women's teams. The match also proved just how high the quality of women's intercollegiate squash has risen over the past few years, as the top women's teams now provide formidable competition for men. Approaching the match, both teams put aside the issue of gender and viewed each other as worthy opponents. Ultimately however, the experience of the Yale women overcame the power game of the Stanford men. All members of the Yale team have been playing for a number of years, and most were nationally or internationally ranked as juniors. Many of the Stanford men have picked up the game in college, for squash has just begun to gain popularity on the west coast. With such athleticism and drive, in upcoming years as the players gain experience; the Stanford teams will certainly be challenging the established east coast powerhouses. The Stanford and Cal Berkeley men's and women's teams join the newly formed University of Utah men to represent the west while there has also been a strong movement in the ACC league where UNC, Duke, Wake Forest, and NC State, have formed club teams and plan to eventually compete in the team championships. University of Virginia sent a men's team to the Championships for the first time last year as did the Stanford women.