Feb. 21, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A quick glance at the rosters of the top collegiate women's squash teams reveals a common theme. There aren't too many players from south of the Mason-Dixon line. Yale's Michelle Quibell is one notable exception. She hails from Atlanta, Ga., not exactly a squash hotbed.
"No one in the south knows what squash is," admits Quibell. "I would never have even heard about it if it weren't for my mother. She is from South Africa and was a national champion in her age group."
Yale head coach Dave Talbott is certainly glad Quibell's mother Lana taught her the game. Since arriving at Yale, Michelle has a 33-6 overall record in dual matches and has won the last two individual national championships. She tries for her third straight CSA title on Mar. 3-5 at Amherst.
As a team, Yale has won two Ivy League titles and two national championships during her career. The Bulldogs can clinch their third straight Ivy title with a victory over Harvard on Wednesday and seek their third straight Howe Cup (national championship) crown this weekend at Harvard.
"Michelle's strengths as a player are her accuracy and precision," Talbott says. "She has an all court game, plays the ball very tight and can hit winners on open balls. Her excellent footwork and balance allow her to cover the court extremely well, and mentally she is very tough."
Quibell has been playing squash since she was nine-years-old.
"My mother was the squash pro at a local sports club in Atlanta, and I asked her if I could try it," Quibell remembers. "I was getting sick of ballet and gymnastics. I really liked it and continued to play about once a week for two years."
She then started taking lessons from Tom Rumpler, an elite coach in Atlanta. Most of her opponents in those early years were men, and she played her first junior tournament in Philadelphia at age 11.
"It was an intimidating experience," Quibell says, "but one that motivated me to work harder and put more effort into my training."
At age 12, Quibell began traveling abroad to play in tournaments. Her first trip was to Germany and Holland. In addition, she would play five domestic tournaments a year in order to establish a ranking. As a member of the Junior National team, Quibell helped the United States to a fourth-place finish, its best ever, in 2001 at a tournament in Penang, Malaysia.
All of the travel allowed her to become close to others in the squash world.
"We got to know each other really well," she says. "[Yale teammates] Amy Gross, Kate Rapisarda and Lauren McCrery all traveled to England with me as did several other college players. That is why squash is so cool. It's a small world but a supportive one. Regardless of how long I play the sport, I know I will be connected to the people that I have established close relationships with."
The travel also allowed her to spend quality time with her mother.
"We would travel to every tournament together and spend the night in hotel room after hotel room," Michelle says. "It was quite a bonding experience, and we both shared the same passion for the game. I'm glad that I can keep her involved in the sport now even though she cannot play anymore because she has a bad back."
Quibell's most memorable tournament was when she became the first American to win the British Open under-17, considered to be the biggest junior tournament in the world.
Despite the time commitment of squash, Quibell still found time to compete in other sports. She did gymnastics at a serious level until she was nine.
"I attribute my good balance to gymnastics," she says.
She started playing basketball in fourth grade and also played soccer, helping the Marist School to two second-place finishes in the Georgia state tournament in her two years as a member of the varsity squad.
"I absolutely loved soccer," she says. "It really helped my squash because it made me incredibly fit. I remember going to soccer practice, getting my butt kicked and then having to go play squash. I don't think I've ever been in such good shape since."
It didn't take Quibell long to make an impact at Yale. As a freshman in 2002-03 she helped the Bulldogs to a 5-1 Ivy League record and a second-place finish. At the CSA individual championships, she lost to Trinity's Amina Helal in the semifinals, a loss she would avenge in her sophomore year during the regular season and again in the finals of the CSA individuals.
The victory over Helal in the regular season of that year is one of Quibell's most memorable at Yale.
"The outcome ended up coming down to my match, but I was unaware of that at the time," Quibell remembers. "I lost the first game but came back to win 3-1. When I won match point, I saw my teammates go nuts, and they ran on the court and tackled me. By then I realized that we had just dethroned Trinity to become the new national champions. It was an incredible moment, one that I will remember forever."
With her collegiate career winding down, Quibell, an environmental studies major, has begun to think about her plans after Yale. She has worked in the athletic department for Senior Associate Athletic Director Barbara Chesler and helped plan the Women's Intercollegiate Sports Endowment and Resource (WISER) event that was held at Yale in early February. A professional squash career certainly would be available to Quibell, but she isn't sure that is the path she wants to follow.
"Before I came to college I always thought I would play the pro circuit because I loved the game and the competition so much," she says. "Yale has dramatically changed my stance on this. I've found new interests that I'm passionate about and want to establish a career."
Instead, she is hoping to find a job in environmental law and policy before going to environmental law school.
Nevertheless, squash will still be a big part of her life.
"I think I will play U.S. selection event tournaments and try out for the U.S team," she says. "Squash will be my outlet outside of work."
Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity