Wesleyan squash has survived the end of NESCACs with a 2-2 record for the women and an 0-3 mark for the men. After beating Conn College (9-0) and Hamilton (5-4), while losing to Williams (8-1) and Bates (7-2), the women look forward to team national championships at Harvard this upcoming weekend. Hoping to claim victory after facing defeats against Colby, Tufts, and Conn College, the men will compete in nationals at Trinity on Feb. 23-25.
Despite team losses, Laila Samy ’18 is no stranger to individual success. Named the 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year, Samy is on track for success during individual nationals in early March. The Argus sat down with Samy to hear about her squash journey and her experiences at Wesleyan.
The Argus: Why do you play squash?
Laila Samy: Well, I started when I was seven, and I played the sport because my brother used to play the sport; he’s older than me, so I grew up watching him, and I think it’s a really cool sport. I mean I played other sports at the same time I started to play squash and I definitely liked squash best. Because it’s an individual sport, I put in the work, I’m by myself in there, but at the same time I really, really enjoy playing on a team. Even though it’s an individual sport, we all rely on each other to get better and to have better results every year.
A: So you find the individual aspect of squash helpful rather than diminishing?
LS: For sure, if I’m having an off day in there, I have to figure out a way to still do my best during my off day, no one else can help me in there.
A: What’s the most emotionally difficult part of playing squash?
LS: The most emotionally difficult part for me is when my plan for that match isn’t working and I can’t figure out another way to make it work. It gets really frustrating, and you obviously have to get over your frustration and be like, “Ok, what’s plan B? Plan B doesn’t [work]? What’s plan C?” You just have to be really patient, which is kind of difficult sometimes, when something’s not working and you’re losing and all that happens, it’s hard.
A: How much strategic preparation goes into each individual match you play?
LS: There’s definitely a lot of it because obviously every player’s different than the other and every player has different weaknesses and different strengths. If I haven’t played that player before, then I stick to basics, but if I have played that player before then I definitely know what their weaknesses are and what their strengths are. I go in knowing my weaknesses and strengths as well, so I have to keep reminding myself to stick to my game sometimes and not let my opponent drive me to play their game. There’s a lot of strategic planning.
A: And how much of this is just your own familiarity with squash and certain types of squash players, and how much of it is actual preparation from the coaches?
LS: Obviously if you prepare a lot, your coach prepares a lot, and you don’t have that skill to apply these plans, it gets very difficult. Like my coach can’t tell me to go and do something against this player when she knows I don’t have the skill for it, so obviously a lot of it relies on what I know and what I can do and what I can’t do, so, as I said, it depends on the player and what they’re good at and what they’re not good at but it also depends a lot on what I have and what I’ve been training on.
A: As a team, you went 2-2 at the NESCAC Championship—is that a positive result or something you wish you could’ve done better at?
LS: I would look at it as a positive result—we went into NESCACs as the seventh seed and we finished as the seventh seed, so we didn’t go up, we didn’t go down, so I guess that’s not bad. Obviously I was a little frustrated ’cause against Williams we were missing one player and Bates we were missing two players, and Bates is one of the teams that we really wanted to beat this year, and they are very beatable, but because we were missing two players we didn’t have the result we were hoping for. But we still performed really really well with the ladder that we had, it’s just it was a bummer that we didn’t have all of our players to challenge them again.
A: How does it feel, throughout the season, to be constantly winning matches and see the rest of the team’s performance not necessarily reflect your own?
LS: I try to tell everyone to look at their own performance and not worry too much about the team’s result because sometimes, this is what happened with Hamilton, we were 4-4, it came down to one match, you know you kind of just have to think about yourself even though it’s a team thing, but it’s sometimes really overwhelming to think about it as a team and about how your result affects the team. Because it’s not just my result that makes a difference, it’s every single person’s result. And as much as we want to do it for our entire team, we should also want to do it for ourselves.
A: Would you say you are a leader on the squash team?
LS: I’d like it if people think so [laughs].
A: Why do you think you’re so much better than everyone, at Wesleyan and in the NESCAC?
LS: As I said, I started when I was seven. Many people in the NESCAC or even at other schools didn’t really start at that young age, and squash in Egypt is very big. It’s very serious. We have the best coaches in the world and the best players in the world, we have great facilities, there are courts everywhere, you can access courts really easily, and it’s developing more in the U.S. now, but it wasn’t the case five years ago. So I think I just was lucky that I was coached by really good coaches and, again, my brother played so I got to watch him play before I even played the sport, so I was familiar with it. My parents were really good with letting me do my own thing and not really pushing me to the point where I’m out of it with squash, so I still enjoy it even though I’m 22. A lot of people will sometimes at a certain age get really burned out.
A: What are your expectations for the national championships as a team?
LS: I’m not exactly sure what we’re ranked, but I know that like Tufts, all the teams we were really close to beating during the season are in our bracket, we’re going to be in the Division C division, and Tufts, Bates, Bowdoin, all these teams that we either beat or were really, really close to beating are going to be in our bracket, St. Lawrence as well, Dickinson (we were 5-4 with them), so hopefully we can pull a lot of wins out and maybe come on top of our division, which would be great—we did it my sophomore year, we won our division. Hopefully, we can do it again this year and finish above all these teams, but specifically, Bates and Tufts are two teams that we’ve lost to during the season, but we’re very close.
A: What are your expectations individually?
LS: It’s my last season, obviously, so the individual championship is in the beginning of March and I’m really hoping to win the tournament. Squash is a DI sport, so we compete against the Ivy Leagues and all of that, so I’ve been training really hard, so I’m very excited and ready for it. And obviously, I’m really nervous about it, I have nothing to lose—it’s my last year, can’t go wrong.
A: Are there any aspects of your skill set or bits of experience you might have picked up that will aid you in your efforts, this year especially?
LS: This year, I’ve been working really hard with one of the pro coaches around the area that has really helped me with one, my game, and two, my fitness—he says my game is pretty strong, it’s just there are a little bit of tweaks here and there that needed to be worked on. But my fitness is a huge thing that needed to be worked on in past years, and once I get that down, and it is down, I think that will be a huge difference compared to the past years. Should be different, hopefully.
A: Do you think you’re done with squash after Wesleyan?
LS: No, I don’t think so, I’m actually looking to play in professional tournaments and also to coach post-graduation, so we’ll see how that goes. Definitely, I’m not done with squash yet.
A: Anything else you want to tell readers of the Argus?
LS: Shout-out to my team!
Cormac Chester can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.