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Squash Goes Varsity

Yolonda Jones

In February, as third-year UVA squash player Carey Danforth sat with her teammates awaiting a surprise guest, she had a hunch about who might arrive. Still, when UVA President Teresa Sullivan walked into the gym, Danforth and the other male and female squash team members exchanged hopeful smiles. They knew this wasn’t a random visit.

Sullivan congratulated the team on their success and told them she wanted to share some exciting news: Following a gift from an anonymous donor and a vote of approval from the Athletics Department (an affirmation vote from the governing CSA—College Squash Association—came in May), UVA men’s and women’s squash would be elevated from club sport to varsity beginning in the 2017-18 school year, making UVA the only ACC school offering squash at the varsity level.

“This jump to varsity gives us all the resources we need to emerge as one of the best squash programs in the country,” says UVA squash head coach Mark Allen. 

Those resources include scholarship funding, which, along with the varsity status, puts the program in a stronger position to recruit players internationally. Support and official UVA athletics gear with the cross and saber insignia are being provided by UVA Athletics, Allen says, but paid for by the endowment set up for squash, along with continued fundraising.

Women’s rowing was the latest sport to go from club to varsity status at UVA, in 1995. The most recent varsity sport added was women’s golf in 2003-04. The University now sponsors 27 varsity sports: 14 for women and 13 for men.

Squash was founded as a club sport at UVA in 2001; teams began competing in the CSA the next year (unlike most college sports, intercollegiate squash isn’t governed by the NCAA; the CSA is the governing body). Allen, a former professional squash player, arrived in 2013. Under his direction, the team has improved each year. The women finished 13th out of 39 teams nationally this season; the men finished 18th of 62.

UVA’s Board of Visitors recently approved a $9 million expansion to the McArthur Squash Center that would add coaches’ offices, locker rooms and five new singles courts (currently there are nine courts) by the start of the 2018-19 season.

Some of the country’s best collegiate players are now coming to UVA. In high school, Danforth, a Greenwich, Connecticut, native, was one of the top-ranked women’s squash athletes in the country. Despite being recruited by schools such as Dartmouth—a Top 10–ranked program—Danforth chose UVA.

“It was really about Mark and how I thought it’d be really rewarding to be in a program that was growing,” Danforth says. “To be playing as a varsity sport in my fourth year—that was a dream of mine. … It’s really happening.”