Greens Farms opens new squash facility with Staples
WESTPORT — In the blink of the eye, squash has taken a strong foothold in town. In the space of weeks, 10 new courts exist within a short drive to both high schools in Westport.
Both Staples and Greens Farms Academy have brand-new homes, and showcased how far they’ve come as the programs dueled in a competitive matchup at the Dragons’ facility last week.
The Dragons and Wreckers christened the squash courts as both boys and girls teams faced off on Friday afternoon as the Staples girls won 6-1 and GFA’s boys won 5-2. GFA’s boys team had the first official match the day before against Brunswick, but the showdown between the Westport schools encompassed two years of massive progression for the sport.
“It was very special night,” Dragons coach Atilla Agh said. “(Staples) is close to my heart because I’ve been coaching those kids also the past two years. It was competitive good match play, some of the matches going to overtime and a tiebreaker. It was fantastic to see.”
Southport Racquet Club had been the home for both teams — with current Dragons and former Staples coach Agh the club’s professional instructor — but ownership changed and began to phase out the sport. The GFA considered its options; the closest clubs at the time were located in New Haven or Stamford.
But funds were quickly raised for a facility on campus, which began construction over the summer and now sits adjacent to the scenic outdoor fields.
For Staples — which also trained in Southport — the same problem existed. Its solution came in the form of Intensity Fitness in Norwalk, which constructed four courts in the fall that opened in November.
Just in time for tryouts for the winter season.
The Wreckers are in their second year as a varsity program and have expanded to more than 30 athletes between the boys and girls programs. Eddie O’Rourke — a member of Southport Racquet Club for more than 33 years — and Whitney Stewart — a former collegiate standout at Yale — took over the reins of the boys and girls teams, respectively, for this winter.
“It’s been great,” O’Rourke said. “The captains had to basically coach the kids last year because they just started playing. As it’s progressed we’ve seen them play better, their shots are getting better and everything’s improving. We’re hoping this year and the next few years it can continue to grow.”
With proper coaching and a more organized practice structure, the sky appears to be the limit for the Wreckers, who already boast one of the top tennis programs in the state. One of the top standouts from that program is Staples junior Kion Bruno, who picked up squash last year and can play both as they are in different seasons.
“I played it once and just thought it was awesome,” Bruno said. “I started playing and realized it was such a great sport; I just balanced tennis and squash, and play a ton of both.”
One of Staples’ wins during the match with GFA came from senior Shane Fries, who pulled out a dramatic win over John Selkowitz. Fries was one of several athletes who began a grassroots campaign to start the Staples program, which began as a club entity before interest went through the roof.
“Basically Shane, Mia Krishnamurthy (a former GFA student) and myself played squash and realized there was no Staples team,” Bruno said. “A bunch of other schools did have teams so we decided why not start one.”
GFA has its bar for the future set high, too. With Greenwich-based Brunswick and Greenwich Academy two of the top squash teams in the country, the Dragons hope to build a competitive program capable of challenging the best players in the country. GFA’s girls team captured the Class C New England championships in 2015 and the boys reached the final a year ago.
Having a facility on campus should do wonders.
“Obviously, it’s very convenient,” Agh said. “It’s accessible for them, they could walk here during the school day or they could walk over from the other gym. It saves time effort and energy; they can practice seven days a week now.”
Both sides agreed that introducing the sport at the elementary school level — made possible now through clinics at Intensity and private lessons at GFA. Agh has close to 20 years of coaching experience across multiple levels, and continues to work at the youth level.
With access to 10 courts, popularity at the town level is sure to grow.
“We’re literally starting from scratch so there’s only one way and that’s up,” Stewart said. “It’s hard to know now because there’s no precedent.”