For two Agnes Irwin juniors, winter vacation meant more than just a break from school: for Katherine Glaser ’20 and Olivia Walsh ’20, it was also an opportunity to represent Team USA at the British Junior Open, one of the strongest junior squash tournaments in the world.
“This is every squash player’s dream tournament — because you’re competing against the best players in the world,” Katherine said. “Being able to play at that level, and to play for your team, for your country, is rare — and really cool.”
The British Junior Open is often considered the “unofficial World Open,” with divisions running from U11 to U19. Each country brings their top players in each age group, with Katherine ranked No. 7 in the US Girls U19 and Olivia ranked No. 1 in the US Girls U17.
Katherine — who also qualified for the tournament in the U15 division three years ago — finished 21st in the U19 event, beating the Swiss No. 1, Irish No. 1, and two top English players. Katherine is in her "down year" — having just turned 17 in November, she is one of the youngest athletes in her division, so to finish so highly was fantastic, said Agnes Irwin Director of Squash Alex Stait.
For Olivia, who has made the waitlist for the prestigious tournament in years past, learning she’d been selected for the first time was especially exciting. She finished 19th in the Girls U17 event, beating three of the top English players and the Welsh No. 1 en route to her 19th place finish — also taking out the 5th through 8th seed in five brutal games.
“It was an amazing experience for me,” she recalled. “When I walked into the venue for the first time, it immediately felt different from tournaments in America: the teams are there from all over the world, everyone is speaking a different language, and many of them play squash completely differently” — forcing her and her fellow players to adjust to new styles of play, and improving their own game in the process.
Team USA arrived in Birmingham, England on December 29 to start training for the Jan. 2-6 tournament. With staggered match schedules, and some games beginning as late as 8 p.m., neither Katherine nor Olivia expected to see much of their teammates — but both girls recalled instances of turning around during tough matches to see Team USA cheering them on. For both players, the camaraderie among Team USA was a highlight of the trip.
Katherine and Olivia play 1 and 2 respectively on Agnes Irwin’s Varsity Squash team, which clinched this year’s Inter-Ac title on Jan. 16. The team heads to nationals at Yale University in early February.
“It is an incredible achievement for both girls to make the team and to compete in the world's strongest junior squash tournament,” Stait said. “Both players have the strongest work ethic possible and the best attitudes you could hope for. I could not be more proud of Olivia and Katherine in representing their country and Agnes Irwin in what is effectively the World Open in their age groups. Not only are they incredibly hardworking and successful players, but more importantly, they always play the game with the right spirit and are great role models to their teammates and younger players. To be one of the top 21 players in the world at your sport is quite an achievement and fully deserved for their commitment to the game.”