Lightning paced and often described as “chess on legs,” the mentally and physically challenging sport of squash has taken Fairfield County by storm. Junior players are some of the country’s best, school teams clinch national titles and young stars frequently go onto college squash fame. It’s an addicting game, and seventeen-year-old Tad Carney of New Canaan, ranked in the top five in his age group, is hooked.
“I really enjoy it, and it’s very competitive,” says Tad, who has competed internationally in the Hong Kong Junior Open and the prestigious British Junior Open, a thrilling battle among 600 top juniors representing more than fifty countries. “It’s a lot of fun, and I got to meet people from all over the world,” he says.
The fact that squash is an individual sport, yet also a team sport particularly appeals to Tad, a Brunswick senior and captain of its powerhouse team, which has won five of the last six U.S. High School Team Squash Championships and eighteen New England Championships. Tad is also zeroing in on college squash. Needless to say, coaches have been calling.
For Tad, squash is a family affair. His older brother, Tyler, plays for Yale; his sister, Emma, a former Greenwich Academy captain, is on Harvard’s team; and his younger brother, Thomas, competes on Brunswick’s middle school team. Neither parents, Sean nor Elizabeth, had played the sport. It was Tyler who happened upon squash at a St. Luke’s School camp years ago. The Carney siblings then caught the bug. Sean has now taken up the game, and there’s even a court at their home. Also, Elizabeth serves on the board of Squash Haven, the squash and enrichment program for New Haven youths.
The Carneys all trained from an early age with Kumail Mehmood at Sportsplex in Stamford. A Stamford resident, Mehmood has been coaching at Sportsplex for the past twenty-one years. Eight years ago, he took over as club owner. Mehmood came to the U.S. from Pakistan, which has a rich history of squash dominance. A former Pakistan Junior Champion, he represented the county on junior and men’s teams and competed on the international pro circuit.
At Sportsplex, one can’t help but notice the K-Team Wall of Fame, photos of youngsters Mehmood has coached who have achieved forty-one combined National, Junior Championship Tour (JCT) and U.S. Open titles. “You don’t have to be good as long as you want to get better and put the time into it,” he says. Most players train with him four times a week. He currently coaches around fifteen youngsters, who are like family. “When I started training Tyler, Thomas hadn’t been born yet,” says Mehmood, who recently traveled to a wedding of one of his former players from Darien.
The squash explosion continues to rock the region. Greenwich Water Club opened its Squash House with four courts; Ox Ridge Riding & Racquet Club in Darien added a clubhouse with eight courts; and MSquash SoNo with six courts debuted in South Norwalk.
In January the country’s top youngsters are competing in the Connecticut Junior Championships, a JCT event, the highest level U.S. Squash junior tournament, co-hosted by Chelsea Piers in Stamford and MSquash SoNo.
All Photography Contributed