By Beth Rasin
For three days in October at the Seattle Athletic club, squash was celebrated in all its glory and distilled to its essence. The annual coming together of women from across the country and Canada, with a few international visitors mixed in, to compete in Howe Cup, continued its tradition as a celebration of the best of squash. While the Howe Cup competitive fires burned steadily throughout the weekend’s play, accompanied by sincere appreciation of great play at every level, the Howe Cup experience transcended the individual match play that is the underpinning of every tournament.
Howe Cup is a heady mix of competition and camaraderie. There’s something about being part of a team that helps a player reach deeper within herself and experience the satisfaction of pushing oneself to the limit. There’s the comfort of a teammate after losing a match and the ebullience of sharing the victories. There is the unique connection with 124 other members of a sisterhood with a shared passion. There is the inspiration of seeing players from ages 16 to 70 compete with equal vigor. There is the delight that accompanies the annual renewal of squash friendships that go back 30 years and the making of new friends. And, there is always the fun of dancing the night away at the Saturday night party.
Seattle’s Best Bests the A’s
The Howe Cup A trophy was captured by Seattle’s Best, a star studded team that spanned four decades of players and included a Pan American games gold medalist, a national intercollegiate champion and the current U15 girls’ national champion. Defeating the Independents 5-0 and the Pittsburgh Minks 4-1, Seattle’s Best was indeed just that.
Veteran Shabana Khan, the aforementioned Pan American Games medalist and 2001 US National Champion, did double duty as tournament director and captain of Seattle’s Best. The passage of time has not diminished the effectiveness of the diminutive Khan’s trademark slow boast and lofty lobbing which led to the five game defeat of her Pittsburgh Mink opponent, Wesleyan coach Shona Kerr, and a straight games victory over Independent’s Debbie Hodes. Teenager Helen Teegan, the reigning Girls’ Under 15 national champion, easily dispatched Jennifer Gabler and Julie Kessler in straight games. Logan Greer, who had already laid claim to the collegiate Howe Cup title as the captain of the Yale University 2011 national champions, claimed victories over Beth Fedorowich and Leslie Connolly. The Seattle team was rounded out by Canadian sisters Kyla Grigg Workman, who now resides in Seattle, and Leona Grigg Faller.
“This is my first time playing Howe Cup,” said older sister Leona, 31, a pharmaceutical sales rep in Calgary, “but it won’t be my last.” Leona relished the return to competitive squash after a four-year absence during which she had her children, now three and 1 ½. “It is just phenomenal,” chimed in 28- year-old Kyla, “seeing all these women competing.” The Grigg sisters were self proclaimed court rats as youngsters and both were members of the Canadian junior women’s team. Squash was a family affair for the Griggs, whose parents and brother Matt also play. Leona’s children have already started playing. “Backhand was my son’s third word,” she says with a laugh.
The sisters have a healthy sibling rivalry—they knew exactly when Kyla beat Leona for the first time; Kyla was 16. They also have a supportive and close relationship; Leona was quick to point out Kyla’s achievement as a National Intercollegiate Champion in 2007 as a member of the Harvard University team. Leona watched intensely as Kyla recorded Seattle A’s sole Howe Cup loss against fellow Canadian Carolyn Russell in the finals against Pittsburgh. In fact, the hardest thing about playing in Howe Cup, according to Leona, “is when we are on court at the same time and cannot cheer each other on.””
Team Theattle Thakes the Bs
Lulu Chou’s Seattle B Howe Cup teams have consistently distinguished themselves for their creative and humorous outfits. Their proud tradition as best dressed and life of the party was upheld once again this year as Team Theattle played their way to the Howe Cup championship in red T shirts with a large ”Puddy Tat” emblazoned across the front. As Howe Cup Committee Chair, Lulu Chou outdid herself to ensure that the Seattle hosted championship would be nothing short of memorable for the 125 participants. She and her teammates—Kathryn Grant, Shanaz McGregor, Mumtaz Khan and Katie Toyoshima—made the 2012 Howe Cup especially memorable for themselves as they laid claim to the B trophy by defeating Seattle’s Different Strokes 3-2, Cabernet Canucks 4-1, National Capitol 5-0 and Vintage California, 4-1.
Lulu, who is as talented on the dance floor as she is on the squash court, was encouraged by a Seattle dance instructor to take up competitive ballroom dancing. As much as she loves to dance, it was a non- starter for Lulu when she realized how much time it would take away from squash. The always elegantly attired Chou, who has also been a baton twirler, is as passionate about public health as she is about squash. A Merck Senior Professional representative, Lulu is especially focused on preventative care and augments her squash training with intense fitness work outs. The training paid off—Lulu won all her Howe Cup matches in straight games.
Also undefeated was Team Theattle’s No. 2 player Mumtaz Khan. While her sisters Shabana and Latasha have been fixtures at the top of the US women’s rankings, Mumtaz has established herself as a standout Howe Cup competitor. Her 2012 Howe Cup training and performance remained solid, even though she had gotten married just a few weeks before the championships! Mumtaz’s older sister Shanaz completed the Howe Cup sister trifecta , winning all but one of her matches.
The team’s youngest player, Katie Toyoshima, had a tougher time in the No. 1 position, where she claimed only one victory, over Claudia Regio of Vintage California. Kathryn Grant, an electrical engineer by training, is a true Howe Cup veteran. She has played in Howe Cup championships since the‘80s, when she played for her then hometown of NYC . Kathryn’s 11-6, 11-13, 10-12, 11-8, 11-5 second round victory over Gerrie Cheah was key to her team’s Howe Cup success. By securing her team’s 3-2 win over Different Strokes, Team Theattle moved on to the championship pool.
National Capital Squashers Claims the C Title
The National Capitol Squashers prevented a clean sweep of all the Howe Cup titles by Seattle as the team from Washington, D.C., staked their claim to the C trophy. Undefeated in four matches, their march to the Howe Cup victory was nonetheless exciting as each of their matches was won by the narrowest margin, 3-2. In a showing of remarkable balance, the margin of victory was determined by a different combination of players in each match.
In the first round of play, the defeat of the New York C team was clinched by No. 1 Mimi Coolidge (borrowed from Boston for the weekend), No. 3 Sydney Ku and No. 5 Wendy Hall. The second round defeat of the Stumptown Boasters was secured by Coolidge, Ku and No. 4 Cindy Vojtech. Coolidge hung tough in a nail-biter that she won 11-8 in the fifth over Kara Hale.
In the third round, it was Candace Craig who stepped up, alongside Shu and Vojtech, winning a four-game match over the Capitol Girls, a Canadian team, to ensure victory. Craig came through again in the finals with a five-game victory over Brooke Wallace of the Racquettes to clinch the tile along with Coolidge and Shu, who each won their matches in three games. The National Capital Squashers even had a team manager—long-time player Mona Butterworth, who has found a way to continue to be a Howe Cup participant even though she can no longer play.
Seattle Sirens “D”feat the Competition
Dawn Clark, Georgia Dickenson and Kathleen Dickenson anchored the Seattle Sirens claim to the Howe Cup D title, winning all their matches. With Allison Eddy also notching victories in two out of three matches, the Sirens defeated the Lob Mob and Portland’s Stumptown Boasters 4-1. The Sirens’ 3-2 victory over Seattle VO5 clinched the Howe Cup bragging rights.
2012 Women’s Sportsmanship Trophy Recipient Beth Federowich
For her exemplary sportsmanship on and off the court, Pittsburgh’s Beth Federowich received the 2012 Feron’s Wedgewood Sportsmanship Trophy from the U.S. Squash Women’s Committee. “Beth loves squash,” says her sometime opponent and 2012 Howe Cup teammate Julie Kessler. “She loves to play, loves to train and loves to learn about the game. Beth has recently started coaching and enjoys giving back to the game as well. Bottom line, she is an asset to squash; we need more people like Beth. She is the ultimate competitor with unending tenacity along with respect for others and the game.”
A basketball and tennis competitor on her Slippery Rock University teams, this talented multi-sport athlete was introduced to squash in the late ‘80s when she did an internship at the now defunct City Club in Pittsburgh, her hometown. She took to the game pretty quickly, and early on especially liked it because it helped her basketball game, which she had continued to play in post-college leagues.
Beth also started developing her career in fitness at the same time. Having majored in physical education and health and minored in business, working in health clubs was a natural fit for Beth. “This was before the boom in club fitness training,” Beth explains. “Initially, what we now think of as fitness training was done as medical rehabilitation.” It quickly became clear to Beth that “exercise and fitness is good medicine.” She received her training certification from the American College of Sports Medicine and also became a certified phlebotomist. Today, she owns Fitness Essentials LLC which employs three trainers in addition to Beth, and provides personal training to individuals at home, in the club setting and at the company’s training facility.
Beth is her own best advertisement on the squash court. Fit and fierce in the best sense of the word, Beth’s endurance, quickness and court smarts have led to impressive results in the age group and skill level squash competition. She is a two-time skill level National Champion, having won the 4.0 title in 2011 and the 4.5 title in 2010. At this summer’s 2012 World Masters Championships in Birmingham, England, Beth won the Women’s 50s Classic Plate after bowing out in the main draw to eventual champion Sue Lawrence in five tough games. “The combination of elements that make squash compelling—the explosive speed, stamina and strategy—really suits my personality,” says Beth. “The game completely intrigues me. I am just disappointed that I didn’t start playing at an earlier age.”
Beth only ventured into tournament play about eight years ago. There aren’t many women players in Pittsburgh, and the one Beth knew best was Goldie Edwards, the holder of five national age group championships. Beth recalls. “I wasn’t nearly as good as Goldie so it never occurred to me to play tournaments.” It wasn’t until local Pittsburgh pro Duilio Costa persuaded Beth that she would be competitive in women’s tournament play that she decided to enter the fray.
Beth’s first tournament was in Charleston (South Carolina) where she met Jen Gabler and Pat Millman, both of whom enthusiastically welcomed Beth to the women’s squash scene. Beth made her Howe Cup debut in Philadelphia in 2005, playing for the New York B team, and was instantly hooked on Howe Cup. Beth now travels to play tournaments as much as her busy work schedule permits.
Upon receiving the Sportsmanship Trophy at this year’s Howe Cup, Beth was taken aback and teary-eyed. “It is incredibly meaningful to me because it is given to me by my peers,” Beth said, “and because I admire and respect so much the women who have previously received this award.” Always pushing hard to win, she nonetheless is consistently appreciative of an opponent’s fine play. Just as she was encouraged by other players when she first dipped her toe into the waters of tournament squash, Beth now encourages others. Beth always brings her best competitive game to the court, and inevitably raises the level of her opponent’s game as a result—a sportswoman in the truest sense of the word.
Houston – Five Spices Squash
Four expats playing squash in Houston and one Houstonian currently living in Azerbaijan named themselves the “Five Spices” and made their way to Seattle for Howe Cup. In many ways, they exemplify the women who play Howe Cup— several were introduced to the sport as adults, have become passionate about the game and relish the opportunity to play as a team. Four of the five had competed in Boston five years ago; the team organizer, Sylvie Desjardins, courted their fifth player and Howe Cup newbie, Jen Wyton, for two years.
“Howe Cup gives us a goal and motivates us to train,” says Sylvie. A chemist who works at Dow Chemical researching catalysts to make plastics, Sylvie is originally from Montreal, Canada. She moved to Houston 13 years ago where she took up squash for the first time at age 37. “I was introduced to squash, my second greatest love, by the greatest love of my life” says Sylvie. That would be her husband Ian, who is the president of the Houston Squash Racquets Association.
“Sylvie puts the guilt trip on us,” teammate Suzie Willis laughs. Willis, who works for a gas operator, started playing squash at age 30 in her original hometown of Newcastle, England, where there was a bar right above the court. She lived in Argentina for awhile and managed to find a court in Buenos Aires. “It wasn’t until I got to Houston nine years ago that I realized I was playing all wrong,” Suzie says with a chuckle. “Squash people are good people, says Cat Irvine, who especially likes the game’s strategic element. “It is physical chess.” Cat was introduced to squash at age 35 and is still keen about the game 13 years later. She lives in Calgary but spends a lot of time in Houston for work, so she took a lesson with local pro Muhammad Sadiq, who told her, ”You must meet Suzy.” Meet Suzy she did, and they became fast friends and Howe Cup teammates.
The team’s youngest player, 30-year-old Jen Wyton, first played squash at age 13 at the public courts in her hometown of Brisbane, Australia. When she started working at a club at age 16, she started playing in earnest. When Jen, who studied math and accounting at the Queensland University of Technology, and her husband decided to move to the United States, they first came to New York City where Jen played at the West Side YMCA. After a year in the Big Apple they moved to Houston for the warmer weather and Jen connected with the ‘Five Spices.’ “There is such a great atmosphere here,” Jen says of her first Howe Cup. “It is so much fun and it is great to see so many women players.”
Signe Hovem is originally from Colorado and is the only American-born player on the team. She played racquetball at the University of Colorado where she was an English literature student. When Signe got to graduate school, a friend said, “Let me show you a really good game.” Signe got hooked on squash and has continued to play everywhere she has lived— Boston, Norway, Houston and now, Azerbaijan, where she and 20 expats play on a converted racquetball court. “We really enjoy the team aspect of Howe Cup,” says Signe, who writes a blog called Every Day Beauty. “Everyone really respects the game and everyone wants to do their best—and all in good sporting fashion.”
Signe Hovem’ s blog about Howe Cup: smhovem.tumblr.com/