By Beth Rasin
Could a coveted national championship really be at stake when competitors were smiling broadly and so easily applauding an opponent’s scrappy play? There was so much joy at the eightieth Howe Cup that naive spectators might be excused for failing to realize that it was the venerable annual U.S. Women’s National Team Championships being contested at the Fairmount Athletic Club in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, during the third weekend in October. The laughter that seemed to be everywhere did not diminish the fierceness of the competition. When the last ball had been hit, the trophies awarded in the four flights of play reflected the growing geographic diversity of women’s squash.
Winning wasn’t limited to the squash court—three NYC players covered their room costs with their blackjack winnings at the hotel casino. In keeping with tradition, there were eye-catching fashions (on court and off) and the dance floor at the Saturday party was rocking all night. Urban squash programs StreetSquash, SquashSmarts and Mile High Squash, all of which had players at Howe Cup, split the $1,000 proceeds of a tournament raffle.
Blithe Runsdorf of Pittsburgh, returning to Howe Cup play after more than a decade’s hiatus, summed up Howe Cup’s greatest tradition. “This has always been an event which has welcomed women just as they are.”
The Dartmouth Dames are definitely diehards. They play in a region that doesn’t have its own association and it can be a trek to get to courts to play. But New Englanders are known for their steely resolve. Undeterred, captain Adele Bassett, who lives in Thetford Center, Vermont, assembled a dynamic team that raced through its pool in round robin play and then defeated the Boston D-vas, 5-0, in the finals. Teenager Margaret Werner and Dartmouth alum Julia Lane both call Hanover, New Hampshire, home, while Rhonda Lake resides in Keene. When their fifth teammate, Katie Fisher, had to pull out because of illness, Julia’s sister Diana Calligan stepped in to anchor the team, preserving the northern New England connection with her status as a Dartmouth alumna.
Philadelphia Takes Forty-First A Title
Three native Philadelphians and two transplants joined forces to bring the Howe Cup A trophy back to the home of the Liberty Bell, after a three-year hiatus and for the forty-first time in the eighty years it has been contested. Bates College graduate Kelsey Engman, who left the college coaching ranks last year to pursue her passion for writing, Yale alumna Amy Gross, a full-time grad student in counseling, and seventeen-year-old Isabel Hirshberg, a student at Penn Charter Academy, all honed their squash skills as Philly juniors. Trinity graduate Alicia Rodriguez, originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, who now makes her home in Philly while working for Smith Glaxo Kline, and Gina Stoker, a teaching pro at Berwyn who hails from England and enjoyed a stint on the WSA Tour, rounded out the undefeated powerhouse team that lost only one individual match in tournament play.
Barn Louses Bag the B Title
They had the most intriguing team name—named after the barn that houses captain Jen Gabler’s squash court and team sponsor, Lice Treatment Center, owned by teammate Liz Solovay. Jen and Liz were on the 2010 winning Howe Cup B team and teammate Barb Keil had been on a title-holding C team with Boston. With Howe Cup rookie Jen Roos, who played her college squash at Yale, posting an undefeated record (along with Gabler and Keil) and SquashSmarts alumna Tempest Bowden winning two matches, the team defeated the Canadian Knickers, Seattle Hot Shots and Philly Eagles by identical 4-1 scores. “I love that we get to play so many different women,” said Tempest. “The older women players can be tough; they definitely have a few tricks up their sleeves. “
The Merry Malbecs from Ottawa, Canada, waltzed their way through the C draw, defeating the Bolly Boggles 5-0 and then the Boston Lobsters and the Philadelphia Cs by identical 4-1 scores. In the final, the Ottawans played the Capitol Girls, also from their hometown. The Merry Malbecs earned international and hometown bragging rights, winning the Howe Cup C title with a 4-1 victory.