PHILADELPHIA – Squash. It’s not a sport that is widely recognized by the American public.
But for recent University of Pennsylvania graduate, Andrew Douglas, squash just hasn’t been a part of his life, it’s been his lifestyle. He’s accumulated quite the resume along the way: a Pan American gold medal, two junior national championships and four First-Team All-American selections.
Squash wasn’t the love of Douglas’s life early on. Yes, his father played squash in Holland and England, but Andrew used to play tennis until he was a young teenager. The only problem was that the closest tennis court from his hometown of Brooklyn was an hour away. Meanwhile, there was a squash court just a few blocks away, so naturally he flocked there.
As he gravitated towards squash, he found sustained success. At the Packer Collegiate Institute, he was a three-time All-American and served as his team captain.
Squash isn’t like a lot of other sports where your success as a teenager is dictated on what you do in high school or how many state championships you won.
As a 16, 17, and 18-year-old, Douglas was already competing in major national and international tournaments. He picked up two junior national championships and was a quarterfinalist for the world junior championships all before stepping onto Penn’s campus.
But his greatest achievement was earning the first gold medal for the U.S. at the Pan American games.
“My biggest goal was always to compete for the U.S. and wear a U.S. jersey at a sport and represent the country,” Douglas said. “My proudest moment is definitely winning the Pan American Games for the U.S. It was our first gold medal ever in squash. I got the opportunity to play for my country, which was a huge honor.”
Finding the right fit for college is a difficult choice for any individual, but for Douglas, he set his eyes on the University of Penn because of one man, Gilly Lane. Lane was hired as head coach for the squash team in March of 2016. A legend in his own right who managed to pick up three Professional Squash Association titles as a professional player.
He believed in Douglas from the start and put him in the number one slot as a true freshman.
“I went to Penn for coach Gilly Lane,” Douglas said. “Penn wasn’t really one of the top schools at that point, but I believed in Gilly’s vision and I believed that I’d have the best experience there. It was incredible to see the team grow year after year which I think is a testament to Gilly and the level of players that he recruited.”
To say that Douglas delivered his freshman might be an understatement. He went 14-4 in his individual matches and in the process, he became just the second player in program history to be named to First-Team All-American and First-Team All-Ivy as a freshman.
— Penn Squash (@PennSquash) January 11, 2018
Douglas still saw individual success his sophomore and junior seasons with two more First-Team All-American and All-Ivy selections, but now the results were showing on a team level. In the 2018-19 season, Penn was ranked number one by the College Squash Association for the first time in program history and in 2019-20, Penn reached their first ever Potter Cup Final (national championship game).
Douglas wasn’t a one-man show, he played alongside other great players in Aly Abou Eleinen, James Flynn, and Yash Bhargava. These four would go on to be the greatest quartet in Penn squash history as during their time with the Quakers, they would combine to win 199 matches while earning nine All-American selections and seven All-Ivy Selections.
Men's Squash All-Americans are out and there's more history for the men!
– First time in program history four players have been awarded All-American honors!
– Andrew Douglas becomes the first three-time First-Team All-American in program history!
— Penn Squash (@PennSquash) March 24, 2020
The relationship the four had together wasn’t limited to the court, they share a friendship that is invaluable.
“The bond we all shared was the highlight of my college career,” Douglas said. “We are still best friends and are going on a trip together soon. The success of the team is also a result of that. The program got better at recruiting because kids saw that we weren’t just players, we were genuinely really good friends and were dedicated to each other and the team.”
We all know 2020 was defined by one thing: the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything was affected and Penn’s squash team was no exception. But unlike conferences such as the Big East and Big Ten, not only were sports in Fall of 2020 compromised but also Spring of 2021 as well.
That meant Douglas went over 600 days without playing a competitive match for his school. Luckily, he was able to get a COVID exception which he used while pursuing his Master of Public Administration.
Douglas was grateful that he could get a true sendoff to his collegiate career.
“I’ll always remember the day Yash and I got the news that we could come back and play for a fifth year,” Douglas said. “Most of my success last year I attribute to the fact that I was just so grateful to be on court, it really was a huge blessing. The (2021-22) team will define my Penn experience.”
For Douglas and Penn, they made the most of their opportunities to say the least. Entering this season, Penn was ranked number one according to the CSA, a ranking they would hold for the rest of the regular season. The Quakers went 16-0 and won their first Ivy League Championship since 1969.
In the Potter Cup, Penn would cruise past their first two opponents to set up a rematch against Harvard, a team Penn bested just over a month ago. In a tightly contested affair, Penn would lose to Harvard by a score of 5-4.
Douglas’s match against eventual CSA Individual National Champion Victor Crouin was especially heartbreaking. Douglas was up 2-1 in the match with an opportunity to seal the victory, but two interference calls would go in favor of Crouin. Crouin would eventually win match four and match five to take the series.
It was obviously disheartening for Douglas and co. after the loss, but he doesn’t have any bitterness regarding the two controversial calls.
“During those calls, you really don’t think about it too much,” Douglas said. “Of course, I did think I won the match at one point. It’s such a fine margin between winning and losing, one or two things didn’t go my way. Thinking about it still really hurts, just not because of the match, but the implications for the team. A part of me still feels that I let the team down, but in the match you have to accept the calls. When I think about it in retrospect, I don’t remember thinking, ‘Oh wow, what a terrible call,’ I just move on.”
Douglas is finishing up his Master of Public Administration while working two jobs. The first is researching for a Communication Law professor at the University of Penn and the other is rooted in his love for squash. He’s working with a non-profit based in North Philadelphia called “Squash Smart,” which provides academic tutoring services and teaches squash to kids whose families fall below a certain income threshold.
He also is still competing in squash tournaments any chance he can. Right now, Douglas is ranked 85th in the world and would love to be able to compete full-time.
As for growing the game of squash and expanding the game to an American audience, Douglas believes squash needs to be a part of the Olympics.
‘The biggest thing is that we’re not in the Olympics,” Douglas said. “If you told me today, ‘We’re going to be an Olympic sport,’ I would quit my day job and give this a go. That’s the only thing I can see that will really raise the interest and level of play both in the junior levels and at the senior level. Right now, the highest thing we can do to represent the country is play at the Pan American Games, which is great. But at this point in my life, I’ve already done that.”