On Wednesday, March 22, the Wellesley College Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics (PERA) declared that Wellesley College Squash will compete as a club sport for the 2017-18 season.
Elaine Harvey, Assistant Director for Development & Communications explained, “One of the major reasons that the College has decided to support squash at the club rather than the varsity level is that women’s squash was removed from the NCAA’s emerging sport list in 2015, after failing to gain NCAA championship status, requiring a minimum of 40 varsity programs, within 10 years.”
Women’s squash’s removal from NCAA’s emerging sport list is not the first sport to be removed, as archery, badminton, synchronized swimming and team handball were also removed over the past 23 years. Squash was the only non-NCAA sponsored sport offered as a varsity program at Wellesley and there are only 30 varsity squash programs across all NCAA Divisions. Harvey stated, “The club squash team will continue to have an opportunity to participate in national postseason competition governed by the Collegiate Squash Association.”
While squash participation has been on a downward trend nationally, the decision to revoke Wellesley Squash’s varsity status came as a blow to the team. Rhea Advani ’17, co-captain of the team said, “We were called for a last minute meeting with Bridget Belgiovine, Director of Athletics, where we were told about the decision without any prior consultation. Moments after the meeting, the department announced the news to the public. We were given no chance to come up with a solution.”
The transition from varsity to club status will happen gradually, with players still having access to varsity benefits for the rest of the semester. These benefits include access to the facilities, athletic training and strength and conditioning. At the start of next semester, however, squash will no longer have these services at their disposal. Additionally, the coaching staff will move from full-time to a part-time positions.
Discussing the benefits that being on a varsity team has brought her, Advani added, “In my four years, I have gotten stronger, fitter and faster — all of which would have been impossible without the perks given to varsity teams such as access to the athletic training room, the weight room and the strength and conditioning program.”
Co-captain, Meera Nayar ’17 said, “It has always given me pride to represent Wellesley at the varsity level in a sport that I have loved since I was little. Being a four-year varsity athlete is an honor that I can say I have achieved and always hoped that everyone on my team could say the same.”
The majority of the members of the team applied to Wellesley because of the varsity status of its squash team. They intended to be a part of the varsity program for all four years at college, but will now only have the opportunity to play at the club level. The juniors on the team too were devastated, having come so close to completing their four years on a varsity team. The team has created a petition that has been signed by over 500 people in the squash and greater athletic community. Alumnae as well as squash programs of other schools have expressed their discontentment with the decision and extended their support to the team. The team has also written a proposal to the Athletics Department, requesting a three-year transition period during which it would maintain its varsity status so that current recruits can finish college as four-year varsity athletes.
The petition shows the success rate of the team in the past few years, including three consecutive Seven Sisters Tournament Champion titles in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and numerous College Squash Association (CSA) Scholar Athlete Recipients. The document also highlights how the team will suffer at the club level, without funding for transportation, accommodation and medical support. Instead of cutting the program entirely, the team suggested that the Athletic Department cut costs across all sports. The team is also willing to work with just a part-time coach. As the semester comes to a close the squash team awaits a response on the varsity status of their 2017-2018 season.