Seniors Across the Country (and Abroad) Celebrate Early College Admissions
For 52 SEA Players, College Squash Season Nears Close
Top Ranked Harvard Teams Spends a Week with Squash Urbano Colombia
SEA Connects Campus Leaders and Incoming College Students
Daisy Altamirano Wins Prestigious William E. Simon, Jr. Service & Leadership Award
CitySquash’s Chris Fernandez Reflects on His Role as the Network’s First Head Coach of a College Program
Over the past two months, 77 students from 14 SEA member programs have gained early admission to 146 colleges and universities. Our programs currently enroll 149 high school seniors. This rising list includes a wide range, from small rural schools to large urban universities, spanning coast to coast. So far, 18 students have been admitted to institutions in the U.S. News top 100 liberal arts colleges, and 16 students to schools in the top 100 national universities. In Cartagena, Squash Urbano Colombia celebrated its first student to receive admission to a U.S. based university. Valeria Osorio Garcia, who currently attends the Westminster School in Connecticut, will be attending Wesleyan next fall.
The college process often brings a flurry of emotions to senior students – nerves, excitement, uncertainty, relief, pride – the list goes on. With the application process largely behind them, our seniors take a moment to reflect on their hard work, the support of their programs, and what excites them most about the next phase. “When I received my acceptance letter, I was so happy,” recalls Squash Haven’s Itzell Cervantes, who will be attending George Washington University in the fall. “I saw the possibility of having a future, going to college, traveling the world, pursuing my dreams…it all seemed possible when I read that letter.”
For Cervantes, the support of teammates made the road to this milestone manageable and even enjoyable. “Getting to work on the process with my peers was so great because we would motivate each other and we went through it together,” she notes. “We all had our own struggles at various points of the application process, but we were all in it together. Overall it just made it more fun and engaging to do it with other people.”
For Urban Squash Cleveland student Pratistha Mishra, the “college application process was hectic and confusing because there was so much to do. Cathy, a USC volunteer, and College Now, a USC partner organization, were very helpful. Cathy helped me brainstorm and generate ideas for my essays. She also helped me generate a list of schools to apply to and encouraged me to complete my applications.” In Baltimore, Savoy Adams says being a “SquashWise participant prepared me very much.” Adams, who has been admitted to Muhlenberg, Loyola University of MD, McDaniel, and Howard, is most excited about who he “will meet along the way” and making progress toward his goal of becoming a doctor. At Philadelphia’s SquashSmarts, Cris Tejada was one of four in his program to gain early admission. Tejada was accepted to Chatham University, where he will play squash next year.
While most of the Class of 2019 will not make final postsecondary decisions until the spring, 17 students have accepted early decisions offers. At New York’s CitySquash, six students received ED acceptances to their top choice schools. Juan Santos will be attending Middlebury College as a Posse scholar next year, becoming the eleventh recipient in the SEA network. Posse scholars receive full-tuition leadership scholarships and are placed in multicultural “Posses” of ten students. The program’s founder, Debbie Bial, was the keynote speaker at SEA’s annual Leadership Assembly this past January. “I’m really looking forward to having fun, growing more as a person, growing with my Posse and learning about college and how it works,” Santos explains “I hope that I will be able to bring things I’ve learned from CitySquash to Midd and I’m excited to bring what I learn back home with me as well.”
Witnessing these achievements is a source of great pride for all throughout the network. “I am so proud of all of our seniors,” shares CitySquash Director of College Access & Success Anna O’Keefe. “Each and every one of them has worked very hard throughout high school and this process, and our acceptance record is a testament to their hard work and dedication, I can’t wait to see where the rest of our class ends up, I know they will all do great things!”
As Xitlali Zuniga, who will be attending St. Lawrence in the fall, stated “Getting into college was just a part of my journey, and though it is a huge goal to accomplish, it can only get better from here!”
Alabama A&M University
Alabama State University
Baldwin Wallace University
California State Monterey Bay
California State University Channel Islands
California State University East Bay
Central State University
Clark Atlanta University
Cleveland State University
College of St Rose
College of St. Elizabeth
Colorado State University
Colorado State University – Pueblo
Columbia College Chicago
Community College of Aurora
Community College of Denver
Community College of Denver
Eastern Illinois University
Emmanuel College Boston Fisher College
Florida Memorial University
Franklin and Marshall College
George Washington University
Georgia State University
Humboldt State University
Illinois State University
Jackson State University
John Carroll University
Kent State University
Loyola University MD
MaryMount Manhattan College
Metro State University
Michigan State University
Mount Holyoke College
New England College
Norfolks State University
Northern Essex Community College
Northern Illinois University
Ohio State University
Ohio Wesleyan University
Pace University NYC
Penn State (Main Campus)
Red Rocks Community College
Robert Morris University
Saint Peter’s University
Salem State University
San Diego State University
San Francisco State University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Southern New Hampshire University
Southern Oregon University
Southern University of New Orleans
St John’s University
St Thomas Aquinas College
St. Anselm College
St. Lawrence University
SUNY Alfred State
SUNY Mohawk Valley CC
Thomas Jefferson University
University of Arizona
University of Colorado
University of Colorado Denver
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
University of Delaware
University of Denver
University of Illinois – Chicago
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
University of Massachusetts Boston
University of Massachusetts Lowell
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
University of Missouri
University of Nevada at Las Vegas
University of Northern Colorado
University of Pittsburgh
University of Sciences Philadelphia
University of Tampa
University of Toledo
Virginia Union University
West Virginia State University
Western Colorado Community College
Western Illinois University
William Paterson University
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester State University
For 52 of the 443 SEA students currently enrolled in college, intercollegiate squash provides competition and camaraderie, offering student-athletes opportunities to meet new people, travel, improve their game, and connect with old teammates from their home cities.
In the 2018-2019 season, students from 11 programs are on the roster at 31 colleges and universities across the country. Where are they playing? St. Lawrence University tops the list with 10 SEA players on the men’s and women’s teams. The Connecticut College program boasts a close second with nine players, Hobart and William Smith with seven, Mount Holyoke with six, and Bates, Wesleyan, and Dickinson each hosting three players.
“This is my second year on the team, and it’s been great!” notes Genesis Lara Granados, who plays alongside two fellow CitySquash alums at Mount Holyoke. “Mount Holyoke has always had a very diverse team, and is very welcoming of SEA students.” Lara Granados plays No. 9 and helped the Lyons edge out Wesleyan in a five game match earlier this year.
CitySquash’s Michael Kelly is one of the network’s leading men’s players, on the No. 12 ranked St. Lawrence squad. “I think that being part of the St. Lawrence men’s squash team has allowed me to grow not only as an athlete, but also as an active member of our community,” Kelly says. “One of the best aspects of being on the team has been my friendships with teammates from all over the world. This special opportunity has introduced me to new languages, cultures, and different perspectives that have shaped me into a well-rounded individual.”
Hector Rivera of Hamilton College caught up with Squash Haven friends and teammates earlier this fall when they took on Connecticut College. “Graduating from Squash Haven I knew that, eventually, I’d run into my old teammates sometime in the season” Rivera says, “but I did not expect the reunion I had when Hamilton played Connecticut College. I played two matches against Michael Rodriguez and David from Squash Haven and got to see four other old teammates who now attend that school. Easily one of the best/more wholesome memories from the season so far.”
Four of the 52 students playing collegiate squash are captains of their teams. “It really has been quite a journey now that we’re finishing up our season next week,” notes Kevin Le, a senior at Wesleyan from San Diego’s Access Youth Academy. “As captain, I’ve enjoyed seeing the growth and development of my teammates and how much they’ve improved over the season.”
Since SquashBusters’ first graduating class entered college in 2002, 154 students — 19% of all alumni — from our member programs have played college squash.
In January, Squash Urbano Colombia, one of five international affiliates in the SEA network, welcomed the Harvard men’s and women’s squash teams for seven memorable days in Cartagena. ”It was a great learning experience on and off the court,” says Esteban Espinal, Executive Director of SUC. “For our players to be able to train and play with the best college players in the U.S and some of the top juniors in the world was really unbelievable!” The Harvard squads are both ranked No. 1 in the country.
The Colombia program has 55 team members of middle and high school age, 10 of whom play in the country’s top division. Over the course of the year, students receive over 300 hours each of supervised academic and squash instruction.
The trip proved to be an impactful experience for all involved. “Our week in Colombia was like no other in my 8+ years at Harvard,” recalls head coach Mike Way. “As a coach who thrives on passion, the program in Cartagena is second to none. The kids were excited and engaged throughout and the Harvard teams were blown away by the skill level and coachability of the group. Esteban and his team do a fantastic job on and off the court. A program to model after if ever there was one.”
“It was an unbelievable experience getting to know the kids and seeing how much fun they had on and off the court,” says Timmy Brownell, a junior on the Harvard men’s team. “Many of them aspire to come to the United States one day, and I can’t wait to see who they grow up to become. It was an unforgettable trip for the team, and we can only hope that our time in Cartagena had as much of an impact on the kids as it did on us.”
Click below to hear Head Coach Mike Way and Executive Director Esteban Espinal discuss what it takes to be a Harvard athlete.
Connect. Support. Explore. Lead. These four pillars are at the core of Campus Connections, the SEA program that helps college students build community and create a foundation of support on their campuses. With 96% of SEA’s high school graduates matriculating to college, many of these to the same schools, SEA has a unique opportunity to bring people together and provide support. As Liliana Vasquez of Connecticut College notes “attending college with other students from SEA has allowed me to adapt to my environment quicker.”
This year, four schools with seven or more network students are participating in the program, with six student representatives elected as “Campus Leaders.” At Connecticut College, Hobart and William Smith, Mount Holyoke, and St. Lawrence, five students are leading the charge – Squash Haven’s Denise Bonilla, David Aldaz, Lessly Portillo, Alex Matamoros Infante, and CitySquash’s Stacy Maceda. These leaders organize activities and share resources with their fellow students, capitalizing on both the physical proximity and shared interests of the group.
“One of the biggest highlights of my campus leader experience have been getting to know my fellow students on a personal level, especially those who’ve come from different SEA Member Programs than my own,” shares Denisa Bonilla of Connecticut College. ”I loved learning about their different urban squash experiences, as well as their goals for college and their aspirations for the future.”
The 39 students participating in Campus Connections gather for meals, squash hits on court, and social events. “When I was a first year there was a similar program and I really felt like it helped me and I wanted to provide help to those who need it,” says Lessly Portillo. “I am able to see the girls almost everyday because they are on the squash team. It is fun being able to see them play matches and how they support one another.” Portillo hosted a movie night with four other girls at Mount Holyoke this fall.
The program proves to be rewarding for both leaders and younger participants. “I greatly enjoy working with younger college students, and was even a mentor my sophomore year at Conn through a club called ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, and Native American) in which I was a mentor to a student of color/first generation student in college,” shares Campus Leader David Aldaz.
In addition to creating a strong social network, SEA hopes that Campus Connections will specifically provide support for our college students who identify as first-generation or low-income students of color. “I have conversations now with the group I lead about something as simple as how to drop/add a class to their schedule,” says Stacy Maceda. “I have helped some of the individuals in my group with figuring out what office to go to for career assistance or how to get the best deals on campus to get back home. Overall I enjoy helping out the students because I know how much it meant to me to have someone I can look for help in a new environment.”
SEA’s Sonia Gonzalez, Director of Educational Partnerships and Alumni, works closely with the campus leaders, and traveled to Connecticut College and HWS in December to connect in person. “During the visits I was able to chat with students about everything from their program experiences to how they were gearing up for finals,” Gonzalez recalls. “I left those visits feeling excited and inspired.”
With a Bachelor’s degree under her belt, two summer internships at Teach for America, and experience as both a student and volunteer of SEA programs, Santa Barbara School of Squash (SBSOS) alumna Daisy Altamirano’s passion for education is evident. Daisy is the 2019 recipient of the William E. Simon, Jr. Service and Leadership Award, which gives one graduating college student each year the opportunity to travel abroad and volunteer at an international affiliate of SEA. Established in 2016 in honor of SEA’s founding board chair Bill Simon, this award highlights the importance of leadership and service among SEA students, while also deepening ties between our U.S.-based and international programs. Daisy will travel to Squash Urbano Colombia in Cartagena this April.
A first-generation college student, Daisy graduated from UC Berkeley last December, and will be a Teach for America Corps member teaching at a middle school in the Bay Area beginning this summer. Daisy enrolled in SBSOS in seventh grade and went on to volunteer at SquashDrive in college. “She immediately felt connected to our sister program, volunteer-tutoring with the local students there and felt the joy of giving back to a similar organization that gave her joy and assistance during her childhood and adolescence. For a college student to immediately search out a program to serve at upon arriving shows selflessness and altruism,” says Rebecca Walsh, Program Director at SBSOS. “Working at SquashDrive and being an urban squash student has truly inspired me to seek a career in education,” Daisy explains.
When applying for the opportunity, Daisy was certain Colombia would be her destination of choice. “I am a Latina that is fluent in Spanish and being able to communicate with many of the students there fluently would allow me to get the most from the experience. I also want to expand my worldview and learn about Latinx and other ethnicities’ experiences with education and squash,” she says.
“Receiving the Simon Award is a testament to Daisy’s academic achievements, strong leadership qualities and dedication to service and volunteer work,” notes Sonia Gonzalez, SEA’s Director of Educational Partnerships & Alumni. “SEA is excited to have Daisy serve as a squash program ambassador and take part in an inspiring visit to one of our international affiliate programs in 2019.”
Daisy will be the second Simon award recipient to travel to Cartagena. Yan Liu of Access Youth Academy volunteered at the Colombia program in 2017, and has shared some tips and words of wisdom to prep Daisy. Last year, Squash Haven’s Rafiatou Ouro-Aguy traveled to Egoli Squash in South Africa.
CitySquash’s Chris Fernandez Reflects on His Role as the Network’s First Head Coach of a College Program
In the fall of 2018, Chris Fernandez was named head squash coach at Dickinson, becoming the college’s second coach and the first alumnus of an SEA program to hold such a post. Fernandez joined CitySquash as a sixth grader in 2004, the program’s third year of operation. In the years since, he earned a scholarship to Canterbury School, graduated from St. Lawrence University as a two sport athlete (baseball being his second sport of choice), spent a summer coaching in Detroit at Racquet Up, and served for three years as CitySquash’s Director of Squash in the Bronx.
Tim Wyant, founding Executive Director of CitySquash and current head of SEA, has known Fernandez since he joined the program in sixth grade. “He has been a trailblazer, pushing the boundaries of what people in our network thought possible: winning one national title after another, being a two-sport college athlete, captaining a team that reached the finals of the college nationals. He has a generous spirit, is ferociously competitive, and is a person of integrity.”
In his first season at Dickinson, Fernandez is thrilled to be leading the program and looks forward to its growth. He shared some reflections and thoughts with us.
How has your CitySquash background prepared your for this new role?
My experience in coaching at CitySquash and at other programs during the summers have played a big role in preparing me to be in the situation I am. For starters, the SEA experience and my time at CitySquash helped me fall in love with the game and all the small, tedious work that goes into trying to take your game to the next level. My experience at SEA also helped me value the importance of patience and learning to work with all sorts of players.
What about this opportunity has you most excited?
The opportunity to have a program under my leadership, that itself excites me. I am also looking forward to creating something that’s lasting and memorable. This program is only in its 5th year. In other words, it’s new and exciting here and I want to be able to make this program a staple in college squash ranks.
What are the challenges of coaching at the collegiate level?
Practicing five to six days a week can become and feel like a boring routine. Finding new ways to incorporate new drilling ideas and practices is something I spend a lot of time on. Understanding the principle of student-athletes and finding ways to make sure my players are not only contributing on the athletic front but also as students and as members of the community we have here in Carlisle is something I focus on a lot.
Tell us about your experience working with players from SEA programs.
We have three urban squashers in the program. Alanis Perez, Squash Haven alumna, serves as the women’s team captain. She’s been great to coach, always on time and we are in constant communication. We also have Oosie Imoro and Frederick Cisse, two Squash Haven alumni, who are also varsity soccer stars here. They have been nothing short of great to coach, both very responsible, hard-working young men who understand the expectations and come to work day in and day out. As the level of squash increases and improves in the SEA network, I would love to have as many as possible of course. I look forward to providing an avenue and a place where SEA players are welcomed and can contribute from both the academic and squash side of things.