The rise of St. Lawrence University’s men’s squash program among those competing in the Collegiate Squash Association cannot quite be described as meteoric, but the Saints have certainly caught the eye of the squash world. Ranked in the high teens from 2005 through 2011, the Saints broke into the Top Ten in 2013 and finished fifth in the 2014 CSA team national championships.
Chris Abplanalp, named head coach of both the men’s and women’s squads in December 2004, has been the architect not only of the men’s success, but of the women’s as well, with his 2014 team earning the CSA’s Most Improved Team Award. The winner of his sixth Liberty League Coach of the Year honor in a 10-year career, Abplanalp – who comes from a lacrosse background -- has built a national contender with his men’s team and has the women’s program positioned for a continued rise in the rankings.
“Some teams have jumped up quickly,” Abplanalp says. “We’ve been doing it a little more slowly, but we are rapidly approaching the ability to compete for a national team championship. Last year was kind of a wakeup call, because the level of play is so much better when you are playing the top five or six teams in the country. We gained the big-match experience that we needed to be in contention for a title.”
An outstanding facility and recruitment of top-flight international students have been part of the Saints’ rise to prominence. “Robie Squash Courts is a huge attraction for potential collegiate players, and it has helped us bring in some very talented people,” says Abplanalp.
Two of those talented players are Amr Khalifa ’16 and Moustafa Bayoumy ’17, both from Cairo, Egypt. Khalifa won the CSA Individual National Championship in his freshman season and made it to the finals again as a sophomore, while Bayoumy went undefeated through the dual- match season and did not lose until the semifinals of the CSA Individuals.
Abplanalp contends there might be previews of next year’s CSA Pool Trophy home matches during the upcoming season. “Certainly the potential is there for an All-SLU final,” he says. “When you have a first-year and a sophomore as two of the top four players in the game, you have to like your chances.”
India, Pakistan and Canada were the home countries of 2013-14 players, in addition to the U.S. “We have three juniors from Canada who really contributed to the jump in status of the men’s program,” says Abplanalp. “They are winning the matches in the middle of the lineup.” The squad graduated just one senior, Vir Seth of India, in May.
As to the women’s program, “We had three first-year players in our top four (in 2013-14), and some very solid recruits are interested in the program,” Abplanalp said in March. “If we get them all to come, it will be a huge jump in the level of the women’s team.” The 2013-14 team was ranked eighth in Division III's final poll.
“Match experience gained from playing the top-ranked teams is helping us become more competitive in all of our dual matches,” Abplanalp adds of the women’s program. “Both programs are in a very good place and can keep moving upward.”