Squash is hot. Last season the men’s varsity placed fifth in the National Intercollegiate Squash Racket Association (NISRA) championships, its highest finish ever. This fall, a veritable armada of first-years is trying their hands at this fast-paced, challenging prep school favorite.
“You play squash too?” I recently overheard one girl shout to another on Baxter Lawn.
“It’s a movement!” shouted the second, racket tucked firmly under her arm.
Win Tangjaitrong ’02 is the poster boy for the squash movement. The modest, soft-spoken varsity co-captain earned a bronze medal with the Thai national team in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, which took place September 8-16 in Malaysia. Win’s stellar performance in this regional equivalent of the Pan-American Games places him among the most elite athletes on campus.
One of only four players to make the squad, Win helped lead the Thai national team to its first ever spot on the podium. It was a moment of sweet deliverance for Win. Two years ago, Win’s first squash appearance for Thailand ended in disaster when the team finished in last place at the SEA games. Redemption was finally at hand.
“We were on a mission to erase this nightmare,” said Win.
Consider it erased. Not only did the Thai team shock the big boys of Asian squash by taking home the bronze, they also came within inches of taking the silver. The Thai team narrowly lost a grueling best-of-three series against perennial contenders Singapore.
Win was matched up against a wily Singaporean veteran, who had come out of retirement to play in the SEA Games. This nemesis had at one time been ranked 26th in the world. Win took a somewhat pessimistic view of the match.
“To be perfectly honest,” he said. “I was a sacrificial lamb.”
If so, then he was probably the most ornery lamb men’s squash has ever seen. In a thrilling battle, the Singaporean’s experience barely held on to beat Win’s athleticism and drive. Regardless, the Thai team still accomplished its goal of earning a medal and will have a shot at revenge in the upcoming Asian Games. The entire continent will engage in an all-out battle for squash supremacy, and the shot at glory will be even greater for the rising Thai team.
Unfortunately, support for the team in Thailand is tepid at best. At worst, Thai acquaintances were downright discouraging. Thai men’s squash has never enjoyed success in the past, and a dearth of public squash facilities means few children follow in Win’s path. These factors add up to disrespect for the game in many Thai sporting circles. Win was often on the receiving end of subtle insults from those who should have been pushing for him the hardest.
“It was nasty,” said Win. “Sad to say, but there was more support here [at Williams] than there was back home.”
Win’s patriotism remained true, however. Win and two of his teammates, in a show of national pride, dyed their hair in the colors of the Thai flag (red, white and blue). Win chose red for himself, and fiery spikes have replaced his flowing black locks from last season. His two teammates did not fare so well. One had to sit through an excruciating bleach session of almost two hours to attain a color even approaching white. The second dyed his hair such a disgusting shade of sky blue that his wife refused to share the hotel bed with him until he darkened the color.
Win is now poised to enter the varsity squash season in an enviable position: both his medal and his intimidating hairdo will strike fear into the hearts of opponents. While the season does not start until November, expectations are already running high. While Win admits that a national title in the NISRA Team Championships is unrealistic, he believes the team has what it takes to improve on its already stellar fifth place finish last year.
One of the team’s main goals is to defeat Yale, which edged Williams in matches 5-4 in New Haven last season. Win and the rest of the squad are looking to turn that result around.
“Yale’s going to be tough, but it’s definitely the match we’re looking forward to,” he said.
With his valuable tournament experience, Win is definitely the man to lead the squash team to victory. He sets an example, however, through action, not words.
“He’s one of the hardest working players on the team, and is a very fair sportsman,” said Parth Doshi ’03, the team’s number two player.
That work ethic will be put to the test this season, as Win seeks to simultaneously lead his team to victory and continue squash’s giddy rise towards to the top of the sports pantheon at Williams. If his recent performance is any indication, he will pass the test with flying colors.