Excerpt from A History of Squash at The Episcopal Academy

But it was clear that the 2008-09 boys team would be serious contenders to win it all, especially in light of the fact that the new campus in Newtown Square opened in September 2008. Its 10 brand-new glass-back-wall softball courts with “sprung” floors (to provide extra “give”) constituted a squash paradise and were night-and-day different from the obsolete 78-year-old Jefferson Shiel courts, with their freezing temperatures, warped and slippery floors, minimal and cramped viewing, hardball dimensions, dim lighting and chicken-wire netting to keep errant balls from floating into the adjoining court. Named the Sarah C. Madeira Squash Pavilion in honor of the woman who (with partner Ann Page) won the inaugural U. S. Women’s Doubles in 1933, the squash arena had a wing all to itself on the second floor of the Dixon Gymnasium. Ms. Madeira was the bridge to six generations of Episcopal Academy attendees, beginning with her father, Lewis Nielson, a member of EA’s Magna Carta Society, and extending to Caroline Madeira, Class of 2022, her great-great-grand-daughter.

   There was also a new person in charge of the entire squash operation, namely Joe Russell, who as a teenager growing up in England had been in the same group of juniors as the multiple-time World and British Open champion Nick Matthew. Russell frequently had attended the junior squash camps that Bryan Patterson used to run in England during the summers, and at one stage or another both Louisa and Colby Hall had stayed with his family when they came over from the U. S. to participate in those camps. When the new facility opened, the administration was convinced, with 10 courts now in play rather than only four, that someone was needed to organize and handle the scheduling for the squash programs at the middle and high school levels and oversee Physical Education classes, as well as give lessons and act not only as the squash COACH for the students, but also as the squash PRO for the residents of the community who were willing to pay for the right to use the courts when the students were in class. Russell worked with Gray and Lacerda on the girls side and Brian Callahan on the boys side to allocate court time and coordinate their respective schedules, and he did plenty of coaching on behalf of both teams as well, both in practice and in dual meets and tournaments.

   As had been the case with the girls team two years earlier in the aftermath of the 2005-06 season, the boys team had gotten just enough of a taste of the possibilities that lay before them in 2008 to be hungry for a championship in 2008-09. Harrity, who had won a second straight National Junior crown as a junior in 2008 (and would win it for a third time in his final year of eligibility in 2009), had become indisputably the best high school player in the land. The formidable contingent behind him consisted of Brandon McLaughlin, ranked third in the Under-19’s, at No. 2, Andrew McGuinness, Trevor’s brother and ranked in the top five in the Under-17 category, at No. 3, Xander Greer, Logan’s brother, at No. 4, with Tyler Odell, John Steele and McLaughlin’s younger brother Devin, an 8th-grader, at No. 7.

   Everything, from the Madeira Courts, to having the best junior in the country, to their revamped coaching staff, to the fact that Penn Charter would be weaker without the Domenicks and Callis, appeared to be pointing in EA’s favor --- until the opening salvo of the season, when the Brunswick squad came down to Philadelphia on a two-day tour during which it played Penn Charter, Chestnut Hill, Episcopal and Haverford, and returned to New England after having gone four for four, including a 6-3 thumping of the perhaps over-confident and definitely under-prepared Churchmen right in their brand-new home (for some reason, the meet went nine players deep, even though all official high-school dual meets and team tournaments were based on seven players). The loss, which could have been deflating, instead was galvanizing, as the chastened players went through the entire undefeated season that followed with a sense of determination and purpose that might not have been present in as full a measure had the early-season loss to Brunswick not occurred.


   Each player worked with Russell to address weaknesses that had presented themselves in their respective matches, with an eye towards resolving them and turning them into strengths. As one example, McGuinness had hit too many loose balls, allowing his opponent, Spencer Hurst, to body him even further out of position and convert the openings for winners. In their subsequent on-court sessions, Russell worked hard with McGuinness on making his drives tighter and on establishing better front-court position. In the car ride up to New Haven for the High School championships, McGuinness had been in the same vehicle with Harrity and the McLaughlin brothers, the three Episcopal players who had won their matches against Brunswick, and Brandon McLaughlin had forcefully made the point that “the championship is right here in this car,” meaning that, if the four of them could all win their matches in a possible rematch with Brunswick in the final, that would be enough to clinch the outcome.

  The Bruins, as the Brunswick team was known, had some painful memories to expunge of their own. Winners of seven of the last nine New England Interscholastic titles, they had, however, lost the 2008 edition of that tournament to St. Paul’s, and their loss to Penn Charter in the 2008 U. S. High School final had marked the fourth straight year in which they had reached the final without ever having emerged victorious. They also were unhappy about being seeded second behind Episcopal after having handily beaten the Churchmen in their own building in November, and lodged a challenge to that decision to U. S. Squash official Dent Wilkens, the Tournament Chairman. Wilkens explained that the seeding was determined by a formula that took the team members’ individual rankings into account, and he refused to change the seeding.

   This somewhat contentious backdrop aside, both teams strode to the final, which was held in front of an overflowing crowd composed mostly of Brunswick supporters who had made the relatively short trek from Greenwich to New Haven. Dave McNeely, 13 years removed from his own sparkling EA career during the mid-1990’s, was on site that weekend to assist Coaches Russell and Callahan and to offer support and dispense between-games advice. Throughout the season, he had made an attempt to stop by the courts and play practice games with the team members at least once per week. The rotation on the two courts on which the final was played specified that the Nos. 5 and 7 players would compete in the opening shift. As it happened, the Episcopal players in those positions were the team’s two youngest players, namely No. 5 Tyler Odell and No. 7 Devin McLaughlin, who could easily have been intimidated by the vocal and heavily pro-Brunswick crowd, especially when each ran into trouble in his match. Odell lost his first game to Cooper Briggs (whose father, Peter Briggs, had been elected to the U. S. Squash Hall of Fame a few years earlier), who had beaten him in the scrimmage the prior autumn, and McLaughlin found himself in a fifth game with John Dudzik. A Brunswick sweep of those two positions, or even a split, would have given the New Englanders major momentum heading into the remaining matches.

   But both Philadelphia youngsters came through and decisively closed out the last games of their respective matches, thereby administering a body blow from which Brunswick would never recover, especially given the fact that the strength of the team was viewed as lying in its exceptional depth and ability to dominate the lower portion of the lineup. “When Cooper and John lost, I knew we were in trouble,” its longtime coach Jim Stephens acknowledged afterwards. “We never lose at those spots. They were tough matches.” So were the two second-shift matches between No. 3 players Andrew McGuinness and Hurst and No. 6’s John Steele and his Brunswick opponent Jamie Davies. McGuinness, as mentioned, had had trouble coping with Hurst’s physical play when they had met in the early-season scrimmage, but in this rematch the work that he and Joe Russell had put in made him much better prepared and mentally stronger. Even after missing out on a chance to end the match in three games when he dropped a tiebreaker in the third, McGuinness knew that he was in control and he jumped out early in the close-out fourth, never looking back en route to an 11-3 win that virtually sealed Brunswick’s fate, with Harrity waiting in the wings and ready to provide the fourth point if needed.

   On the adjoining court, Steele lost the first game and fell behind 6-0 in the second against Davies. But Davies had shown a vulnerability late in crucial matches in the New England Interscholastics loss to St. Paul’s one year earlier when he let a two games to love lead get away against Jamie Wilson (who won the fifth game 9-0) in the deciding match of the weekend. That backdrop may have played a role in this five-game match as well, in which Steele took the fifth 11-8 to clinch the national championship for Episcopal. Though nicknamed “Rag Doll” by his teammates due to the way he often seemed to be flailing off-balance at the ball, Steele was a superb retriever who had an exceptional ability to score points on his tightly-angled working-boasts off either flank, and he won a number of crucial matches during his Episcopal squash career. Harrity and Brandon McLaughlin both proceeded to straight-game their opponents, and Brunswick got its only win when Parker Hurst prevailed against Xander Green at No. 4. Episcopal was denied a boys/girls double that day when its girls team, captained by Sarah Mumanachit, lost its final against Greenwich Academy 5-2, the fourth straight year in which these two teams had met in the final round of this tournament.

   Mumanachit was quiet and unassuming, but Coach Lacerda described her as “a great team member and leader.” Her parents owned various Thai restaurants in the area. During those years there was a schedule for which parents/families would bring snacks for each match throughout the season, and when it was her family’s turn, her parents would bring dumplings to matches, which were always a huge hit with the players.  At the end of the season, she wrote a letter to her teammates congratulating them on winning the Inter-Ac and MASA championships and reaching the final of the High School Nationals, and expressing the hope that all of them “will continue to work hard in not only squash but also in the other passions in your life with, as I always say, no regrets.” Mumanachit certainly had no cause to regret anything about her post-Episcopal squash career, as she then joined her older sister Sandra on the Harvard women’s team that won the 2010 national college team championship. She would also be part of Crimson title runs in both 2012 and 2013, when she and Kingshott served as co-captains.


   Afterwards, Coach Russell was widely praised for imbuing “a sense of spirit, camaraderie and classiness to the team that was not matched by any other team,” according to one of the many Academy parents who had traveled to Connecticut to support the team. The parent continued,  “He instructed each player to stand up straight, dress neatly in EA attire, and act appropriately on and off the court.  No details were spared --- he even told the players to smile, speak clearly and look straight into recipients’ eyes when shaking hands with opponents, coaches, referees or others.  The boys cheered on the girls, who in turn supported the boys teams.  I heard more remarks from the parent spectators and coaches about our teams' sportsmanship and maturity than about their exceptional athleticism and talent. I am thrilled that Joe Russell's first year at EA concluded with a triumvirate wins of the Inter-Ac, MASA and US High School titles.  We could not have asked for more.  We look forward to continued success.”

   There would be plenty of that, even after Harrity graduated that spring and headed to Princeton (moving from one brother to another, i.e. from Coach Brian Callahan EA ’85 at Episcopal to Coach Bob Callahan EA ‘73 at Princeton), where he promptly ascended into the No. 1 position and embarked on a sparkling intercollegiate career in which he won the Intercollegiate Individual crown once and got to the final two other times; contributed a crucial win to Princeton 5-4 victory in the 2012 national team championship final that finally broke Trinity’s 13-year hold on that title; and became the second EA alumnus (preceded by Jim Zug ’58 in 1962) to receive the William Roper Award, “given annually to a Princeton senior man of high scholastic rank and outstanding qualities of sportsmanship and general proficiency in athletics.” Harrity then turned pro and won the U. S. Nationals in 2015 and 2016. He is currently ranked in the World top 50 and has represented the U. S. in the biennial World Team Championships in both Paderborn, Germany, in 2015 and Marseilles, France, in 2017. A profile on Harrity early in his senior year that appeared in a December 2008 issue of The Scholium ended with an assertion from him ---“Never let anyone tell you what your limits are. You can achieve anything through hard work and the only limitation is your mind” --- that exemplifies both Harrity’s squash career and the Episcopal boys team mind-set throughout that championship season.

  Indeed, part of that mind-set, and an additional motivating factor that over-rode that entire season, was a strong team-wide determination to not allow Harrity, who was revered as both a team leader and friend to all the players, to end his Episcopal career without winning a U. S. High School National championship. Years later Odell wrote, “We really wanted to win for Todd. He had achieved everything in squash and we wanted him to finish off his high school career with the one national championship he hadn’t won. Todd is an incredible team player and always helped guide out entire team through his demonstration of sportsmanship and hard work.”