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Shona Kerr, head men’s and women’s squash coach and assistant women’s tennis coach, says the opportunity to help the Wesleyan Squash program reach its potential is among her goals as a new coach.
 
Posted 03.01.06

Squash, Tennis Coach Knows What all the Racket is About

Q: When were you hired as Wesleyan’s head men’s and women’s squash coach and assistant women’s tennis coach?

A: July was when I first set foot on Wesleyan’s campus as head squash coach and assistant tennis coach. I spent the summer in and out of the office, preparing for the season, moving to Middletown, coaching at some squash camps and starting the recruiting of new players for the Wesleyan Squash Team.

Q: How similar are tennis and squash?

A: All racket sports have similarities and differences. In tennis you face your opponent and take it in turns to hit a ball over a net. In squash you take it in turns to hit a ball against a wall and share the same space. I often tell people squash is like tennis we just replaced the net with a wall. The squash ball is much smaller and the racket is lighter and unlike tennis we have four walls that we can use to play different angle shots.

Q: Is squash an easy game to pick up?

A: It is an easy game to pick up and yes, anyone can do this. The principle is very simple, you hit a ball against a wall. Most people are able to do this very quickly and get rallying very quickly which is when the game starts to be fun. Unlike tennis you do not need to go a very long way to pick up balls and it is much easier to keep the ball in play so there is very little wasted exercise time on a squash court and the rallies can be much longer. Once you are able to rally with an opponent you can begin to strategize and put the ball in difficult places to reach creating the work out aspect. Some say squash is physical chess and often the strategic mental side to the sport completely takes your mind of the physical effort making for a pleasurable alternative to the treadmill.

Q: Prior to Wesleyan, you coached squash at Wellesley College for four years, finishing with a 44-40 record. Why did you come to Wesleyan?

A: The new facility is obviously gorgeous with eight international size courts, a big step up from my previous position where we had six American narrow squash courts. Aside from this material factor the opportunity to take the Wesleyan Squash program and help it reach its potential was a big attraction. Previously I worked with just a women’s team so to do both men and women was a big draw also.

Q: Prior to coaching at Wellesley, where did you coach?

A: I coached the Cardiff University men’s and women’s teams as well as teaching privately in clubs and assisting with some junior level county squash. These were all part time positions and one of the big reasons to come to the United States was that there are actually full time positions in college coaching unlike in the U.K. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the U.S. in this capacity so everything about the transition was positive to me. The university and college system is very different in the U.S. and the approach to varsity teams is a world apart from my own experiences so that took a while to get a handle on.

Q: What was the worst part about your transition to the U.S.?

A: The most tedious and stressful part of the move is gaining work authorization as anyone from overseas who is working here will tell you. The work itself has been a pleasure.

Q: As a player, you were a member of the Welsh University’s team from 1996-99, and a member of the UWIC team, which won the Women's Welsh Premiere League. Not to mention, you were a national squash age-group champion for under-35 in 2004 and 05, and also played for the Boston Ladies "A" Team which won the Howe Cup. Do you still play competitively?

A: I definitely still consider myself an active player and hope to do so for a long while to come. I have actually won U.S. National Championships in the under 35 and 5.0 skill level, the highest women’s skill level, categories for the past two years. They are only letting women enter one skill level this year so I will be attempting to retain the 5.0 skill level title for the 3rd consecutive year next month. As a junior I played for England at the under 19 and under 16 levels, this is one of the achievements I am most proud of. Most of my contemporaries are now very successful professional squash players.

Q: You serve as vice-president of the College Squash Association. Tell me a bit about this association and its purpose.

A: I will be moving into the second year of my two-year term as vice-president of the College Squash Association. The association basically oversees the running of college squash in the U.S. The NCAA governs other college sports but squash is not yet in this category. Women’s squash is an NCAA emerging sport and looks like it will gain this status in the next five years. Until then the association is a group of volunteer coaches who attempt to make sure competition is fair and that promote the development of college squash.

Q: As adjunct assistant professor of physical education, what classes are you teaching?

A: Squash – as you would guess, although I have taught golf, sailing and tennis prior to Wesleyan. I also run a squash course for the community as part of the Adult Fitness program.

Q: In squash and tennis, what lessons or skills do you stress?

A: I try and instill the value of commitment and that is to yourself, your teammates, your coach and your school. At college we play as a team so the choices you make will affect yourself, your team, and ultimately your school. There are many life skills that parallel to the world of squash and include aspects such as emotional control, dealing with pressure situations, being fair, strategizing, pushing and breaking through physical barriers to name just a few. This is in addition to the actual skill level and physical abilities that need to be developed in this sport.

Q: Where did you attend college and what are your degrees in?

A: I earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Cardiff University in 1998 and am pursuing a Masters Degree here at Wesleyan. I also hold a Level III advanced coaching certification from the England Squash Association.

Q: Men’s Squash ended it’s season in Feb. 19 with an 11-15 record, but still placed third of eight teams in "D" Division, 27th place nationally. Who were the top individuals of the team this year?

A: We were placed 3rd in our division but have finished the season ranked 26 as the runners up of the division were Vassar, a team we beat twice in the past few weeks. Rochester was the only team we lost to in that group and the winners of the division. It would be hard for me to single out individuals as we play and compete as a team. Everybody put in good performances and when we all achieved that on the same day the team got some great wins. Evan Lodge was invaluable at the top of the line up and always rose to the competition. J.Z. Golden was the team motivator and lead from the number 6 team position.

Q: And what about the women’s team who placed 24th nationally?

A: The women’s team moved up a division this year from the “D” to the “C” flight, no mean achievement. Win-Loss records don’t always reflect things like this and we played many top-level teams to get to this place. Again a team achieved this achievement with Senior Captain Alex Loh truly growing into her position as a leader and first year, Brittany Delany flying the flag at the very difficult number one position. First year, Andrea Giuliano, at the number eight spot, inspired the team with her “no lose” attitude.

Q: Has this been a challenging season, being a new coach?

A: The challenge this year was to create a varsity program attitude and bring together a group of individuals and mold them into a team that works together, supports each other and respects one another. No individual can improve solely by himself or herself, so establishing this environment was very important. Next year I am looking forward to building on this and introducing new players to the group that will enhance these qualities and improves the playing and training standard of the teams.

Q: What are your thoughts on Wesleyan’s new Rosenbaum Squash Center?

A: It has made a lot of rival schools very envious and I cannot speak highly enough about the facility. The space and the layout are excellent not to mention that it is fully air-conditioned for summer play. It means we are able to host a lot more home matches and events, run camps and that Wesleyan can attract aspiring junior squash players that are serious about their sport

Q: I understand you’ve taught at several squash camps. Can you tell me about these?

A: Squash camps are the same as any other sport camp that school children would attend in the summer. I did direct a summer sport/squash camp on behalf of Squashbusters, which was entirely different. The camp was a sport camp for local school children between 8- and 14-years-old. It was free to attend and each participant played squash every day alongside other sports and life skills sessions. It was by far the toughest camp I have ever worked at and in hindsight the most satisfying.

Q: What is Squashbusters?

A: Squashbusters is an inner city after school program that helps sections of Boston’s youth with their school studies and teaches them about life through the game of squash. They draw from a couple of schools in the Roxbury area and then compete as a high school and middle school team. There are a number of these urban youth squash programs springing up in the U.S. This year’s number three men’s team member, Lonnie Gibbs, came through Streetsquash – the New York equivalent to Squashbusters. Lonnie is the second Urban squash program member to play at the collegiate level and I’m certain there will be many more.

Q: In addition to squash and tennis, what other sports do you enjoy playing or watching? What are your hobbies or interests aside from sports?

A: Most recently I have been hooked to watching the Winter Olympics and am looking forward to the upcoming World Cup Soccer Championships this year. I like to watch any sport at its best and watching individuals achieving excellence. I like to play golf when I get time, listening to any kind of live music as relaxation and travel whenever I can squeeze it in my schedule.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor