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Squash a fixture for Blue Storm

Mercersburg Academy students participate in little-known sport.

Mercersburg Academy students participate in little-known sport.

February 17, 2003|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - They are one of a kind in the Tri-State area.

Thirty boys and girls rigorously and genuinely go about their business at Mercersburg Academy playing squash, a long-time sport offered at the school.

Eight courts, each approximately 21-by-32 feet in size, are nestled within the confines of the Nolde Gymnasium complex.

Squash is not your everyday, well-known sport, but those wearing the blue and white at Mercersburg have taken the game seriously as an alternative vehicle during winter months.

The game is one part racquetball - played indoors in a confined four-walls venue - and one part tennis - requiring the need to be physically fit with constant demanding movements. The racquets are a bit smaller than tennis, and a squash ball is about eight ounces and needs to be warmed up to get proper reaction off the racquet and the walls.

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Coach Chip Vink has 16 boys and 14 girls in competition at Mercersburg within the Mid-Atlantic Prep League.

Vink, a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., is a 1973 alum of Mercersburg Academy and has been at the school for 22 years, coaching squash for the last 12.

"The sport is not played in too many places around here, but it is very big in the Baltimore and Washington areas," Vink said. "More and more private schools are starting the sport and I think it is going to take off in the Mid-Atlantic region."

It's been taking off for a long time at Mercersburg and the school has tentative plans to revamp its squash courts into more modern facilities that will include fiberglass walls and courts that will fit within international rules.

"In some respects, squash is a more rigorous sport than tennis," Vink said. "You get a real aerobic-type workout on the court making cutbacks. You've got to be physically fit."

Vink said some people who play tennis think squash hurts their the game, but he disagrees, noting that former tennis stars Ivan Lendl and Martina Navratilova both have squash courts in their homes.

"It's about footwork with the racquet," Vink said.

Two Mercersburg players - Ripal Shah and Whit Perkins - received All-MAPL honors last weekend at the league tournament in Pottstown, Pa.

A senior from Bethesda, Md., Perkins never played the game until he was a sophomore. He is also a member of the track and golf teams.

"Playing squash is something to do to keep busy in the winter," said Perkins. "It involves a lot of training and coach thought I had some ability so I tried it. I read where squash is the second most physically demanding sport after water polo."

Shah and her twin sister, Rachna, of Summersville, W.Va., can agree on at least two things: One can beat the other on any given day and they have enjoyed participating in squash.

"We both play tennis and were looking for another racquet-type sport," Ripal said. "It's a harder game with boundaries and more shot variety. You have to be strong and have endurance to go 60 to 90 minutes."

The twin sisters will head to college next fall - Ripal to Duke University and Rachna to either Yale or Penn - to continue their academics, and hopefully continue playing squash.

If Rachna elects to go to Yale and play squash, she'll have Mercersburg Academy's most famous squash alumnus as her coach.

As a student at Mercersburg from 1975-78, Mark Talbott was about to embark on the pinnacle of his career. From 1983 through 1995, Talbott was ranked as the No. 1 squash singles player in the world. Eight times, he earned world Player of the Year honors.

"I was fortunate to have some success in high school and that was because of Bo Burbank," Talbott said, referring to the long-time former Mercersburg squash coach.

Vink had an opportunity to watch Talbott play in his prime and said he was the "Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe playing in a major tennis tournament."

Four Mercersburg players are from the Tri-State area, including junior Katrina Honigs of Hagerstown.

"I never really heard of the game, but my dad played in college at the Naval Academy, and he suggested I try it when I was a sophomore," said Honigs, who also plays volleyball. "He gave me a good idea of what it was like and I like it a lot."

Other players from the Tri-State are Kim Ngeow and Ian McClintick of Chambersburg and Matt Rutherford of Mercersburg.

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