Saints Squash

An International Expansion

Beth Spadaccini ’11

When Chris Abplanalp took over the men’s and women’s squash programs prior to the 2004-05 season, they had a total of three international student-athletes between the two teams. All three were from Zimbabwe. 

This year, the men’s program alone has 13 international student-athletes, representing six countries, including eight players from Cairo, Egypt. 

“When I took over, I quickly realized that most successful programs had a good number of international students on their roster,” Abplanalp says. “At that time, the talent pool in the U.S. wasn’t what it is today, especially with players competing at the highest level. There are a number of very good players out there that want to come to the U.S. to continue their education.”

Over the past 13 seasons, Abplanalp has made a number of international recruiting trips to Europe and India, in addition to scouring North America for the game’s top talent. As a result, St. Lawrence has become a recognizable name in the international squash community with success in recent years, particularly on the men’s side. This has helped to put the program, and the institution, quite literally on the map and attract high-caliber players from around the world. 

In 2013, Amr Khalifa ’16 was the Saint’s first College Squash Association (CSA) individual national champion. Khalifa also finished as the national runner-up in 2014. As a team, the men have finished four of the last five seasons ranked in the top five nationally by the CSA, including a second place finish in 2014-15 when they advanced to the national championship match.

This February, the Saints won their fifth consecutive Liberty League Championship and seventh conference title overall. The women’s program, which garnered the CSA’s Most Improved Award in 2014, also came away with the conference championship this season, winning the first title the league has awarded in eight seasons and the second in program history.

However, according to Abplanalp, that notoriety presents additional recruiting challenges, especially when competing with top universities. “There aren’t a lot of players slipping through the cracks,” he said. “We’re all after the same kids, whether they’re from the U.S., India, Japan, or Egypt. It’s literally a global market of players that everyone is competing for.” 

Egypt, specifically Cairo, has been a veritable hotbed of talent the for Saints, bringing Khalifa as well as recent All-Americas Ahmed Bayoumy ’18, Moustafa Bayoumy ’18, and Mohamed El Gawarhy ’20 to Canton. Hussien Elrayes ’18, Kareem Elrayes ’21, Youssef Fikry ’20, Karim Ibrahim ’20, and Belal Nawar ’20 also hail from Cairo. 

“Egypt has a lot of good squash players,” Abplanalp said. “If you look at the top-10 world ranking in any age group you will see a lot of Egyptians. The same is true in the college game. More high-level squash players are looking to hold off on playing professionally and get their education first, which hasn’t always been the case.”

While being visible in the international community through recruiting trips to top tournaments is certainly important, the reputation St. Lawrence and Abplanalp have built with regard to the full student-athlete experience on campus seems to be a major factor in getting players to commit to the North Country.

“The best kids from around the world play in all the top tournaments, so they all know each other,” he explained. “If they get here and have a great experience – and most do – they go home and tell their friends.” 

Of course, once they’re on campus there is a new set of challenges. 

“It’s not easy to take students that speak different languages and come from different religious and cultural backgrounds and make it work, but that’s what makes this program so unique,” Abplanalp explained. “To watch the students work through these challenges and find common ground through open-mindedness and mutual respect is really special.”

11 Athletic Programs

Men’s squash is one of  11 athletics programs at St. Lawrence with at least one international student on its roster.

59 Student-Athletes representing 19 Nations

The department had 59 student-athletes representing 19 nations for the 2017-18 academic year with athletes hailing from: Belgium, Botswana, Canada, China, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The Saints' men's and women's squash teams showing off their Liberty League Championships titles from this season.