Three gold medals total versus Canada’s 12 in Pan American Games history – that imbalance will fuel Team USA at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
“It’s going to be a challenge at (Canada’s) home. We are going to be definitely vying for medals,” said women’s coach Paul Assaiante.
The 2015 U.S. Pan American Squash Team consists of Amanda Sobhy, Olivia Blatchford, Natalie Grainger, Christopher Gordon, Todd Harrity and Christopher Hanson.
No. 11 in the world as of June, Sobhy will be the highest-ranking U.S. competitor and the highest ranked female in the competition. The 22-year-old finished her Harvard career undefeated and is the current national champion.
“I think that we’ll be one of the stronger teams if not the strongest, so we’ll have the target on our backs with it being in Canada,” said Sobhy. “The Canadian team will be very fired up and they’ll have the entire crowd behind them so they’ll be very strong. It’ll make for tough competition, which I’m looking forward to.”
While Canada has a historical record of winning at the Pan Ams, Sobhy, Blatchford and Grainger have beaten Canada every time they have played as a squad. The tournaments they have won include the 2010 Women’s World Team Championships, 2013 Pan American Federation Cup and the 2014 Women’s World Team Championships.
World No. 35 Blatchford (as of June) played the deciding match in Team USA’s gold-medal victory over Canada at the 2014 Pan American Olympic Festival. The 22-year-old earned bronze in the doubles and team competition at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
Grainger, the current world masters champion and former world No. 1, won gold in the singles and silver in the team competition at the 2007 Pan Am Games.
The difference between the upcoming Games and the aforementioned championships is the change in team size from four to three, a Pan Am Games standard.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Assaiante. “It’s hard when you don’t get to rest people. The teams with the younger players are heavily at an advantage. We have a mix of seasoned veterans and young players. If anyone thinks there isn’t luck in sports, they’re wrong.”
This will be the first Pan Am Games for Sobhy, Harrity and Hanson.
Leading the U.S. men, Gordon ranks as world No. 57 (as of June). The 2013 U.S. champion captured silver playing doubles and a bronze team medal at the 2011 Pan Ams.
The veteran is joined by Harrity, the current national champion and world No. 70 (as of June) and Hanson, world No. 98 (as of June). Gilly Lane, former world No. 48, coaches the men’s squad.
“I’m looking forward to being part of helping the Olympics of our sport,” said Lane about his first-time involvement in the Pan Am Games as either a player or coach. “For me, there’s nothing better than being able to represent your country.”
Because squash is not currently an Olympic sport, the Pan Ams offer the only chance for U.S. squash athletes to compete on a team sanctioned by the United States Olympic Committee.
The men’s team did not medal at the 2007 Pan Ams, but rallied for bronze in 2011, when Mexico won and Canada earned the silver. After placing 12th at the 2013 Men’s World Team Championships, Team USA outranks Mexico (16th) and closely competes with Canada (11th).
“We’ve experienced a lot of success at the last Pan Am Games to get bronze,” said Lane. “We were unlucky to lose in the semifinal to Mexico, in Mexico, playing at altitude. Playing in Canada at sea level where all three (U.S. men) have been successful – there really is no reason why we can’t challenge Canada and win.”
Two U.S. women and men will be named to contend in the individual contest, which runs from July 11-13. The doubles segment starts July 14, and the three-player team event is July 15-18. The competition will take place in Exhibition Centre Hall C in the Pan Am Park.
Kendra Hansey is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.