Ira (in blue) with three top squash players—Ryan Thompson (left), Zack Wilkinson and Gustav Detter (far right)

Here is a true, amusing story that proves practice doesn’t always make you perfect right away…at least not for me.

I went to a squash clinic this morning and hit with four players. First was a warm up on the only court with a single—it was 10-year-old Zack Wilkinson. I held my own. Then the coach of the Millbrook School in upstate New York, Greg Reiss, who had arranged the clinic, took me on for points. I did ok, won a few, returned a lot. Then I hit with my friend, Gustav Detter, one of two top squash players there for an exhibition who was 4th best in college squash his senior year at Trinity. (You can read about him below.) It’s a joy to hit with an athlete of his caliber. Just returning a shot and making a point is exquisitely satisfying.

After taking a breather, while Greg stepped onto the court with Gustav, I asked Zack if he wanted to play a game. I was finally ready for him, and watching three days of Trinity winning the nationals last weekend assured me that I could play better in competition. I had the wisdom that comes from watching the national champions and their opponents. I had new strategies. And I had just rehearsed with two superior athletes.

I lost 5-11. Blonde smiling Zack is three fourths my size, and one seventh my age, but he could place the ball too far away. Thank goodness I have no pride in these matters.

Then we watched Gustav play professional Ryan Thompson from Namibia, South Africa, who coaches at St. George’s School in Newport, RI and has ranked as high as #136 in the world. Gustav recently won the Swedish Nationals for the first time and was in really good shape. The match was sensational. Though less than 50 people were in attendance, the level of play was breathtaking. The athletes were holding nothing back. It came down to a fifth game, and Gustav was in danger of losing. Twice he faced match points, but held on and won 13-11. He told me later, when I asked, that the pressure does not bother him, because he has been in that position so often.

After everyone left, I practiced until a Millbrook School sophomore arrived. We hit for half an hour and then we played one game. I lost 7-11. A real improvement. Felipe Pantle is there as a result of the City Squash program. He is a very strong player. He is 15 years old. I have a long way to go…

Now here is some exciting background about Gustav:

A four-time All-American, Detter left Trinity with a 65-11 career record. Detter played most of the 2009 season at the number 2 position, compiling a 17-2 record and finishing the season ranked number four in the country.

As a member of the Trinity squad, Detter was a four-time national team champion. He also played a pivotal role in keeping Trinity’s eleven-year winning streak alive. In their 2006 dual match against Princeton, the Bantams came into the final match tied 4-4 with the Tigers. Detter, then a freshman, was playing number 1 and faced Yasser El Halaby, arguably the greatest men’s college squash player in US history, in the deciding match. El Halaby won the first two games 9-7, 9-7, and brought Detter to match ball at 8-6 in the third. Detter dug deep, saved four match balls, and won the game in tie-breakers, 10-8. He won the next two games decisively, taking the match and saving Trinity’s streak. By the time Detter won his fourth team title with the Bantams in 2009, the streak had reached 202 victories…Last week, I was at Harvard for the 2011 national tournament . Trinity won that for the 13th consecutive year, and the streak is now at 244 straight wins.

Now check out this excerpt from Brett’s Squash Blog.

Last month near Stockholm, the professional squash association held the biggest tournament in Scandinavia. Playing in the event was Rasmus Hult, a squash professional based in Stockholm who is ranked 199 in the world. He is a good player with Viking strength but did not progress past the first round, much to the dismay of the local fans. He was still likely recovering from the prior weekend when he played in finals of the Swedish Nationals in Stockholm, open only to Swedish citizens. Rasmus was playing in front of his home crowd in Stockholm and expected to win the event again, as he has previously. He does not travel much for PSA events but does like to rise to the occasion and has previously beaten top 100 players in the world when representing Sweden. He was the reigning national champion, is very patriotic and had the support of the majority of the fans at the event. Basically, he owns this tournament.

Unfortunately for him, a young Swedish man named Gustav Detter, who recently graduated from Trinity College in the U.S. was in town on ‘vacation’ and thought he would stop by the courts. Not good news for Rasmus, the local hero. Gustav Detter won 3-1 in the finals and thereby claimed his first National crown, at his first attempt.

Detter has always been unavailable in February (he has been working hard and prior to that playing in college matches), so had never played in the Swedish Nationals. Perhaps everyone back home had kind of forgotten about him. Well, not anymore. He is now the Swedish National Champion. Not a bad feat for an amateur squash player based in New York. This is testament to the high standard of squash in U.S. colleges. If you have read the book ‘Run to the Roar’ you will know the name Gustav Detter. You will also know that Princeton is the venue of one of the greatest college matches in recent memory. It is the site where Gustav immortalized himself in Trinity College folklore (read the book).