Michael Traikos (right) takes on Matti Siemiatycki in a squash match... to the death! No wait, just for pride. Michael lost pride.

Photo: Allan Woods

Squash team flattened by competition

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Forget other schools, the Rye squash team could barely handle Eyeopener newsie Michael Traikos

By Michael Traikos

Just how bad is Ryerson’s men’s squash team?

Going into the final tournament of the season the team was ranked last in the OUA, having won a measly two matches in four tournaments.

Still, I wanted to gauge the team’s worth first-hand, so I picked up my racket and asked Ian Finley, Ryerson’s sixth-ranked player for a friendly match.

Finley said he plays three to four times a week, regularly lifts weights and spends his off time on an exercise bike. In other words, he is extremely fit and shouldn’t have any trouble with someone who has a four-month-old beer gut.

I first learned how to play about two years ago, but the last time I stepped onto a squash court the Toronto Raptors were still trying to lock Vince Carter into a long-term contract. Since then I’ve spent more time knocking back pitchers at the bar than chasing around a seemingly bounceless ball.

After twenty minutes of missed swings, un-coordinated stumbles and more than a few choice words, a dejected Finley left the court drenched in sweat, having just lost three consecutive games.

I felt invincible.

That night I called Ryerson coach John-Paul Zyla and asked if there was a spot on the team for a journalist who just beat one of his golden boys. There wasn’t.

“That’s the problem,” said Zyla, who blames Ryerson’s embarrassingly poor performance on a lack of participation by skilled players.

“We had a couple of guys out who had never played but thought it would be cool to be on a varsity team,” he said. “The sad thing was I had to keep a number of them.”

Going into last weekend’s home tournament, the Rams were already eliminated from the playoffs, and Zyla didn’t expect much from his athletes.

“Let’s just say they will try very hard,” he jokingly said. “They’re absolute beginners.”

Zyla, who “sort of fell into being coach” when the previous coach resigned, is a former Ryerson squash player.

“I have really good memories of the squash team,” said Dumont, who was on Ryerson’s 1991-92 bronze-winning team. “What we had and what Ryerson is lacking is there isn’t someone stepping forward and motivating the team.”

The problem with Ryerson’s squash program isn’t the lack of effort by the players on the court. Rather, most of these students are simply learning the game too late to be very skilled.

Most started playing just a few years ago and are still feeling out the subtleties of the game. Compare that to Western University’s elite squad, that competes in NCAA tournaments and won the OUA Championships last year.

“These (Ryerson) guys are just recreational players,” said a sixth-ranked Western player, who learned the sport more than 10 years ago and would be Ryerson’s top player if he went to school here.

Not surprisingly Ryerson failed to win a match over the weekend.

Matti Siemiatycki, one of Ryerson’s elite players, was ranked third going into last weekend’s tournament. Having picked up the game just over a year ago, the fourth-year geography student rallied well with his opponents, and was the only Ryerson player to steal at least a game in the tournament.

“It felt like I won the Superbowl,” he said.

Siemiatycki said Ryerson’s squash program could be a lot better if someone cared enough to improve it.

“We have the best the best facilities and courts in Ontario and we practice once a week,” he said. “That’s pathetic.”

After Siemiatycki’s last match, a straight games loss to a player from McMaster, I challenged the lanky hard-hitter.

Coming off a convincing win over Finley, I confidently had Siemiatycki scrambling across the tiny court. I played drop shots when he anticipated the long ball and caught more than a few breaks when the frame of my racket connected with the ball. But then something happened. After about 20 minutes of sprinting no more than three steps at a time I got tired. With my hands resting on my knees, my chest pounding and torrents of sweat pouring from my forehead, I looked at Siemiatycki. The elf-described “gym rat,” wasn’t out of breath, but he was down two games to love. Worst of all, he looked mad.

Not wanting to take a water or rest break, the physically fit Siemiatycki had me on a leash for the next two games. He hit the ball. I followed it like a panting dog. In most cases, I dived, got up, took a wild swing, found my footing, dove once more, then pleaded for mercy. There was none, with Siemiatycki feasting on my out-of-shape body and pounding out three games in a row.

“You played good,” said Siemiatycki afterwards.

Good enough to be on Ryerson’s squash team. But still not well enough to compete against other schools.

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