Sophomore squashes opponents in little-known sport

October 30, 2014 — by Emily Chen, Spring Ma and Ami Nachiappan

Sophomore Aarushi Lakhotia excels in squash, a little-known indoor racquet sport.

Sophomore Aarushi Lakhotia stepped onto Princeton University’s squash court at the U.S. Squash Junior Championships on March 6, feeling both nervous and confident. Lakhotia, who was playing singles against a higher ranked player, needed to stay calm.

To continue her winning streak, Lakhotia took a couple moments to think through a plan. She prepared herself both mentally and physically, practicing her serves and running through different techniques like hard, low, cross-court shots and lobs in her mind.

At the end of the tournament, she finished 20th out of the 32 nationally ranked athletes in the Girls Under 17 (GU17) division.

Lakhotia often experiences a rush of adrenaline when playing squash, an indoor racquet sport involving singles or doubles teams that rebound a “squashable” rubber ball off walls marked with boundaries. It has been referred to as the world’s fastest game and nicknamed “physical chess,” reflecting the rigorous demands it places on the body.

To win a match, players must capture three of five games. Each game is played to 11 points, and the winner must win by two points.

According to Lakhotia, many outsiders assume that squash is an easy sport since the rules seem simple. In reality, the sport’s high intensity means it’s not for everyone.

Although Lakhotia has been playing squash for merely five years, she was ranked No. 2 in the Girls Under 15  (GU15) division in California at 13 years old and placed among the top 32 in the United States for her age group. Since then, she has moved up to the GU17 division, which she joined when she turned 15. She currently plays individually.

To prepare herself for matches, she trains two and a half hours a session, six days a week at the Squash Club of Los Gatos.

Lakhotia began her squash career when her father, a college squash player, inspired her to take her first lessons in fifth grade at Bay Club of Santa Clara. Ever since, Lakhotia has enjoyed the fast-pace nature of the sport.

“Right now, since I’ve just entered GU17, every practice has been pretty critical,” Lakhotia said. “I’m hoping to achieve the top 32 again by the end of the season and become faster on the court.”

Lakhotia began competing nationally in seventh grade and has traveled to tournaments primarily in New York, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. During the competition season from October to March, Lakhotia attends three-day tournaments twice a month.

“[Squash] brings few of my passions together: traveling, meeting new people and playing a sport,” Lakhotia said.

One of her most memorable matches occurred when she played a girl who was ranked 26 in the GU15 division at the time in March 2014, while Lakhotia ranked 32.

Having lost 3-0 to her higher-ranked opponent months earlier, Lakhotia felt “if [she] worked hard for the next four months, [she] could possibly beat her.”

Pulling back strong at nationals and staying true to her words, Lakhotia beat the “competitive and aggressive girl from Connecticut” in five games.

“I felt very good, very accomplished and so happy,” she said.

Throughout her squash season, Lakhotia’s parents and coaches act as her support team, making sure she is eating healthy and mentally preparing her for tournaments.

“The never-give-up attitude is great to see in her,” her mother Jaya Lakhotia said. “She deals graciously with wins and losses, showing a great sportsmanship spirit.”

At practices, her coaches recite inspirational sayings such as “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and “Follow the process, no shortcuts” to motivate her.

“[My coaches] have taught me to be disciplined in training, to fight when I’m tired and to push myself harder,” Lakhotia said.

Lakhotia plans to continue playing squash throughout high school and college, as it has surpassed simply an interest and developed into a passion and lifestyle for her.

“[Squash] has taught me to be hard working and always persevere,” Lakhotia said. “It has given me a whole new perspective on life, and I will never forget the people, my coaches and the support my parents have given me.”

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