With nearly half of Team B.C.’s squash roster for the Canada Winter Games coming from the Cedar Hill Squash Club, it’s no surprise the club’s coach, Cedar Hill pro Ben Uliana, is going too.
The Games start today (Feb. 13) in Prince George, and run until March 1.
“It’s been a long four to six years with these players, I’m very proud of them,” Uliana said. “To have five of the (province’s) 10 players named from our club, it just shows how much hard work they’ve done.”
Cedar Hill is represented for both age brackets at the Games, U19 and U17. Grace Thomas, a 16-year-old St. Michaels University School student, could compete at the U17 girls level but will instead represent B.C. at the U19 level, pitting the Grade 11 student against top NCAA players from other provinces. Thomas was to be joined by fellow Cedar Hill player Janel Gaube on the girls’ side, but the Dartmouth College student will have to remain in New Hampshire with an injury. Fellow Saanich resident Nicolas Vincent will compete on the (U17) boys side while Oak Bay’s Gavin Maxwell, a student at St. Andrew’s secondary, will play at the U19 level. Cedar Hill’s Matthew Henderson is the designated spare for the U19 boys.
“It’s definitely exciting to finally get to the Games, the process for this started almost four years ago,” Thomas said.
As a 13-year-old Thomas was named to a long list and since then she’s won provincials (she was second in 2014) for her age group. Meanwhile the long list was whittled down, until finally in December she was named to Team B.C. for the Winter Games.
“I had an idea, based on my results, that I would be going,” said Thomas, who is currently being recruited to play at the NCAA Div. 1 level. “But it’s still exciting.
“The last two tournaments (Alberta Jesters and Canadian Junior Nationals) I saw the best players that I’ll face in Prince George so I know what I’m up against,” Thomas said.
Because the Games’ squash events don’t start until Feb. 22 (finishing March 1), Cedar Hill’s Team B.C. contingent will stick around for this weekend’s Jesters Pacific Northwest junior championship tournament, split between Cedar Hill Rec. Centre and St. Michaels University School.
“It’s a good chance to prep for the tournament,” said Vincent, a Reynolds student.
Vincent isn’t putting any pressure on himself for the Jesters as he’ll compete against some heavy hitters in the U19 level, having initially thought it might be a weaker field than it turned out to be.
Vincent might have the most unique qualifying story for any Canada Winter Games athlete. He didn’t make the team initially due to a lack of accumulated tournament points. But Vincent had never lost to one of the players who did make the team, and launched an appeal.
He won the right to a determining playoff match, and when it finally rolled around, he was sick, and felt the added pressure of bringing this match on himself.
“I had beat him before without it being as hard, but this time, the playoff was the hardest match of my life. He almost got me.”
Vincent U17 Team B.C. teammate Ryan Picken, was the only player to beat him at the Alberta Jesters junior tournament this fall.
The Winter Games squash format has a team event for the U17 athletes while the U19 athletes compete for their province and individually.
Visit chsquash.org/page.asp for details about this weekend’s squash tournament.