Since 2011, Drexel University has hosted the FS Investments U.S. Open Squash Championships. The country’s open national championships, founded in 1954, have been played at more than a dozen locations around the country, including Boston, Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis, New York, Providence and San Francisco. And now it has found a home in Philadelphia.
The eight-year partnership of US Squash and Drexel has given the tournament unprecedented stability. In 2013 the Open, for instance, became the first major pro squash event to achieve prize money parity, setting the standard for squash equality world-wide. The innovative, fan-friendly set-up in Daskalakis Athletic Center has enabled court-side celebrations like Women in Sports Day and the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Last year, the Open hosted the world’s first squash film festival.
For Drexel, the U.S. Open has been a signature in the university’s expansion of squash on campus. Under the leadership of John Fry, the squash-playing president of Drexel and former chair of the board of US Squash, and Drexel’s Athletic Director Eric Zillmer, squash has become a major feature of Drexel’s recreational and varsity athletic programming. Today both the men and women’s teams, led by former world No.1 coach John White, are among the top dozen programs in the nation. This past month, Drexel and US Squash announced a $40 million project to transform a 40,000 square-foot armory on Drexel’s campus into the Arlen Specter US Squash Center, complete with twenty courts, robust community access programming in partnership with Squashsmarts, the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame and the US Squash headquarters.
To celebrate the partnership, today was Drexel Day at the U.S. Open. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff came to the DAC to watch some of the thirty-two second-round matches. Prized club-level tickets were raffled off. Mario the Magnificent, Drexel’s famous mascot, appeared courtside and even joined Mohamed ElShorbagy at an autograph session. Three students competed in a hitting challenge, trying to hit a shot that ended on the Drexel logo on the back wall. Each received an oversized Dunlop ball; Dunlop is the official ball of the championships.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Drexel Day was the speed challenge. For a long time, there has been no official world record for the hardest squash ball hit. In 2005 at the Canary Wharf Classic, John White, now the head squash coach at Drexel, hit 172mph on a radar gun. In 2011 using a special off-court radar gun at the U.S. Open, Cameron Pilley reached 175mph; in 2014 Pilley pushed the record up to 176mph at an exhibition in Hertfordshire, England. Using a new high-performance sports radar gun that is used in Major League Baseball.
The 2018 speed challenge featured Team USA’s Christopher Gordon and two members of Dragon’s varsity team, Anna Hughes, a junior from New Zealand, and Matias Knudsen, a first-year student-athlete from Colombia. Gordon topped out at 137 miles per hour; Hughes reached 110mph; and Knudsen scorched the gun with a final hit of 159mph.