No quashing this squash player's goal

Tower Hill senior will face world's best junior players in India
Lexi Saunders vividly remembers her early experiences playing squash as a kid in California.

"My dad played," Saunders said. "So we would go out to the courts and see who could get the most rallies. In the beginning, I didn't win a lot. It was just basic strategy, hit it deep and look to volley."

Saunders has come a long way. Since moving to Delaware, she has steadily made a name for herself on the junior squash circuit.

In early April, the Tower Hill senior won four matches, good for a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Nationals Squash Team Playoffs in King of Prussia, Pa. Her play stamped a ticket to the World Junior Squash Championships in Chennai, India. The tournament starts July 29.

Two years ago, Saunders missed the cut. She credits not making the team at that point and a strong support system, which includes her parents, along with coaches Ed Chilton and Damon Leedale Brown, for the turnaround.

"That was my goal," Saunders said. "I knew what I had to do. I had to play more competitively and play more attacking squash. Just stepping up my game. Both of them [Chilton and Brown] really believed in me from the start. They just built up my self-esteem. And my dad is always there. I kind of have like a whole support system with my mom."

Saunders' rise to the national level is remarkable considering the lack of competition in Delaware compared to other areas. This hasn't diminished her passion for the sport.

"It's very fast," she said. "It's very competitive at this level. ... There aren't really any girls. It's a lot of playing my dad. It's really who wants to play whenever I can get a game. I train hard and I play in a lot of tournaments. I've gone pretty far with who I have in Delaware."

Even in the time she has been playing, Saunders has seen an increased interest in the game.

"So many coaches are hosting tournaments," Saunders said. "More people are picking up the sport. It's really fun. There are a lot more juniors playing. College squash is up and coming."

Saunders has showcased her talent in many major tournaments, most recently in California and Baltimore.

She says these tournaments can be pretty hectic, not to mention featuring top-notch competition. A typical tournament day for her consist of two matches a day and game planning for the next opponent. Saunders trains from September to the end of April before starting her summer schedule.

Her athletic feats don't stop at four-walled courts. She plays field hockey and lacrosse for Tower Hill. After each practice she usually ventures off to the squash courts for about an hour. Saunders says that being a three-sport athlete has helped with her athleticism.

"It's a lot of exercise," she said. "That's hard. Field hockey helps me with the fitness aspect. I think some of it carries over. I have quick feet from both sports."

Upon hearing that squash is on the list of sports under consideration for the 2016 Olympic Games, Saunders looks forward to taking her game to the college level before thinking about that.

"I would love to watch it," she said jokingly. "I wanted to have a squash team in high school. Going to college is a big plus for me."

Saunders still has time to map out her future plans. For now she is preparing to leave for India next week with hopes of making her supporters proud.

"Going right to the big show," she said excitedly. "Right now, I'm doing double sessions, a lot of physical work, and also playing matches. The best practice is playing. Just trying to get a lot of game situations. Yeah, I'm ready. I'm more excited than anything."

By JONATHAN MARSHALL • The News Journal • July 10, 2009 

Reprinted with permission of The News Journal