Three StreetSquashers Take On The Big Apple Open

All smiles as family and friends support Nina (center left) and Ajayla (center right)

All smiles as family and friends support Nina (center left) and Ajayla (center right) at the Big Apple Open hosted at Brooklyn’s Eastern Athletic Club.

Report courtesy of Julie Warshaw, StreetSquash PR & Communications Coordinator

On Saturday, March 21, StreetSquash staff member Sasha Diamond-Lenow took three of her StreetSquashers to Brooklyn’s Eastern Athletic Club for the Big Apple Open, an annual tournament that has been a fixture of New York Squash for over a decade.

“It was a great tournament with lots of great squash, ” said Diamond-Lenow, noting that the greatest highlight of the weekend was the StreetSquash friends and family who came to support the scholar-athletes.

StreetSquash, a not-for-profit youth enrichment program that combines academic tutoring, squash instruction, community service, college preparation and leadership development, has been providing services for Harlem public school students since 1999. StreetSquash is the second urban squash program in the country—now joined by twenty additional urban squash programs underneath an umbrella organization: the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA).

Ajyala (R) StreetSquash '18 poses with opponent and StreetSquash supporter Lisa Hintz (L)

Ajyala (R) StreetSquash ’18 poses with opponent and StreetSquash supporter Lisa Hintz (L)

Ajayla A., age fourteen, had the best performance of the weekend, placing fourth in the Women’s 3.0 division and playing mostly five-game matches, including the 3/4 playoff which ended in a heartbreaking 9-11 loss after being 2-0 up. Ajayla has been a participant of StreetSquash since the fall of 2011 and has shown a strong commitment to the program ever since.

“She’s a great athlete, with excellent sportsmanship and the most positive energy, ” Diamond-Lenow said of her squash protege.

Nia G., age fourteen, also had an impressive performance at her first New York Squash tournament. She showed tremendous grit and perseverance playing three matches in one day—losing to the eventual draw champion in her final match of the day.

Despite the loss, Nia loved her first tournament experience and eagerly awaits her next chance to take the court. “”I love playing against older women who have more experience, ” says Nia. “It’s more of a challenge but it helps me become a better player.” Nia, an energetic and dedicated StreetSquasher, first joined the program as a sixth grader.

Nakayla T., age fifteen, stepped on court Saturday morning, competing in the Women’s 4.5 division against Olivia Tandon, a long-time volunteer, mentor and supporter of StreetSquash.

“Nakayla played incredibly well, ” said Tandon, “she is the same age as Kiran, my mentee, so I have watched her develop as a player over the past four years. It was great that she was able to take a game off me—pretty soon I’m sure she will be beating me!”

Tandon began volunteering with StreetSquash eight years ago when she was a student at Columbia University. Initially Tandon volunteered a few days a week, assisting with squash practice and homework help. In 2010, she became more involved as a major participant in StreetSquash’s annual fundraiser, the StreetSquash Cup, and took on a StreetSquash mentee, Kiran B, age fifteen.

“Kiran started as a 7th grader who could barely hit the ball, and now she is playing so well. Watching her grow as a player and as a person has been the most rewarding part of my involvement at StreetSquash, ” Tandon said.

As for the tournament, Tandon was thrilled to see so many members of the StreetSquash family at the Big Apple Open. “From students, to staff, to current alums, it was a very StreetSquash-filled event!”

For more information, including full draws and results, see the official Big Apple Open tournament page.

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