Wed, Aug 3, 2022 4:30 PM

Pivotal month looms for young squash player

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Peter Jones

Tom Marshall is preparing for the biggest month of his young life.

Later this week the 17-year-old Marlborough squash player embarks on a three-fold mission that will take him around the globe and test his burgeoning court skills to the limit.

Firstly, he and a group of Marlborough Boys’ College players will travel to North Shore for the national secondary school squash championships, contested from August 5-7, with MBC carrying a lofty second seeding into the event.

Then it is on to the international stage, Tom hopping on a jet immediately after the school champs and heading to Nancy, France where he will represent his country in the individual events at the world junior [under-19] champs from August 11-21.

Following the worlds, he flies off to the United States, or to be more precise, The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he will mix study with squash for the next two years.

Undaunted by the forthcoming sporting and lifestyle challenge, Tom is taking it one step at a time.

He has high hopes for the MBC team at the school champs, especially given their third placing last year.

“Our third placing last year was the highest MBC has finished so we are keen to take it out this time. We have a strong team and we will be trying our best.”

The tournament’s top seeds are Whangarei Boys’ High School who will field a well-balanced side, but Tom say he is hopeful the MBC combination of himself and Chris Hebberd, who are both A graders, plus B grader Jack Frisken and C grade players Bryn Woolley and Dylan Guillemot, alongside reserve Manu Andrew, can get the job done.

A top result on the North Shore will set the tone for Tom’s trip to France, the fourth time he has represented his country.

In 2018 he was part of the NZ trans-Tasman under-13 side, a year later he made the nationals schools junior squad then, in 2021, he was part of the NZ senior schools squad.

Although he has tasted international competition, and previously been abroad to play squash, this time “the big dance” awaits.

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The year-13 student has no illusions about the challenge ahead as he tackles the world’s best.

“For me, it is all about getting more experience on the world stage … I am not expecting anything in terms of placings, I just want to come away feeling I have played really well and done myself and my country proud.”

He admits to some pre-worlds nerves but feels he is as prepared as he could be for such a prestigious event.

“I have been working hard this year despite being injured and battling with COVID and the flu … I have had a few setbacks but I feel my squash is peaking at the moment,” he said.

He won’t lack for familiar faces in the NZ team, being joined by fellow Marlburian Paul Moran, now based in Canterbury, who will contest the team event in France. Part of the administrative crew will be boys’ team manager Nic Dann, a Marlborough squash stalwart.

At the conclusion of the worlds a more permanent adventure awaits, the result of a meeting with McCallie School head squash coach Daniel Sharplin, a former New Zealand champion.

Sharplin was back in New Zealand and approached Tom at a Timaru training camp, offering him the opportunity to apply for a two-year enrolment at McCallie, a private prep school. It was an offer Tom described as, “an amazing opportunity, too good to miss”.

“I am going [to the US] to gain experience overseas, to further improve my academic studies and to improve my squash … so I am not just focussing on sport, I just want to keep my options open,” he suggested.

Squash New Zealand’s current poster boy is world number two Paul Coll, who has shown that someone from a small town in the South Island, in Coll’s case Greymouth, can reach the very top of his profession.

Tom recently had the chance to trade shots with the player tagged “Superman” at a fundraising event in Auckland.

“He kinda chopped me, but it was a cool experience,” recalled Tom with a chuckle.

“I was pretty nervous actually, because there was a big crowd watching … I think he took it easy on me.”

It is not so much Coll’s achievements that have impressed Tom the most, more the Coaster’s legendary work ethic.

“To go fully pro is a very hard path. The work that Paul has put in to get where he has is insane,” he added.

Besides hard work, parental and community support are key factors as young athletes strive for the top and Tom is grateful for all the help he has received in Marlborough.

“My parents have been there for me every step of the way,” he said.

“And the Marlborough squash community have put together a very good junior programme which has paid off with so many good players coming through nowadays.

“We all started at once-a-week Friday night hits with local casuals coaching kids … that’s where we all came from,” he added.

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