The twelve young men and women representing Team USA at the 2017 World Junior Championships in New Zealand, July 19-29, have been announced.
The 2017 edition of the world juniors will feature the biennial Women’s World Junior Team Championship and annual Men’s and Women’s World Junior Individual Championships at the Devoy Squash & Fitness Center in Tauranga, the fifth largest city in New Zealand.
The U.S. Junior Women’s Team will be led by fourteen-year-old, two-time U.S. junior champion Marina Stefanoni, who made her world juniors debut in the 2016 individual competition by reaching the round of sixteen. 2017 U.S. junior finalist Grace Doyle, at eighteen years old, returns for her second world juniors as the eldest member of a youthful squad.
Junior nationals semifinalists Elle Ruggiero, sixteen years old, and Laila Sedky, seventeen years old, will both make their world juniors team debut.
In the individual competition, seventeen-year-old Emme Leonard makes her world juniors debut, as does U17 national champion and sixteen-year-old Elisabeth Ross, who occupies the developmental spot in the squad.
“This year’s girls squad is young, but has experience—Marina and Grace both from the worlds last year and Elisabeth played at the British Junior Open.” said Scott Devoy, U.S. Junior Women’s Head Coach. “I think more importantly with all the girls, they work hard and really want to win. There is a healthy respect and competition amongst the team, where they will challenge each other and bring out the best in one and other.”
Sedky and Leonard both follow in the footsteps of their older siblings, Reeham and Kayley, who represented Team USA together in previous world juniors. Both older siblings were part of a second place team finish at the 2015 world juniors. Team USA has placed second for three consecutive women’s world junior team championships in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
“For the team event, we have had a lot of success and certainly want to look to continue that type of result,” Devoy said. “I think as a team and as a nation, we would be looking to advance out of the pool play as one of the top four or five teams. This puts us in a position to compete for semifinals or more. Based on the experience of the team, individually we would like to see round of sixteen—or better—performances. A lot of this will depend on the draws, which can often be a bit of a lottery, but I know all the girls on the team have the ability to play to at least that level.”
The trip to New Zealand will be a homecoming for Devoy, a native kiwi and nephew of Dame Susan Devoy, namesake of the host club. Assistant coach Fernanda Rocha will share coaching responsibilities with Devoy.
“As a kiwi and playing at a club that is named after my aunt, it is a strange feeling,” Devoy said. “I think the local knowledge will come in handy when getting around and maybe calling in some favors!”
On the junior men’s side, two-time U.S. junior champion Andrew Douglas will lead Team USA in the junior men’s individual competition as the only returning member of the third-place-finishing 2016 junior men’s team. Harrison Gill returns for his second world juniors individual competition after reaching the second round of the main draw in 2016.
The junior men will have two west coast representatives in the form of San Mateo, California’s Cole Becker and Seattle’s Salim Khan, who both make their first world juniors appearance. Becker, seventeen years old, pushed Douglas to five games in the junior nationals semifinals, and defeated Khan in the quarterfinals. Khan was the male recipient of the prestigious DeRoy Sportsmanship Award.
Junior nationals quarterfinalist Eric Kim returns his second world juniors individual appearance, while U17 national champion Tiber Worth occupies the developmental spot.
“The squad is an exciting mix of some experienced players and some good younger players that we have available for the team competition in India next year,” said Alex Stait, U.S. Junior Men’s Head Coach. “They have all worked extremely hard to qualify and Simba and I are excited to take them to New Zealand and represent the U.S.”
Simba Muhwati joins Stait as the junior men’s assistant coach.
“With regards to the goals for the boys in the individual competition, it is tough to pin down a number for the individual event as a lot depends on the draws and how well they are seeded,” Stait said. “Similarly though to how the team have progressed at the British Open each year, we will be looking to progress from our positions in Poland and get more players in the latter stages.”
The world will be closely watching Douglas, who upset the 2016 world junior champion at the British Junior Open in January.
“I think we all know that Andrew is capable of beating anybody out there, but as he will tell you, every player in the competition is a fantastic player—and if he is not on the top of his game—could beat him,” Stait said of the U.S. No. 1. “His experiences in the world juniors last year and the British Junior Open will help him and we are hoping with those good performances, he will be seeded in a strong position.”
Both squads will congregate for a number of national team training sessions over the coming months before traveling across the globe in July.
“I would like to thank Rich Wade and all the staff at US Squash who do all the background work and help us prepare the team to play at their best,” Stait said. “Also to all of the individual coaches of the players who make the team, they have done such a great job and work so well with us in making sure their players are prepared and playing at their best levels for the tournament.”
For more world juniors information visit www.wsfworldjuniors.com.