It started as an experiment: a collaborative effort among parents, Briarcliff School District Superintendent Dr. James Kaishian, Athletics Director Chris Drosopolous and the Board of Education. It resulted in an additional sport in the district: squash. Now, after over three years, three Briarcliff squash athletes have received the U.S. Scholar Athlete Award.
"We wanted to provide students with increased opportunity for healthy engagement in our athletic program and to help them through the winter doldrums,” said Dr. Kaishian. “It quickly turned out to be a popular option and a very competitive team!”
Mr. Drospolous wholeheartedly agrees with Dr. Kaishian.
“The experience of participation in athletic activities is designed to foster the quest of excellence by creating an educational and competitive experience in an atmosphere of sportsmanship and developing both as individual and team, promoting high standards of competence, character, civility and citizenship,” he said.
As mentioned, three young women have recently won the U.S. Squash Scholar Athlete Award: Paige Mischenko, Caroline Adams and Isabel Schumacher. The award, which recognizes high school students who excel in both the classroom, with a 3.5 or higher GPA, and on the squash court and have played in three US Squash accredited singles tournaments, or an approved number of US Squash Scholastic Squash Program (SSP) matches between April 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020. In addition, Isabel also made history by being the first ever in Briarcliff to make All League.
We chatted with the young women to find out about their most memorable moments, how they manage to keep their cool on the court and what they think of their coach, Greg McArthur (who is no stranger to winning championships himself).
When did you first begin playing squash and what got you into it?
Paige: I first began playing squash in fifth grade because I wanted to try something new and it was popular with my friends. I like playing squash because of the sport itself, the competition and the team aspect it brings.
Caroline: I first started playing squash in fourth grade, just taking lessons. I started competing in seventh grade. Both of my parents play, so they introduced me to the sport.
Isabel: I first started playing squash when I was 10 years old. In middle and high school I began training more and played more tournaments. My dad played in college so I was exposed to the sport at a young age.
What is one memorable event you have playing squash on the Briarcliff team?
Paige: Winning our first team match at High School Nationals. Throughout the season, our team worked very hard, and it was amazing to know that our hard work paid off.
Caroline: Going to Nationals every year is always the highlight! We get to represent Briarcliff and always have a really good time spending a few nights away from home.
Isabel: One memorable event was at Squash Nationals in 2018. For a team to win a match you need four individuals who must win their individual matches. We were tied 3-3 with another team and our teammate Camilla Couch played the deciding match. Our whole team watched and cheered her on as she played an incredible game against her opponent.
Is there a coach at Briarcliff who was particularly helpful?
Paige: I would have to say our coach from last year, Greg Macarthur, for helping us on the court, and Athletics Director Chris Drosopoulos for helping to bring squash to Briarcliff.
Caroline: We wouldn’t have a team without Coach Drosopoulos, so he’s been extremely helpful. On the court, Coach McArthur is super fun to play with and learn from – he’s one of the top doubles players in the world and is a great coach.
Isabel: Coach McArthur always has great advice in between games for myself and my teammates to improve as we enter our next game.
Who is your biggest role model, in sports or otherwise, and why?
Paige: Tennis player Bianca Andreescu is my biggest role model. At the young age of 19 she was able to win the US Open, an amazing accomplishment for someone of any age.
Caroline: My biggest role model is probably tennis player Naomi Osaka because she is so young and is learning as she plays but is so impressive on the tennis court.
Isabel: My biggest role model would be my father because learning and playing squash with him has largely taught me what it means to be a good athlete and a better person.
When faced with challenges, what motivates you to keep going?
Paige: When faced with challenges, I always look back to where I started and acknowledge how far I’ve come. I realize that with hard work and dedication anything is possible.
Caroline: When faced with challenges, I always try to stay in the moment and focus on the process, not the result. When I do that everything always works out.
Isabel: What motivates me to keep going is my goal of playing college squash. When I don’t play as well as would have liked to, I try to keep in mind that I can always improve and play better in my next game.
How do you manage pressure before an important game?
Paige: I manage pressure by listening to music beforehand and thinking positive. On the court, I focus on each point, rather than the outcome, as squash is such a fast-paced sport. A game can change very quickly so it is important to stay present in each point.
Caroline: Before an important match, I always remind myself that I’ve done all the physical training necessary for success. When I step on the court, it is all about my mental game and going after every ball.
Isabel: Managing pressure and stress before an important match has been something I struggle with, so when I feel overwhelmed I like to turn on some relaxing music and find a quiet place to warm up and mentally prepare myself. This helps me stay focused on myself rather than worrying about the things I cannot control.
How do you juggle schoolwork and playing squash? Do you have other extracurricular activities or hobbies?
Paige: I aim to manage my time well since with my rigorous course load, time management is crucial. I’m currently on the Varsity Tennis Team, and art has been my lifelong hobby.
Caroline: Juggling schoolwork, squash and extracurriculars is definitely difficult, but it’s all worth it. I enjoy art and play a little bit of tennis.
Isabel: Juggling schoolwork and squash has been quite difficult, but remembering the big picture as I get through smaller milestones like daily assignments has kept me on track (also by drinking lots and lots of coffee).
Does being an athlete help you academically?
Paige: Yes, because I have no choice but to properly manage my time. I enjoy being challenged not only mentally, but physically as well, and I find it is a great balance.
Caroline: Yes, it forces me to balance my time and be much more disciplined.
Isabel: I think being an athlete has helped me become a more disciplined and focused student. I sometimes think of going through school as playing a game: you win points by doing well on tests or completing tests and other assessments. This idea appeals to my competitive spirit and keeps me on track.
What advice do you have for younger athletes?
Paige: Try different sports and find something you love and enjoy.
Caroline: Squash can be challenging but stick with it! Going out and practicing on your own is one of the best uses of your time and competing in individual tournaments is a great way to improve quickly.
Isabel: If you can, try to take a step back. Think about the reasons why you enjoy your sport or activity to help you put in perspective why you push yourself every day. If your head is not in the right place, you won’t see the improvements you want.
Are you planning on continuing to play squash at college? If you are a senior, do you know where you are going?
Paige: I am a sophomore, but I would love to continue playing in college.
Caroline: I plan to play in college but I don’t yet know where. Talking to college coaches and players has been a huge part of my college search and I’m super excited to continue improving beyond high school!
Isabel: I plan on continuing to play squash in college, but I do not know where yet.
Isabel, how does it feel to make history as the first ever in Briarcliff to make All League in Squash?
Isabel: I feel extremely honored! I have worked very hard over the last three years and it is satisfying to see a physical accomplishment. I received this award by having a high national rating that I mainly achieved by playing outside of school. I am looking forward to seeing more students at Briarcliff receive this award as well!