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Jan. 29, 2022 | Saturday
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Glass court featured as White Oaks hosts junior squash open
Lucia Bicknell and Hannah Guthrie face off on Squash Canada’s glass court. (Richard Harley)

Niagara-on-the-Lake's White Oaks Resort was home to Canada's Junior Open squash championships over the weekend.

The competition attracted about 250 players from across Canada and the world and they competed in about 500 matches over two days — something White Oaks is well equipped for.

New this year to the junior squash championships was the addition of the U23 category and players from that age group were on Squash Canada's glass court on Saturday.

One match between Heather McLachlan of St. Catharines and Catherine Giachino of Ottawa ended 3-0 for McLachlan.

McLachlan, 22, said she was excited to win at her home club.

"I've actually played this tournament specifically since I was like 11. So I've played every age group, and then they added the U23 this year, so I thought I should give it one last shot."

She said she started playing squash when she was just seven or eight.

Overall she said she was happy with how she played.

"I felt really good today. I've never actually played a full match on an all glass court before so it took some adjustment, but I felt good. I like the court."

McLachlan plays for the Queen's University team in Kingston where she is a biology major. She said her and a teammate had been practising four or five times a week leading up to the competition.

"I haven't been in this environment for a long time. I've just been playing university squash tournaments, which are a little smaller. It's kind of nice to have a lot of people around to watch. I feel like it makes you play a little better when you have a bit of pressure on you."

On Saturday she said she was hoping to bring St. Catharines into the national spotlight with a win. After the tournament she'll continue with her university competitions and plans to enter the senior national championships, too.

Her opponent Giachino said she too decided to play this year because the U23 category debuted.

"It's my first match. So I lost my first round. So now I'll drop into the consolation and play it out for fifth place."

Giachino, 21, said she got into squash when she was about six. "I've played my whole life," she said.

Now she's studying nursing at Western University.

Despite her loss, she was still in good spirits.

"It's very cool with the setup with the glass court. It's the first time that they've done that," she said. 

Squash Canada plans to use the portable glass court in competitions across Canada.

Tournament referee Les Homme, who manages the schedule for referees for the nearly 500 games, said the Junior Squash Open has been hosted in Niagara-on-the-Lake for about 15 years.

"Because it's a great facility, right? The hotel and everything right here, beautiful squash courts. The facilities are so good. It's a great venue for us."

The open tournament, as opposed to a national competition, attracts players from all over the world, Homme said, from places like England, Pakistan, Columbia and Egypt.

The U.S. Open is the following week, he said, so people come to the Canadian tourney as "sort of a warm-up."

While the tournament usually has about 300 to 400 competitors, this year it's a bit smaller because of COVID limiting travel.

He said it's a "very high profile tournament," being about the second most high-profile junior event in North America — second to the U.S. open.

With just four days to compete, Homme said the tournament runs a lot of matches on a tight schedule.

"There's nine matches an hour and we go from 8 o'clock in the morning till 9 o'clock at night on Saturday and Sunday and then Monday and Tuesday are a little bit smaller," he said, sitting in front of a computer with a huge spreadsheet of all the matches.

He said overall it's great to be back to doing tournaments.

"I think it's a great tournament. I mean, the kids have been very good. I've always been amazed by all these rules with the masks and everything — everybody wears their mask, nobody complains. You know, typical Canadians, right?"