February 7, 2001: Sports

Making a habit of winning: Julia Beaver '01 may be the best ever in women's squash

Rebounding from disappointment: Mason Rocca '00's Princeton career was plagued by injuries

Baah joins hoops exodus

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Making a habit of winning:
Julia Beaver ’01 may be the best ever in women’s squash

Women’s squash star Julia Beaver ’01 is a winner. Since she first realized individual success in the under-13 category of the sport’s junior tournaments, Beaver has been virtually unbeatable. The first woman in Ivy history to win player-of-the-year honors three times, Beaver is also the first to win three straight league championships and has piled up a 62—3 career record at Princeton. Beaver has also won two individual collegiate national championships.

Her impressive résumé of accomplishments, though, came with a price. She has always been a favorite in her matches and says she played most of them knowing that the gallery was cheering for her underdog opponent. “In junior tournaments, nobody ever wants to see the favorite win,” Beaver says. “There weren’t many people behind me, other than my parents and my coaches.”

This feeling of isolation helped Beaver forge extraordinary mental toughness, a trait that Princeton coach Gail Ramsay cites in conjunction with her aggressive style of play as the main reasons for Beaver’s success. Ramsay says of her star pupil, “She has a very lethal attacking game with wonderful short shots and straight drops. She plays a higher-risk type of game, winning points outright on short rallies.”

Having spectators applaud her mistakes and brush off her success as expected was trying. But the situation changed when Beaver came to Princeton in 1997 and started playing in the team’s number-one position. Suddenly, she had a group of teammates pulling for her on every point. She says, “It was a real transition at first, going from playing solely as an individual to playing on the Princeton team. It’s been great for my game.”

According to Ramsay, Beaver also discovered the satisfaction of playing for more than individual success. “Julia puts her team and Princeton in front of the individual squash game she knew before. From the age of 10 or 11, she dominated the junior leagues, then led us to the national championship as a freshman. It’s been a pleasure watching how she handles success, remaining modest but also quietly confident. You’d never imagine she’s as accomplished as she is.”

Although Beaver is nearing the end of her Princeton career, she plans to continue playing, moving into the professional ranks by joining the world women’s professional circuit. Runner-up at last year’s U.S. Open tournament, Beaver realizes she’ll have to further hone her game for this next step in her career. She explains, “My attacking game can be a weakness when I’m playing very strong players and can’t convert the attacking shots that I’m usually able to make. I’ll have to learn a different strategic approach, which I can do by playing stronger opponents.”

This year, the team (3—1 overall, 0—1 Ivy) has particularly needed Beaver’s toughness and leadership due to a litany of early-season injuries: Number-five player Emily Eynon ’02 started her season late because she also runs for the cross-country team; Anna Minkowski ’02 is just returning from a broken ankle; number-eight Jean Shingleton ’03 went out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament; and number-nine Rebecca Gutner ’01 suffered a death in the family. Despite strong efforts from the rest of the team, Ramsay says it has been impossible for the rest of the lineup not to be affected. An upset defeat by Brown marked a low point, but Beaver says the team plans to use the loss as motivation.

Despite the team’s early struggles, Ramsay remains upbeat. Many of the injured are on the mend, and other strong prospects have stepped in to fill her nine-member starting lineup. She says, “Overall I’m still optimistic about our chances for a successful season. Adverse times will make us stronger in the long run.” While not favorites in the Ivy race, the Tigers hope to defend their league title as their star stakes her claim as the best ever in women’s collegiate squash — by winning her third individual national championship.

By Paul Hagar ’91
Paul Hagar is a former PAW editor.

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Rebounding from disappointment:
Mason Rocca ’00’s Princeton career was plagued by injuries

When Mason Rocca ’00 stepped onto the basketball hardwood at Princeton, fans got plenty of bang for their buck. Rocca was a ferocious competitor who earned his keep under the basket. He rebounded, set screens, and gave the Tigers a physical inside presence.

But Rocca’s aggressive style left his body bruised and repeatedly forced him from the Princeton lineup. During his freshman season, Rocca sprained his ankle several times. As a sophomore, he broke his wrist midseason and sat out the entire second half of the schedule. Junior year, a severely sprained ankle kept him out of the preseason, but Rocca recovered and enjoyed his most productive season as a Tiger. As a senior, Rocca’s season was all but lost to ankle surgery; he played in just eight games and couldn’t help but feel that his collegiate career had been punctuated by a question mark.

Last May, Rocca accepted his degree in electrical engineering. But he was not prepared to accept the end of his playing career. After being drafted this past spring by the Trenton Shooting Stars of the International Basketball League, Rocca decided to give the professional ranks a shot. He now calls the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, his home.

Rocca says, “I was kind of frustrated with my college experience in terms of the injuries. I never felt like I got a chance to prove what I could really do. The injuries never ended. I’m hoping this experience will give me the opportunity to see what I’m made of.”

Rocca’s initial intention was to play overseas in Italy, where a number of his relatives reside. He’s visited several times and enjoys the Italian culture, but difficulties acquiring a work visa forced Rocca to turn to the IBL. After speaking with Princeton head coach John Thompson ’88 and former Tiger standout Steve Goodrich ’96, who played in the IBL last season for the Baltimore franchise, Rocca was convinced the league would be the right opportunity.

The IBL has franchises in Trenton, Richmond, New Mexico, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas. Due to financial strains, teams from Baltimore and San Diego folded this past season. Most of the players, who are former collegiate standouts or foreign players, hope to use the 54-game schedule as a springboard to the NBA, so the style of play is vastly different from that of most Ivy League games. You won’t find suffocating defense or disciplined offense; instead, IBL games are played in an up-tempo style as players try to display their individual skills.

Rocca is still adjusting to the IBL game. He says, “There are a lot of really good athletes who are trying to push the ball up the floor, so the game is a lot faster. I’ve always done a good job of rebounding, and I run the floor pretty well, so those two elements mesh well with this style. I’m still trying to find my niche on offense. At Princeton, the majority of our shots were either threes or lay-ups and hook shots inside. Now, the medium-range jumper is something I’ve really been working on.”
Rocca comes off the bench to provide a spark for the Shooting Stars. His tenacious approach to the game blends well with his role. But most important, Rocca has remained healthy through the season’s early stages – at least by his standards. “I broke a rib around Christmas, but that’s been it so far. This has been a great experience for me. I love playing games, and I’m just trying to improve. If I can make a living playing basketball for the next 10 years, that’s great. If not, I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”

By Mark Gola

Mark Gola is a frequent PAW contributor.

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Baah joins hoops exodus

The Princeton men’s basketball team’s roster took another hit when Eugene Baah ’02 left the team recently. Baah, who was averaging 3.7 points (lowest among Tiger starters) and 2.5 rebounds while playing 22.7 minutes per game, was reportedly unhappy with his role on the team. A strong defender and an explosive athlete, Baah struggled with his shooting this season. The forward had converted only 27 percent of his field goal attempts.

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