Twenty-one-year-old Emma Turnbull and 19-year-old Jade Pitcairn have seen their hard work as junior players in Cayman pay off when it comes to playing squash, as the two Caymanians are both playing on Newcastle University’s first squash team, with Emma recently being voted as the club’s Vice President for 2021-2022. Newcastle University’s women’s squash team plays in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league in the premier division, and is a force to be reckoned with among university squash teams.
Both Emma and Jade started playing squash at a very early age which gave them a flavour of the sport, which was to then develop into a passion for both young women.
Emma said she started the sport at 11 after her school, Cayman Prep and High School, ran a taster for youngsters, introducing children to the sport, which encouraged her to continue playing.
“I had played a variety of sports at school, such as tennis, football, netball, as well as athletics, however it was squash that really appealed to me,” she confirmed.
As a youngster, Emma won Cayman’s national junior title five times as well as various Caribbean Area Squash Association (CASA) titles, her highest attaining fourth in the Caribbean in 2016 in the girls u17 category. Emma’s university squash journey began during the university’s freshers’ week when she was put up against the current one and two of the team and beat them both, so she ended up on the first team. She was then able to play in the BUCS matches, proving herself worthy and earning her spot on the first team.
During her first year at Newcastle University, Emma received full royals in her first year on the team, playing second/third throughout the season. In 2019 Emma gained two bronze medals at the annual CASA tournament and won overall team alongside her team-mate, Jade. In 2019-20 the team received half royals for maintaining their position in the premier league, which she captained and also played second, while also keeping busy as the team’s social secretary, organising weekly social squash sessions.
“We were close to finishing our ladies’ local league competition and had one match left, but the season ended due to Covid, which was sad as the team was on track for a silver medal,” Emma advised.
In her third year at Newcastle, Emma has not had any competition due to Covid, but she was honoured with receiving Club Colours for her contribution and dedication to the team throughout the years. Biomedical Science student Emma is graduating this year and hopes to go on to study for a Masters in Immunobiology at Newcastle in September.
Last year she was delighted to welcome her former team-mate Jade to the university team.
Jade, who is currently in her first year at Newcastle and studying Sport and Exercise Science, started playing squash when she was very young, but only competitively when she was 12 years old.
“I started playing because I would always go down to the squash club and watch my dad play in the leagues,” she advised.
Jade has an impressive array of titles to her name already, including eight times Cayman Islands national junior squash champion and has been ranked the second top female junior in the Caribbean for the past four years. In 2018 she won two bronze medals in the Central American and Caribbean games in both women’s doubles and the women’s team event and an incredible two gold medals at the 2019 Island Games, held in Gibraltar in both women’s doubles and women’s team event. She has also participated in the Canadian Junior Open and the 2019 Junior Pan Am Championships.
Despite Covid restrictions, squash players have been able to train and the girls’ schedule is rigorous, including Monday first team training (all men’s and women first team members), Tuesday and Thursday strength and conditioning, plus Thursday includes women’s group training, with Friday one-to-one coaching, as well as on court matches.
Balancing sports training and studying is quite hard, Emma admitted, but said the coach understood and works around student’s requirements.
Appreciating that time management is very much a learning process at university, Jade said the balance could be difficult at certain times, “but it is important to manage your time in order to fit in enough hours in both school work and training,” she said.
Emma said that one main attraction of playing squash is its competitiveness.
“I love competing against new competitors, which is what uni sport is about,” she confirmed. “The social aspect is a definite benefit as well. I share a flat with the number one women’s player and someone is always available to do something, even if it’s not squash-related!”
Jade said she hoped to gain more experience playing different universities at a high level and to develop relationships between coaches and teammates.
“I think that joining a uni sports team can create strong relationships, build confidence, increase teamwork skills and it is a great way to meet new people,” she said.