Squash team squeaks past PEI for ninth

Yukon's boys' squash team, competing at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax, was on the brink of defeat on Thursday. Tied two matches each against PEI, in an encounter to determine ninth and 10th - second last and last - Yukon's Mustafa Syed dug deep and made magic.

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA

Yukon’s boys’ squash team, competing at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax, was on the brink of defeat on Thursday.

Tied two matches each against PEI, in an encounter to determine ninth and 10th – second last and last – Yukon’s Mustafa Syed dug deep and made magic.

Facing four match-points in the fifth at 10-6, Syed, 13, won six consecutive points to win the game, the match and the encounter between teams, giving Yukon’s boys’ team ninth. It was the squash team’s first and only team victory of this year’s Games.

“It was a good comeback he did in the end,” said Yukon head coach Eng Khoon Chua. “Most of the points earlier had long rallies, but he stayed focused at the end. We thought he was done when he was down 10-6 because he was quite tired then.”

However, Syed couldn’t do it alone. Putting him in the position of tiebreaker were teammates Coleman Newll and Zain Syed, both winning their matches.

Making an even bigger comeback than Mustafa, Newell won his match in five games, after dropping the first two.

Stephen Grundmanis, Yukon boys’ No. 1 at the Games, taking on other teams’ top players all week, lost his match in straight games.

A tough week for the boys’ team, Yukon encountered some stiff competition, such as BC, which features four players ranked top-20 in Canada. They were swept by Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, in addition to BC.

“They did pretty good considering the opponents they were playing – they were up against top players,” said Chua. “The main thing is they are nervous when they play, so a lot of them are not playing to their potential. I guess it’s a matter of experience.”

Unfortunately, the girls’ team also had some tough competition, swept by NWT, Alberta, BC and eventually Saskatchewan, putting them in last. (The loss to Saskatchewan included a default by Yukon girls’ No. 2 Kelly Panchyshyn.)

However, the girls’ team did tie Manitoba on Tuesday, taking one match by default, and another when Yukon girls’ No. 4 player Tia Oster won in straight games.

“I think it was a really great week, I had a lot of fun,” said Oster. “In the end it doesn’t matter about winning or losing – it was just so much fun.

“The Canada Games is the most amazing thing I’ve ever been to.”

Oster, who is just 13, playing in an under-17 division, also took a game off her NWT opponent to open the week and then another off her Saskatchewan opponent, as did Yukon No.1 Sophie Flather.

“I wasn’t expecting anything,” said Oster. “I was nervous the first match and then I got confident and it just came out good. It made my whole week.”

Looking forward, the future looks bright for Yukon squash. Four of the Yukon’s players, including the Syed brothers, Oster and girls’ No. 3 Shermaine Chua, are eligible to play in the 2015 Games.

“We are really lucky to have a squash professional, some of the other provinces don’t have squash professionals – their coaches are volunteers,” said Yukon team manager Lia Johnson. “You can really see the difference to have somebody dedicated to bringing the kids to the Games.

“Since squash was put in the Games in 1991, we have sent a team every year.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com