What a Racket

CONOR O’MALLEY HAS ELEVATED HIS SQUASH GAME SINCE HIS days of playing at Denison, both figuratively and literally. He has honed his skills to become one of the better players in Chicago, and now serves as the assistant pro at the city’s University Club.

He often puts in long days, and when the club recently hosted the Windy City Open he was working up to 16 hours a stretch. Some nights he did not leave the premises. Despite his constant involvement, though, he does not tire of the sport. “Even on my days off, I’ll come to the club and I’ll play,” he said.

It’s little wonder that he spends so much time in the club’s 1909 Gothic skyscraper. Outside of the squash courts and past the art gallery is a balcony that offers a breathtaking view of newly built Millenium Park, the Chicago Art Institute and the city skyline against the backdrop of Lake Michigan. Other floors have meeting rooms, dining halls and even a cathedral room lined with stainedglass windows and crests of universities and colleges.

While the University Club may resemble a palace more than a rec center, O’Malley is well aware that a sizeable portion of Chicago’s population will never be as fortunate as he is now. Today, the 25-year-old assistant pro has a unique opportunity to teach the sport to Chicagoans who may be more accustomed to shooting worn old basketballs through chain nets. Since June 2003 he has been developing a program called M.E.T.R.O. Squash, based on a handful of similar East Coast campaigns. When it launches this fall, O’Malley will teach squash to 16 to 24 underprivileged seventh-grade students.

He’ll pick the children from a school in Chicago’s Hyde Park, a historically minority region. They will participate three days a week throughout the year, focusing on the sport, academics and community service. The University of Chicago has volunteered its courts for M.E.T.R.O. Squash, and numerous individuals and corporations are sponsoring it (although O’Malley is still seeking additional support). “We want to keep the program small and have a dramatic impact on the children’s lives,” he said. “We want to make sure every child is really taken care of and able to develop his full potential.”

O’Malley is not daunted by squash’s unfamiliarity among Americans. “If you show an interest in the children and you’re going to be teaching them, they’ll be all about it,” he said. The difficulty will be narrowing the field down to the desired number of participants, a decision he said will be based mainly on attitude. “We’re making a serious commitment to each of these children and they have to make a serious commitment to us,” he said. Each child will have to sign a three-year contract to participate.

Club member Bart McMillan thinks O’Malley is wellsuited for the role. The two have worked together the past few years to develop McMillan’s game, upping his skill classification from beginner to intermediate. “Conor is a very enthusiastic guy, very flexible and willing to try different things,” he said. McMillan also cited O’Malley’s patience as a virtue for working with children.

“He’s fantastic with children,” agreed head pro John Flanigan. He tutored O’Malley on teaching kids, then had him take over the club’s group lessons for children. Parents were initially reluctant, but “after a few lessons, they didn’t want me, they wanted Conor,” Flanigan said.

O’Malley didn’t play squash until his sophomore year at The Pomfret School in Connecticut. He took it up to fulfill Pomfret’s winter sport requirements. His tennis experience eased his learning of the game, and he made the varsity team his first year out.

Squash soon took center stage of his athletic efforts because he felt he would like to play competitively in college. He was already considering Denison when he learned that the school had a club squash team – a club that regularly plays national powerhouses such as Princeton, Cornell, and the Naval Academy. “Here we were, competing against varsity teams, and we were doing pretty well. We were ranked in the top eight national teams,” he said.

He can hardly believe that the road has led him to this point. Like many new college graduates, he was initially unsure of his direction. He worked at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., for three months, followed by a stint on a Congressional campaign in Connecticut. He moved to Chicago in January 2003 in search of a sales or marketing position. At the time, the jobless communiction major had not played squash since leaving Granville. “I was broke,” he said. “I was deciding whether or not to play in the ‘03 Windy City Open.”

Entering the competition turned out to be a great career move. Although he did not perform well in the tournament, he met Flanigan and spoke to him about his job search. Flanigan offered him a part-time job. He also mentioned that he was looking to develop an urban youth program, but did not have time to do it himself. O’Malley snapped up the opportunity. Now full-time, he teaches 20 to 25 lessons a week in addition to working on M.E.T.R.O. Squash.

His current position is no small feat considering it had been occupied by former touring pro Nathan Dugan. “It was quite an accomplishment for Conor to get that job,” McMillan said.

O’Malley and Flanigan also expect to have a squashrelated Web site/magazine launched by April. The University Club currently offers the only pro shop in the Chicago area. Their goal is to provide customers with instruction and help selecting equipment relative to their skill level.

O’Malley’s game has improved immensely since the 2003 tournament; at press time he planned on competing in the highest amateur division in the squash nationals in Boston in March, and other pieces of his life have fallen nicely into place. He said combining squash and business is a dream job for him. He acknowledged that he is fortunate to have this opportunity, but also attributes his success to his love of the game and hard work. “It kind of shows that when you concentrate on something, you can really reach your goals,” he said.

It’s a valuable lesson that O’Malley hopes M.E.T.R.O. Squash will teach to children who have much to overcome.

Steve Nery ‘03 is a graduate student at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

Caravana Named Assistant

for U.S. National Team

MEN’S LACROSSE COACH MIKE CARAVANA HAS BEEN CHOSEN to serve as an one of three assistant coaches for the United States national lacrosse team when it competes in the International Lacrosse Federation World Championship in Ontario, Canada, in July 2006.

“I am excited and very proud to be selected to coach the United State Lacrosse world team in 2006,” remarked Caravana. “It is as big an honor a Division III coach can obtain in our profession and to be selected by one’s peers make it that much more special.”

“I worked with Mike on the NCAA Lacrosse Committee,” said John Desko, U.S. Lacrosse and Syracuse University head coach, who sat on the selection committee. “I’m excited that he agreed to be part of the USA coaching staff. I know him to be an excellent lacrosse coach and a man of high character. I think he will represent Denison and U.S. Lacrosse in a manner that will make us all proud,” Desko said.

Caravana has served as the head coach at Denison University since 1990. In 14 seasons with the Big Red he has led them to the NCAA postseason seven times, including appearances in the national semifinals in 1999 and 2001. He was named the Division III National Coach of the Year in 1994 and is a three-time North Coast Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, winning the award in 1994, 1997 and 2002. His 136-61 career record at Denison ranks him second in school history in coaching victories. In addition, he has coached 39 All-Americans during his tenure with the Big Red. A native of Franklin Square, N.Y. and graduate of the University of Virginia, Caravana is honored in the Long Island Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Virginia Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

One for the Record Books

Women’s basketball wins NCAC Tournament; posts first-ever NCAA post-season victory

ON FEB. 4 THE BIG RED WOMEN’S BASKETBALL team found themselves at a frustrating low. They had lost by 21 points to conference rival Ohio Wesleyan, and their shooting average between OWU and the previous game at Kenyon was just 26 percent. The season seemed to hang in the balance. Then the Big Red rattled off an astounding eightgame winning streak, which included the program’s first-ever NCAA post-season victory.

“The biggest thing after those two games is that we started shooting better,” said Head Coach Sara Lee (above), who guided the team to its second NCAC title. (She also coached the 1994 championship team.) “I think we shot around 40 percent during our winning streak and that was up quite a bit from earlier in the year.”

Denison closed the regular season with victories over Earlham, Oberlin, Wooster and Allegheny, and secured the second seed in the NCAC Tournament. It made quick work of seventh-seed Oberlin in the quarterfinals in Granville. The semifinals and finals were played at nearby Kenyon College, and an impressive caravan of faithful Big Red fans traveled the road to Gambier.

In the semifinals Denison faced defending champion Wittenberg, a team the Big Red had already defeated twice during the regular season. In December, Denison had snapped the Tigers’ 36-game NCAC home winning streak. With a raucous crowd behind them Denison played their signature defensive game and toppled the Tigers 56-43 to advance to the title game with firstseeded Kenyon.

The Ladies of Kenyon had given the Big Red fits in their two regularseason meetings, combining tough defense and a balanced offensive attack, and the championship was another low-scoring affair. On the strength of Kristen Sheffield’s 16 points and Emma Woodward’s 14, Denison defeated Kenyon, 49-39, to capture the program’s second berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Denison’s first round opponent, Baldwin-Wallace, earned its bid to the tournament by defeating defending national champion Wilmington College in the Ohio Athletic Conference championship game. At 23-5 and winners of 17 of their last 18 games, the Yellow Jackets were one of few teams in the tournament field who were on a longer streak than the Big Red. Denison’s patented “defense-first” style caught its high-scoring opponent off guard from the opening tip, and with a 51- 46 upset Denison advanced to the second round for the first time in school history.

Facing 24-4 Albion College, Denison discovered that the clock had struck midnight on its Cinderella season. The Britons ended the Big Red’s campaign with a 63-44 victory.

Defense had been the key to the Big Red’s successes all year, having two of the conference’s top players in Woodward (Thornville, Ohio) and Sheffield (Dublin, Ohio). Woodward, a senior, was named the NCAC Player of the Year, the first such honor to fall to a Denison player since DU Hall of Famer Christi Clay ‘94. Woodward also became the seventh player in school history to pass the 1,000 point milestone, ending her career in fifth place on the DU all-time scoring list with 1,075 points.

Sheffield was named to the All-NCAC second-team for the second consecutive year and became the conference’s all-time leader in shots blocked. The six-footer swatted a school record 106 blocks and ranked third in the nation in blocks per game. Proving she has an outside game that matches her low post defense, she shot a conference best 46 percent (59 of 128) from three-point range.

As a team, Denison finished the year at 20-9, their first 20-win season in school history.

Published November 2010