Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pelletier hungry for championships


Squash starlet Jennifer Pelletier has conquered Canada and now looks to squish her competition at the world junior squash championships this month in Chennai, India.

The holder of four national titles; twice winning both the under-13 and under-17 Canadian girls titles, the Langstaff Secondary School student looks to add yet another impressive performance half way around the world, planting the maple leaf atop the squash world racquet.

Holding a Canadian record of participation in seven straight national finals, unmistakable confidence flows forth when speaking with the 16-year-old, but by no means is it misguided cockiness from the teenager who balances world class squash with school, five to seven days of practice each week, and a part-time job at the local Pizza Hut.

Admitting her rigorous routine can get a little tiring at times, Ms Pelletier says her toughest training challenge remains to not stuff herself on the cheesy pies she makes for extra cash.

"Lucky for me I have a high metabolism. I eat a lot of pizza," she laughs.

"It is tough to say no. Pizzas are discounted for employees and I get to make my own creations. It's delicious," Ms Pelletier said.

This voracious appetite spills over to her squash game, as the Richmond Hill resident regularly trains and practices against older boys to find a suitable level of competition in preparation to her upcoming foray onto the global stage.

She has competed at national and continental tournaments in the United States and Peru, but this latest experience makes Ms Pelletier's mouth water at the prospect of once again representing her country in the sport she loves, while testing her mettle against the world's elite players.

It is a love affair she has nurtured since age six, and she plays the game like a chess match at breakneck pace, often leading to a checkmate over her opponents.

"With each player and each match the strategy changes. Some hit harder, some are more crafty, keeping shots close to the wall, making opponents run. A lot of people try to compare squash to tennis, but it is tougher than tennis and much more technical," Ms Pelletier proclaimed.

"One technique that is a little unorthodox is aiming for your opponent. Its a clever tactic if you want to frustrate the person you are playing against. It can get pretty amusing," she added with a laugh.

In India, Ms Pelletier will compete in team and single competition and according to the junior national women's team coach Glenn Stark, his squad of young guns carries high expectations approaching the world championship.

"Looking at the other countries, we have a lot of depth and I wouldn't be surprised if we are seeded in the top-five, which would be our highest ever seeding going into the junior worlds," Coach Stark was quoted on Squash Canada's website.

"Our success is due to the fact we've identified potential players early and helped them get the experience," coach Stark added when describing his team of five ladies.

Ms Pelletier is similarly confident in results, but less confident in her pizza-loving stomach handling the spicy local cuisine she will no doubt find in India.

"I am pretty darn worried to be honest. I don't do well with spicy food. My Indian-Canadian friends keep saying 'I'm screwed'," Ms Pelletier said with a sigh.

"I might have to bring like six loaves of bread with jars of peanut butter and jam. Hopefully I can find some bland food there," she woefully added.

With a spicy game on the court and one of the younger competitors in a tournament that predominantly features 18-year-olds, Ms Pelletier says her individual expectations remain moderate, citing any place within the top 25 as an amazing accomplishment, with the team looking to snag a top five overall finish.

Rob Brooks has coached Ms Pelletier for the last seven years at Fabulous Fitness in Vaughan as the club's head squash pro. He raves that his star pupil's style of play will serve well, despite her young age.

Calling her one of the smartest young players he has ever coached, he expects the championships to provide Ms Pelletier with an unparalleled stepping stone of experience and further advance her already heightened sense of the sport.

"She has marvelous vision and it causes her opponents a lot of havoc. Because of her smaller size, she has to stay a step or two ahead of her opponent, but even if the game turns more physical she can handle herself. She is no shrinking violet out there that's for sure," Coach Brooks stated.

"She has a good head on her shoulders and at such a young age she has a great sense of humour. The next two years of squash will be important for her and with the personality to match her game, she is good enough so there is no ceiling to her potential," he added.

Good enough could mean a medal at the world's, another national title, the prospect of a university squash scholarship south of the border and possibly participation in the Olympics.

Squash is not yet included in the line-up of events on the Olympic Summer Games, but a movement from the World Squash Organization looks to bring about inclusion in time for 2016.

"It is silly to think of the huge popularity of the sport and not include it in the Olympics," Ms Pelletier said. "I am confident things will change and hopefully I and others from around the world will get to experience the Olympic stage," she added.

Hopefully for Ms Pelletier, the city that land's the 2016 Games bid will provide a more temperate cuisine.

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