In just her third tournament since returning to the sport after taking a few years off from competitive play, Whistler’s Sage Eberhard battled all the way to the finals of the BC Junior Gold Series squash tournament at the Jericho Tennis Club in Vancouver, from April 22 to 24.
While she ended up losing to old rival Katie Herring in the final, Sage believes this tournament—which saw her get revenge on the girl she lost to at the previous tournament before beating the tournament’s No. 2 seed in the semifinal—has put her back on the map in the province’s junior squash scene.
“In the tournaments previous to it I just felt like I would get this almost like block in my head that was like an ‘everyone’s judging you’ kind of thing. I felt pressured and judged and I knew it would just take me more tournaments to get rid of that and be able to play my game,” she said.
“So this tournament, [at Jericho], I was really able to show what I can do. I was playing a lot more aggressively, more confident and I knew that I could beat a lot of the girls there, or at least give them a good game, if I played my game that I know I can play. And so I think it really just showed in this tournament and I came out with second place so that was a good part about it.”
At just 16 years old, with her 17th birthday right around the corner, Eberhard has already been playing squash for nearly 10 years. Being the daughter of Rob Eberhard, the founding president of the Whistler Squash Club, the sport has always been a part of her life.
“Ever since I was a kid my parents would take me to the courts when they would play squash and I would sit by the court and watch them, and then when I started getting a little older, I started going on with a racket and playing with my dad,” said Sage.
“Then around 10 I went to my first competitive tournament, and ever since then I’ve been playing competitively. I joined a club after that, Evergreen down in Vancouver, which helped me a lot. It helped me connect with some of the other juniors and improved my game so much.”
But at around 13 years old, as all the other girls in her age group were training and hanging out multiple times a week in the city, while she was stuck in Whistler only able to make the drive down once or twice a week, Sage felt like she was losing ground on the other girls and the excitement and passion for the competitive side of the sport was beginning to dwindle.
And because of that, much to the chagrin of Rob, Sage decided to step away from competitive squash.
“As a parent, it’s heartbreaking when you see your child with such incredible talent decide to give up on a sport that you think she’d be really good at,” said Rob. “But also as a parent you have to respect their decision to make that choice.”
But luckily for the Eberhards, the COVID-19 pandemic offered a unique opportunity for Sage to catch back up to the other girls and make her return to the competitive side of the sport. While tournaments were suspended and training was restricted, Sage still had access to Whistler’s courts and was able to push herself to get better in matches against her dad, a former semi-pro squash player.
“Once COVID started, I would have these memories about all the fun I would have when I was younger, and it just made me want to start playing again. So during COVID, when I could play, I started really pushing in games with my dad and pushing myself to be better,” said Sage. “And that was obviously a great opportunity for me to transition into playing tournaments again because everyone had been off of tournaments for two years.”
While it took her a couple tournaments to get back into the swing of things playing against girls her age—instead of her usual matches against Whistler’s top men—Sage said she believes that she is just one more tournament away from being able to compete with the country’s top U17 squash players.
Unfortunately, due to a mix up with the draw for nationals, Sage isn’t able to attend this year’s U17 Gold tournament, but was offered the choice of competing in U17 Silver or U19 Gold. Feeling like neither of those options would be that much fun for her, Sage decided to skip nationals this year and focus on next year’s tournament.
According to Rob, for Sage to reach her potential in the sport and have the success she knows she can at nationals, she needs to start being more aggressive on the ball, something she hasn’t had much of a chance to do while playing primarily with the men in the club who Rob described as “beyond our prime.”
“When you are beyond your prime, you are just not hitting it as aggressively. So she’s learning a lot of habits from us and they’re not the most ideal habits to learn,” he said.
“That’s another reason why I think she’ll improve dramatically when she’s off at university, simply because she’ll be introduced to a very new style of game, a game that’s very aggressive, much more competitive and I think she’ll really enjoy that.”
With the competitive season over, next up on the schedule for Sage is the Whistler Squash Classic taking place at the Whistler Squash Club on May 14 and 15, where she will be competing in both the Men’s and Women’s A divisions.