Men’s squash captain Omar Sobhy lives for the moment when he’s on top of the world.
He strives for victory, to grab that chance at a buzzer that signifies a successful match. So to be ranked first of the 257 players in the U.S. Adult Squash M 5.0 Division – a level Sobhy reached this summer – marked an accomplishment that validated the hours he spent at the gym, pushing himself to return to the top of the ladder.
“There’s that moment in sports that you can’t really get too many times in life, when you win a close match, you win that epic point, something like that happens,” Sobhy said. “And that’s really what you’re training for. At the end of the day, it’s the hard work that leads to the glory in the sports, and the pride that comes afterwards.”
Sobhy has set his sights squarely on being named an All-American in the upcoming season. It would be the latest accomplishment for a Colonial whose highlight reel seems to grow with every match he plays. In the 2010-11 season, Sobhy won the Malloy Cup, earning the squash program its first-ever individual victory.
But the success was hard for a young player to handle, head coach Wendy Lawrence said. Sobhy hoped to be elected captain as a junior, but his attitude after his sophomore campaign alienated some of his teammates.
“I think he was a little immature, and I think that some of his, sort of, cockiness was a little bit frowned upon by his teammates. So I think that was kind of unsettling to him," Lawrence said. "I think he thought that because he was such a strong player and so fit and could lead the kids to a higher level of fitness, and all the rest, I think his feelings were hurt. I think he was a little upset that he wasn’t elected captain as a junior."
But the disappointment taught Sobhy some of his limitations as a teammate, Lawrence said, and he worked hard the following year to establish a better bond with the rest of the Colonials. He also increased his focus on the court, ultimately finishing second on the team with 19 victories, winning 14 of his last 15 matches.
It was a strong final push that helped the squash program boast one of its most impressive accomplishments to date, bringing home the Summers Cup (C Division) Championship trophy for the program's first ever national championship. Sobhy's junior campaign earned him the captaincy for the following season.
He might not have as much natural talent as teammate Islam El-Fiky, who plays at the No. 1 position for GW, Lawrence said, but Sobhy’s work ethic sets him apart. It’s that strong drive, she added, that will enable him to continue to raise his level of play over his final season.
“What Omar lacks in natural athletic ability, he fully makes up for in hours of, not only strength and conditioning, but just hours by himself on the court practicing or seeking out games with players off the practice hours,” Lawrence said. “He works harder than any player I’ve had in the six years I’ve been here at GW.”
Sobhy walked away from the 2011-12 season with 19 wins and four losses, and the championship trophy. But he isn’t wholly happy with last year’s performance, pointing to a level of distraction that he feels detracted from his performance.
“Last season, I sort of fell into that trap, and I got a little bit distracted somewhere in the season, and it was strange, but I wasn’t really pushing myself. I wasn’t really out of my comfort zone,” Sobhy said.
Although he took on an internship over the summer that Sobhy said required him to work 80 to 90 hours per week, he also doubled down on his focus for the upcoming season.
Sobhy paid special attention to his core training, and began using a personal trainer over the summer that Sobhy credits with an increase in his personal fitness level. Additionally, Sobhy competes for NY Squash in the summer months.
“The most important thing for me this summer has been really having a good schedule and managing my time well – sticking to that schedule,” Sobhy said. “No matter how tired I’m feeling in the morning, or whatever is going on, I know that I’ve got to get it done, and I know that I’ve got to put my best effort forward, no matter what.”
NCAA rules limit what coaches can require athletes to do for off-season training. So while a coach can recommend workouts to athletes, they cannot mandate that athletes complete those workouts.
But Lawrence said this is a moot point when it comes to Sobhy. His personal drive pays dividends for his own play and that of the team as a whole, Lawrence said, adding that his mix of ability and work ethic formed an attractive recruiting tool.
“Omar is so self-driven and always has been, that he does far more offseason training than any of us have ever recommended, because he is so dedicated and so committed. So while we give him an outline of what we’d like to see him do over the summer, he fully exceeds it every year,” Lawrence said. “He is clearly the most fit player on our team, hands down.”
Sobhy’s commitment circles back to his inner motivation for the sport – that feeling of being on top of the world for that brief moment at the end of a victory.
And the matches that don’t end in glory? Sobhy finds value there, too.
“Of course there’s ups and downs with every match, and losses aren’t really easy to take, but it’s all part of one big experience, and really, without all the losses and everything, I wouldn’t be the player that I am today,” Sobhy said.