Fighting for the team

Squash is a sport predicated on technique and precision – but that’s not what the leader of GW’s program is known for.

Senior Adam Pistel, the Colonials’ captain, brings grit and hustle to the court. His teammates look at him as a source of inspiration based on his effort, rather than a source of instruction based on his technical skill.

“He’s not the most skilled player. He hasn’t been coached that much in squash. He doesn’t have great racket skills,” head coach Wendy Lawrence said. “But he’s a really good athlete, he runs like crazy, he never gives up and he runs after every ball as hard as he can.”

Pistel began his athletic career as a soccer player at Suffield Academy in Suffield, Conn., considering squash a secondary sport. A series of injuries on the soccer pitch, concluding with a collapsed lung, shifted his focus away from the pitch and onto the squash court.

Still, Pistel doesn’t think of his soccer setbacks as a total loss. He sees his background on the pitch as a soccer player as a strength for squash play, training him to develop the speed and agility to reach almost any ball hit by his opponent.

“Soccer was always my passion, and squash was a sport that I played more for fun,” Pistel said. “My experience as a soccer player made me athletic enough so that even if I don’t make perfect shots, I always have the chance to recover.”

Pistel came to Foggy Bottom as a transfer student from St. Lawrence University in the spring of 2010. Upon arrival at GW, he joined the squash team and was placed near the bottom of the team ladder.

But Pistel didn’t give up. He quickly earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, beginning to ascend. Today, Pistel holds the No. 4 spot in GW’s lineup.

“Now he’s seated at number four in our ladder,” Lawrence said. “He’s been able to move up due to pure grit and physical talent and that completely outdoes his racket skills. That is his game.”

What sets Pistel apart from many collegiate athletes is his unrelenting desire to win. He can’t be counted out of any game, aided by his deeply intense competitive nature. Whether the score of a match is 9-0, 5-5 or 0-0, Pistel approaches every point the same way, sacrificing his body in an effort to grab a victory.

Opponents struggle against Pistel, unsure of how to react to a player who motors around the playing area. The squash court is a small area for two people to maneuver, but Pistel doesn’t hesitate to dart in front of, behind, around, or even run into an opponent if he has even a remote chance of making a play. His energy is appreciated by all of his coaches and teammates .

“When it comes down to it, we are here to win in anyway,” Pistel said. “I’ve been known as the golden retriever. I’m used to just running around a lot and I’ll do anything I can to get the ball back. I mean, I don’t always have the best shots, but I’ll get the ball back and get the ball back and just keep on running.”

Pistel’s self-described “retriever” style of play hasn’t only garnered respect, it’s also led to a successful career.

He finished last season with a 14-6 record, 10 of his victories coming in straight sets. This season, Pistel’s opened play with a 5-1 record. Lawrence thinks part of his edge comes from his underdog status, opponents underestimating Pistel’s skills.

“He played matches against opponents who have more training and more experience than him but he just plays so hard, so if anyone is asleep he will just walk all over them,” Lawrence said. “One of his most telling matches last season was against Brown. He went to five games against a player who is ranked so much higher than he is on a team that is ranked considerably higher than we are. And he almost won it. As I’ve said, he never gives up.”

With GW currently ranked No. 17 in the country, Pistel wants to continue to show his teammates the extra advantage physical, challenging play brings to the court.

“It doesn’t always take the most talent to win. You need some grit and guts to make it out there,” Pistel said. “I’ve adopted that as my mentality.”

This article was updated on Dec. 13, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet originally reported the Pistel went to high school in Amherst, Mass. In fact, he went to high school in Suffield, Conn.

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