When squash head coach Wendy Lawrence traveled to a showcase at Princeton University two summers ago to recruit, she was determined to find players who could take her women’s team to the next level.
At that tournament was a 5-foot tall high school junior from Bogotá, Colombia named Anna Gabriela Porras. Her aggressive style and intelligent play captured Lawrence’s attention.
“She was clearly a player I was interested in, but I knew she was also going to be pretty highly sought after by a lot of other schools,” Lawrence said.
Once she learned that Porras was a standout student, Lawrence started to press harder for the recruit.
Unlike other coaches vying for attention though, Lawrence had an advantage that the rest did not – Porras was already friendly with a player on the GW team, then-freshman Adriana Calderón.
With the help of Calderón, the attraction of D.C., and a large bulk of Lawrence’s scholarship allotment for the season, Porras committed to play at GW.
She immediately became the squash program’s highest-ranked recruit in GW history. It was the coup Lawrence had sought.
“I put a lot of effort and energy into securing her because I knew that she would be a game-changer,” Lawrence said. “It’s proven to be exactly that – the perfect move.”
Although Lawrence expected great things from Porras, she hardly imagined that Porras would make history by the end of her freshman year by becoming the first GW squash player ever, on both the men’s and women’s sides, to earn an All-American title in March.
It was a moment that Porras said brought her journey to the U.S. – and Foggy Bottom – full-circle.
“When I found out, it was an awesome feeling,” Porras, the No. 21-ranked player nationally, said. “The combination of a transition to a new school, a transition to a new country, leaving everything to live independently, so many things at the same time, but at the end I thought it was so worth it.”
The accolade capped her standout freshman season. She slotted as the No. 1 player for the Colonials this season, and won 16 of her 20 matches. Porras said that though the spotlight of the No. 1 slot is intimidating at times, in the end, it elevated her game.
“I feel pressure, but it’s one of those pressures that I like to feel,” Porras said. “For instance, when playing against another team, and we’re tied before I play my match, although that’s a lot of pressure, I like it because it pushes me towards winning. It gives me that sense of responsibility that I need to win, so that makes me give my all on the court.”
That motivation was key for Porras this season as she adjusted to life away from Colombia. Growing up, her family’s love for squash sparked her interest in the sport, she said, and by seventh grade, Porras knew she was interested in pursuing it competitively instead of soccer.
Just two years later, at age 15, Porras had become a member of the Colombian national team, where she found herself representing the country in tournaments around the world. She traveled to Qatar for the Junior Squash Championships, France for the World Championships, won a silver medal at the Pan American Games in Mexico and competed in another Pan American Games in Guatemala.
Even though she boasts a world of experience, Porras said coming to the U.S. was still an adjustment. An added struggle, she said, was her sport’s lower level of recognition in the U.S.
“Here in the U.S., people have asked me before, ‘What’s a squash?’” Porras said. “In Colombia, most of the people know at least what it is, although they don’t play it, they’ll know how to play it.”
Porras will globe-trot again this offseason when she heads to the 2013 World Championship qualifiers in France. Porras intends to start training for the qualifiers as early as July, but will be competing in tournaments in Colombia throughout the summer.
She’s also determined to help GW raise its program profile and eager to boost the Colonials to a championship title. With this season over, Lawrence is looking forward to bigger and better things for her freshman standout as Porras continues her GW squash career.
“I want her to get better every year,” Lawrence said. “Now that she is in the top 20, in terms of national ranking of college players, I want to see her go up that ladder and get as high as she possibly can.”