Sophomore Anna Porras was one point away from losing her match against Bates College two weeks ago. Her head was throbbing from a fever and momentum wasn’t on her side.
Then she heard a familiar voice.
“[My opponent] was one point away from winning,” Porras said. “I kept hearing from outside the word ‘vamos,’ which is ‘come on’ in Spanish. It was all from my sister.”
Her sister, Alejandra, transferred to GW this year from the Universidad de La Sabana in their home country of Colombia. Though they ended up in the same place, their collegiate squash journeys started very differently.
Anna was the most highly touted recruit in squash program history and dominated as a freshman in the No. 1 position. She went 16-4 overall, with 15 of her 16 victories coming in straight sets. At the end of the season, she became the first College Squash Association All-American in program history.
Meanwhile, Alejandra was struggling to get her university near Bogotá to even sponsor a squash program. Colombia has one of the most vibrant squash cultures in Latin America, but lacks the tradition of college sports found in the U.S.
She convinced the college’s administration to organize and pay for a team mostly made up of childhood friends who also loved to play the game. Still, Alejandra outgrew the makeshift program.
“I had no competition and it was not a challenge for me as a sport. It was [good] as building something, but not as a sport,” Alejandra said.
With some encouragement from her sister, Alejandra transferred to be with her sister at GW, where she is now the team’s No. 3 player. She is 8-4 with one of her wins coming at the No. 2 position against No. 21 Mount Holyoke.
“I just really missed my sister,” Alejandra said with a smile.
In addition to an impressive start to her GW career, Alejandra’s presence has also helped the play of her younger sister.
Just prior to that match against Bates – a team GW had just narrowly edged 5-4 last year – Anna had come down with strep throat. Alejandra took care of her the night before, putting ice packs on her forehead to keep her fever down. Still, Anna felt sick as she got ready for the match, and needed support from her sister when she started to struggle.
Anna rallied back from match point to win in five sets, a victory she said she owes to her older sister.
With Alejandra by her side this year, Anna has knocked off the No. 4 player in the country. Head coach Wendy Lawrence said she should crack the top 15 once official rankings are released in a few weeks.
The pair’s emergence has also created a squash recruiting hotbed for GW in Colombia. Two years ago, Anna was convinced to come to Foggy Bottom by senior squash player Adriana Calderon, another Bogotá native who the Porras sisters knew growing up in the Colombian tournament scene.
There are also two Colombian players on the men’s team, and the five countrymen often joke around in Spanish when on the court together.
“I feel like I should be taking Spanish,” Lawrence joked. “I get tuition breaks for courses and I should be studying Spanish because I’m missing out on a lot of cracks and comments I think.”
The sisters still find ways to get a taste of home, even in the District.
When both sisters had Fridays free in the fall, they would sit in Juan Valdez, a Colombian coffee shop across from Thurston Hall, and talk for hours.
Now, Friday mornings mean practice, as the squash season is in full swing. Instead of sipping coffee, Alejandra runs drills with teammates, cracking balls off her racket and practicing a sharp backhand. After Anna has finished practicing, she often plays with the men’s team, where she matches up with players who mirror her speed and stamina.
The No. 1 on women’s team’s ladder frequently beats the boys, too.
“They get mad,” Alejandra joked.
“No, they don’t, they just get all, ‘I didn’t play my best,’” Anna replied with a smirk.