Freshman Zoe Foo Yuk Han has brought her international squash experience to Foggy Bottom – leading the women’s squash team in her first year.
After three straight losses to open her season, Foo Yuk Han has won the last eight of 10 matches, tying with senior captain Abby Shonrock for most wins on the team. The freshman has played every game at the No. 1 spot on the Colonials’ ladder.
Foo Yuk Han is the only Colonials’ (6–7) freshman to compete in the top three or win more than two games in a top-five spot this season.
“Every point counts,” she said. “Because it is my first year, definitely getting a win is a very happy thing for me. I will try to win as many matches as I can for myself and also for my team.”
Before coming to Foggy Bottom, Foo Yuk Han competed internationally for her home country of Malaysia. She was ranked as the No. 13 player in the world in 2016 in the Girls Under-19 division.
With the majority of her experience competing as a solo player, she said being part of a roster at GW has helped to elevate her level of play.
“If I wanted to win, I have to play myself, everything was very individualistic,” Foo Yuk Han said. “At GW, it is more as a team. No matter what you do, your team is always there to support you. It kind of helped me because it brings me up.”
Head coach Wendy Lawrence said many of her first-year players struggle to control their nerves before matches, but Foo Yuk Han’s international experience has given her more confidence in her first season at GW.
“Being on her national team of Malaysia, she has got more experience in playing older players and stronger players on the international stage,” Lawrence said. “That’s why she’s our number one and I think that’s why she has been winning a lot at number one.”
The gap between Foo Yuk Han and the rest of the team’s abilities is large enough to where she is often invited to practice with the men, Lawrence, who coaches both teams, said. But typically, she turns down the offer.
“There is no one that comes close to her on our ladder,” Lawrence said. “But she really feels as though she needs to be helping her teammates and coming to every practice with the women, which is very selfless.”
The Colonials dropped both of their matches this past weekend, losing to No. 4 Yale 9–0 Saturday and falling to No. 6 Columbia 8–1 Sunday. Foo Yuk Han lost both of her matches, her first losses since falling to No. 1 Princeton in November.
Foo Yuk Han said playing up the rankings benefits the team, helping the Colonials to improve their skills and confidence with nationals less than a month away.
“When we play the better players we lose and we learn from it,” Foo Yuk Han said. “We can apply it and train every day to improve those areas so when we play teams that are not as good, we can get a better win out of them.”
With seniors Shonrock and co-captain Mary Jo Mahfood playing the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on a young team, Foo Yuk Han said they have helped mentor her and ensure she doesn’t get caught up in the new experiences of freshman year.
“They make sure we are always on time for practice, we have enough sleep and it is hard for them too because they are graduating so they have a lot of stuff,” Foo Yuk Han said.
Mahfood, who has gone 6-6 this season, said Foo Yuk Han has stepped up in a major way, raising the team to a higher level both in practice and while competing against high-ranked opponents.
“I’m really just proud of her as her captain and as a friend,” Mahfood said. “I have never really seen someone adjust so well to that number one spot.”
Lawrence – who hasn’t put a freshman at the No. 1 spot since Anna Gabriela Porras, the program’s winningest player in 2012-13 season – said Foo Yuk Han’s success stems mostly from her steady and consistent play.
Without a stronger recruit “on the horizon,” Lawrence said she expects Foo Yuk Han to spend four years as GW’s top-seeded player.
“She just puts the ball where it needs to be put. She is not flashy, she is not hugely physical,” Lawrence said. “She has just got beautiful strokes and she has really got a lot of court smarts.”
Individual nationals will take place on GW’s home court in early March. With a strong performance, Foo Yuk Han could earn a spot as a second-team All-American – placing her among the top-20 collegiate players – Lawrence said.
“She will have home-court advantage and hometown crowds,” Lawrence said. “If she stays healthy, she has a really good chance of as a freshman being an all American.”