Roland Park's Tutrone out to squash the national competition
Junior will aim for a fourth title at this weekend's U.S. Junior Squash Championships
Katie Tutrone, a student at Roland Park, practices earlier this week in preparation for the upcoming U.S. Junior Squash Championships at Yale. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / March 10, 2012)
But this weekend, the Roland Park junior will be all about playing squash.
Friday through Sunday, Tutrone will be pursuing her fourth national squash title at the U.S. Junior Squash Championships at Yale, this time in the Under 19 category. She has already won in every other category in which she has competed — Under 13, 15 and 17.
"I've won every two years," Tutrone, 17, said. "I won last year, so I don't feel any pressure to win this time — though I'm going to try my best."
Ranked No. 4 nationally in her age group, Tutrone is one of a growing number of young players in the area.
"I think she has the ability to become one of the best International competitors in the world," said her coach Lefika Ragontse. Ragontse was a part of four intercollegiate national championships while playing for Trinity College and captained the Botswana national team. He now runs a squash program at Bare Hills Racquet and Fitness Club.
"She's probably one of the best players in the world now in her age group," Ragontse continued. "I've told her mother; before Katie goes to college she should compete internationally and see where she fits in."
Tutrone has already had some international experience, having qualified for teams that played in Canada, Germany, Amsterdam, Egypt and England. She is currently trying to make the U.S. team going to Qatar in July.
And she drew major attention when she finished second at the U.S. Junior Open, an international tournament in December that drew the top player in the world. She said that raised her ranking, though she didn't look to see how much.
"I don't look because if I look it seems like the game is all about the rankings," she said. "I don't like it. I just play. I don't like the feeling of the weight of the rankings on my shoulders. I play because I love to play."
Lissen Tutrone started her daughter and son Taylor, who is now a squash player at Princeton, playing the game before they were school age. By age 8 Katie Tutrone was taking lessons from Ragontse, and by 11 she was competing in her first tournament.
"I really liked it," Katie Tutrone said. "It never gets boring. It's a game about being creative. Nothing about it is monotonous and I don't overkill it."
Of course she participates in plenty of other activities to remain well-rounded. She plays tennis and badminton for Roland Park, is in the May 5 Gilman Musical, "How to succeed in business without really trying" and is part of a hip hop dance crew and gospel choir at her school.
But it is squash that occupies most of her time. She has two to three private sessions a week with Ragontse, hits with her mother at Meadow Mill Athletic Club on other days and works out in the weight room regularly.
"What I work toward is being as fit as possible," Tutrone said. "Without great fitness there is nothing. Fitness is the basis of the game."
Tutrone said she also tries not to think too much when she's competing.
"I try to just react to the ball," she said. "You can't think. It's a brain game in the sense that if you think too much everything gets confused.
"I generally play the same against everyone, but change up the shots a little. My game is a wide variety of shots so no one expects something. My movement, my ability to get to the ball, is important. I like low, hard shots. I do take risks."
Squash is all about quickness and reaction. The quicker she gets to the ball, the more time she has to react to it with a rail (a ball that goes straight along a wall that could be a soft lob or a hard, low drive) or a boast (a ball that hits the side and front walls, working the anlges).
While Ragontse says Tutrone's fitness and competitiveness are her greatest strengths, he points to other assets beyond the obvious that have made her a successful player: her dedication, the way she never becomes complacent and her humility.
"And, she's very social," he said. "She's very good with everyone she meets and plays. Even her opponents love her. She's a special girl and an excellent competitor."