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Open Squash

May 9th 2024

Squash As A Learning Journey

How Open Squash-Sponsored Irish Pro Hannah Craig Is Rising Up The Rankings

Hannah on court with Peter Creed at Fi Di

Hannah On Court At Open Squash with Director of Squash and her Coach, former World Number 50, Peter Creed

Hannah Craig, 25, has been training at Open Squash, a nonprofit squash center in New York with a mission to bring squash to all, since summer 2023. The former Harvard college player has seen a meteoric rise on the professional "challenger" tour since then. Over the past year she has risen from ranked 379th in the world to number 87, and continues to win and move up the rankings, often. 

"My goal was to break the top 100 in my first year and with a few more months left in the season I’m excited to hopefully rise some more," she said. "Of course now everybody is asking what the next goal is, but I’m concentrating on learning as much as possible this first season and refining the systems that will make me a better player in the long run."

Systems, indeed. Hannah's approach to playing squash is very dedicated. And it draws on all the things she has learned throughout her life. Training under coach Peter Creed, who leads the squash program at Open Squash on Bryant Park, Hannah has found an ideal mentor as she throws herself into her professional career. 

"Because Peter played on the pro tour himself, he's so experienced in every aspect of the game. He has given me invaluable advice on how to approach the pro tour as a newbie," she said. "Every session with him is eye opening; he brings so much energy and enthusiasm that’s just infectious. I learn something new every time we step on court together."

Hannah with Peter Creed Glass Court

At Open Squash FiDi with coach and former world number 50, Peter Creed

Hannah reminds aspiring juniors she meets occasionally at Open Squash, which offers training for all levels, from beginners to those who aspire to the highest levels of competition, that she was very dedicated as a junior. 

"When I was a junior, I lived and breathed squash,” she said. “One Christmas my aunt gifted me a shirt that said ‘I’d rather be playing squash’ on it, and that sentiment still holds true today!”

As parents often seek her guidance on navigating the path to collegiate squash and Ivy-League admissions, Hannah tries to steer them away from applying too much pressure or setting high expectations for their kids too young. 

“In my opinion, a child has to love the sport first and foremost, and then be placed in a positive squash environment where they want to show up every day,” she said. “At the same time, a lesson once or twice a week, even if it’s with the best coach in the world, is not enough. You’ve got to mix in solo practice, conditioning drills, and match play to progress. It requires genuine love of the sport and dedication to get to the highest level."

The pandemic, unfortunately, cut Hannah's squash playing time at Harvard short in her last year. Still, ever the optimist, she took the opportunity to say yes to writing a senior thesis. She wrote her dissertation about the peace process in Northern Ireland—Hannah was born in 1999, a year after the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement, which ended years of "the Troubles." Learning more about the history of Ireland has brought her a more complete understanding of how best to manage conflicts, she said. And she also has a fuller understanding of what it means to represent Ireland and Northern Ireland, and how her own upbringing fell within the context of a place recovering from difficult times. It's an understanding she is also able to bring to managing the inevitable internal conflicts that arise during a game of squash. 

"Much of my work with Harvard Coach Mike Way and with Peter has been focused on how to maintain a more even reaction to the ups and downs during a game," she said. "Emotions can get the better of me still sometimes and it's so valuable to be able to manage one's reactions as one is trying to move up the rankings." 

Hannah on court at PSA

On Court At A PSA Event

Mike Way is also a Senior Advisor at Open Squash, where he participates in coaching summer camps for juniors. Hannah went from being the best junior in her country to playing in European tournaments, and then, playing alongside some formidable talents on the team at Harvard. Among them, Gina Kennedy, who has since risen to world number six, having grown up in Southeast London. Open Squash also sponsors Gina. 

"One of the most important things about being at Harvard and training under Mike was to have a perspective on personal growth that feeds into squash," Hannah said. "We would cross the bridge to the squash center each day and no matter what was going on outside, I'd look left, look right, and be grateful. That was what Mike emphasized. I'm ever more grateful now to be pursuing a professional career in the game.”

Hannah graduating from Harvard

Graduating from Harvard, next to the famous bridge, with coach Mike Way

After college, with the pandemic still closing down many squash clubs, Hannah spent over two years doing business consulting at Arthur D. Little. She enjoyed solving difficult problems in a team environment for a variety of clients and again, has incorporated what she learned into her squash training. 

"It's about fitting together an intentional practice and training schedule every week," she said. "You need to come to every session with an intention to improve and solve a variety of challenges to excel. It really is a full-time job."

Hannah loved the challenge of consulting work, but eventually left consulting to dedicate herself full-time to squash, after watching her friends compete on the pro tour. 

"I still felt I had an itch to compete that I couldn't scratch unless I went all-in on the game," she said. "So that's how I've decided to treat it. As an opportunity to see what I can do. This way I'll never be asking myself, 'what if?' And we get to find out." 

We wish Hannah all the best as she continues her squash career, and shares what she has learned with the family at Open Squash.