After walking onto the team in the fall, men’s squash player Teddy Durfee battled his way into the top nine of the UVA squash ladder. Durfee was instrumental in the Cavaliers success throughout the season, posting a 13-5 overall record and recording the deciding point in the team’s win against No. 13 Western Ontario.
Q: How are you and your family doing? Did you head home to Bedford, N.Y., during the quarantine?
Durfee: My family and I have been doing well. I was actually visiting my grandparents when I found out I wouldn’t be returning to school in the spring, so I flew back to Charlottesville with my mom and packed my things. From there, I returned to Bedford before coming back to Charlottesville in June. Although it wasn’t under the best circumstances, it was nice to spend time with my parents and older sister, as it’s pretty rare to be able to spend an extended period of time all together.
Q: How did you start playing squash? What made you interested in the sport?
Durfee: I started playing squash when I was around nine years old. My mom played in high school and college, so she wanted my sister and I to at least give it a try. We didn’t have a facility in my area until I was around 14, so in the beginning my mom would bring me to an old doubles court at a tennis center in my town, and we would hit a foam red ball back and forth until I was ready to start playing with a real one. Our deal was, I couldn’t start getting lessons until I could beat her. After a year of only playing with her and my sister, I started training with real coaches.
Q: Did you plan on trying out for the team when you enrolled at UVA?
Durfee: Yes. I went through the recruiting process and ended up with a few offers, but at the end of the day I knew I wanted to be at a bigger school like UVA. I was in touch with (head coach) Mark Allen throughout my admissions process at UVA, and once I had decided to come, he informed me there would be one spot open for a walk-on; I knew I needed to go for it.
Q: What was it like balancing squash and your academic schedule during your first year?
Durfee: I found it difficult at times, but extremely rewarding. It was amazing to see how supportive UVA is of their student-athletes. Squash was definitely a big time commitment but once I started paying close attention to my time management, I felt myself get into a pretty consistent schedule.
Q: You went from walking onto the team in the fall to earning a spot in the top nine of the team’s ladder. What contributed to your success?
Durfee: Coming in this fall, I didn’t really expect to be playing in the top nine. My parents have always been my biggest fans and have always pushed me to work my hardest, but my time on the squash team has felt like my first time working with only an internal drive. My parents stressed to me that they were just proud that I’d be attending UVA; they didn’t care if I was on the team, let alone playing in the top nine of the ladder. In the fall, I felt like I had something to prove. I definitely felt an extra drive to be the hardest worker in the room. I had a chip on my shoulder and wanted people to know that, although I walked-on to the team, I earned my spot and I’m here to compete.
Q: You captured the deciding point in the team’s win against No. 13 Western Ontario. What was going through your head at that moment? Did you know that your match was the deciding point?
Durfee: The Western Ontario match was the biggest mental hurdle I’ve ever had to get over. At that point in the season, I was still a little in shock that I was playing in the top nine. At times it felt like I never had anything to lose, as I had already felt so accomplished to be in the position I was in. This was the first time at UVA that I felt legitimate pressure to win. I couldn’t lose that match and shrug it off; prior to the match, Mark made it clear that this was a ‘must-win’ for our season to continue on the same trajectory. Going into the third and fourth games, I reminded myself of all the mornings in the weight room and long nights on court; I didn’t want everyone’s effort to be for naught. I just took it point-by-point and waited for my opponent to make errors. It taught me that in the tail end of a match, patience and endurance is really all that matters. After winning that match, the reality of being a college squash player hit me. Growing up, I would go watch Yale play in New Haven and think to myself how crazy it’d be to win a clinching match in a CSA contest, and how that is what college squash is all about. Winning against Western Ontario truly put things into perspective and made me all the more proud.
Q: How do you feel about what you were able to accomplish this season? Do you have a favorite moment?
Durfee: Looking back on the season, there were times where I was genuinely uncertain of the trajectory of our team. I’m so proud of where we ended up, especially given where we once were. This fall, we had a meeting where we set our goals for the upcoming season. Some said to finish in the top five, and others said to be more realistic; in the end we placed the threshold at eight. Going into nationals, I was nervous we would be complacent. We knew we had accomplished our goal already, being that we were competing in the Potter Cup (which only includes the top eight teams). Mark reminded us that there is still something to prove. That weekend provided my favorite moment of the season. Our win over Yale was the most entertaining three hours I’ve ever had. Witnessing my teammates produce great wins just built the excitement. Will Holey upset a kid he could never beat in high school, Peter Miller played the most dominant match I’ve ever seen someone play and Andrew Braff came back from 2-0 down in our biggest match of the season. Growing up, Yale always epitomized the pinnacle of college squash, and we beat them. That match cemented our season as one I’ll always remember.
Q: What is your goal for the next season?
Durfee: Seeing as we only lose two players and gain four first-years, I hope to see us retain our position in the top five. I know other teams are only getting better as well, but UVA is improving at a rate unlike any program I’ve seen before. That being said, it’s hard to neglect the fact that the status of the upcoming season is uncertain. At the end of the day, I’ll just be happy to compete and have another season with the team.
Q: You have a lot of incoming athletes joining the program. What is your expectation for the team next season?
Durfee: I’m really excited to see what our new recruits bring to the table. I know all of them are extremely skilled, and I have faith that they’ll adapt to the atmosphere of college squash. I can’t help but think we have a great chance at continuing to push up the rankings.
Q: What have you been doing during the quarantine? Have you learned any new skills?
Durfee: I spent the first few months of quarantine with my family at home. It was nice to have time together, as my sister recently graduated from college, so I haven’t been able to spend a ton of time with her. In June, I came back to Charlottesville to start an internship that lasts until late July. It’s been awesome being back on Grounds, as a few of my friends are staying here for the summer. During the early months of quarantine, I actually got into DJing and it’s been a fun skill to play around with while hanging out with friends.