First-year Meagan Best joined the Cavaliers from Christ Church, Barbados, where she became one of the country’s top athletes. She was asked to serve as an ambassador for squash and was the flag bearer for her country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Best moved to the United States for her final two years of high school where she attended Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut before committing to the Cavaliers for the 2020-21 season.
Q: How have you enjoyed your first few months at UVA?
Best: They have been pretty alright. I mean, maybe a little rough in the beginning not being able to go out and the protocols for school I had to uphold. The move into a new environment, coming from my high school to here, it was all just very tough in the beginning. But I think having the experience of coming from high school in Connecticut is kind of like translating what I learned there to my early process here and has helped a lot. As things got going, when training and classes started, everything got a little easier to keep track of and started to move a little bit more smoothly. And so right now I’m doing good. I’m just exhausted but trying to stay strong for the last two weeks of the semester.
Q: Has it helped your transition to collegiate life playing with a former teammate in Mandy Haywood?
Best: Mandy and I grew up basically together. It was always she and I in the finals battling it out in competitions back home in Barbados and we played on the Barbados national team together, representing our country at various overseas competitions. So yeah, we have quite a history together and have been through a lot. But yes, it’s been nice having someone who gets it on the team. You know, having the same sort of understandings, like culturally, from home. And it’s nice to not really have to build a friendship. You have someone here that you already know, so there’s a friendly face on the team that you don’t have to put in that extra work with to build a relationship.
But it was also having my last two years of high school (in the U.S.) and then coming here, that made it a lot easier as well. Knowing what is expected in the American academic system, how to manage my time better and all that type of stuff was definitely harder when I first came here in high school. So the transition here wasn’t as tough.
Q: Is there a big difference between Charlottesville and your hometown of Christ Church, Barbados?
Best: Starting with the culture, I was an only child at home, not really having much to share, so to the roommate life I climatized pretty well. I had no problem sharing space, but that was a change having to climatize to the dorm life. Time management was also a thing. Living at home, my parents did everything. They’re like we have training today, school, etc.; they told me what I had to do. Here, I have to do everything on my own, things as simple as washing my clothes, changing my sheets, all those little things that parents do that we take for granted definitely came into play when I came to America. And then things with the team as well. As I said, Mandy is a great example. Everyone on the team at home, we kind of grew up in our own little clique. Our friendships off court were great. We did everything together but in terms of the actual training, everyone is kind of more individualistic. We’re trying to better ourselves, more individual training. Everyone is kind of focused on their own well-being. Whereas here, it’s more of a team spirit kind of vibe. It’s very team oriented here which took some time to get accustomed to. Team activities after training and team bonding was something I was definitely not accustomed to and honestly not quite into when I first came, but now I’ve come around and it is quite nice having that team to turn to at the end of the day. So yeah, there’re a lot of different things, but I do enjoy having the best of both worlds. I can have both worlds to kind of play around with, which is nice.
Q: How did you first start playing squash?
Best: I like to say I started in the womb. My mom would play when she was pregnant with me. Then she would take me when I was in the pram to the courts and squash was kind of my daycare. I just kind of grew up around the club; then when I was able to walk, I would hold a racket and just play. At that time, they wouldn’t allow juniors to get coaching until they were seven, so I got my first lesson when I was around seven. Mandy was around nine, so we started training with the same coach. That’s kind of how it started. Squash has just kind of always been there. It’s always been part of my daily routine. It’s never been a question.
Q: Did you start playing tennis and badminton around the same time?
Best: I’ve done a lot things, it’s hard to keep track. Before squash, I actually did ballet because my parents thought I was too clumsy and then it clicked that I absolutely hated it.
Squash was the first. I didn’t really take it seriously. I just played around. Then when I was nine, I picked up tennis and then cricket eventually when I was 11. I did like a bunch of other sports like netball and badminton at school, but it was never seriously. It was just that I loved to be active. Going home to just one child in the house, it wasn’t the most fun. I always tried to find activities to do with other people my age. That’s kind of how I turned to sports. Then I narrowed it down to squash and tennis eventually when I was around 12 and I eventually chose squash as my sport.
Q: Did you always want to come and play collegiately in the states?
Best: I never thought it was a thing growing up. I just knew I loved to play sports. I loved the social aspect of it. I just loved to be active and then I went to my first U.S. Open when I was 11 because my mom saw it advertised in a magazine. I came up here and my mom went ‘Well, we can actually compete with these people.’ I think I came like 17th out of like 124 at the time. She was like, ‘that’s not bad for someone who doesn’t take it seriously.’ From there it was, ‘we’re going to have to decide what sport you want to do’ and obviously I chose squash.
I just did it because my parents were like this is our way out. So that’s when the discussions of scholarships and stuff came in. It was never really a dream of mine. I remember watching movies with American college girls on TV, I never pictured myself doing it. I always looked further ahead. I wanted to have a good job etc., but I never thought of the process before that. But I guess my parents were the ones that kind of instilled that in me later on about scholarships and if you want better connections, America is the way to go and squash is the way out.
Q: What was it like going through the recruiting process and why did you choose UVA?
Best: Initially all my parents knew about was the Ivy League, so it was Harvard, Columbia, Yale. So those were the colleges we were definitely gunning for and they actually started to contact me around junior year in high school. I started to do a couple of visits and they never felt right, but I’m usually a very laid back person and was like, ‘you know, any place is going to be great. You know the name itself is great, so being at any of those colleges was going to be awesome.’ I never had a choice before in terms of what I wanted to do. It has always been squash. I went to the school that was assigned to me growing up and then I went to Choate (Choate Rosemary Hall) because that was where the offer was. This was the first time I was being able to choose where I wanted to go to school, so I wasn’t really too picky. I was like this is great. UVA was my last visit and I remember just loving the team, loving the campus, loving the atmosphere and I was like this is the place. I called my parents as soon as I left UVA and said this is it.
Q: What was it like to be asked to carry the Barbados Flag at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia?
Best: It still hasn’t sunk in. It’s a huge thing, huge honor. I just remember being very honored in the moment to be chosen out of all the great athletes back home. I was definitely the youngest athlete out of the many that they could have chosen, and I just felt very honored to be acknowledged in that way. Being able to carry my country’s flag on such a big and grand stage, it was definitely a huge honor and definitely something I will remember.
Q: What was it like to walk out in front of all of those people carrying the flag?
Best: It was pretty crazy. I remember being super nervous. Super, super nervous. All the cameras were just there ready. I was like 15 at the time and on this huge international, globally televised thing, and I was super nervous. It’s kind of still a blur. I remember just walking. I remember being honored and I was like this is a huge moment. I have all the athletes behind me from my country and I’m carrying to flag. This is crazy.
Q: After carrying the flag for Barbados, you were selected as a world squash ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games. What was it like to serve as an ambassador and what was your role?
Best: That was a big year, just so many things were happening. That was my first time going to Choate, I got to carry the flag, I got to play in the Youth Olympics. It was all just happening that year. Playing (at the Commonwealth Games) was just an amazing experience having squash be on that type of level and being exposed in that way. We’re trying to get it into the official Olympics, but it didn’t work out. Hopefully it will in the next years to come. But it was nice to be a part of the whole journey. Coming from such a small island and still being chosen as one of the very select few to be on the journey of squash and the evolution of squash, that in itself is just a huge thing for me. I’m just super grateful for that.
What they wanted us (the ambassadors) to do was just play matches on a very central area for the members of the International Olympic Committee and the people attending the games in Argentina to see and learn more about the sport. Then we would be asked questions by school kids and other attendees after, and in general we spoke about the sport trying to get it out there and more globalized because it’s not as big as tennis for example. So they just chose a very selective few people from all over the world to display the sport and describe how we felt and what we thought about the future of the sport.
Q: Do you have any advice for young athletes looking to compete in squash and go on to play in college?
Best: So, I came from very, very humble beginnings. My parents’ generation grew up having to live with other family members, because they couldn’t afford to live on their own. So now, here they are very middle class, sending their daughter to boarding school. It’s just all about discipline and hard work, that is my two cents to give, and once you have the dedication and right attitude you can do it for sure. Just keep your head on, make sure you make good decisions, work hard, stay focused and you will reap some sort of success in the end. Remember when you are playing at a competition of any level there are those watching who you may have your future in their hands so always give of your best and display a good attitude even if you’re losing.