An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Cavalier Corner Magazine
“I like to say I started in the womb.”
Virginia fourth-year Meagan Best smiles as she recounts her squash history.
“My mom did play with me when she was pregnant,” Best continues. “So I was born with it, but squash really was my daycare. When I was finally able to walk, I would go on court, pick up a racket, and start swinging. I’ve always been around it. I’ve never seen a day of life without squash.”
Best was born in Barbados, growing up in the parish of Christ Church. Her parents, Michael and Gayle Best, took up the sport as adults and played recreationally, passing along their love of the sport to their daughter, even though it was not commonly played on the Caribbean island.
“It’s more of a retirement kind of sport there,” Best said. “There were no more than 40 kids that played.”
What began as her parents’ hobby turned into something historic. Last month, Meagan Best became the first-ever squash player from her home nation to medal at the Pan American Games. It was the first-ever squash medal for Barbados and also only the second for a Caribbean nation. In the 19 times that the Pan American Games have been held, Guyana’s Nicolette Fernandes is the only other Caribbean native to mount the podium, earning a bronze in 2011 in the singles competition.
Best did not just win one medal, but two. She followed her historic bronze in the doubles event by duplicating the finish in the team event two days later, this time with former Cavalier teammate and fellow Barbadian Mandy Haywood ’23 joining her on the podium. The two Cavaliers won their individual matches in Barbados’ quarterfinal 2-0 victory against Chile to advance the team to the medal rounds, where they earned their team bronze.
“It’s an honor to represent Barbados,” Best said. “Honestly, I don’t think I understood how much it meant when I was younger, but just thinking about it now, I understand how much of an honor and privilege it is just to have those letters on the back of my clothes. It’s huge, coming from where I come from with not many resources, but still being able to perform at the same level as these kids who have double the amount of access.”
She also felt her accomplishment was even more special as she shared the team bronze with Haywood.
“I grew up with Mandy, so it was it was awesome,” Best said. “Just kind of remembering our whole journey up to that point and knowing that even at the big, biggest stage, we’re still competing together, holding our camaraderie and our bond, and bringing it home for our country. I consider her a sister now. I would hope she also says this.”
Best is a veteran of international competition, especially at the junior level, having won three golds and two silvers at the Junior Pan Ams. She has twice competed at the Commonwealth Games, but this was her first time at the Pan American Games. She began her international competition by playing in Caribbean tournaments while in grade school.
“My first Caribbean tournament, I did pretty well. So I was like, I’m not bad. So I kept with it. It was the center where all my friends were, so even if I wasn’t good, I just wanted to have it in my life.”
Her showing at the US Open when she was 11 inspired her to take things more seriously.
“I was 11, playing in the under-13 age group, and I came, I think, in the top 20, which wasn’t bad at all for my first time. So I thought maybe I can do something with this. The training I got versus what the kids get here in the US was very much inadequate. The fact that I could still perform at a decent level said a lot to my parents, who persuaded me then to keep with it.”
It was also at a US Open that she was recruited by Choate Rosemary Hall, a residential boarding school in Connecticut. She and her family made the decision for her to spend her final two years of high school there, which was a huge adjustment.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Best said. “I just knew to get where I wanted to be in life, I needed to get myself outside of Barbados for more opportunities. But I didn’t think about it outside of the courts. Once I got there, the culture shock was massive! They eat salads! I just wanted a burger!
“It was different in the classroom, too. Back home, 30-40 kids are shoved into one classroom, and the teachers are just projecting and you just learn. In Connecticut, it was ten kids in a class and they expected me to articulate my opinion. It was very hard for me in the beginning and was a very big, big switch. But looking back, I don’t regret it at all.”
Best continued her training and her run at international competitions. At the 2019 US Open, she was the sixth seed in the tournament, taking down the third seed in the quarterfinals and the two seed in the semifinals to finish on the podium with a silver medal. Between her success at Rosemary Choate and at the US Open, she caught the attention of Virginia head coach Mark Allen. After a visit to Charlottesville, she made her decision to become a Hoo.
She arrived on Grounds in September of 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until November of 2021 that she got to play her first collegiate match.
It was worth the wait.
In March of 2022, Best became the first female player in the program’s history to be named a CSA First Team All-American, earning the honor in her delayed freshman season. She was also named the MASC Rookie of the Year and picked up first-team All-MASC honors. Last year, she was the unanimous selection as the MASC Women’s Player of the Year and tallied her second First Team All-America honors while also making a run to the final four of the Ramsay A Division bracket at the CSA Individual Championships.
Days after standing on the podium in Santiago at the 2023 Pan-Ams and serving as Barbados’ flag bearer in the closing ceremony, Best was in New Haven, Connecticut, leading the Cavaliers to their first-ever win against perennial collegiate powerhouse Yale.
“It’s just been an amazing journey,” Best said. “I’m honored to represent Barbados and UVA. Let’s just keep going and see how far we can go.”
With the second half of the Cavaliers’ season still ahead and a fifth-year next year when she will work on her master’s degree in marketing and management from UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce while playing her COVID bonus season, there are many people looking forward to seeing how far she and the Cavaliers can go.
But first, Best has one unfinished piece of business back home: celebrating her medal-winning performance. Her father, Michael, was in Santiago, serving as the team’s manager at the Pan Ams, but she has not seen anyone else to celebrate her historic victories.
“It will be super nice just to get some family time and for my mom to finally celebrate with me. I also can’t wait to see my dog.”