Freshman squash player Beau River is in a unique situation in his sport here at Dartmouth. He started his career here playing in a position on the squash team that most players would be satisfied to end a career in.
Playing in the number one spot on the team, River possesses the skills to be the favorite in his matches against most of the Ivy League competition. This is a claim that only one other player from the 1990’s can make, Scott Hammond, who is now the assistant coach at Dartmouth.
In the year before he came to Dartmouth, River devoted his life to squash, traveling to England five times to train with David Pearson, the English National coach. He also competed extensively in amateur tournaments in the United States.
His travel paid off, and not just in frequent flyer miles. During that year, River developed his game to a very respectable level. Playing with some of the top players in the world, he also developed an awareness of the intangibles that make or break a player in a close match.
Now he uses the little things he learned like psyching opponents out and centering his mental game against Dartmouth’s opponents.
“He has really been a strong asset to the team,” co-Captain Jon Gabel ’98 said. “He played with one of the best players in the world and he has a different approach to the game.”
Oddly enough, River is not a seasoned veteran when it comes to squash. He grew up in Chicago, Illinois, playing tennis and hockey until the age of 14 when, as River describes it, squash found him.
“One day at the athletic club where I played tennis, a buddy and I rented racquetball racquets and played in a squash court because it was the only court open. A guy came up and told us that we were playing the wrong game in the right court, and he gave us a couple of squash racquets.”
From then on River was hooked, and Phil Yarrow, the same man who gave him the squash racquet that day, offered to train him for free. Between then and when he graduated from high school in 1995, River developed the love for the game that still drives him today.
Having made a decision in high school to take a year off from school before college to travel, River spent the summer of 1995 training on his own and debating where he would go during the next year. New Zealand and Hawaii were options, but the desire to play squash won out and River ended up in England in the middle of September.
“I was training with the #4 and the #15 ranked players in the world and with some guys who were ranked in the 20’s and in the 40’s,” River said. “I was in a pool of players that was just about as good as it gets.”
The downside to this situation was that River’s new coach was not exactly a moral role model. That factor, plus a severe case of homesickness, was enough to convince River that he needed a change of venue, and he asked a contact in Chicago for help.
That contact knew David Pearson so River moved on to Harrogat, England for five weeks. There he says he took his first step into European squash.
“He is a technician,” River said. “He broke down my footwork, my swing, everything. My level of play went from dismal to about as good as it can get.”
Between the end of December and August, River bounced back and forth between the U.S. and England, continually learning new skills.
In September he came to Dartmouth, and he admits it has been a big change.
“It’s a little different training when you have three classes to worry about,” River said.
The other big difference is the way he has to approach the game as a part of a Dartmouth team as opposed to as an individual, which he has been for all of his squash career until now.
Though the goal is to win individually, what counts in the end is if more of the Dartmouth players won their matches then the opposition did, so the number nine match counts as much as the number one match.
“I think Russell [Echlov] ’97 and Jon Gabel will kind of push him along,” Coach Chris Brownell said. “He’s coming in as a freshman with skills that kids usually leave with.”
What will ultimately determine the position River finds himself in four years will hinge on his self-confidence and obvious addiction to the game. Judging by the progress he has made in his first five years, All-American honors and possibly even a National Individual title may be in the cards for the next four.
“He goes into every match and thinks he has a chance,” Brownell said. “He wants to win and that’s what will make the difference down the road.”