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Head Men's and Women's Varsity Squash Coach Niki Clement. Photo courtesy of Haverford Athletics.

Fords in Focus: Match Point with Squash Coach Niki Clement

Editor’s Note: This is an installment in a series of members of the Haverford Athletics community meant to help the community get to know some of our peers and coaches that we see every day.

After a successful college squash career at Bowdoin where she was a two-time All-American, Haverford squash coach Niki Clement took on the pro tour, at one point ranking 78th in the world. She has been at Haverford for just under 15 years. Following the conclusion of the 2024 squash season, I caught up with Niki about the Haverford squash teams’ move to the Liberty Conference, her playing career, recruiting, and more.

Talk a little about your journey to becoming the varsity squash coach at Haverford.

The former Haverford squash coach, Sean Sloane, encouraged me to pursue the idea of applying for the position as he was preparing to retire. He had known me from my time as a college player, and he knew my career interests since I had interviewed him in the years after college for a graduate school project. I was lucky enough to take on the job once he retired, and have been at Haverford ever since.

Given both Mens’ and Womens’ Squash’s national rankings, what do you attribute the team’s success to? What lessons can other sports take from squash? 

It is exciting to be a part of the national ranking system every year and to compete for our end-of-year ranking every February at the Divisional Championships. With more and more programs developing at colleges and universities, it will be harder to hold our ranking, but that is ultimately better for us as a team and for the sport. Now that squash is finally being represented in the upcoming 2024 Olympics in Los Angeles, it is possible the number of college programs will soon multiply and it will be amazing for the sport and the squash community to watch. I am personally so excited for more people to be exposed to one of the most exciting, complex, physical sports there is.

Having recently moved to the Liberty Conference from the Centennial Conference, what differences have you noticed?

The team has felt the experience of competing in a conference to be really rewarding. Having a final conference event at the end of the season gives us an added focal point to strive towards in the season.

What were your goals for this season?

Most of our goals this season involved improving technique, the mental side of the game, efficiency in movement, tactics, accuracy, and execution. There is so much improvement that can be done in the off-season, and one of our program’s defining features has always been that the players continue to work in the off-season on their own.  When next season arrives with a new class of players, I know we will all be excited to get after it.  

What is your coaching style?

The Haverford Squash players could answer that best. Practice is my favorite time of day because the teams and I are very focused on and serious about what needs to be accomplished, but are also there to revel in the joy of how fun both the game and the company are. 

What do you look for in a squash recruit?

As students on this campus know well, Haverford is a place where very community-oriented people can thrive. As a result of this, our program tends to be made up of students who care about something much bigger than just themselves. We look for these kinds of student-athletes, and for other qualities as well, like how eager they are to improve, their coachability, potential, work ethic, humility, their passion for being a part of a team. Each year I am amazed by and thankful for the great group of players that join the program. 

You played in college and on the pro tour. What were some highlights as a player?

My first match as a college player was against a senior captain at an Ivy League school on an all-glass exhibition court with what felt like the whole world watching: the stands behind the court were completely filled. I truly felt after that match that the only reason I won it was because I could hear and see my teammates ardently in the stands the entire time. That was my introduction to college squash. 

On the pro tour, I played a Guatemalan player ranked #59 in the world at the time who was known for her gritty style and relentless fitness. I lost to her in a tiebreak, but after the match, she hugged me and said she’d never played someone so fit and gritty. 

On my 9-year-old nephew’s birthday list this year, the first thing on his list was “play squash with Aunt Niki.” I have something new to train for now.

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