It is very rare for a squash player from these shores to make the grade in the world rankings.
Facilities and coaching are top notch but as there are so many sporting options in Cayman, it is easy for squash to be sidelined for more mainstream pursuits.
That hasn’t deterred Dean Watson, head coach at the Cayman Islands Squash Club from grooming youngsters to the Caribbean’s highest level.
A former pro, he was right up there in England, reaching No. 80 in the world so he knows what it takes to become one of the elite.
The junior team that competed in the British Virgin Islands recently did so well that they came away with a clutch of medals and massive props from everyone who saw them in action.
Most improved player in the whole tournament was undoubtedly Cayman’s Cameron Stafford, a lanky 15-year-old who reached the Under-17 final only beaten by teammate and hot favourite Alain Mudeen.
‘It was a very tough match,’ says Stafford. ‘I was confident, tried to do my best but his experience told and he was a lot faster than me. He hit a lot of good shots. I was running like a dog.’
Stafford has only been playing seriously for a year. Tennis was his first love until the lure of squash first took a grip after Hurricane Ivan three years ago. It took him a while to get into it but now Stafford is completely immersed in squash.
‘My favourite shot is the nick,’ he explains. It’s a sort of sliced shot, alternative to a smash. This youngster is rising fast. He’s already played for Cayman’s men in Jamaica and nurtures serious ambitions of going pro. ‘I attend Cayman Prep and High and I’m interested in playing squash at university in England because the sport is big there.’
Cameron’s love for squash is so infectious his father; John Michael – a total novice – has even started playing the odd game with him.
‘Dad went to the Olympics at 16 in sailing,’ so sporting excellence runs in the family. It doesn’t stop at Cameron.
Sister Courtney, 17, also went to BVI, losing in the first round but atoning by getting to the plate final where she lost to a Guyanese.
‘I’d been playing squash at school and like Cameron I was playing tennis and got invited to try squash by Dean,’ she says. ‘It’s a similar sport with the same sort of swing but different grips.’
Courtney hopes to go to a university in the US or Canada that has an excellent squash facility. In the meantime she’ll continue practicing at South Sound. ‘If I have any spare time I come down with Cameron at weekends. He plays 24-7; puts everything into it. That’s what makes him so good. Dean put him in with Alain and Jake Kelly who are the two best juniors in the club and that’s helped him improve.
‘Cameron can go as far as he wants to go in squash. He calls me lazy and says he’s going to thrash me when we play. He pushes me a lot and he’s not easy on me. That’s what I like about him because it helps to improve my game.’
She adds: ‘Dean has taught me a lot of techniques. In individual lessons he works on my backhand. He’s not always a serious coach and knows when to joke about. He makes it fun.’
‘I kill her on court,’ Cameron chuckles, then adds: ‘We get on good most of the time.’ His favourite player is the brilliant Egyptian Ramy Ashour who is only four years older, which means they could eventually meet if Cameron fulfils his ambitions…
Watson is pleased with both their progress.
‘Cameroon just loves to play and play and play. He’s always waiting to get on court with anybody. He was a bit slothful when he came from tennis and still has a bit of tennis movement feet but he’s coming on tremendously. In fact, in BVI this year so many people commented on his dramatic improvement from last year in Jamaica that out of 160 players he was the unquestionable choice. There wasn’t even a debate about it. Picking a most improved girl was much more difficult. I didn’t expect him to get to the final. Quarters, yes, semis, maybe. And he’s still got another year at this level.
‘Courtney doesn’t come down here as much. She’s got the drive but she’s not as aggressive as Cameron on court. She reads the game well but the belief factor is not quite there. Her reaction skills need to be a bit faster too. If she ran everything down she would be a completely different player.’