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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Breakthrough year for Owen Elliott result of family support, attitude and chance

Sophomore Owen Elliott has transitioned from novice to key player on the men's squash team.

Owen Elliott has had an exceptional sophomore year. Not only has he established himself as Tufts' premier golfer,but he also cemented his position in the starting lineup on the men's squash team; he is en route to joining the select group of Jumbos that call themselves multi-sport athletes.

Although initially recruited for both soccer and golf, the start of Elliott's collegiate soccer career was pushed back due to an injury. Resigned to the sidelines, he decided to take the rest of the semester off from soccer and possibly rejoin the team in the spring.

"[At that time], I wanted the college experience where I [could] write for the Observer, join clubs, whatever, so I quit the soccer team," Elliott said.

After having played soccer for upwards of 10 years, some of which were with a high school team that was among the top in the country, Elliott was burned out. After graduating from high school, he forwent an early college start for an architecture internship.

"I wasn't really excited for college. I was young for my grade, so I would have been a 17-year-old freshman, 130 pounds," Elliott said. "When I was recruited it was kind of 50-50. I like soccer and I like golf, but then I took a gap year, got to school two years after I was recruited and things changed -- I loved golf even more than I did before. That's a very roundabout way to get to where I am."

Yet even the 17-year-old, 130-pound Owen Elliott would not have guessed that his second sport at Tufts would be a sport he had never played before college. A day after quitting the soccer team, Elliott stumbled upon a squash team in need of new players to fill the bottom of its roster. Given his tennis background and athleticism, squash coach Joe McManus encouraged him to try out.

Little did McManus realize that he would be faced with an athlete that was not afraid to try doing things differently -- regardless of how far-fetched the ideas were, and regardless of how much they contradicted actual squash technique.

"I don't take advice as much as I should, so when I first got on the squash court I had a one-handed forehand and a two-handed backhand, which is ridiculous [in squash]," Elliott said. "That first day I did pretty well with the two-handed backhand. Not saying I hit good shots, but I could get to enough balls by just running. Coach [McManus] said first thing we need to change that two-handed backhand, [but] I had no idea what to do one-handed. [So I told McManus] that I was thinking -- forehand right hand, switch to the left hand, forehand with the left hand, and he was like, 'Oh my god, do I want this kid on my team?'"

McManus won that battle, and his impact extends beyond Elliott's one-handed backhand. The sophomore has remained in the lineup, fending off competition from first-years who havesignificant high school squash experience under their belts.

"I remember when he first started playing he was just horrible, horrible to watch," senior tri-captain Elliot Kardon said. "This year he's probably going to win most improved, which is pretty impressive for someone that just started playing squash last year."

Squash might have been a relatively new endeavor for Elliott, but a closer look at his father's unorthodox sporting background shows a pattern. When his father was 18 years old, he was among the top 50 ping-pong juniors in the country.

"Growing up in Philly, he goes to the one ping-pong club in the city and becomes phenomenal," Elliott said.

His family's influence, however, goes far beyond the athletic traits that have been passed down to him. His parents and sister drive from New York City to Middlebury, Vt., Williamstown, Mass. or even upstate New York, where the NESCAC Championship qualifier was held, to be present for golf tournaments, and they go to great lengths to support his summer golf pursuits as well.

"My dad's been unbelievable," Elliott said. "Two or three months in the summer when I was playing golf, we would hit the road to go to all these big junior golf tournaments. We'd go all over the Northeast, [and what he has done is] far over what a dad needs to, or should do."

Yet it is Elliott's commitment to self-improvement that truly sets him apart from his peers.

"The first day [of our Spring Break Arizona trip] we played a round of golf, and after [Owen and I] practiced till sunset [for] another three hours," golf teammate sophomore Ben Ruskin said. "The next morning, he wakes me up and is like, 'Let's go practice.' I'm like, 'Dude it's seven in the morning.' Another time it's pouring rain and I'm done, I'm waiting in the car, [but] he keeps pounding balls in the wind and the rain [even though] it's 40 degrees."

In the squash court and on the golf course, it's Owen's razor-sharp focus that makes him such a consistent performer.

"Golf is truly an individual sport, if you shoot a number that's all you can do," assistant golf coach George Pendergast said. "If [Owen's] in his little box of a room, doing his thing, that's what he's going to do. He has a way that he likes to play, he has a swing that only he knows how to do it and he goes out and performs well. It doesn't matter who he's playing on the other teams because he's in his zone, he's in Owen-world."

He also takes initiative, no matter the setting.

"[Owen'll] pick up little leadership roles -- for example, this past weekend we got back to our hotel room at 11 p.m. from a match and he coordinated the whole pizza order," Kardon said. "That was pretty clutch, because we were all just going to go to bed hungry."

"I didn't even want the pizza," Elliott said, laughing as the story was recounted. "Coach [McManus] was in the lobby and [asked] what we were getting for dinner. I told him a bunch of guys were getting pizza and coach was like, 'Can I get in on the order?' [and] gave me twenty bucks. Then I got stuck in the position [knocking on everyone's door]."

Additionally, Owen is interested in leaving a legacy for his teams, both competitively and socially.

"[Ben and I] were talking about the Ryder Cup [where players alternate shots with a partner], probably the biggest event in golf, and we came up with this idea for double alternate shot," Elliott said. "The big problem with alternate shot is that we could go a round and [either of us] could hit very few shots, so we came up with this idea and played me and Dave Carson against [junior] Brendan [Koh] and Ben. It was the most fun I've ever had on the golf course, and we did it again this year. If there's going to be a legacy for me in golf, it's going to be the double alternate shot."

Despite his commitment to squash, the golf team is still closest to Elliott's heart.

"Out of all the teams I've been on, I probably enjoy being on the golf team the most because everyone's a little odd," he said. "In golf, I feel like I'm one of the leaders because I'm one of the better players on the team. I feel like I can have a big impact having each kid get better, having the team get better, actually being able to look into the future of the golf team and try and get us there."