Just before Covid in early 2020 I was the No 1 female player on the Ireland U15 Team playing in the U15s Mixed European Squash Team Championships. Our team came second.
What is your current goal
To be in the Top 15 of U19 Girls Squash in Europe by 2023
Courting success and the opportunity to compete in the 2023 Squash World Juniors
A Level student Sophie Thomas has a lot to thank her mum for. Back in 2017 when Sophie was 12, her mum entered her in the ‘Ulster Junior Closed Tournament’ in squash at Belfast Boat Club and the rest as they say is history.
“Until then I had played lots of other sports including tennis – but never squash. I just loved it from that first moment and got stuck into practice, training and matches. I quickly caught up with others my age in the club and eventually made the Irish Team.
“Squash has such an amazing community of people and I’ve made friends from all over the world. I’ve travelled to so many places that I wouldn’t have visited if it hadn’t been for squash. Hamburg is one of my favourites – a really special city. Squash has certainly opened up so many doors for me.”
Seventeen-year-old Sophie has just completed her AS year at Strathearn School in East Belfast focussing on sciences and maths. Currently she is working part-time to earn some extra cash, is undertaking voluntary work and plans some work experience to help with qualifications choices. Pragmatically Sophie sees herself as taking one step at a time, perhaps doing a ‘Gap Year’ and most likely going to university. But one thing is certain whichever colleges she applies to, the priority is that they have a top-notch university squash club.
Since taking up squash Sophie has been coached by Belfast Boat Club and Ireland U15s coach Josh McVeigh and was first supported by the Mary Peters Trust in 2019.
“Trust funding has been the greatest help. Travelling and competing in tournaments is so expensive and I can never be grateful enough to the Mary Peters Trust for their funding support. Hopefully I can give back to the Trust now and in the future. What Lady Mary’s Trust does for local athletes is nothing short of phenomenal – it’s extraordinary.”
Sophie of course also has huge support both motivational and financial from her parents and the backing of her siblings. “My older sisters Rachel and Jemina and brother Nicholas as well as mum and dad are fantastic. Jemina is involved in squash as a social player, and we’ve got her boyfriend Owen to take up the sport. I’ve played him a few times and beaten him – gracefully I may add! He really doesn’t mind. It just shows how good squash is. Anyone I know who starts to play casually or competitively just falls in love with it and adores the camaraderie.
“My parents have given up so much to push me forward and back me in terms of travel costs. And they are always there if competitions don’t go my way – to talk me through it and help me be positive for the next match.”
Belfast Boat Club squash players and coach Josh McVeigh have been equally influential and encouraging. “Josh has been my mentor and coach since I started playing and I can talk to him about anything that life or squash throws at me. He gives me great advice and it helps that his sister plays squash at Columbia University in America – she’s also very supportive.
“Our squash club members are brilliant, helping me to improve my game by playing against me all the time and advising me on match strategy and technique. I’m very thankful.”
Strathearn School has also been exceptional with teachers being very understanding of the time Sophie needs off to compete in tournaments and helping her catch-up with schoolwork. Sports-wise, Sophie is a member of the school Hockey team but can’t always get to training and matches but PE teachers still involve her which Sophie very much appreciates.
Sophie’s proudest achievement to date is coming second in the U15s Mixed European Squash Team Championships where each team consists of three boys and two girls. Sophie was competing for Ireland and was thrilled to be the team’s Female No 1 player.
“The Irish boys in my age group play at a phenomenal standard which pushes me to perform at my very best.” It was in early 2020 literally just before COVID struck and Sophie was undefeated in all her matches in the Ireland circuit.
Once the pandemic hit full force and like all athletes, training for Sophie during COVID was challenging. “I was running and cycling and ‘ghosted’ squash movements with my racquet as if I were on court. Movement is vital when in the squash court – so I did as much as I could on my own. With squash being an indoor sport, we were one of the last to be allowed to go ‘back to normal.’
It was during 2022 before the sport at elite level could get back to full throttle and Sophie’s first big tournament is the Welsh Junior Open in September 2022. “I’ve just moved to Girls’ U19s which is tough as I’m still only 17 and many of my fellow players have had more experience than me. But I’m determined to progress and do well. My key goal is to make the Ireland team competing in the Summer 2023 U19 World Championships and to be the team’s No1 female player. Ultimately, I want to be in the Top 15 of U19s Girls’ Squash in Europe by 2023.”
Getting on the Ireland team will all depend on how Sophie performs in the Inter-Provincials and the Nationals. After these tournaments the Ireland team for the Europeans will be selected, and then for the U19 World Championships. So, September 2022 to February 2023 will be crucial for Sophie.
And when it’s not squash season Sophie can be found on the cricket greens playing for both Civil Service and Northern Cricket Union. She was recently picked to play for the Ireland U17 Girls’ Team in a series of matches against the Netherlands in Amsterdam. However, Sophie wasn’t able to join her teammates as she was involved in a Mission trip to Spain.
Cricket is a sport she shares with her oldest sister Rachel who captains Civil Service Women’s 1s. Whilst Sophie hugely enjoys cricket, she emphasizes that squash will always be her number one priority. In terms of sporting greats, it’s actually not a squash or cricket star who Sophie looks up to, but young tennis ace Emma Raducanu.
“Emma conducts herself very well and navigates any setbacks superbly. Whilst she’s experienced fantastic success, it’s when something goes wrong that she seems to come back stronger. I really admire that in her.”
Sophie’s words of inspiration: “As ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky says, “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take””
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