Carlos Ames, at top, a junior at Mount Greylock Regional High School, plays in the Junior Silver Squash Championships on Friday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Melissa Swann said one of the great things about competitive squash is the opportunity to travel and compete throughout the Northeast.
But a little home-court advantage never hurts.
Last year, the Williamstown teen protected her turf with a first-place finish in the under-13 division of the Junior Silver Squash Championships at Williams College.
This weekend, she puts that title on the line as the event returns for two days of the U.S. Squash-sanctioned competition at the Simon Squash Center.
The event is held in conjunction with the Berkshire Open, an 8-year-old Professional Squash Association event with a $35,000 purse headlined this year by the 18th-ranked player in the world, Alister Walker.
"It's really cool," Swann said. "I definitely learn a lot by just watching them make great shots."
Charlotte Rand, Swann's fellow eighth-grader at Mount Greylock Regional High School and competitor in the under-15 division this weekend, agreed.
"It's fun to see how intense they are and how much better their game is," Rand said. "Even watching the way they warm up, you can always get tips."
Young enthusiasts of the sport often get most of their tips from Williams College men's and women's squash coach Zafi Levy, a four-time all-America selection at the college who created the Berkshire Open shortly after returning as coach in 2002.
His lessons have paid off for Swann and Rand, as well as Carlos Ames, who will compete in the under-17 boys division this weekend.
Swann has two career tournament wins and a second-place finish from a tournament this January in Brooklyn, N.Y., on her resume. In her first year at the U15 level, she is ranked 66th in the nation, though that could be deceiving.
"Squash seeding is based on a complicated ranking," explained Rob Swann, Melissa's father. "Neither Melissa nor Charlotte plays a lot of tournaments because we live up here, and there are not many tournaments nearby.
"Melissa is probably going to have a tough match in the first or second round. Win or lose, she gets to go on to the consolation bracket, though. So either way she'll have a good chance to win some matches."
Rand picked up her first career tournament title last December in a 16-player field in Tarrytown, N.Y. She has a third-place finish already this year and reached the consolation finals a year ago in Williamstown.
Ames was third in January's Heights Casino Silver tournament in Brooklyn and is seeded third this weekend in his age group.
A year ago, the Mount Greylock junior was one of the younger players in the U17 ranks and ended up winning two matches in the consolation bracket at Williamstown.
"Last year went pretty well," Ames said. "I was playing baseball last year in the middle of it, so I wasn't the best squash shape. This year, I gave up baseball to focus more on squash.
"Baseball has always been a passion of mine, but I feel like squash is what I'm better at, and there's more of a future for me."
That includes his immediate future — he hopes to play the sport in college — and the long term because squash is a lifelong sport.
Rand said she started playing the game in the third grade because she was introduced to squash by a friend. Like Swann, she plays soccer, but both said the individual nature of squash is appealing.
Charlotte Rand readies to swing. Look for more photos of local players here.
"Since you're on your own, you don't worry about other people and just do your own thing how you want to do it," Rand said. "You don't have as much pressure. ... If you're team loses, you're upset, but you're not as upset if you're on your own."
That's not to say squash is anti-social.
One of the things Swann is looking forward to this weekend is her family's role as a host family for a player from New Haven, Conn.'s, Squash Haven program. The urban squash program is run by former Williams coach Julie Greenwood.
Most of the rest of the hundreds of boys and girls coming to town this weekend will be staying at area hotels, which is another benefit of the event.
"Normally, the month of April is not great, but with the squash tournament, the weekend is busy for us," Williamstown Motel manager Vijay Narula said. "The town gets a lot of business. Nearly all the hotels are sold out."
There are 250 players in 10 different different divisions competing at this weekend's tournament. Many will be familiar faces for players like Melissa Swann.
"I see some of the same people at tournaments often," she said. "I get a chance to talk to them a couple of time a month. It's really fun because we have a chance to catch up with each other."
The Junior Silver Squash Championships run Friday, April 13, through Sunday, April 15, at the Simon Squash Center at Williams College. The PSA World Tour Berkshire Open presented by True North runs through Sunday in Chandler Gymnasium.
Williamstown's Melissa Swann advanced to the championship match of the under-15 division at the 2012 U.S. Junior Silver Squash Championships at Williams College this weekend.
She was defeated by Delaware's Sawyer Chilton in three games. Swann, who won the U13 title last year at the event, moved up to the higher age bracket this season.
Williamstown's Charlotte Rand and Carlos Ames bowed out in the first round of the consolation brackets of the girls U15 and boys U17 divisions, respectively.
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