Malaysian youngsters quit national team for college squash
By Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
Malaysian youngsters Teh Min Jie, Zoe Foo and Marcus Sim recently quit the national team to take up offers from American institutions to play college squash. TThe trio, who were all part of the successful CIMB Foundation junior development programme and graduates of the Malaysian Bukit Jalil Sports School, will leave the country at the end of the month.
Min Jie, who at 21, is the eldest of the lot. She heads to Trinity College in Connecticut where she is looking to major in arts or economics. The pint sized Min Jie, who reached her career high ranking of 55 in March this year, was a winner of the Malaysian Tour event in December 2016 and a member of the Malaysian team who won the 2015 Asian Junior Team title on home soil, where she came from 1-2 down to clinch the deciding match.
Zoe Foo, the youngest of the trio at 18, had just returned from a fruitful outing at the World Junior Championships where she reached the last 16 of the individuals and a bagged a silver medal in the team event, before she dropped the bombshell on quitting the national setup. She takes up an offer from the George Washington University. She has represented the country in various junior tournaments and reached a career high ranking of 93 in June 2015.
Marcus, 20, will be heading to the University of Rochester in New York. After playing on the tour for just over 2 years, he found himself struggling to make an impact and decided to seek this path. After a couple of correspondence with Martin Heath, the head coach of Rochester (and former Scottish professional), he received an offer in March this year. He was a member of the 2016 World Junior men’s team and won gold at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games in the men’s doubles.
The trio are understandably excited about their next phase of life, spared some time to share with us a little of their thoughts on several topics.
What will you be studying in the US?
Min Jie : Most likely it’ll be arts or economics.
Zoe : I’m still undecided for now but initially, I wanted to major in biomedical engineering. But after my mum exposed me to other fields, I am keeping my options open. But for my first semester at GWU, I’ll be doing psychology because I had to choose something during the application process and this caught my attention.
Marcus : I have not decided on what to major but I think I’m leaning towards business.
How many offers did you turn consider or turn down before deciding on this school?
Min Jie : Just the one.
Zoe : There’s a big difference in being offered and actually getting in. I applied and was offered to consider top Ivy League schools like Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Columbia and Princeton, but to actually get in, that’s the tough part. My SAT scores alone couldn’t guarantee me a place, plus the fact that I took a gap year to play pro squash didn’t help. So I actually only did turn down one firm offer from Trinity.
Marcus : In 2015, I was offered a place in University of Malaya (national university of Malaysia), but I was still undecided on what I wanted to do yet. So I decided to give myself the opportunity to try playing professional squash.
Was it a tough decision, to leave everything behind for college squash?
Min Jie : Not for me. I was sure about studying overseas all along and having had a bad year on tour just made the decision easier to make.
Zoe : It was really tough. Squash is something that I’m passionate about and I grew up doing it day in and out in my pursuit of a professional career. I also feel that I’ve build a really strong connection with everyone from the national team and a part of them feels like a part of me. Not being able to see them every other day will be hard. Their cheering and applause will be something that I’ll miss when I’m away. Their support has always helped boost my confidence whenever I’m on court.
Marcus : It was definitely a tough decision. Being a professional squash athlete has always been what I wanted since I was a kid and I’ve worked hard for it. But, I don’t see myself having a future in it given the circumstances, so I decided to make a change.
You have played on the PSA briefly and I believe it was something you worked for growing up. Right now, you will be walking away from it. How do you feel about that?
Min Jie : I’m not walking away from squash so I guess it doesn’t really have that much of an impact. I’ll still be competing at collegiate level, which is of a very high standard. But I guess the only regret I have is not trying even harder to match the top players, because I always have a sense of inferiority when playing against them.
Zoe : Well it’s sad not being able to compete on the PSA tour, knowing I’ve trained so hard to get where I am today. But I’m sure if I have some spare time in the US, provided if it’s the right time and place, I could compete again, but right now, I’ll need to focus on settling down, get used to the culture and focusing on my studies, which is the main purpose.
Marcus : I think the squash level in college squash is still very high. I will still have to continue training hard to compete, so I don’t think I will be missing out a lot.
We’ve seen people like Ali Farag and Amanda Sobhy going to college and play on the tour. They’re both graduated now and full time on the tour. Do you think there’s a chance you might still come back after college?
Min Jie : I doubt so. I had given up on professional squash when I decided to study abroad but who knows if I might have a change of heart?
Zoe : I haven’t really thought about it honestly, but I’ll definitely consider it. It also really depends on how I can keep up with the quality of my squash. It’s not easy maintaining good grades and great squash at the same time.
Marcus : I will definitely want to come back and play professionally again in the future. But a lot can happen in 4 years , so let me just get my college degree first.
What’s one big learning you will take with you having been on the tour?
Min Jie : Hard work alone is not enough. Sometimes, to win a match, all you need are your guts.
Zoe : Learning to be independent. When you’re on tour, it’s not like the junior tournaments anymore. In the junior tournaments, our coaches or manager would usually handle our accommodation, meals and transport, but on tour, we have to do everything on our own. It gets challenging but it’s the only way to learn and to manage ourselves. It’s also very exciting, because in a way, you get to do things you’ve never done before, explore new things and experience it.
Marcus : There are no shortcuts to being successful. You just got to training harder if you want to improve.
What do you look forward to in the US?
Min Jie : I can’t wait to see what US has in store for me! This is a great opportunity and I’m very lucky to be able to study abroad. I like the idea of exploring different courses before deciding on a (or two) major and am looking forward to be a part of an amazing squash team that share the same goal.
Zoe : Meeting new friends and exploring different places and culture. I think I’m an outgoing person, so it’ll be very exciting meeting new people. I used to be very shy but my mum helped me breakout of my comfort zone. I also love adventure and would want to explore the different places in the US.
Marcus : I’m looking forward to the whole new college experience by gaining new knowledge and meeting new friends. Of course, I look forward to college squash, and the Rochester squash team have a strong bond between the players so I think it will definitely be fun playing alongside them.
What will you miss the most being away from home?
Min Jie : Malaysian food of course!
Zoe : Apart from Malaysian food? My family for sure. They have always been my source of inspiration and have always pushed me to achieve my goals. I hope what I have and will achieve will make them proud of me. And food! No matter how Malaysian food is cooked in foreign countries, the taste and quality of it will never be the same. I will definitely miss my nasi lemak (rice in coconut milk) and char kuey teow (fried flat rice noodles).
Marcus : I will miss my family because they have shown great support to me since the day I started playing.
Share with us your most memorable moment of playing for Malaysia.
Min Jie : That’s definitely the Asian Junior Team Championships 2015 when both the men and women’s team won the title on the home ground. Me clinching the winning point made it sweeter!
Zoe : I would say coming third in the world women’s team event back in 2015. I’ve never felt so happy and proud. It was the first time Malaysia reached the last four since 2007. Standing on the podium amongst the best in the world, seeing the Malaysian flag raised high, that was such an honour and a dream come true.
Marcus : It will be the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa where we made a clean sweep of all 5 gold medals. I am happy to be a part of that winning team.
What words of advice do you have for your successors back home?
Min Jie : To work hard, enjoy the squash as much as they can, and don’t take failure too seriously.
Zoe : Don’t give up on your dreams. If you work hard, the success will come. Don’t let anyone step on your back, and instead, step up. Don’t let them tell you that you’re not good enough because you’re good enough. Toughen up and prove them wrong. If you believe, you’ll achieve!
Marcus : Don’t be afraid to fail. Things will not always go the way you want. Accept failure and take it as a learning process. Stay positive all the time.
Finally, if you didn’t have squash in your life, what do you think you’d be pursuing in life?
Min Jie : I would say pursuing my interest in arts and design.
Zoe : Honestly, I can’t imagine myself without squash being a part of it. My whole life, I’ve only been exposed to squash and all I did was playing squash. I’ve never really imagined what I’ll be without squash.
Marcus : I’m not very sure. I think I will probably get involved in another sport or go to college straight after high school.
SquashMad wishes the three of them all the very best in the US and we hope to continue seeing them pursue their squash dreams.