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Demer
Holleran, Dominating Force

COLLEGE AND NATIONL CHAMPION
REINVENTS HERSELF AGAIN


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February
2005, By Ron Beck © 2005SquashTalk
Photos: © 2005 Debra Tessier for SquashTalk

Winner of Nineteen
US National Squash Titles

Demer Holleran, playing in a recent exhibition. ©
Debra Tessier

Demer Holleran,
the squash wizard from Philadelphia who has accumulated the most complete
array of squash accomplishments of any woman squash player ever in the
USA, still epitomizes the essence and spirit of women’s college
squash.

When I asked her what her most memorable or important
accomplishment was in college squash, she unhesitatingly pointed to her
Princeton team’s accomplishment, not her individual accomplishment,
in 1989, her senior year.

Though Holleran
won the intercollegiate singles crown three times, it is the team accomplishment
that she clearly values most. “My freshman year, we weren’t
very good as a team. I was winning as an individual, but the team didn’t
go anywhere. The thing I am most proud of is the way in which we as a
team improved and improved to the point where we won the Howe Cup/National
Championship my senior year. I think I played a role in that in working
with my teammates.” 1989 was the first time since the early “glory
days” of Princeton Women’s Squash, which ended in 1984, that
Princeton tipped the Howe Cup, ending a Harvard two-year streak.

Demer Holleran proved later that this was no fluke –
she is a natural, quiet, unassuming leader, and she pulled off an even
more monumental feat when she later coached the UPenn women’s team
to its first ever (and only) Howe Cup title in 2000. She retired from
a nine-year stint in that position in 2001.

Demer Holleran, playing with current USA star, Meredeth
Quick. © Debra Tessier

Demer’s
accomplishments were far from limited to College Squash. Until her active
retirement from competition in 1999, Holleran won a total of nineteen
national singles titles, beginning with a national girls under 15 title
in 1981 and culminating with her last of twelve National Women’s
Singles Titles in 1999. Together with various partners, most frequently
Alicia McConnell, she has also won 18 national doubles titles and six
world doubles titles. She has won four Pan American Games silver medals,
and represented the USA at the World Women’s Team Championships
five times. For all of these accomplishments, Demer was inducted into
the USSRA National Squash Hall of fame early last fall.

A first look at Demer Holleran on court, left one wondering
how on earth she imposed such dominance over her competition. She didn’t
appear inordinately fast and was never flashy. But the even-tempered Holleran
may well have had the best ability to anticipate her opponent’s
moves of any woman squash player. It often appeared as if Holleran knew
the next shot her opponent was going to play before the opponent did herself.
So she was able to cover the court with a vengeance, without ever seeming
frantic or in a hurry. This ability was based on her total grasp of the
mechanics of the game as well as her mind which seemed to have a complete
catalog of all shots particular opponent used in different situations.
And undoubtedly, Holleran’s most valuable characteristics are her
competitive spirit and calm under pressure. She was the ultimate competitor
and out-thought, out-fought, and out-played many of her opponents. Her
most frequent opponent during her twelve-year National –Title run
was Shabana Khan, who never figured out how to beat Holleran. Holleran
also routinely mowed through Ellie Pierce and in later years the up-and-coming
Latasha Khan.

Demer Holleran, with her Penn Team, receives the National
Championship trophy at the Palestra. © Debra Tessier

Holleran’s
big rival in college was Diana Edge, the number one player on a Harvard
Team that won the Howe Cup in ’87 and ’88. Edge in fact defeated
Holleran in the Intercollegiate Singles Finals in 1988, giving Holleran
a rare loss.

After leaving College, Holleran faced the legendary Alicia
McConnell, who had dominated US women’s squash for a decade. The
1990 USA women’s world team featured McConnell at #1 and Holleran
at #2, though by that point Holleran was pushing McConnell for the preeminent
spot. McConnell soon retired, leaving the squash world wondering what
a rivalry between those two would have been like. Holleran is quick to
sing McConnell’s praises. “Alicia got higher in the WISPA
tour rankings than I ever did and she was a great player.” says
Holleran.

Demer decided, after college, to seriously pursue the
World Tour. Holleran first moved to Germany, to learn the softball game,
because, she said, she spoke German and felt that she would be a bigger
fish in a smaller pool, then if she had, say, moved to the UK to learn
the pro game. The transition that Holleran had to make from the hardball
game to the softball game should not be underestimated. There were really
only three American women were successful in following that route –
Holleran, McConnell, and Holleran’s contemporary, Ellie Pierce.

Holleran doggedly followed the tour throughout Asia and
Europe, reaching a highest ranking of #21 in 1993.

Having excelled in College Squash, USA Squash, WISPA squash,
and college coaching, Demer, whose drive to excel appears equaled by her
great energy, enthusiasm and creativity, turned to a new squash camp idea,
the Demer Squash Camps for Girls, the only serious summer squash camp
focusing on developing woman players. That camp has been now successfully
running for nine years.

And there’s more. Demer speaks enthusiastically
about her latest project. Her goal since retiring from the UPenn coaching
job has been to open a public-style squash club in the Philadelphia area.
She has been working tireless on that project for the past three years.
“I think that’s really close now.” she says.

And for the past year and a half, Holleran has been the
USA Women’s National squash coach. She took a team that was famous
for its lack of harmony and team spirit, and turned them into the Gold-Medal
winning team at the 2004 PanAm Squash contest.

From a giant of the sport, who has already amassed a full
array of laurels, expect fresh new ideas and accomplishments in the coming
months and years. Demer Holleran, a great competitor and coach, has lots
more to give.




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