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Unnatural
Selection: The US Women’s Team

June
22, 2002 by Dan Kneipp (Kah-nipe)    <
also
read: selection recap
>

Ivy Pochoda’s dreams of representing
the United States in 2002 have been ruined by the selection criteria of
the United States Women’s Committee. The process was biased and unfair
and is detrimental to the strength of the National team and the reputation
of the selection committee.

I’ve previously written articles for
SquashTalk about the ,men’s professional world tour, and my brother Joe
Kneipp’s exploits as one of the top players. Delicate issues concerning
selection processes for an event that Joe doesn’t participate in and a
country he doesn’t play for isn’t a logical topic for me. Ron Beck, the
editor of SquashTalk has asked me if I would write an article on this
contentious issue. Ron has done this because he is aware I have a close
relationship with Ivy. Ivy was Joe’s girlfriend for over two years. We
first met when she traveled to Australia in 2000 with Joe. I spent last
Christmas and New Year enjoying the wonderful hospitality of her family,
and she lives near me in Amsterdam. For the last few months I have been
giving her training games to improve her match fitness in her aspiration
to make the US team.

Ivy Pochoda at the US Nationals
2002, photo © 2002 D Tessier

Most people are aware of the selection
criteria, including Julia Beaver’s special circumstances. Through a Byzantine
process of mathematical calculations Ivy placed third at the Nationals and
fourth in the team trials, but her overall average was fifth! Final rank was
calculated at 55% Nationals placing plus 45% trials placing. However, Julia
was medically exempted from the Nationals, thus her trials placing counted
for 100% of her final rank.

If the Women’s Committee claims that
this is an “objective” system, their buzz word, its very objectivity is
undermined by the fact that the system differs from one player to the
next. To say Ivy is upset at the circumstances and outcome of the selection
process doesn’t truly portray the actual disappointment she is experiencing.
She was unable to contain the tears when I spoke to her as she caught
her flight to Amsterdam

“I played the best squash of my life,
and they didn’t pick me” Her despair was less from the lack of selection,
but for the manner in which she has been omitted. How difficult it must
be to play your best, to win almost all your matches, and to be told that
because of a strange mathematical formula, what you achieved wasn’t good
enough! This is especially painful because, as she will admit, Ivy has
a long history of underachieving. “I am most disappointed because throughout
my career coaches and my parents have told me to ignore politics and personality
and prove myself on the court, something I have struggled to do. Well,
finally I did just that. This has been my most successful season and I
find it nauseating that I was denied making the team. I know in my heart
that I deserve it. I have proven twice that I belong in the top four.”

Ivy was concerned that people would
misinterpret her disappointment as bad sportsmanship and not see the underlying
flaws in the selection process “I do not want to take away credit from
any of the players who tried out. I never had any problems with allowing
Julia to try out. She deserved it. What bothers me is that we split our
matches. Why would one be more important than the other? Except for Latasha,
whom I pressed hard, I have the best record against the top four players
that were picked for the team. I cannot believe that I have been kept
off of a team when I have beaten 3 out of 4 members. As it worked out
I was the only player to play Latasha twice. In fact, I think that I wound
up playing more matches against the top four than anyone else.”

As I see it, the main objective when
selecting a national team is very simple – find the best players, and
importantly the most CONSISTENT players. Selection events for important
teams are usually designed so that if one of the top players has an injury,
or just a freakishly bad tournament, she can still prove her value and
position in the team.

One-off selection tournaments don’t
always produce the best team. The US Women’s Committee is aware of this.
Thus they created a comprehensive and demanding selection process that
included two selection tournaments and several compulsory WISPA or other
national events (although these were never factored in to either pre-trial
ranking or the final decision).

There were two major flaws in their
process—most obviously the lack of uniform criteria for each player. Ivy
doesn’t think the committee saw any problems in their selection process.
“Before the trials started I saw flaws in the selection process and brought
this to the Women’s Committee’s attention, even though I didn’t expect
them to actually do anything about. The ‘committee’ kept talking about
their system and seemed to set great faith by it, refusing to consider
that it might be wrong. At least, to their credit they stuck to this system.
They kept talking about having come up with objective criteria, and by
this they meant the formula for calculating the final rank. However, it
was not from the start the least bit objective as it was different for
one player than for the rest of us. I’m sure the United States Olympic
Committee who demand this objective criteria would certainly prefer head-on-head
matches to be taken into account.”

It doesn’t appear to Ivy that that
the Committee is aware of the bias to their system. “The system was shown
to be unfair. I do not believe that it was designed to give Julia preference.
But in the end it clearly had that consequence.” The irony of the selection
process that the Committee used is that it is designed to choose the players
who perform best over several tournaments, yet the exception to this process
favoured a player BECAUSE she was not able to perform over several tournaments.
If a player can’t fulfill the criteria set out for everyone else, then
the process they need to fulfill should be harder, not easier, as it has
proven to be. (As it turned out Julia NEVER had to play either Meredeth
or Shabana.)

Ivy and Julia played each other twice,
each winning one match. Ivy won more games and more points. Ivy proved
herself to be one of the top four US players by coming third and fourth.
She pushed the #1 to five games (Beaver lost in 3). If the same selection
criteria asked of Julia Beaver was uniformly applied to all candidates
Ivy would have qualified and Meredeth Quick wouldn’t have.

The other, and possibly unintentional,
flaw in the selection process was that the two selection tournaments had
nearly identical draws, which meant that Ivy had to play Latasha before
the final of both events. In the Nationals is was luck of the draw. But
at the trials she should have had a chance to challenge for second place.
However, the crossover between the pools did not allow a player finishing
second in her pool to challenge for the top position or the second overall
position (as every professional squash tournament involving pools does—see
Super Series or Grand Prix finals).

As it was arranged the winners of
each pool played off for first and second while the second and third place
players were funneled into a separate draw for positions three through
six. Acknowledging that Latasha is the strongest player, this meant that
it was impossible for Ivy to finish in second place at the trials. Julia
did well. She made an exceptional comeback and at the trials proved that
she is in the top four in the country. Meredeth proved the same at the
Nationals. Ivy proved herself at BOTH events.

Ivy is adamant that although she deserves
to be on the team she feels it’s important to lose gracefully. This is
obviously harder when she feels the system has caused her loss. Under
the circumstances I find it heartbreakingly valiant that she is still
concerned about the rest of the team, and doesn’t want to undermine anyone
else’s achievements.

“I will be fine and Julia deserves
credit for coming back so strongly. I’m not the type to sue or challenge
the decision. Although I wouldn’t mind an apology acknowledging a problem
in the selection. Their process damaged the credibility of US Women’s
squash and the Women’s Committee, and allows many people to feel that
rather than contributing to unified support for US women’s squash at an
international level, it provides evidence of its parochialism and its
continued bungling. I have received a lot of support over the internet,
which pleases and amuses me.”

Sure squash is just a game. But when
you choice to make that game your profession, it’s important that the
rules and officiating during that game are fair and that selection is
given to the worthy players. The Women’s Committee hasn’t done this, and
the strength of the women’s team is compromised and their reputation for
fairness is tainted. At least Ivy will be around to have a few drinks
with me during a certain week in October.

Kneipp’s
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