By Stuart Miller-Davis
Samantha Cornett has announced her retirement from professional squash.
She’ll leave competition at the pro level at 29 years old, having reached a career high ranking of Number 28 in the world and having won 13 PSA titles. She’s also been a Canadian national champion 4 times.
Several different factors went into Cornett’s decision but the catalyst was the death of her father, Jack Cornett, in a cycling accident in 2017.
“You miss a lot of stuff of when you’re travelling around, especially family events,” said the Deep River, Ont.-native. “I was happy to be there when we were in crisis with my dad but, I just realized I wanted to be closer to home. After he passed, I definitely tried to compete because I was confused about what the emotions were.”
The sport of squash runs through the Cornett family.
Her father was an enthusiast of the sport who competed in his first and only Canadian Squash Championships a year before his death. Samantha’s mother, Janice Lardner, was the president of Squash Ontario from 2015-2018.
Both parents played competitively in university and when they had kids, they tagged along. Cornett said she was probably five or six when she first got on the court and had a constant opponent her older sister Alex.
Cornett credits Alex, who is four years older, as being a big role model in her career and for her sister’s patience and letting her be a part of her squash training community.
Cornett said her family’s move from Deep River into Ottawa when she was nine was the first significant step towards her becoming a pro.
“It was a big change from having basically my parents as my squash coaches and then the odd coach passing through Deep River to (in Ottawa) having ex-professionals as players and having lots of role models and chances to compete,” Cornett said.
Her coach in Ottawa is Heather Wallace. Wallace is decorated squash player herself, having won over 40 titles across the world, including 11 consecutive Canadian women’s titles from 1987-97 and ranking Number 3 in the world in 1984.
“I remember her as being a good all-around athlete because she was a pretty good hockey player as well as a squash player,” Wallace recalled of her first impression of Cornett. “She was very easy to coach, very willing to listen. A really nice relaxed kid.”
Wallace said she could tell Cornett had what it took to succeed in the sport.
“She was very disciplined in her training and practice,” Wallace said. “It was very interesting because as a junior she would always say to me, ‘I felt really tired. I’m not fit enough.’ I’d say, ‘Samantha if you’re feeling tired, your opponent is going to be even more tired because I know how hard you work.’ She was always very good in that way and that’s what it takes to be a great athlete, to pay attention to all the little details and be willing to work.”
Wallace recalled the U17 Canadian Championships in Vancouver, where Cornett was crowned champion, as a highlight of the time the two spent together. Cornett erased a 2-0 deficit in sets to come back to win the championship in 5 sets.
When Cornett reflected on her career, she said one of the coolest things that stood out is how much she learned about different cultures and how many diverse experiences she was able to have around the world because of the sport.
Out of all the wins in her career she told Ottawa Sportspage competing at the Pan Am Games in Mexico in 2011 was one of her most treasured.
“It was a really cool experience,” she said. “It’s a multi-sport competition, which is totally unforgettable, meeting a bunch of different athletes from a bunch of different countries. When we won gold (in the team event) we were all ecstatic. It was hard to describe but just standing up there with two friends who now I have as friends for life. It was special and like seeing the national anthem and the buzz in the village, when you get back to the Canadian section of the village was really cool after having contributed to the medal counts.”
Cornett and her teammates Miranda Ranieri and Stephanie Edmison breezed through the group stage undefeated before they knocked out the Colombian team in the finals in straight sets. Cornett also took home a silver medal in the singles event. She defeated her teammate Ranieri in the semi-finals then lost to Samantha Terán of Mexico in the finals.
In retirement, she’s not sure where she’ll end up yet. She’s finishing a diploma in hopes to work in recreational services for seniors and has left the door open to pursuing an undergraduate degree.
She said she’s still on the court three or four times a week and has taken on some coaching which has kept her involved.
“I’ve enjoyed kind of stepping back a little bit since starting retirement.,” Cornett said. “I feel I’ve kept my foot in the door and I’ve enjoyed that but it’s a massive reduction from competing and training full time.”