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Past beats future as local squash stars collide at nationals

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By Dan Plouffe

Under the watch of the local living legend, two generations of Ottawa squash talent met on Thursday evening at the Canadian squash championships in Vancouver.

And even though she’s retired from her pro career, 31-year-old Sam Cornett showed she’s still got game, knocking off 17-year-old Iman Shaheen 11-6, 11-9, 11-2 in the round of 16 in front of both players’ mentor, Heather Wallace.

Read More: Inspired by grandparents, retired squash player Sam Cornett starts business to help seniors age well

A winner of eight medals from three Pan Am Games, Cornett retreated from international competition shortly after the pandemic struck, though the four-time Canadian champion still competes domestically on occasion.

Iman Shaheen. File photo

Shaheen, meanwhile, is still making her way up the ranks, and has a pair of provincial and one national junior title to her name. In her early teens, she’d routinely out-duel the region’s top men’s players. At 16, she was chosen to represent Canada at the Junior Pan Am Games, an under-23 competition.

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Read More: Rising squash player Iman Shaheen prefers to challenge older opponents

Shaheen is competitive against open women’s players, as she showed by overcoming a 6-2 hole with five straight points against Cornett in the second set, but the veteran proved to be too much in the end.

Cornett felt “really excited” to face off with another player from the same Queensview Goodlife club where she grew up, she said in a post-game interview on-court.

“It’s pretty cool to watch (Shaheen) just at the very beginning of her career,” Cornett underlined. “I can remember some very influential matches of my own at a similar age. I know that she’s so excited to play squash and I am excited for her to play on a court like this because I know it’s just going to add to your excitement and your hunger for more.”

The Canadian squash championships are being held outdoors for the first time, with all-glass walls around the centre court at Jack Poole Plaza, which overlooks the ocean, mountains and 2010 Olympic Cauldron in downtown Vancouver.

“It’s like the most beautiful setting I could ever ask for,” highlighted Cornett, who is also helping to run the competition when she’s not running on court.

Asked if she’s gunning for a fifth Canadian crown after winning her last one in 2019, Cornett held up four fingers, then added a thumb, and answered, “I think five just looks nicer.”

“Five would be cool for me, but umm, I grew up with a role model who has 11,” added Cornett, motioning to former world #3 Wallace in the audience – the only Canadian to have won 11 consecutive national titles in any sport.

“Five is a personal goal, but I know I will forever be following along. Maybe one day down the line I can get some masters titles under my belt as well and make it to 11.”

Cornett will face Nicole Bunyan from nearby North Saanich, B.C. in the quarterfinals Friday at 9:20 p.m. ET. The championships are being livestreamed on cbcsports.ca.

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