For Ben Andrusco, his passion for squash comes from the thrill of the chase.
“There’s so many different levels, there’s always someone you’re aspiring to beat,” said the 30-year-old Fort Frances High School teacher whose star is on the rise in the competitive squash circuit of central Canada.
Andrusco’s ascension has been unprecedented for any player from these parts. He was the first from Fort Frances to ever qualify for ‘B’ level status in the sport after a victory at a ‘B’ tournament last year during his season as part of Squash Manitoba.
If he can win the ‘B’ overall championship, Andrusco will earn the right to move up to Squash Manitoba’s elite ‘A’ level next year.
“I started going to Winnipeg to compete in a higher number of competitive tournaments,” said Andrusco, whose brother, Anthony, and Toby Munro are other Fort Frances residents who have since made it to the ‘B’ level.
“Squash Ontario has the same set-up, but the closest place to play is Thunder Bay and there’s only one tournament per year there,” he noted.
Andrusco won the annual Boxing Day tournament here and then won his opening match at the Manitoba Open in Winnipeg before falling to eventual ‘B’ champion Jared Niessen (Winnipeg).
An extra bonus for Andrusco at that tournament was getting to watch an exhibition match involving the world’s second-ranked squash player, Toronto’s Jonathan Power.
“He’s like [Wayne] Gretzky in hockey,” marvelled Andrusco. “He’s so quick, he’s got a great shot, and he has an incredible sense for the game.”
The individual aspect of the sport is what keeps Andrusco coming back.
“I’ve been involved in team sports all my life,” he explained. “I like that in squash, you have to rely on yourself.”
Since taking up the sport seriously in 1997 after returning to Fort Frances to teach, Andrusco has helped blaze the trail for what he sees as a promising crop of younger players from the area.
“The strongest part of Fort Frances squash is its junior program,” said Andrusco, who credited junior co-ordinators Bob and Mary Beth Tkachuk for keeping the program in good shape.
“We’ve lost a lot of adult players in the past two to three years. Hopefully, with the juniors, we can produce players to keep the system running,” he added.