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Ruxton standout gears up for World Junior Squash championships in Namibia

You could almost say Casey Wong was born to play squash.

The sport is a tie that binds the Wong family.

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Her mother, Pat Wong, a player for three decades and currently the squash coach at Roland Park Country School, used to put 3-month-old Wong in a baby seat, right behind the enclosed glass court, when she played singles.

But the Wong family's squash connection goes back further than that — all the way back to 1986, when Pat met her husband, John Wong , on a court in St. Louis.

Fast forward nearly 30 years and the family, which includes Wong's sister, Lindsay Wong, often plays doubles — parents versus children. All four family members are serious players.

John Wong has played recreationally for 36 years and Lindsay Wong played at the University of Pennsylvania.

"The kids are winning now," Pat Wong said.

These days, it's Wong, 16, who's doing most of the winning.

The rising junior at Roland Park is ranked as the nation's No. 1 player in the U17 age division and will represent the United States at the 2014 World Junior Individual Squash Championships in the Republic of Namibia, in Africa, Aug. 10-15.

It was her play in the U19 division against older players that earned her a trip to Namibia.

She won three tournaments, including the West Coast Junior Championship in San Francisco in January.

She received the news of her invite to the World Games in a telephone call from her mother early this summer.

It was a complete surprise for both of them, because neither mother or daughter ever thought it would happen.

"It wasn't a goal to make the world team because we thought it was unreachable," said Pat Wong, who is like a second coach to her daughter and has been traveling with her to national and international tournaments for the past six years. "But she did well enough in two age groups to make the team. She had an incredible year."

Previously, the 5-foot, 6-inch Wong had been intently focused on making a third trip to a tournament she loved, the Battle of the Borders in Canada.

She achieved that by acquiring another top-four ranking in the U17 category.

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She gladly skipped the Battle of the Borders to go to Namibia.

"It's definitely an incredible surprise," she said. "I can't believe it still. I was just real excited to be accepted to the Battle of the Borders. When I found out I was going to Namibia, I just thought it was crazy."

One of the biggest highlights of playing in the World Junior Individual Squash Championships is getting to compete against the best players from around the world. The tournament features 64 players from 17 different countries.

Wong will play four or five matches and face England's Amelia Henley in the first round. If she wins that match, she'll take on Egypt's Nour El Sherbini, a three-time winner of the event, in the second round.

"I just really want to take away the experience of playing new people," Wong said. "You get to play people from Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Poland and other places. They all have very different styles of play. They are very tenacious and very fit. They are very experienced. It's such a great opportunity."

Pat Wong, who will accompany her daughter, is every bit as excited about the trip, saying, "I think playing squash players from around the world will make her a better player. It will allow her to take her squash to another level."

One big challenge will be adjusting to the altitude in Namibia.

"It's 5,000 feet above sea level," said Rich Wade, director of the U.S. National Squash Teams.

In order to make the adjustment, he said, Wong and her four fellow United States players — Sabrina Sobhy, of Sea Cliff, N.Y.; Reeham Sedky, of Sammamish, Wash.; Olivia Fiechter, of Philadelphia, Pa.; and Kayley Leonard, of Rye, N.Y. — will leave Aug. 5, five days before the tournament starts.

Playing in Namibia could put Wong on the path to bigger things.

"This could give her the incentive to be a professional squash player," said Wade, noting that only a handful of women make a living as professional players. "She could be one of the world's best."

This fall, colleges can start recruiting Wong, who carries a 3.7 G.P.A.

At Roland Park Country School, she was a champion on the Reds' badminton team. She also volunteers for Squash Wise, a program that teaches the game to Baltimore City youth, and she belongs to several clubs at school, including Asian Awareness and Muslim Student Awareness.

She also finds time to practice and perform with the school's Hip-Hop dance squad and in a dance company called Roses.

"I can't imagine the top schools not being interested in her," Wade said. "You're talking about the Harvards, Princetons and (University of) Penn As a female athlete, she is extremely explosive, which a lot of girls her age can't cope with. She is very focused on reading the game. It comes very natural to her. Her demeanor is very relaxed, which allows her to be very aggressive and take her game up to the next level."

Wong, who has been playing the sport since she was 8, is not preoccupied with colleges at the moment. Her priority is preparing for Namibia. Since Memorial Day weekend, she's been training intensely with a professional coach, Lefika Ragontse, the squash director at DreadSports Squash & Fitness, in Timonium.

"It's like night and day," Pat Wong said of her daughter's training this summer, compared with previous summers, when Wong took time off from squash. "She's playing a lot more squash. In the past, she would always attend a (three-week) camp for biking, hiking and kayaking trips. This is the first summer she's not doing that."

Wong also spent five days at Yale University and in Philadelphia and West Chester, Pa., training with the other four U.S. players going to the World Junior Individual Squash Championships.

"It's a lot of drilling, match play, video analysis and fine-tuning all your skills," she said.

As part of her preparation, she competed in the Dutch Junior Open, in Amsterdam, in early July. She finished ninth out of 44 players in the U17 division, facing standouts from France, Turkey, India and The Netherlands.

"It's unbelievable what she has achieved for someone at such a young age," Ragontse said. "I think if it were any of the other higher profile sports, people would look at it differently. Four or five years from now, she could be one of the top 10 players in the U.S. That's not an easy feat."

Wong credits her mother with helping her develop into the player she is today and getting her ready for Namibia.

"She is really supportive. She is really good with helping me stay on schedule. She helps me get in the right mind set. It's very good because I get both the support of a mother and also the insight of a coach."

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