By Adam Gerchick '13
Mimi Bell had never hit a squash ball when she first joined the team. A two-sport athlete, she is also on the tennis team.
When Amelia “Mimi” Bell ’11 first stepped onto an Amherst squash court her freshman year, she’d never hit a squash ball. A tennis recruit from Shaker Heights, Ohio, Bell turned to squash after failing to make the tennis team lineup. Despite a shaky start on the court, Bell, who will graduate on May 22 with a double major in political science and religion, decidedly found her groove: this past season, she served as team captain and received the College Squash Association’s Ann Wetzel Award, presented to the most outstanding undergraduate player never to have played squash prior to college.
Bell’s first few squash practices sound much like those of any novice player in over her head. “The first day of practice, the coach explained that we were going to do some drill, and I didn’t know what any shot was called,” she says. “He said that we were going to do a ‘boast’ and then a ‘rail’ and then a ‘shot’ and then a ‘drive,’ and I just sat there freaking out.”
However, taking up squash did not mean putting down a tennis racket. After making the tennis team lineup sophomore year, she became an important member of that team, too, assuming a rigorous and, at times, unglamorous daily routine. As she said in March, “It’s a lot of hitting and working out during the day, so I’m kind of sweaty all day, every day, and in class in sweatpants all the time.”
Tennis practice would usually follow two hours of intensive squash training. That dedication has proved itself in her accumulation of recognitions: Bell is a four-time NESCAC All-Academic athlete as well as a 2009-10 College Squash Association Scholar-Athlete. “To have never seen squash before coming to Amherst and end with the preeminent Ann Wetzel award speaks volumes about her athletic abilities,” says Peter Robson, Amherst’s head squash coach. “From being a walk-on to being elected captain clearly shows the contribution that Mimi has made to this team and the respect she has earned from her teammates.”
Off the court Bell has become fluent in French and conversationally competent in Arabic. Next year she will be Amherst’s exchange fellow at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. She also plans to take the U.S. Foreign Service exam in the hopes of serving in the American diplomatic corps. Ultimately, she intends to pursue graduate work in international relations and law.
Looking back on her athletic career, Bell recounts a rare instance of humiliation as her most memorable moment. “When we were playing Smith this year,” she says, “which is not a very good squash team, we sat out our top five girls, so I had to play the number two [ranked player]. [It seems as though] no one’s ever lost to Smith, and I lost to Smith in three games.” Bell turned the situation into a means of encouragement. “Throughout the rest of the season, whenever a freshman was upset or anything was wrong, I just kept on telling them, ‘I lost to Smith, I lost to Smith.’ I’m pretty sure I was the first person in the history of Amherst squash to lose that match.”
In light of Bell’s broader legacy on the court, that distinction may not remain so dubious for future players.
Photo illustration by Samuel Masinter '04