The Pan American Games are close to the peak for Ottawa squash player Samantha Cornett, whose sport is not on the Olympic programme. She is one of 22 local athletes representing Canada at Lima 2019.
By Melissa Novacaska
Sam Cornett is no stranger to hitting the highest levels of courts.
The Deep River-born player who previously lived and learned the sport in Ottawa is one of Canada’s top squash players, having competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2010, 2014 and 2018, and at the Pan American Games in 2011 and 2015.
For Cornett, it all began when she and her sister would tag along with their parents to “mess around on the court” as kids.
“It kind of just grew from there,” Cornett said.
Before moving to Ottawa when Cornett was nine years old, her family would travel into the city for lessons and to play with their parents. Once they moved into the nation’s capital, Cornett came across more and more competition.
She played in her first junior nationals competition around the age of 11 and continued to play competitively locally until she moved away from the city at 18 to advance herself in the sport.
Her greatest performance to date came in her Pan Ams debut in Mexico in 2011.
At the 2011 Pan Am Games, Cornett won a silver medal in the singles competition and a gold in the team competition. She followed that up in Toronto in 2015 with two silver medals – one in doubles and one in the team event, as well as a bronze in singles.
Cornett likes her chances again this year, in her third shot at what can be considered one of her sport’s pinnacle stages.
Since squash has yet to be made an Olympic sport, both the Pan Am Games and Commonwealth Games serve as the sport’s hypothetical Olympic Games.
Cornett wouldn’t say which event is more special to her but did acknowledge their singularity.
“It’s very special to be a part of a multi-sport games. It’s a completely unique experience and I’m very grateful that I’ve got to do it so many times,” Cornett said.
FINDING HER FEEL
“I feel great,” Cornett told the Ottawa Sportspage shortly after completing a training camp in Montreal, where she practised for both the singles and doubles events.
The training regimen for the major Games – the Pan Ams and Commonwealth – are always a bit different for the four-time Canadian Women’s Open Champion, who says she’ll typically focus on either singles or doubles, except in preparation for her sport’s version of the Olympics.
Heading into the Games, Cornett says she considers it to be an advantage to have experience at the event, which this year will take place in Lima, Peru from July 26 to Aug. 11.
“I know what to expect so I can focus on the squash,” Cornett said.
At this year’s Games, Cornett will participate in the women’s individual event, in the women’s doubles event with teammate Danielle Letourneau and in the women’s team event, which consists of teams of three women.
Heading into any Games, Cornett said she tries to “feel as fit” as possible and focuses on tactics and ways she can beat specific opponents or teams. She also tries to get some good match time in before a big event, and tries to have minimal stress.
The 31st ranked world squash player says her team’s goal going into this year’s Games is to beat their seeding.
At 28 years old, Cornett says her squash career has been “pretty cool.”
“It’s a hard thing to do because you’re always trying to look forward, but when I look back at the whole thing I’m pretty proud of myself,” Cornett said.
She says the sport’s challenged her character and willpower and that undeniably it’s been a huge part of her life.
“Pretty much my entire personality is based around squash,” Cornett said. “Squash has given me a life that I think I wanted from a very young age and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, I’m pretty grateful.”