Decorated new coach looks to elevate squash program

By Drew Ladner

Colby Squash began its season last Thursday under a new head coach for the first time in over 15 years. Chris Abplanalp, a six-time Liberty League Coach of the Year, was recently hired as Colby’s new squash coach. He replaces Sakhi Khan, who announced his departure in August.

Abplanalp spent 13 years at the head the of St. Lawrence University (SLU) squash program. According to the SLU Athletics’ website, Abplanalp was the most successful squash coach in the history of the program. The men’s team had won five consecutive Liberty League titles and ranked in the top six nationally three times at the time of his resignation. The women’s team also won the Liberty League in 2017–18. Abplanalp said his choice to leave St. Lawrence for Colby was due to Colby’s community and positive atmosphere, but also due to the opportunity to develop another program.

“In some ways, you spend a lot of time in one place and things just become same old, same old,” Abplanalp said. “I felt, for me, a big part of what I enjoyed so much at St. Lawrence was the years of improvement, of moving a team in a direction where we started here and got there. I think Colby is in a place right now where there’s the ability to do that.”

Abplanalp’s experience at SLU has made others at Colby optimistic about the future of Colby Squash as well.

“Coach Abplanalp is an extremely hard-working and driven coach who I believe is going to take our program to the next level,” said Elliot Gross ’19, captain of the men’s team.

Abplanalp is not the only new Colby edition set to bring his program to the next level. Between the new athletic complex in construction and Athletic Director Jake Okkala in only his second year, change has been one of the few constants in the Colby Athletic Department. Abplanalp’s hire marks the fourth head coaching change since July 31. Abplanalp believes the developing culture within the department is a sign of future success for Colby Athletics.

“The people that are involved [in Colby Athletics]…have just been awesome and super supportive and everyone’s on the same page,” he said. “We all want to see success in our programs. We’re all in the same boat here, trying to be successful, working with each other, trying to be more successful as a department, not just a program. That doesn’t just happen anywhere.”

Abplanalp hopes to bring Colby Squash into the national spotlight. Without the restriction of divisions, Colby can and has been nationally ranked. Last season, both the men’s and women’s teams were ranked 23rd in the country. However, Abplanalp believes the program has the potential to reach the level of success he experienced at SLU.

“I don’t see any reason why Colby can’t be up there in the top upper-echelon of the sport,” he said. “All the ingredients are there. You just have to get it moving in the right direction.”

There will be obstacles to build the program to this level. However, his biggest challenge thus far has been the scramble to get settled into a new college.

“The biggest problem, honestly, has been the wardrobe,” he said. “You spent a lot of years wearing the same stuff at the same school and then, all of a sudden, I have to get a new set of clothes.”

As Abplanalp looks to the future, he also keeps his eye on the present. He believes his first season will be integral to establishing the culture necessary to carry Colby onto the national stage. The squash captains already believe in Abplanalp and his system and hope the change will bring success this season.

“Beyond his recruiting and squash team management skills, [Abplanalp] is an extremely respectful and friendly guy and I’m excited to work with him to build our team this season,” Gross said.

The squash program begins its new era on November 18, when the teams travel down to Harvard for a match against Tufts University.