by Kira Ratan –
They’ve held the number one spot on their respective girls and boys squash team at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry since they arrived from Egypt several years ago. Each has won national squash titles while in the U.S., so it’s no surprise that Nouran Youssef and Taha Dinana have been heavily recruited by first-tier college squash programs. This winter, they have committed to play next year at the college level—Nouran for #2-ranked Trinity College and Taha for the University of Virginia (UVA), ranked eighth in the nation this season.
Youssef, 17, started playing squash back home in Alexandria, Egypt at the age of six, prompted by her parents who wanted her to lose weight. “I was a chubby kid when I was younger, and my parents just wanted me to get into a sport,” she said. But what started as exercise turned into a passion. “Squash is very popular in Egypt, so it was a good opportunity with all the good coaches available.”
At the age of eight, she began to play in national tournaments throughout Egypt. She joined the Egyptian national team when she was only ten and began playing internationally as well. In 2015, Youssef made her debut at the U.S. Junior Squash Open and walked away with first place. Sahel Anwar, a coach from Masters, watched her and asked her if she would be interested in coming to study in America. “I never thought I would go to America to study,” she recalled, “but there was a lot going on in Egypt politically at the time and my parents thought why not, I mean it’s a better education and a better future.”
Once at Masters, Youssef became unstoppable from her freshman year on. She went on to win the U.S. Open twice more, in 2017 and again in 2018, and placed third in the 2019 tournament. Before and during her years at Masters, she has been ranked number one in all age groups, from under 11 up to 17, when she aged out of junior rankings.
Aside from her passion for squash, Youssef enjoys the academic side of her experience at Masters. She is a strong math student and loves the subject. She believes that coming to America has furthered her educational experience more than anything Egypt could have offered, especially as a woman.
Youssef had been talking seriously with Princeton and says she was told that all she had to do was apply. When she did apply, however, Princeton called and said they would not be able to offer her a spot after all. She considered returning to Egypt but eventually accepted Trinity’s offer.
Dinana, 17, grew up playing squash in Cairo from the age of 10. After winning most of the national tournaments available to him in Egypt, he won top ranking in his country for players under 17. That’s when Anwar sought him out, as well. “It was a much better opportunity to study, even though Egypt has better opportunities for squash,” he said of Masters’ offer to come and study there.
Wanting to enhance the academic side of his life as well as to play nationally in the U.S. he saw Masters as a place where he could be noticed by college coaches. He left Cairo and came to America for his sophomore year and soon after began playing in big tournaments. As a Masters student, he participated in five major national tournaments, earning first place in four and second in one.
While Dinana’s main focus is squash, he has developed a passion for economics. “Economics has always been my favorite subject, back home in Egypt and here,” he said. He has been able to explore the field in more depth in America and is now planning on studying economics in college.
Heavily recruited by many colleges, he narrowed the choices down to UVA, Columbia, and George Washington University, all of which had given him the “green light” on admission. In November, Dinana made the decision to go to UVA and says he’s excited to continue playing squash at a high level and delve further into his love for economics.
Youssef and Dinana will be missed when they graduate in the spring. The boys’ team at Masters, with Nouran joining Taha on the roster, won the New York State championship in 2017 and placed second in 2018. At their respective colleges, they will continue to take advantage of all the opportunities open to them. “Giving up has never been in my vocabulary,” Youssef explained, “and it makes me so happy to see that I’ve been successful not only at squash but at advancing my education.”