Five years after a successful career on the Cornell squash team, senior Sivasangari Subramaniam will leave the University as one of the most accomplished squash players in recent history.
Subramaniam got her start playing squash with her older brother in her home country of Malaysia. She began competing in junior tournaments at 9 years old and developed a strong relationship with the sport.
When the chance to compete in collegiate squash came around, Subramaniam was resistant at first.
“When I was in high school my dad asked me if I wanted to go to any Ivy League schools in the US. I actually said no, because I just didn’t want to leave home and I had the fear of slacking off in squash and things like that,” Subramaniam said.
But what changed her mind was the coaching and team at Cornell. Having a former number one player as coach — and a team with a history of success — was enough to convince her to make the 9000 mile journey from Malaysia.
Subramaniam immediately emerged as one of the best collegiate squash players in the country, going 9-1 in her freshman year at the No. 1 spot. She capped off her season as the runner-up in the Ramsay Cup, the individual national championship for women’s squash.
As the national runner-up, Subramaniam returned to Ithaca for her sophomore season looking to take it one step further. She finished the regular season with a 15-1 record and ranked No. 2 in the country. She earned All-Ivy League and All-American honors after falling just short of a national championship in the semi-finals.
After COVID-19 canceled her next season, she returned in 2021 on a mission. For the first time in her career, she was undefeated, winning 19 matches in a row to finally get a hold of the national championship. With her win, she became the first Cornell squash player — man or woman — to win a national individual title. She was a unanimous All-Ivy selection and earned All-American honors once again.
After a record-breaking season, she was set to take a semester off to compete at the Commonwealth and Asian Games, representing her home country of Malaysia. Her success continued that summer, with her being named as flag bearer for Malaysia at the Commonwealth Games, and then in July 2022, she rose to a career-high ranking of No. 16 in the World Squash Rankings.
Riding on such a wave of momentum going into the Commonwealth Games, everything fell apart in an instant. Subramaniam was in a car accident in Kuala Lumpur and was forced to withdraw from both games. Her injuries were so severe she had to retrain her body and didn’t know if she would be able to recover to her original state.
“It was a tough summer. Obviously, I was very sad, like suddenly it was very unexpected, and everything was [put] on hold,” Subramaniam said. “But the good part is I’m alive, it was a crazy accident and I’m just happy to be back and be playing again”.
Subramaniam said it was tough coming back. Once the physical injuries healed, it was the mental side that she had to overcome to return to playing.
“In the beginning it was a bit tough when I was first coming back, I was like, am I going to be like how I was or like better?” Subramaniam said. “There was no doubt in my mind that it was very tough mentally. I think I just tried to stay positive each and every day when I came in for training and things like that.”
But she was strong and was able to pull through.
“My coaches here helped a lot, they always talked to me and things like that, but I think it was more of the mental strength that pushed me throughout these tough times,” Subramaniam said.
She returned for her final year this past season. Her first match back gave her the confidence she needed to get back to her winning ways, both in collegiate squash and in the professional circuit.
“My first match back after the accident was playing Penn [at home]. Playing the college matches really gave me a bit of confidence going into the professional circuit. It was a good confidence booster of getting wins in the college matches,” Subramaniam said.
She once again earned All-American honors, first-team All-Ivy and Ivy League Player of the Year honors. And, she once again remained undefeated in the regular season with a 9-0 record. As the reigning national champion, she fell just short of defending her title, falling to Columbia’s Simmi Chan in the finals, in a tight four-set loss. Regardless of the result, the true accomplishment she earned was her resilience and devotion to the sport. Even after all she went through, to still attain the levels she did, says a lot about her character and determination on and off the court.
“I really enjoyed [the] four years being with the team. I have a really good coach that I’ve improved so much from and I’m glad I’m leaving Cornell with [having] done some history and I’m proud of myself and I’ve gone through a lot as well, but I think I’m just happy being out and doing a lot for the squash program.”
After graduation, Subramaniam will play professionally for a couple years and go from there. She is currently in the top 40 of the PSA World Squash Rankings and will look to progress in the next couple of months.
“I’m still going to work with my coach here in Cornell, he’s still going to be my main coach,” Subramaniam said. “I worked with him for four years now, and I think it’s been going well. I just want to see how far I can go.”