Stan Berenshtein stands today as a very proud state champion. Not bad for someone who took up his championship sport in college less than six years ago.
In squash, Berenshtein won the Massachusetts 4.5 Division championship back on April 6. He took this honor into the Lynch/Van Otterloo YMCA club championships this week, hoping to add yet another title to his trophy shelf.
Berenshtein, a Swampscott resident and Class of 2009 S.H.S. graduate, began playing squash in his sophomore year of college, which was his first year at Northeastern University after studying his freshman year at Suffolk University.
Berenshtein was a member of the Swampscott High track and field, swimming, baseball and tennis programs at different times during his four years as a Big Blue athlete.
“In my last year of high school, I played tennis. I tried out but didn’t make the tennis team in college,” said Berenshtein, who works at Raytheon Company in Andover. “The new [LVO] YMCA opened up and offered squash. I didn’t know what it was, so I tried it, and it was fun. That’s how I got into squash – by not making the tennis team.”
When he transferred to Northeastern, he tried out for and made the Huskies’ club program. He rose fast through the ranks.
Squash, for those unfamiliar with the sport, is an indoor sport closely related to tennis. It is played with a “squashable” rubber ball, hence its name, and was originally created in 1830 in the United Kingdom, according to the website worldsquash.org. That is the official website of the sport’s governing body, the World Squash Association.
“I was in the 9-10 position on the team as a freshman and by the time I was a junior, I [was named] captain and played between 1, 2 and 3 in my senior year,” added Berenshtein.
When a person takes up squash, their level is automatically 2.0, the beginner level.
“The way the system works in U.S. Squash is every time you beat someone at a higher level, and you beat them by say a score of 11-4 in a game, you’re put into an algorithm and your level is raised, so you could go from a 2.0 to a 2.1 or 2.2, for instance,” said Berenshtein.
Berenshtein worked very hard to get up to his current level of 4.5 (state championships are only played at the x.0 and x.5 stages of divisions).
“During college, I played every day for two to three hours. Now, being a working man, I play one to two hours about three to four times per week,” he said.
Getting into the finals
Berenshtein tried many times to win at the 4.0 level, but could never quite break through.
“I would always get knocked out at the round of 32 or the round of 16 – I never made it past the round of 16,” he said.
The 4.0 and 4.5 divisions are the most crowded in Massachusetts, with 72 in the state championships for 4.0 and 78 in for the 4.5.
“Unfortunately, my bracketing was the most difficult. I had to go through the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds to get into the finals,” said Berenshtein. “I didn’t expect to win, but I put in a lot of training and effort.”
Berenshtein won the best-of-five final series, 3-0, defeating Natick’s Doug Steinberg.
“In the final game, I was up three points and he came back because I was making errors, and hitting it out of the court [bounds], and that gave him the ability to tie the game 10-10,” said Berenshtein. “I knew if we went into the next game, it would give him momentum. I tied my shoes, wiped the sweat from brow and went back and played. It was a really close game, and we were both pretty tired.”
Berenshtein said that Steinberg was not necessarily a stranger.
“I had played him once before at the [LVO] YMCA, and beat him 3-1,” said Berenshtein. “Home court advantage is just as big in squash as it is in any sport. Prior to the final at Harvard University, I went two hours early to practice and prepare.”
Berenshtein – who is in the semifinals of the LVO club tournament – definitely takes his game seriously, knowing how much dedication and training can lead to a better ranking and better opponents. At the same time, Berenshtein knows he will eventually reach a level from which he will not aspire to rise.
“The 6.0 level is, to a degree, professional. At that level, you’re basically on the world tour,” said Berenshtein. “I’m playing right now into the 5.0 league. The 5.5 level is close to semi-amateur or amateur-pro. [Going pro] is not one of my goals. I don’t think I have time at this point to reach professional status. Most of the guys playing pro, they’ve been playing since at least high school, so I’m still catching up after starting in college.”
Although not an Olympic sport, squash is a very popular sport worldwide.
“The Egyptians are the best in the world, and other top countries are Pakistan and the U.K.,” said Berenshtein. “It’s picking up in the Northeastern U.S. and major metropolitan cities like Chicago, New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York.”
Egypt, he adds, has hosted some of the world’s only “outdoor” squash matches, setting up clear courts at the feet of the pyramids of Giza for the Al-Alram International, played annually from 1996 through 2001.
During the warmer months, Berenshtein typically cuts back on his squash-playing and switches to his other sports passion, triathlons.
“I have scheduled six triathlons right now for this summer. I’ll finish off with a Half-Ironman [1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run] in Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 11,” said Berenshtein. “The two sports actually cross-train with each other well. In a typical squash match, you’ll run three miles, and it’s all sprinting. It’s also like mental chess. Both sports also have great communities.”
Berenshtein credits time in the U.S. Marine Corps1 after college with his passion for triathlon, due to the high fitness level needed for today’s military.
He has remained somewhat in the military world, working for Raytheon in Contracts Leadership, while also remaining a Marine Corps reservist.
“Whenever you’re selling a defensive system, a radar or what-not, to another country, there are stipulations that you have to follow,” said Berenshtein, on what he does for Raytheon.
Berenshtein currently lives in Swampscott, at the home where he grew up with parents Guy Sinatra and Irina Sorokina, along with his brother, Swampscott High soccer player Jason Sinatra.
He will continue working towards the perfect balance of his working life, social life and his goals in both squash and triathlon. And he’ll continue to meet new friends along the way.
“What I really like about squash is it’s very different from any sport I’ve played. After college, a lot of the people I’ve played with are 20 years my senior,” said Berenshtein. “If I play basketball with friends, the conversation is about very local topics. With squash players, it’s an opportunity to network – I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Generally, all the golfers come inside during the winter to play squash. You get to learn from a lot of different people.”
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