It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Monday or Thursday, and most students are predictably heading to Sherman or Usdan, hoping to beat the rush. They’re probably not thinking about squash — the kind served with a racket and ball rather than a plate and utensil, that is.

Yet only a short walk away, on the international courts in Gosman Sports and Convocation Center, 10 or so kids huddle up, ready to “hit around” and just have fun. “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose,” their club president Rohan Lal ’17 reminds them. “We’re just here to have a good time. … Let’s just enjoy the experience for what it is.” The next hour and a half flies by, full of banter, competitive rallying and a “very exhilarating” sense of challenge and improvement.

“Squash is a racket sport played indoors,” Lal explained in an interview with the Justice. “It’s a very fast sport. You hit the ball against the wall and rally back and forth, trying to get the other person to run around.” As in tennis and volleyball, players earn points when they serve the ball and their opponent fails to ricochet it – 11 points per game and five games to a match.

Lal believes this mix of playfulness and competitiveness — “It’s a club and a team” — defines the Brandeis Squash club. “What I always enjoy is [that] we go to practice and everybody’s just laughing and joking around while still playing very serious squash. We’re still getting worked up [and] we’re still challenging each other, but ultimately we are all just having a good time and that’s what I want to maintain as the club keeps getting more serious.”

The more serious aspects of the club didn’t come so easily. Started in 2012, it has struggled to gain popularity. “The biggest challenge we’ve faced these past few years was always just getting enough people interested and being consistent to practice,” Lal admits. “If you want a club to grow, each year have goals in mind to expand the club, … reasonable goals that are possible to achieve but will still push your club a little bit.”

Thanks to the efforts of their e-Board, the club grew from a purely recreational club of a few players in the 2012 to 2013 school year to upwards of twenty players this past year. They played their first exhibition matches in the 2013 to 2014 school year, eventually meeting their coach Joe McManus, who took them on in addition to Tufts. They joined the College Squash Association the following year (the national league that varsity and club teams play under), gaining exposure to out-of-state matches and setting them on the path toward the National College Championship.

As an emerging team, the Brandeis Squash club needed to play eight matches against at least five other teams before Nationals if they wanted to participate. The new challenges excited Lal and his teammates, but they faced a few hurdles along the way. “In the past, we’ve struggled, because we didn’t have enough contacts with other schools. … And we had a hard time getting enough players ready for each match, because we need at least seven players, and sometimes it wouldn’t be enough people.”

So they reached out to other colleges, worked on setting up times to play and accomplished their goal this year by playing eight matches against six other colleges. They beat Babson (6-3) twice, lost honorably in their six other matches and then headed to Nationals in February. “It lasts about two or three days, and you have schools from all around the country coming. This time, it was in Boston, which was very convenient,” said Lal. They won their first match against Sewanee (5-4) but lost their other two (3-6 and 2-7) against Minnesota and Notre Dame, respectively. “Next year, once I’m gone, when the next e-Board takes over, the goal for them will be the competitive side — becoming a better team, more drills, more training and improving our performance.”

Reflecting on what teamwork means to him after all these years, Lal has realized that “[y]ou find this sort of balance, you know, where each person has to want to become a better squash player or whatever they’re working on. So you do need to challenge each other [and] have a certain kind of desire to be competitive, but you can get carried away with that. … So you want to take it seriously, but not too seriously.”

The Brandeis Squash club officially meets every Monday and Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the Gosman international courts and is open to people of all skill and commitment levels.