When Tufts squash returns to the courts this winter season, the Jumbos will compete with a new coach guiding the way. Bringing passion, ingenuity and a readily apparent sense of excitement to the sport, Joe Raho is eager to both join in on and help generate a brand-new era of men’s and women’s squash at Tufts.
After former coach Joe McManus’ departure, a selection process involving both administrators and players chose Raho based largely on his past successes. As a player, Raho played on the U.S Junior National team as well as collegiately at the University of Pennsylvania. As a coach, he most recently worked as the assistant coach at Brown University.
Raho satisfied his passion for the game as a player before discovering his love for coaching. Raho’s parents met playing squash and both played competitively, so squash was engrained into his DNA from birth.
Growing up in Westchester, N.Y., he was ranked by the age of 16 as one of the top 10 juniors in his age bracket. Later, in the under 19 age bracket, he was again ranked in the top 10 when he was chosen as one of a group of eight to represent the United States in the World Junior Squash Championships in Pakistan.
Raho went on to play at the Div. I level in college, where he describes being on the squash team as an integral part of his life at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I was captain of the team my senior year and we were good… I absolutely loved it,” Raho said. “It was just a huge part of my life there and I gained so much just from being there and being on that team.”
Out of college, Raho worked as a paralegal before his interest in cooking created another deviation in his life path.
“When I was a paralegal I couldn’t make myself a good meal, and I felt like maybe I was into cooking more than some other people,” Raho said. “When I was 25, I went to culinary school.”
Raho credits his parents for allowing him to pursue his passion for cooking, always remaining supportive as he tried to figure out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“My parents often told me I could do anything I wanted… they were really supportive of me [and] told me to pursue my passions, and the things I had loved most in the world were sports and food,” Raho said.
With two Italian parents, Raho became extremely interested in how to present meals in unique ways and how to tell stories through food. Eventually, however, he realized cooking was not to be his lifelong career.
“It was just a really cool experience to learn about, but I said ‘basically I probably don’t want to do this forever,’” Raho said. “So I dug deeper, and my parents stayed supportive and I committed myself to coaching.”
Clearly, his path to coaching was neither linear nor direct, and Raho admits his dreams didn’t always point in that direction.
“I always thought I was going to play professional sports,” Raho said. “But as you get older and older and you realize that there are a ton of really good players and not just from the U.S., if you’re not in the top 100 or 200 players in the world you’re really not making it. But I always knew I loved playing and being around this sport.”
As a result, even during his time at culinary school, Raho was taking classes at night and coaching girls squash at Greenwich Academy.
After cooking for several years, Raho went to Brown and became the assistant squash coach for the university. He credits his experience at Greenwich Academy as inspiring his full time move to coaching.
“The girls there were really talented and passionate,” he said. “And I had some really good coaches who really cared about me and squash, so passing on my knowledge to younger people got me excited.”
At Brown, Raho began to fine-tune his coaching skills.
“One year went by, then two, then three and you learn how to work better,” Raho said. “You learn how to run a drill more cleanly, about what each player specifically needs, whether you need to be harder on a player or give one more support… and once I was digging more and more into coaching I wanted more responsibility and that’s why I was so interested in taking this job.”
Both players and the administration seem extremely pleased with Raho’s arrival now that the selection process has concluded.
“I think we ended up choosing [Raho] because he was such a great squash player himself and he’s done a great job at Brown,” senior John Patrick said. “He seems really focused and has a good game plan for what he wants to get out of us individually and get out of the team.”
Sophomore Claire Davidson agreed with Patrick’s assessment.
“I think he’s just a nice, fresh face and a nice change for our program… we had a really good season last year and we’re really excited about having a new face leading us,” she said.
Even though he is not permitted by NCAA regulations to begin training with the teams until Nov. 1, Raho has already thought of ways to get familiar with the Jumbos.
“The idea is to get on court with everyone individually at least once,” he said. “That one one-on-one is for them to say ‘this is what I’m struggling with,’ and I can say now I know your game really well because I’ll have spent two or three hours with you individually and we had team practice that night all together, too.”
Attention to detail and individualized care is a hallmark of Raho’s style.
“I’m trying to accentuate someone’s best characteristics,” Raho said. “I of course want to teach new things but let’s look at what you can do innately and make that cleaner and more efficient.”
This manner of coaching is exciting for the players as well.
“I know [Raho] has been meeting with all the new people and the returners talking about our goals for the year and what we each want to work on,” Patrick said. “He’s trying to get to know us better and I think he’s doing a good job.”
The personalized approach is also vital to players who might need advice during their future matches.
“I think it’s really important for a coach to know his players and he’s already set up days that he can play with each of us,” Davidson said. “If you don’t know your players individually I don’t think you can give them valuable advice during matches.”
The team’s goals for the season also align well with Raho’s plans.
“We want to increase our NESCAC ranking,” Patrick said. “Last year we started the season by upsetting Colby and it was a big deal, so it would be nice to finish ahead of Colby, Amherst and Wesleyan, three teams we’ve been close to in the past year.”
Raho echoed the sentiment.
“The goal overall is to compete fairly and compete with sportsmanship, but it would be really cool to beat Colby and Bowdoin and Amherst, very excellent, legitimate teams,” he said. “I would love for us to pick up a few more NESCAC wins and keep moving up the rankings gradually.”
In charge of both the women and men’s squads, coach Raho will have his hands full once squash season kicks into gear. No stranger to hard work or collegiate athletics, Raho seems well equipped to lead the Jumbos to new heights.