Top player Ellie Epke eyes Commonwealth Youth Games glory

Ellie Epke is hungry for a win. New Zealand's No1-seeded junior squash player, Epke hopes to bring home a medal from the Commonwealth Youth Games in Apia, which kick off on Saturday.

"It's quite exciting because I've never had the chance to win a significant medal, it's really cool," said Epke of the games. "I hope I could win."

Epke's drive to win in Samoa is partly fuelled by recent losses at the World Junior Squash Championships in the Netherlands, where she was knocked out right before the semifinals in both the individual and team categories.

"I did surprisingly well against the person who won [the junior champs], so I thought I'm not that far off being as good as her."

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Epke has never been to Samoa before, but the prospect of playing in humid Pacific Island weather does not faze her.

"It was really hot in the Netherlands as well so I think I'm used to that now. Coming back here [to New Zealand] has been a change because it's so cold."

The 17-year-old Epsom Girls' Grammar student would be well-served with a medal in Apia, as she wants to become a professional squash player after finishing school.

"Next year I want to go to an American uni to play squash there and then hopefully after that I'll go on tour."

Scouts from several universities, including Harvard, approached her about scholarships while she was in the Netherlands, Epke said.

Fitting study around squash is a challenge, but Epke makes it work.

"It's hard, but you've just got to take your things with you when you go away, and stay up late."

The young athlete has been heavily focused on the games for weeks now, training and playing as much as possible so she is "ready to go" on September 7, the first day of squash events.

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Although Epke trains privately with coach Mike Weston, the focus on sport at EGGS has served her well. In 2014 she claimed the ASB YSPOTY award for top girls' squash player, heading off two EGGS teammates, Anna and Hayley Hughes.

"I've played for the school every year I've been here and we've won every year except last year."

Squash was not "that big" at EGGS, Epke said, despite being national schools champions, but the school as a whole was sports-focused with plenty of resources available to students, including a fully equipped weights room.

Squash is one of nine competition categories at this year's games. Others include tennis, rugby 7s, athletics, aquatics and lawn bowls. Over the course of a week, 1000 young athletes will compete from around the Commonwealth for the fifth edition of the Youth Games, which began in Scotland in 2000.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoan Prime Minister and chairman of the organising committee, said the country was honoured to host the games.

"[We are] celebrating not just the vitality and aspirations of young people in the Commonwealth but also our common humanity and values of equality, tolerance and respect for one another," he said.