Identical twins Spring and Ocean Ma are the reigning Canadian junior squash champions in the U17 and U19 categories, respectively.
Recently, the 16-year-olds (Spring is older by three minutes) saw a new goal to strive towards in their sport, when it was announced that the LA 2028 Olympics will include squash, marking the sport’s debut on the Summer Games stage.
The Ma sisters, who train out of the River Club in Richmond, B.C., caught up with Sportsnet recently to talk about the Olympic news, their roles as co-presidents of J.N. Burnett Secondary School’s student council, who usually wins when they play each other, and their post-high school plans on the court.
This conversation is the fourth of six with top Canadian athletes involved in the six sports added to the schedule for LA 2028. The first in the series features flag football player, Sara Parker. The second is with Larissa Franklin, a veteran of Canada’s national softball team. The third is with Canadian Texas Rangers prospect Mitch Bratt.
SPORTSNET: Where were you when you found out squash was going to be in the Olympics?
SPRING: I remember it was the morning, around 9 a.m., and I opened my phone and PSA – the Professional Squash Association — sent an email to all the players and it was just titled, ‘Breaking News.’ When I saw it, I was so excited that I immediately went to Ocean and told her. She was still asleep.
OCEAN: Spring woke me up, and honestly, I was so shocked I thought I was still dreaming [laughs].
SPRING: We both were being super loud and my mom was like, ‘Oh, what’s this all about?’ When we told her, she was super excited for squash and for both of us, because if we work hard we would have a chance to be there, which is just so exciting.
OCEAN: Last year, people told me squash was bidding again [to be part of the Olympics], we can hope for it again, and I was like, ‘Oh come on, we hope for it every time and it never happens!’ I was so happy that finally squash will be in the Olympics. It’s such an interesting and unique sport — there’s so many shot variations compared to tennis, compared to badminton. You can come up with such creative shots mid-game, so I’m happy people will be able to watch it at the Olympics.
How and when did you get introduced to the sport?
OCEAN: We started playing very late. We were 11 years old. Kids usually start when they’re six.
SPRING: Jacob [Lin, current U19 national champion], he’s at college now, but we grew up with him and we’re super close family friends, and he was playing. One day he said, ‘Oh, why don’t you guys try squash.’
OCEAN: Jacob took us to the courts one day and we were like, ‘What is this? Why are we in a box?’We watched Jacob play, then we hit the ball and the coach said: ‘You guys are talented.’ We both fell in love with the sport because it was just so unique, so interesting.
SPRING: I thought I could be really good at the sport because I used to play badminton, and it translates a little bit. Even though I started later than other girls, it felt like I could be competitive in this sport, and I was, which I’m so happy about.
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How would you describe your style of play?
SPRING: I train with Marco Toriz. He focuses a lot on the physical and fitness. When I play against other junior girls in Canada, I can feel the difference: I feel stronger, I feel fitter and I feel like I’m faster, like I dominate physically. I’d say that’s my strength. Right now I’m working on my game tactically, against, for example, my own twin sister. When I play against Ocean, she’s very smart, so she tends to put the ball away on me a lot. She’s very tricky. I’m trying to do the same and imitate her and be a little bit more deceptive.
OCEAN: [Laughs.] That means she thinks different than me. I’ve been working on those shots, I’ve been working on getting more accurate. I guess it’s coming together.
Ocean, how would you describe your game?
OCEAN: My game is definitely different than Spring’s. We spend a large chunk of our training doing sprints, sleds, working on our bodies, working on our endurance. I feel like my game is definitely one of those games where my coach will tell me, ‘You’re mentally stronger than them, you’re physically stronger than them. No matter how long this game goes, if you make the rallies longer, you win the point. If you make the games longer, you will win the match.’ I’m definitely a very fitness-focused player. Right now, I’m working on becoming a very shot-accurate player, but my strength is definitely being able to keep the consistency up even when I’m extremely exhausted.
What makes Spring’s game so different from yours?
OCEAN: She sticks to the gameplan. She will tell herself she has to, for example, keep the ball tight to the wall this game, and she will do a very good job focusing on that and carrying that plan out. She’s such a gameplan player that playing her, you have to use your brain more. Her game is also very, very intense. She plays at a higher pace than any other junior. Playing with her is the best training I can get.
What happens when you two play against each other in a big match?
OCEAN: We play each other all the time. Sometimes I get nervous playing my opponents but whenever I play Spring I’m so relaxed. Usually Saturdays when it’s the semifinals is when I’m the most nervous, and after semifinals when I realize we both won, then I can finally relax heading into the final.
SPRING: It usually goes to five. Last season we played six or seven finals and I won one of them, she won the rest — but it was always in five games. It was always 3-2.
OCEAN: To be honest, if Spring takes a game from me or wins a match, I wouldn’t mind that at all. It’s just motivation for us to keep working hard together. If I win, Spring wouldn’t mind it either. We would just debrief the match afterwards and watch a video of the match together and see what aspects of the game we have to work on.
What do you think it’s like for your mom to watch you play each other?
SPRING: Sometimes she tells us, [Spring raises her voice a couple octaves to imitate her mother]: ‘Oh, why don’t you guys just go easier on each other and call it a day.’ [Laughs.] But we never do, and she always has to film it and watch how it goes. She gets stressed too. But she says she gets even more stressed when we’re playing against other players. So she’s happy that we both reach the finals.
Spring, you won the U17 nationals this year and Ocean won U19 nationals. How did you decide who played which category?
SPRING: Ocean played the U17 last year and she won the title already, so she decided to challenge herself and play up a division.
Where does that national title rank for you in terms of career achievements?
SPRING: It was definitely the biggest title I’ve won. I’ve always dreamed of winning nationals because to be honest, I’ve been in countless titles with Ocean and she’s always won the title, which I’m always really happy for her. If I beat her, it would be like a local tournament or something smaller. When I won the U17 title and she won the U19, it was really exciting for both of us to win a national title at the same time, not against each other.
Ocean, you were 16 years old, playing U19?
OCEAN: Yes, I decided to challenge myself and play up.
What’s your career highlight?
OCEAN: Winning that U19 nationals is definitely a big deal. But I would say the hardest tournament and the best I played was at the  U.S. Junior Open, where I finished third. It’s a big international tournament, players from Egypt come, players from Asia. I was fortunate enough to finish third and this year [in December] I’m aiming for another medal.
How long have you two been training out of Richmond?
OCEAN: We used to live in Coquitlam, and we moved to Richmond for squash because our coach is based in Richmond. An hour per day back and forth was just too much so we moved when we were in Grade 7. We’ve been here now five years.
Your whole family moved?
OCEAN: Yes, we all moved. My brother was in high school at that time so he also had to transfer schools. He wasn’t too mad. He knew that we had potential in squash and he wanted to support that as well.
Do you get mistaken for one another?
SPRING: For sure. Some people say if we’re playing a match and we get tired, people joke that we should switch out. [Laughs.] Which is funny, but I don’t think we actually look that much alike.
Did you dress alike when you were little?
SPRING: Definitely. My mom would buy the same piece of clothing in two different colours and we would be colour-coded. I was usually pink and Ocean was usually blue.
What does your training look like?
SPRING: During the season I play every day. On weekdays, I play two to three hours; on weekends, I play three hours. I also coach on weekends. I play every day for two hours at least.
Do you have time for things outside of school and squash?
SPRING: Yes, Ocean and I are also student council co-presidents. We organize school events and we lead the student council executive team and the general members. That’s also done mostly in school time and on the weekends. It’s okay to manage.
Did your school always have co-presidents?
OCEAN: No, it’s always been a president and you have to run with a vice president. And we had this conversation with the principal and said, ‘We’d work really well together as co-presidents, would you let that pass?’ And they said ‘100 per cent, you guys are twins, it makes sense.’
Do you argue?
OCEAN: Obviously — we argue all the time [laughs]. Spring usually comes out on top, to be honest. She’s so much better with her words.
What are your big goals for the next couple of years in your sport?
OCEAN: In December, the U.S. Junior Open, I would like to make it to the finals this time. Next year, the World Junior Championships will be in Houston and I’m really looking forward to playing in that. It’ll be my third World Junior Championship and I’m hoping to do better than last time. This year, I got into the round of 32, but next summer I’m hoping to get into top 16 or maybe top 8 with a year of training.
SPRING: In September, I’ll be playing college squash. I’m hoping to work hard and play top spot on my team. We have really strong girls on our team but I feel like if I work hard I could potentially play top three or four in my freshman year. That’s what I’m going to work towards and hopefully have a good college season. [Spring has committed to a school, but can’t spill the beans yet on where she’s going.]
OCEAN: Spring and I committed to different schools. We went on all our visits together and a couple of schools offered us both spots. But one school only offered me, and it was always my dream school and Spring was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, commit to it.’ And I committed to it, and then Spring committed to another school, which is also an amazing school and it’s super close. We’ll be kind of together anyway, which is nice.
SPRING: We’ll still see each other all the time.