Darien husband and wife team open South Norwalk squash center

Photo of Alexander Soule

NORWALK — As Eian Yow Ng unleashed a cannonade of volleys Wednesday morning at MSquash’s centerpiece court in South Norwalk, it did not take a practiced ear to discern why he is one of the top 20 players in the world.

As to Ng’s selection of MSquash as a training venue? That passes the eye test as well, from high-tech equipment for optimizing workout routines, to the proprietors who were in the uppermost echelon of players globally, before establishing their first MSquash facility in the village of Port Chester in Rye, N.Y.

Under Katline Cauwels and Shaun Moxham, MSquash holds its grand opening on Saturday at 85 Water St. in South Norwalk, a few blocks south of The Maritime Aquarium. The facility opens at 9 a.m. daily, closing at 9 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Information is online at www.msquash.com.

On Saturday, in addition to an exhibition pitting Ng against England’s Patrick Rooney, who is ranked 41st in the world, Moxham will square off against Cornell University squash coach David Palmer, at one time the world’s top ranked player whom Moxham once coached.

Growing up in Brisbane, Australia, Moxham played professionally and achieved a top 50 world ranking before gravitating to academy work as a coach in Belgium, where he met Cauwels. A national champion in Belgium at age 15, at her career peak Cauwels ranked among the top 40 players in the world. She holds master’s degrees in marketing and international business management.

They decided to move the family to the United States in 2014 with the goal of establishing MSquash, seeing the possibilities for an advanced training center.

Moxham likens squash to “chess played at 100 miles an hour,” with players having to think two or three shots ahead even as they make lightning return volleys to set up those sequences. Cauwels said training has come a long way from when she was rising through the rankings in Belgium.

“We wanted to bring all these technologies and all the innovation that we’ve seen all over the world,” Cauwels said.

A few innovations catch the eye immediately at MSquash, most prominently the centerpiece ASB ShowGlassCourt which can be disassembled and transported for exhibition matches at other locales.

MSquash has a Tecnobody “digital mirror” machine that tracks an individual’s fitness exercises to sync with an avatar to help one conform to correct movements and posture. And standing or crouching on rolling ICAROS Cloud devices, a series of challenging balance exercises can be performed with the assistance of an app on a built-in screen, from yoga to video arcade games.

Whether for single sessions or birthday parties, the space is available for kids to play “Mball” against a huge, interactive screen. And courts can be used for other games and training sessions as well, with MSquash planning to host lacrosse and tennis clinics.

The building was previously the home of a Lillian August outlet store, which briefly housed a Klaff’s outlet as well. After Lillian August cleared out, developers expressed interest in a bowling center there, then an ax-throwing venue that did not move ahead.

Moxham and Cauwels pounced, with the Darien couple having been looking to open an MSquash center in Connecticut and drawn by its city location and easy access from Darien, New Canaan and Westport. MSquash SoNo has six courts like it’s predecessor, but is otherwise larger by half, with about 14,000 square feet of space.

MSquash SoNo becomes the latest fitness outlet in South Norwalk, along with Iron Vault SoNo in the same building and a “Ninja” style fitness facility in the works. The new venues come on the heels of two big apartment developments in Soundview Landing and Harbourside SoNo.

“The building really transformed itself from what was going to be entertainment uses to what are obviously more fitness-related uses,” said David Waldman, president of David Adam Realty, which has a minority ownership stake in the building alongside Diamond Properties. “All those apartments, all those people want to do something. Now they have an amenity base right in their backyard.”

Also in the planning stages is the first D1 Training facility in Connecticut for sports-specific workouts, at the SoNo Collection mall. Moxham said he plans to reach out to the SoNo Collection to gauge any interest in setting up the ShowGlassCourt in the mall’s glassy “magnificent room” as a showcase activity.

Norwalk has a pair of squash venues at Intensity Fitness on Westport Avenue near the Westport line, and Squash 1 on Connecticut Avenue. Statewide, Chelsea Piers of Connecticut in Stamford is the largest commercial squash center with a dozen courts, with Yale University having 15 courts available for students and staff.

Darien is currently home to three squash players in the top 10 nationally for men or women, with Marina and Lucie Stefanoni ranked third and sixth respectively among women, and Harrison Gill seventh among men. Gill captains the Yale squash team.

In Connecticut, Greenwich has the largest number of players ranked in the top 50 with five men and four women.

Moxham attributes Connecticut’s success producing top-echelon squash players to a few factors, including the sport being played indoors allowing for year-round practice, and a higher percentage of families having the resources to splurge on lessons and coaching.

But he added that Fairfield County and Westchester County are home to the FairWest Public School Squash Association, the largest such league for public schools in the United States, helping to interest more kids into the sport. FairWest members include school systems in Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Fairfield and New Haven.

New Canaan has signed up to use MSquash SoNo for middle school squash programs, and Darien will do the same for a squash program it runs for kids in kindergarten through second grade.

Cauwels and Moxham hope to help other kids thrive at MSquash. Membeships cost $470 annually for those age 10 or younger — parent play is included — with memberships rising to $950 for those ages 11 to 19.

The couple’s own kids got started early — daughter Savannah is currently the top-ranked girl in the country for age 13 and under, and son Maddox ranks seventh.

“At the end of the day, the more squash courts the better because that’s going to grow the sport,” Moxham said. “A lot of school, a lot of scheduling, a lot of things going on in kids’ lives — we try just to keep it nice and simple.”

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman