Having toppled former No. 3 Princeton to open the season, the Penn women’s squash team looked to begin the spring semester by dethroning No. 1 Harvard.
However, the Crimson, led by freshman sensation and junior national champion Amanda Sobhy, denied the Quakers’ upset bid Saturday in Cambridge. The 7-2 loss was the first of the season for the No. 3 Red and Blue.
On Sunday, Penn regrouped and returned to its winning ways, sweeping No. 8 Dartmouth, 9-0.
No team has fazed Harvard (9-0, 3-0 Ivy) this season. Though the Crimson were the superior squad Saturday against Penn, the more important matchup may come in February at the Howe Cup, which determines the national champion.
“They’re the No. 1 team for a reason. They’ve got a lot of talented players,” coach Jack Wyant said.
Sobhy is the four-time U.S. junior national champion and No. 1 player in the United States. The freshman made her collegiate debut against the Quakers with the Ivy League having recently confirmed her amateur standing. A debate had arisen following her acceptance of prize money at a number of prominent squash tournaments.
Though only a freshman, Sobhy dismantled Penn’s No. 1 player and co-captain Nabilla Arrifin, 3-0.
Despite Harvard’s dominant performances this season, Wyant feels that if Penn (3-1, 2-1) can close some tight matches, the Quakers can challenge the Crimson’s position atop the national rankings.
“I think what we came away with yesterday is that we’re a little closer to them than maybe the score line would indicate,” he said.
The final score of 7-2 could easily have been 6-3, as Penn’s Yarden Odinak narrowly lost to Nirasaha Guruge in a five-game bout that included two tiebreakers. Odinak carried a 2-1 lead into the fourth game, which came to a tiebreak that went to Guruge, who escaped with the fifth game and the match.
Penn’s two wins came from Chloe Blacker and co-captain Pia Trikha. Both players broke up 1-1 ties by winning the next two games and closing out their matches.
Though returning from winter break to open against Harvard may have been a rude awakening, neither Wyant nor Trikha felt that the scheduling affected the outcome of the match, nor would they accept it as an excuse.
“Playing a team like them is always difficult no matter when it takes place,” Trikha said.
The next day against the Big Green (2-3, 0-3), the Red and Blue reassumed its role as the aggressor, dropping just three games in a nearly flawless victory.
“It’s always tough to come back after a loss, but we were the favored team today,” Trikha said. “We wanted to come out strong and not let them into the match at all.”
Though Dartmouth is ranked No. 8, five spots behind the Quakers, Penn’s domination of the Big Green demonstrates a reality of collegiate squash — upsets are rare.
“In order for an underdog team to upset a higher ranked team … [it has] to play almost near perfect squash,” Wyant said.
Despite the loss to Harvard, the Quakers have a number of factors playing in their favor, including that their fitness level is excellent, according to Trikha and Blacker. Additionally, Penn has avenged previous losses this year. The Red and Blue defeated Princeton in their season opener, after having lost to the Tigers in the Ivy Scrimmages and the Howe Cup last season.
Perhaps some similar form of vengeance will be in order when the Quakers face Harvard in the Howe Cup this February.
“We are definitely capable of doing it,” Trikha said.