Playing a highly competitive schedule featuring virtually all of the nation’s best squads, the Penn women’s squash team has lost to just three teams this season—and they will likely need to beat all three of them this weekend in order to bring home a national title.
The No. 4 Quakers (8-3, 5-2 Ivy) will match up against the No. 5 Bantams (15-3) of Trinity Friday in the opening round of the Howe Cup, the eight-team national championship tournament.
Although Penn has a higher seed than Trinity, the Red and Blue lost to the Bantams in a heartbreaking 5-4 result in Hartford, Conn., less than a month ago.
However, the team is determined to earn a victory in its first round match, unlike last year when a disappointing 7-2 loss to Princeton sent the Quakers to the losers bracket after the first round.
“We’re all just so focused on Trinity that I don’t think that any of us have given any thought to the semis,” sophomore Courtney Jones said.
“We don’t want to have the same feeling that we had after our regular season match with [Trinity],” junior Stephanie Vogel added.
A victory over Trinity would send Penn to the semifinals, where the Quakers would likely face No. 1 Harvard (14-0, 7-0), yet another skeleton in the team’s closet of losses. The undefeated Crimson will have the added benefit of home court advantage.
But Harvard has shown some vulnerability. Against Princeton (10-3, 4-3) in January, the Crimson barely escaped with a 5-4 win over the Tigers. Meanwhile, the Quakers lay claim to a 6-3 win over Princeton this season.
The road to Penn’s second national title would likely conclude against No. 2 Yale, who the Quakers lost to, 5-4, three weeks ago.
Though upsets are relatively rare in squash, recent developments in the collegiate game, including the end of the Trinity men’s 13-year win streak, have reaffirmed that the games are played for a reason.
“In the men’s game, there’s been so many upsets and everything,” Jones said. “I think it’s [shown] us that anyone can win out there.”
A team without senior leadership, Penn is led by four junior All-Americans in Rachael Goh, Yarden Odinak and co-captains Nabilla Ariffin and Pia Trikha.
In particular, losses are relatively foreign to Trikha, as she went a flawless 14-0 in the No. 5 position last year. However, playing primarily in the No. 3 slot this year, she has had to adjust to the occasional loss, including a four-game defeat against Trinity.
“It’s always kind of in the back of my mind that I was undefeated last year … having that loss is almost a blessing, I guess you could say,” Trikha said. “It’s made me want to work harder since that match, and it’s also just kind of let me let go more on the court.”
Despite returning all its players next year, Trikha maintains that the team must still have a sense of urgency.
“We have to think of this as our last year, because we don’t know how good the other teams are going to be next year,” Trikha said. “But we do know that right now we have a very good chance to win.”
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