As Penn men’s and women’s squash look to soon begin the season, there is just one thought on their minds – improving.
Last year saw both teams finish well. The women finished fourth in the nation, while the men finished eighth – improving from 14th the year before. However, both teams feel that through their rigorous preseason preparation, they are in a position to have even stronger seasons this winter.
This weekend, both teams will travel to New Haven, Connecticut to play in the annual Ivy Scrimmages, before kicking off regular season action against Bates on Nov. 22. After a long offseason and preseason of training and inter-squad matches, the teams say they could not be more motivated for the important weekend.
“We’re most excited about the prospect of playing against someone else other than each other,” coach Jack Wyant said.
Wyant is headed into his fifth season leading both teams, and says that his hopes for the men and women have never been so high.
“Our women have the talent to compete for a League Title and a National Title,” he said.
To do so, they must defeat Harvard, the preseason No. 1. Last year the Crimson finished second in the nation and didn’t graduate a single ladder player. However, Wyant is confident in his women’s ability to upset the odds on favorite.
“We have the ability to compete with teams like Harvard and Trinity, Princeton, Yale, etc.” he said. “If we put it all together, who knows - the sky’s the limit.”
Senior captain for the women, Leslie Gill, echoed Wyant’s enthusiasm for her team’s potential.
“This year we’re really special in that people just have such a competitive desire to win and I think we’ve been lacking that in the past years,” she said. “That’s something our freshman class has brought in and we can use that to go very far this season.”
Gill says she is very excited for what this weekend of Ivy Scrimmages means.
“The Ivies are super fun just because there’s no pressure,” she said. “Plus it’s a really great way to gauge how we’re doing and see what we need to improve on going forward.”
As for the men, Wyant says he is more optimistic going into this season about their chances than any other year that he’s been with the program.
“As I said to my two assistant coaches today: it’s almost like we can write the practice on the board and just go work in our office for an hour,” he said. “And you don’t have to think: ‘are they training hard? Are they focused?’ There’s none of that. This team is all business, all the time.”
With that being said, the goal for the men is to improve on their eighth place finish from last year in an expanding sport.
“We had a huge year last year, a kind of unexpected year for our program, so this year the expectations are really high,” senior captain Michael Mutscheller said. “We’re looking to improve on our result from last year and knock off even more teams that we haven’t beaten in the past, and I think we’re ready to go for sure.”
Fellow senior captain Jack Maine also has high hopes for his squad.
We were so gutsy last year and that’s why we won most of our big matches. But this year, we have the skill,” he said. “Combining the guts and hard work from last year with the skill we have this year, I think we’re going to be a tough team to deal with.”
This season, the squash teams welcome nine freshmen – five men and four women. Though yet to face any college opponents, Wyant is confident in the newcomers' abilities.
“I’m not worried about their performance on the court just like I’m not worried about any of the other guys,” he said. “They’re going do great this year provided that they continue to put in the work and believe in each other and themselves.”
Not much will be easy for the Quakers this squash season. The must face every top team in the nation, and as Wyant points out, it’s a long season.
“We start Sept. 1 for preseason and end in March, so staying healthy and avoiding burn out is key,” he said. “But based on the start that we’ve had, I’m really looking forward to this season and think that both teams can accomplish great things.”
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