It’s only a four-block journey from Drexel’s squash courts to Penn’s, but when the Dragons came to face the Quakers last Tuesday, the walk back must have been a painful one.
Thanksgiving came early for Penn squash this year, as both the men’s and women’s teams sent their crosstown rivals packing in their home debuts.
On the women’s side, the No. 3 Quakers had 27 individual wins to be thankful for over the break with not a single loss to bring them down. The Red and Blue didn’t yield a single game at any position on the ladder, sweeping the No. 13 Dragons with a score of 9-0.
Meanwhile, the story was much different on the men’s side as No. 7 Penn barely eked out a 5-4 win over No. 9 Drexel.
Depth was the name of the game for the men (3-0). Despite losing all three of the matches at the top of the ladder, Penn’s bottom third came through with a resounding sweep.
At the seventh, eighth and ninth positions on the ladder, freshman Jonathan Zeitels, senior Tyler Odell and junior George Lemmon all cruised to 3-0 wins. Two more wins from sophomore Hayes Murphy and freshman Max Reed sealed the deal for the Red and Blue.
The win brought Penn’s record over Drexel (4-1) to 5-0, a rivalry that only started in 2011 when the Dragons formed their varsity squash program.
Whereas the Penn squash program celebrated its 125th anniversary just last year, that of Drexel is barely out of infancy, having entered its fifth year of existence only this season. Just in these five years, however, both programs for the Red and Blue’s Market Street rival have developed at exponential paces, a growth that the Quakers’ coach Jack Wyant has paid special attention to.
After finishing 28th in its inaugural season, Drexel’s men’s side has now found its way to the top 10. And its incredibly close result with the Red and Blue last week shows that it does not feel out of place with the nation’s elite.
While the women’s team did not have as great of luck against the Quakers (2-0), the Dragons (4-1) have shown the same voracious appetite for success. In the same amount of time, it has risen 23 places places of its own.
“There’s no question that their women’s team is going to improve upon its national ranking,” Wyant said. “That might not have been reflected against us tonight, but I think that just speaks to the level of talent we have on the women’s side and how hard they’ve worked this year.”
According to Wyant, much of Drexel’s growth can be attributed to the direction given by its president John Fry, an avid fan of the sport who also serves as the chairman of U.S. Squash.
What this means for Penn has yet to be decided. While healthy competition can benefit both teams, there can only be one top dog in the city of Philadelphia. And Penn’s dominance — at least on the men’s side — is looking a little shaky.
“It’s scary,” Murphy said. “But it definitely keeps us sharp.”
As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But in the case of Penn and Drexel, this rivalry might be a little too close for comfort.
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