The year is 2012, and three wide-eyed freshmen walk onto Ringe Courts as Red and Blue athletes for the first time, eager to take No. 9 Penn men’s squash to new heights.
If only it were that simple.
Augie Frank, Liam Quinn and Tyler Odell were thrown in at the fourth, fifth and seventh positions on the ladder, respectively. All but one of the three newcomers finished the season with a losing record. Going down with them was the team’s national ranking as it dropped to 14th place and tied for last in the Ivies. It was Penn’s worst season since 2000.
After that ill-fated 2012-13 campaign, the Quakers saw improvement in each of the following seasons, rising from 14th to eighth and finally seventh in their most recent finish.
Now, heading into the 2015-16 season, all three of those freshmen stand tall as seniors and captains. This is the trio of Quinn, Frank and Odell — the leaders of a Penn team on the verge of a top-five breakthrough.
Seniority demands respect on any sports team, but for an incredibly tight-knit group like theirs, the direction that the seniors set can be felt long after they leave.
“We’re just happy to be a part of that in any way we can,” Quinn said. “Hopefully we can be good role models for the young guys, because I know when I was younger, I looked up to the older guys.”
The team’s younger players feel the effects of this senior leadership in many ways, and it can manifest itself in something as simple as the soreness from that extra rep in the gym or that extra sprint on the court.
“I loved all the guys my freshman year, but I think we’ve definitely upped our training regimen in terms of lifting and additional fitness,” Frank said.
While Quinn stresses that the players took the sport seriously back in 2012, just as they do today, the new regimen of morning lifts twice a week and the addition of an entirely captain-run preseason — one that starts as soon as the athletes arrive on campus — speaks to the increase in physical intensity over the past three years.
“The dedication, the work ethic, the commitment and the culture of the team have not [been] revolutionized since my freshman year,” Quinn said. “But they definitely have changed.”
But as important as a good work ethic is, the ability to recruit elite talent ultimately decides a team’s fate at the end of the day. And in squash, “elite talent” often implies international talent.
Quinn, Frank and Odell’s recruiting class was the last one that didn’t feature at least one international recruit. Frank and Odell are Pennsylvania natives, and Quinn doesn’t fall too far outside the mold, hailing from Cambridge, Mass.
“With having our coaches Gilly [Lane], who’s an amazing recruiter, as are Jack [Wyant] and Richard [Dodd], we’ve increased the talent on our team,” Frank said.
“And even with this new talent, we’ve kept that work ethic that we needed to succeed with a less talented team in the past,” he continued.
That talent is best seen in sophomore Marwan Mahmoud. As a freshman, the Cairo, Egypt, native headlined the team at the number one position and finished the season with a No. 11 College Squash Association individual ranking.
To the current seniors, however, it’s about what you do with that talent that really matters. Although they themselves have no shortage of skill to offer to the team, it’s up to them to maintain that competitive atmosphere.
It’s the high standards that they have set through hard work and discipline that are needed to take in new recruits and turn them into true Red and Blue squash players.
“I think we will certainly continue to try to recruit better and better players,” Frank said. “But honestly, Marwan last year was one of the most talented players I’ve seen, so it’s going to be hard to find a player that is way more talented than he is.
“It’s about continuing to get kids who are of his caliber and challenging them so they can continue to develop while they’re here.”
With a fresh batch of recruits, including another Egyptian recruit in Karim Hussein, the team’s work ethic and culture will once again be put to the test.
“There are of course expectations that need to be set, and people need to get to that bar,” Quinn said. “So we, as captains, just hope to do as much as we can to help the team get there.”
As Quinn, Frank and Odell enter their final year in the Red and Blue, it comes as no surprise that they will seek to continue the trend of upward progress and set a precedent for the years to come.
Maybe they’ll make their mark by beating Harvard for the first time since 1979. Maybe they’ll cement their legacy with an Ivy League title. Whatever it is, the senior captains have the means and talent to make this season an unforgettable one for Penn.
None of this will come easy, but as Frank puts it, “On the right day, anything is possible.”
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