During an action-packed weekend, Penn squash won a combined five matches as both the men’s and women’s teams remained undefeated on the season.
On the men’s side, the No. 7 Quakers pulled off upsets of No. 4 Rochester and No. 3 St. Lawrence before sweeping Williams, while the women, who faced only the latter two teams on the weekend, coasted through their matches without dropping a single game.
The men (6-0) came into the day having beaten three ranked opponents to start off the year and continued the trend with an upset of Rochester, 6-3, at Ringe Courts.
With five match victories needed to claim the day, the Red and Blue went up 4-3 and could nearly taste victory amidst the sweat and adrenaline. As all storybook endings must play out, both of the final two matches went five games.
On court four, Penn freshman Max Reed was deadlocked with opponent Micky Bertocchi, having fought back to force a decisive game five. With the crowd swelling around the glass and cheers coming down from the upper tiers, Reed ground out a decisive 11-6 victory, granting Penn its fifth match and the win for the day.
As he dropped his racket and started to exit the court, Reed could not even get as far as his water bottle before a mob of his Red and Blue teammates carried their hero around Ringe to shouts of triumph.
“That was pretty sweet,” Reed said of the post-match chaos. “So awesome. Just surreal to be honest.”
After winning the pivotal match for Penn, Reed lent much of the credit for his own success to his support staff behind him and on the other courts.
“All my coaches and teammates have just given me a ton of confidence, and the captains especially,” Reed said. “Everyone has so much confidence in each other, it’s hard not to have confidence in yourself while you’re out there.”
After winning a key match of his own, sophomore Hayes Murphy shed some light on what this victory means for the program, which moves forward with much to gain in the weeks ahead.
“We can play with the big boys. I think everyone’s confidence is through the roof, and I think that’s exactly how we need to play to beat these top teams,” Murphy said. “I think that before this match we would kind of sneak up on teams. But now, everyone knows who we are so we have to start playing like a top team.”
Although it may have been tempting to revel in the moment, the following day, both third-ranked Saint Lawrence as well as Williams were coming to Ringe to square off. And for the Quakers, a second top-five upset was looming.
The home team traded matches with the visiting Saints, with a key victory coming from sophomore Derek Hsue, who battled back from a two-game hole.
Hsue’s victory brought each side level at four wins and placed all the pressure on the shoulders of senior captain Tyler Odell, who engaged in a nail-biter with Julian Jervis that went the distance of five games. With an astonishing victory within reach, Odell scratched out a triumphant final game to cement Penn’s status atop the scorecard by the thinnest of margins.
It was deja vu at Ringe as the Red and Blue streamed onto the court. Odell explained the gravity of the situation, and how he fought through it.
“I think when I was up 10-6 and saw everyone crowding around the court, I realized it was up to me,” Odell said. “So, I had to stay strong and keep doing what I was doing to get me to that point in the match. I’ve never had a match come down to me [at] four-all so it was definitely a special and great feeling.”
In two days, the Quakers had defeated the third- and fourth-ranked teams in the nation. With their collective confidence at an all-time high, they made light work of Williams later that day with an easy 9-0 victory, keeping the flawless record intact.
“We’re not at the top one or two level yet, I don’t think, maybe we are, but we thought maybe we could achieve top five this year, Penn coach Jack Wyant said. “To see the guys perform this well under the pressure of knowing they were not gonna get too many chances against the top-five teams before break was really special.”
The captain shared his thoughts on what gives this team that winning edge with these monumental matches on the line.
“I think this year we came in really knowing we would have to work hard and give it our all to have a shot at the Ivy Championship and finish at the top of the country. And everyone was hungry, and knew that though we had a lofty goal, it was attainable,” Odell said.
Meanwhile, the women’s team once again showed no sign of weakness Sunday afternoon, dominating the visitors from both St. Lawrence and Williams to the tune of 9-0 victories and improving to 4-0 on the season with 36 individual matches won and zero lost.
The match was almost anti-climactic for the second-ranked team in the nation, which took most matches in three games en route to capping off the perfect weekend for the Red and Blue .
For Wyant, the success of the two programs is shared, and he expressed pride in how far both teams had come since he came to Penn.
“I was lucky to be hired here 12 years ago to coach the women and try to get them to an elite level, and then was even luckier to have the opportunity to coach both teams. I remember sitting down with then-Athletic Director Steve Bilsky and saying that our goal was to get the men’s program on par with the women’s,” Wyant said. “It’s interesting that we’re gonna go into break as the second-ranked team on both sides.”
With a long break ahead, the Quakers have time to rest and recuperate, and come January, make a run for the nation’s top seed.
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