Things have been going pretty well for Penn squash so far this season. This weekend, against No. 1 Trinity, the year might just keep getting better.
In what will be their most difficult test since falling to Harvard over winter break, the Red and Blue will travel to Hartford, Conn., on Saturday to take on the Bantams.
On the women's side, the No. 2 Quakers (6-1) haven't beaten the No. 6 Bantams (6-1) in three years. The men's drought goes back even further; No. 3 Penn (7-1) hasn't topped No. 1 Trinity (9-0) since 1996.
While Penn coach Jack Wyant stresses that beating Trinity does not determine the success his teams have had this season, getting a win from the men against the No. 1-ranked team is not out of the realm of possibility.
"This is the best chance we’ve had to beat them since they’ve gone on their unbelievable run of 14 straight national championships," Wyant said.
In seasons past, this matchup would be an all but guaranteed win for the Bantams. But it has been a special season so far for the Quakers, as the both the men’s and women’s teams have put up their best performances in recent memory.
While Trinity’s status as the powerhouse program in college squash has been long established, that reign may soon be in jeopardy. This season has included plenty of upsets across the circuit, including Penn’s victories over St. Lawrence and Rochester as well as Dartmouth and St. Lawrence’s victories over Harvard. Many in college squash see this as a sign of things to come.
“There’s simply more talent in college squash than in years past,” Wyant said. “It’s coming internationally — which everyone sees, as they continue to dominate the top ranks of college squash. But what is a little harder to recognize and appreciate is how much better the Americans have gotten.”
The players are beginning to recognize this change too. In just a few short years, Penn has grown from a middle-tier team into one of the best teams in country, and other programs are beginning to follow suit.
“We have great talent here at Penn squash,” sophomore Anders Larson said. “The top of our lineup is filled with freshmen and sophomores, and the captains have been doing a great job of keeping on top of everyone and keeping everyone motivated.”
“There’s much more depth, and our base of players has increased dramatically in the past four or five years, so that’s exciting," Wyant said.
"Throughout the 2000s, Trinity essentially cornered the international market. Now that’s not the case," he added.
The massive influx of talent into the world of college squash has weakened the hold of a select handful of perennial powerhouses, meaning that with enough recruiting in the office and an equivalent amount of work on the court, more and more teams have a shot at challenging the top.
“We get our season started early here at Penn, earlier than any other team," Larson said. "So we have the talent and the work ethic, and I think with some of the other teams we’re starting to see them put in the same hustle.
"Just a few years ago we were number 14 in the country, and now we were up to number two. People saw that, and I think that’s why there’s so much fluctuation this season.”
Nobody said that beating Trinity will be easy, though.
"I’ve heard through friends of [Trinity squash] coach Assaiante that he thinks this is the most talented team he’s ever had, so if he’s saying that, then that speaks volumes," Wyant said.
"Nonetheless, we’re going to go up there and do a better job adapting to a new situation than we did up in Cambridge. We’re gonna work on our away game, and I think if we play our best we’ll have a good shot to win.”
Penn squash may still have more work to do before they can truly be a championship team, but the program is reaching new heights, and this weekend will offer just a hint of what the future holds for the world of college squash.
Wyant, for one, is optimistic.
"Now squash is looking like a real collegiate sport, and our game is more exciting than it’s ever been.”
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