Heeding the advice of the Godfather, Penn squash will keep its friends close and its enemies closer this weekend as Princeton comes to Ringe Courts for a marquee matchup.
Coming off a gripping 5-4 comeback victory at Trinity last weekend, the Penn women (7-1, 1-1 Ivy) will have to defend their No. 2 ranking against the third-ranked Tigers (5-1, 1-1) Saturday afternoon.
Assistant coach Gilly Lane is excited for the contest, as the two schools historically have been neck and neck in the standings.
“First and foremost, it’s Penn versus Princeton,” Lane said. “It doesn’t matter if you are at home or on the road — it’s one of those old school rivalries.”
The close ranking of the two teams also adds to the drama surrounding Saturday’s contest. Both squads come into the day having lost only to Harvard, the top-ranked team in the country.
Especially for the Quakers, who look to continue the momentum from the win over the Bantams last weekend, the match is a big one. Junior Anaka Alankamony was very proud of her team’s performance last time out and believes their high collective confidence is a decisive factor going into this weekend.
“Right now we’re ranked two in the nation, and Princeton is ranked right behind us, so it’s definitely going to be a challenging match,” Alankamony said.
One of the major talking points of the weekend regards ace freshman Reeham Salah, as she forfeited her match midway against Trinity after sustaining an injury from a collision on court. Lane believes this setback will not have any lasting impact on her game or keep her out of the side.
“Reeham is a really tough competitor and mentally very strong. Although Saturday was obviously not the way she wanted to finish a match, she’s going to be ready to go for [this] Saturday,” Lane said. “She’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever seen and had the ability to watch her play for years on the junior circuit, so I know she’ll be ready to play and more importantly play for the team and take part in this historic rivalry.”
On the men’s side, the second-ranked Quakers (7-2, 1-1) need to rally back after being dominated by the Bantams in Hartford, 8-1, on Saturday. To do that, they’ll need to beat Princeton (2-6, 0-2) who sit 11th on the table.
“I think that it was a tough loss against Trinity, and unlike the other matches, we just felt like they were just a little too good,” freshman Max Reed said. “I think we’re taking a step back and looking at where we can improve on being a little sharper with our short game, a little fitter, a little more explosive and having a little more fire. Those are the keys were looking at.”
Both the men and women will enjoy the luxuries of home court advantage the next couple of matches, as their Ivy League opponents will travel down to Philadelphia to take on the Red and Blue through Valentine’s Day.
Reed elaborated on the true benefits the squad enjoys when hosting events at Penn.
“It’s huge. The fans and having the support here is really big and really just not having to drive,” Reed said. “The ride to Trinity was seven hours and then having to get out and play later is just tough. Sleeping in our own beds, getting treatment in our own rooms and the fans are a huge advantage.”
Regarding the nature of the rivalry, Penn and Princeton have exchanged blows over the years with each team getting a fair share of exciting victories over the other.
“For the men, their record doesn’t show it, but it’s been back and forth. I know we beat them two years ago at home, they beat us last year at Princeton, 5-4,” Lane said. “It’s their first match after exams, so I know they’re looking forward to coming in here and battling with our boys.
For the girls, Princeton beat us last year at nationals, 5-4, after we had beat them at their place. I think it’s gonna be a tough Saturday, a lot of hard fought matches.”
The normally-friendly confines of Ringe Courts will be full of sweat and adrenaline, but expect no hospitality from Penn as their Ivy League neighbors come Saturday afternoon.
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