The real challenge was getting there.
When both Penn squash teams travel to nationals this weekend, they do so knowing that the hardest parts of the season are all things of the past. All that lies ahead is one guaranteed game on Friday and the possibility of a place in the finals on Sunday.
“At this point in the season, all the hard work is done,” coach Jack Wyant said. “Now what we have to do is just go out and perform in a pressure situation.”
Competing at the highest levels of collegiate squash, the Quakers will have their fair share of pressure situations, but the potential outcomes look a little different depending on the perspective.
For the No. 2-ranked women, a place in the finals looks to be a near guarantee.
When Penn goes up against Columbia in the first round on Friday, it will be the two week anniversary of the Quakers’ 9-0 trumping of the Lions. Should they advance to the semifinals, the Red and Blue will face the better of Stanford and Princeton, teams which it handled 9-0 and 8-1 respectively earlier this season.
“Everyone feels like they are ready to win,” senior Haidi Lala said. “Everyone knows that this is our best chance to win.”
Awaiting the women at the end of the road will almost for certain be an undefeated Harvard. But the Crimson will find no rollover in the Quakers, who came the closest to defeating the defending champions in a 6-3 loss.
Sitting at No. 5, the perspective from the men’s side may not seem as rosy, but the Red and Blue also have good reason to be confident going into this weekend’s tournament
Just a month ago, Penn stood not as underdogs but with a No. 2 ranking of its own before a recent slide gave the team a sharp wake-up call.
“We stumbled up a little bit the last three weeks,” junior BG Lemmon said. “Our last three matches with Yale, Columbia and Cornell sort of took the wind out of our sails.”
“I think we did get a little caught up with [the rankings] at the beginning of the year,” Lemmon continued. “The more we realized how it affected us, we tried to remove it from our minds. “
In the first round, the Red and Blue definitely cannot dwell on rankings as they face a familiar foe in No. 4 Rochester, who they defeated, 6-3, on Dec. 5.
“We’re going to have to play our very best to beat them again,” Wyant said.
And yet, win or lose, Wyant and his teams have sufficient reason to call this season a success. Amidst one of the most competitive fields in recent memory, both Penn sides are poised to improve on last year’s rankings.
For Wyant, that may be enough, but he has done nothing to hide the team and particularly Lemmon’s ambition.
“I think we’re in a very good spot to do something big at nationals this week.”
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