For one of the lower-profile teams on campus, Penn squash sure did have one heck of a 2015-16 season.
The men finished fifth in the nation after winning the consolation bracket in the Collegiate Squash Association tournament. The women came devastatingly close to a CSA national title, finishing as runners-up to Harvard after losing to the Crimson, 5-4, in the final.
Harvard was the only team the women’s side lost to all season en route to their 14-2 record and highest national finish since 2010. The men, on the other hand, managed to snag their first upset over the national powerhouse since 1979. They may have ended the season at 12-5, but those five losses all came against top-eight teams — one of which they avenged at nationals when they beat Columbia to reach the finals of the consolation bracket.
“My feeling is that last season was an overwhelming success for both the men and the women,” Penn coach Jack Wyant said. “Each team worked very hard. Each team, by the end of the year, was playing at — or very near — their potential. And I think the results demonstrated that.”
Still, the results showed that the women were agonizingly close to becoming national champions. The Quakers went down to the Crimson early, but senior captain Yan Xin Tan put her side in the lead in the third match of the day. Another win saw the Red and Blue up 3-1, and after Harvard tied it up at three, Penn made it 4-3 to come within one game of the championship with two games to make history.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
“Today just wasn’t our day,” Wyant told the DP back on the day of the championship.
Harvard won the final two matches, including a 3-2 nail-biter at the top of the ladder, to take the team crown.
“They handled the pressure really well,” sophomore sensation Reeham Salah said. “We kind of broke down at the end. I mean, if you look at the two teams, it was so close that it’s very hard to tell the difference between the two teams. It was 5-4, and 3-2 in the deciding match. In that sense, they’re so close that it’s so hard to tell a difference.”
It was close, but just not meant to be. The women were the first losers, while the men were the last winners, triumphing in the consolation bracket. A successful tournament, though one with just the slightest pang of disappointment.
“I don’t have any regrets about that,” Wyant said. “Would I have preferred the results to go the other way? Of course. But we evaluate these teams on their preparedness, their togetherness and their hard work, and I feel that the women were fantastic. As for the men, they beat Harvard for the first time since 1979, so that in itself is a great accomplishment.”
So 2015-16 will long be a season to remember for the Quakers, but they will want to come out stronger this time around.
The women only graduated two players from the top-nine ladder. The men were even younger, playing mostly freshmen, while their three senior captains battled it out for the last two spots on the ladder.
Both sides will undoubtedly miss their captains, but with older, more experienced squads this time around — plus the promotion of Gilly Lane to coach of the men’s team — this season’s CSA tournaments could see the Quakers take it up just another notch.
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