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Senior Peter Withstandley (left) talks to teammate Roberto Kriete. Withstandley saw the team through last year's coaching change. (Theodore Schweitz/DP File Photo)

It was a battle of epic proportions that ultimately ended in a loss. But for Peter Withstandley and the Penn men's squash team, it was a moral victory. Withstandley, a senior co-captain for the Quakers, was taking on Harvard's top player, Deepak Abraham, widely recognized as one of the best in the nation. Penn's No. 1 played his opponent shot-for-shot on marathon points, hustling to keep Abraham's strong shots in play. All the while, Withstandley knew that Penn, already down 5-0, had no chance of beating the Crimson. Using his athleticism to fend off higher-ranked players has been a signature of Withstandley's play throughout his tenure at Penn. And his teammates, who have come to expect the type of gritty effort on the court they saw from Withstandley against the Crimson two weeks ago, could only describe Peter's play as an inspiration. This season, Withstandley paced the Quakers in wins and posted a 10-4 record. He is a major factor in Penn's first winning season in recent memory, and is leading the team's push into the postseason. After being a cornerstone of the Red and Blue for four seasons, the senior heads into his last two weekends of play having never missed a varsity match. The two-time Quakers co-captain made the decision to play at the collegiate level during his final season as an under-19 junior player. At the time, the high school senior was ranked No. 24 in the nation. "I made squash a big part of my college decision and was thrilled to be coming to Penn," Withstandley said. Unfortunately, he found himself on several Penn teams that were not very competitive nationally. He spent most of his first two seasons, like most players, adjusting to the faster and more skilled competition at the collegiate level. Unlike most younger players, though, he did it at the top of the lineup against the nation's best. Withstandley immediately stepped in as the Quakers' No. 4 player his freshman year, and mustered a 7-7 record. By the end of his sophomore season, he had been thrust into the top spot on a Penn squad that had lost several key players. Withstandley found himself a bit overwhelmed. "I ended up seeing a lot of competition for which I wasn't yet prepared," he said. "I didn't win much, but I also wasn't getting killed by my opponents. I think then I started to feel like I could really improve and not just play at No. 1, but win." Withstandley also had to make this transition while the team was embroiled in a coaching change, as Craig Thorpe-Clark took over for Jim Masland after the 1998-99 season. Withstandley's growth as a player continued during his junior season -- his first with Thorpe-Clark -- as he managed to notch a 5-11 record. "My junior year was a big improvement for me," Withstandley said. "Craig brought discipline and tough, physical training to practice." Training and physical fitness have become Withstandley's hallmarks as a player. He has chiseled himself into an athlete who runs circles around larger players. "Peter went through a tough learning curve last year," Thorpe-Clark said. "He clearly dedicated himself to coming back and having a great season. He works harder and is fitter than anyone else on the team. He's done all that on his own." Withstandley's tough personal training schedule paid off this season. His .714 winning percentage came after being excluded from the national top-20 rankings in the preseason. "Peter has improved so much since we were freshmen," fellow senior co-captain Will Ruthrauff said. "His game is simply awesome to watch. He's far and away our No. 1 player." Withstandley has done more for the Quakers this season than just win matches. Several team members cite his quiet leadership as a reason for the team's success. "Peter is a lead-by-example type of leader," Penn freshman Jason Lam said. "He showed us through his hard work and dedication just how much it takes to be successful at this level. I think everyone on the team puts in more effort and works harder because of what Peter has shown us." Thorpe-Clark also appreciates the effect Withstandley's leadership has had on the team. "He lets his actions speak for him," the second-year coach said. "The guys are in awe of his athleticism, concentration and competitiveness." Withstandley will have a chance to shine in two weekends at the national individual championships, hosted by Harvard. "Peter is the type of player that the flashier guys don't want to face," Thorpe-Clark said. "Everyone knows that he's dangerous. He's the type of guy that could ruin a player's tournament." Up first, however, are this weekend's team championships at Yale. Withstandley's hard work has helped the Quakers become one of the front-running teams for the Hoehn Cup, awarded to the No. 9 squad in the country after a three-round tournament. Wins in the first two rounds could clinch the elusive top-10 ranking that the No. 11 Quakers have been pursuing all season. A strong effort in the next two weeks could also seal Withstandley's chances for postseason accolades. He has a chance to be Penn's first All-American honoree since Juan Dominguez in 1997-98, and also could find a place on the All-Ivy team. Regardless of the upcoming two weeks' effects on the team's rankings and Withstandley's awards, however, one theme is clear amongst the Red and Blue's returning players. Withstandley's quiet brand of leadership will not be easily replaced next season.

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