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Following a lackluster first half of the season, the Penn men’s squash team hopes to start 2010 off on the right foot.

Penn (2-3, 1-2 Ivy) will face No. 14 Navy (14-4) tonight in Annapolis, Md., where they will have a chance to improve to .500. Last year, the Quakers defeated the Midshipmen 9-0 at home.

Another sweep could be in the cards for the Quakers, but playing in Annapolis after the first day of classes will test their mental preparedness.

“It’s always a little more difficult when you play a team away,” coach Craig Thorpe-Clark said. “We need to travel down on the first day of classes and play them on their home courts. They always have a great squash atmosphere, and they always get a lot of Midshipmen out to support their home team,” he added.

After a win against Brown to finish the first half of the season, the team took a few weeks off before returning to practice last Wednesday.

Since coming back from break, the Quakers have been practicing twice a day to prepare for a challenging second half of the season.

Thorpe-Clark commented that a number of players looked especially good, and that he liked that the Quakers came back and hit the ground running.

“They all pretty much picked up where they left off,” Thorpe-Clark said. “They kept in good shape over the break.”

Compared to the first half of the season, the focus in practice has shifted from improving fitness to refining skills.

“Now is the time of year when we have a more hectic match schedule with some travelling,” Thorpe-Clark said. “The emphasis is going to change a little to more skill-oriented type of drills as opposed to building up fitness.”

Navy will rely on experience to buoy its chances against its younger Penn opponent. With 18 matches behind them, the Midshipmen have had far more opportunities to cultivate their strengths.

“I would be pleased with an outcome similar to last year, but [Navy is] working hard, [and] they’re playing a lot of matches,” Thorpe-Clark said. “I expect them to be improved.”

According to Thorpe-Clark, the Quakers are still nursing a few nagging injuries, but are healthy overall and in a position to start the year off with a convincing win.

In addition, the team will be aided by the return of junior Will Browne, who spent last semester abroad.

“We’ve had a long layoff,” Thorpe-Clark said. “This is our first match. We’re itching to go.”

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