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Senior captain Grace van Arkel and the rest of Penn women's squash have a tough weekend ahead, as they square off against No. 1 Harvard on Saturday and No. 9 Dartmouth on Sunday.

Credit: Ananya Chandra

No. 1 vs. No. 2. It doesn’t get any more important than this.

Penn squash has a high-stakes weekend coming up, including a top-two clash for the women against top-ranked Harvard.

It came down to the same two teams at the CSA National Championships last year, when Penn lost to Harvard in a heartbreaking 5-4 match, and memories of that matchup lie fresh in the minds of the team.

“When you ask, ‘Is that day still fresh in your mind,’ I say, ‘Absolutely,’” women’s coach Jack Wyant said. “I’m really looking forward to Saturday as an opportunity to compete with Harvard again.”

Penn’s women (2-0) and men (2-3) start their conference play every year against the Crimson (both 1-0, 1-0 Ivy), and last year’s result on the women’s side was a 6-3 loss for the eventual national runners-up. Perhaps with a 6-3 loss to open Ivy play last year and a 5-4 loss to end their postseason run, the women might just grab one more game this time around to shift the balance to a 5-4 win.

“That’s our goal,” Wyant said. “Our goal is to play well enough to be competitive. A lot of people have said that Harvard’s team is the best women’s college squash team of all time ... they’re very incredibly talented. And we’re relishing the opportunity to be able to compete with them, and we’re going to try our damned-est to be successful.”

But Harvard isn’t the only opponent for the Red and Blue this weekend. Both teams start off against the Crimson on Saturday, but then host Dartmouth the following day in a match-up they can’t afford to overlook.

The women may have bested the Big Green last year by a 9-0 scoreline, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. And the men only slid past the same team in an even 5-4 match. If either set of Quakers wants to take the Ivy crown this year, it’ll have to make it past Dartmouth as well as Harvard.

After Dartmouth, though, the women’s side still isn’t done. Two more days of non-conference competition lie ahead after Sunday, with a Monday matchup against Trinity and a Tuesday tout with Drexel waiting in the wings.

“We have four consecutive days of competition, which is unprecedented in my tenure of 13 years,” Wyant said. “We’re really excited about this stretch of competition.”

The Quakers will have to rely on their stars producing for them this weekend if they want to start Ancient Eight play undefeated. For the women, Salah will certainly be playing with a chip on her shoulder, after losing the final game of the final match against Harvard in the CSA final last February.

But if she can use that to her advantage, then maybe Penn can find its way to the top of collegiate squash at long last.