Yep, the countdown to Penn-Princeton basketball is finally into single digits. But honestly, Penn squash may just hold the most exciting matchup against the Tigers.
This Wednesday, both Penn men’s and women’s squash will travel to Princeton to take on the Quakers’ fiercest rivals in a doubleheader.
“I’d say in my 13 years [of coaching], Princeton’s been our biggest rival,” said women’s head coach Jack Wyant, who played at Princeton. “There’s no greater satisfaction as a coach then getting to beat your alma mater.”
For Wyant, a return to No. 4 Princeton is a return to the place where he served as a three-year captain for the Tigers. Even so, Wyant is the first to point out how much stronger his ties are to the Red and Blue, noting that he’s been involved with Penn squash for three times as long as he played under Princeton. As the Director of Squash at Penn, a sweep on Wednesday would be that much sweeter.
The No. 2 women (6-1) will go into Wednesday’s tilt with nothing but momentum. After a loss to undefeated No. 1 Harvard, the Quakers have strung together four impressive wins, including defeats of No. 3 Trinity and No. 5 Stanford. It’s very clear that the team has entered an impressive vein of form, dropping only three matches in their last two tries.
Sophomore Reeham Salah continues to impress in her second season. The Washington native has not only won all seven of her matches this season — she also has not yet dropped a game.
Despite the wild run of success for Salah, there actually hasn’t been much technical or tactical change with the way she’s approached this season.
“I definitely think the conditioning we’ve been doing during practice has helped a lot. Especially the past two weeks, we’ve been doing so much,” the women’s team’s No. 1 said. “Fitness is such an important part of squash. If you have the shots and don’t have the fitness, you’re not going to win your matches.”
For the No. 6 men’s squad (5-4), a strong schedule gets no easier, as the Quakers headline the second half of the doubleheader against No. 10 Princeton. The Red and Blue are coming off two wins of their own over No. 9 Dartmouth and No. 11 Navy. So far, the Quakers have combatted the strength of their opponents with a crucial squad depth.
Against Navy, Penn pulled out a particularly notable effort. From surface glance, the 7-2 score seems mundane. However, that line looks even more impressive when considering two of its players were sidelined to illness. Sometimes, illness can provide context, and, for men’s coach Gilly Lane, he takes a renewed sense of comfort in how deep his talent runs in the lineup.
“We rested two starters who were under the weather, and people stepped up,” Lane said. “I was really happy with how the team responded. That was a tough Navy team, so to get a 7-2 win gives us confidence.”
Lane is sure to have confidence knowing that without the presence of junior No. 1 Marwan Mahmoud, his team was able to rely on the back of his lineup. He cited efforts from freshman Will Hagen and sophomore Karim Hussein, who moved up to score solid wins. Against Princeton on Wednesday, the versatility of the Quakers’ lineup is sure to curb the Tigers preparation.
For both teams, the tough schedule has left them well seasoned for the barrage of top-15 opponents that they have faced and will continue to face in the second half of the season.
“It’s nice this time of year, because the matches come very fast and furious,” Wyant said. “[Right after Princeton] we have to start preparing for Brown and Yale. So, it’s a great time of year because things are happening, and it’s nice for the team to have matches coming [frequently.]”
Which one is it? A mental fitness? A match fitness? Frankly, it doesn’t really make much difference. The rhythm these two teams are in is going to make for a fun visit to Jadwin Gym for Penn.
One more thing; don’t forget to get out the brooms...