The thing about momentum is that it builds. After stringing together seven consecutive victories, there may be no stopping Penn women’s squash.
This weekend, the Quakers (9-1, 5-1 Ivy) recorded back-to-back shutouts on the road against conference rival Brown on Saturday, and then Yale the following afternoon. The Bears (5-4, 0-4) struggled to put up any sustainable resistance, falling in straight sets in all but one matchup. The No. 5 Bulldogs (10-3, 3-2) had a little more luck, forcing a couple of Penn players to go through four sets before the Quakers claimed their fourth 9-0 sweep of the season.
Among the stars of this squad are sophomore Reeham Salah, who is yet to drop a single game at the one spot, and junior Melissa Alves, who wrapped up her opponents this weekend to remain undefeated with eight victories.
Regarding the state of his squad, currently ranked second in the nation, coach Jack Wyant was very optimistic about the future.
“I think we’re in a good place. This is looking to be one of our best regular seasons ever, and we’re excited to try and close it out with a couple more wins this weekend,” he said.
Wyant attributed the team’s incredible run of play recently to the close-knit nature of the players going back a couple of months.
“The team is really coming together. Ever since Stanford, they have been more unified as a group. Even though squash is an individual sport, team chemistry is still very important,” Wyant said. “When people enjoy seeing each other every day at practice, they are probably going to work harder for each other. The results have shown on the court.”
While he does not believe any individual can really be credited for the fusion of the team, he pointed to senior Anaka Alankamony’s efforts to boost confidence, which has certainly paid off with two more wins this weekend.
“[She] had a team meeting earlier this week and coming out of that, they all seemed to be in a really good place. I wasn’t in the meeting, but I know that she called for it,” he said. “We have a strong group of personalities up and down the ladder, with a lot of leadership there as well.”
Over on the men’s side, the Red and Blue were not as fortunate, splitting their road trip by taking points from Providence, but falling in New Haven.
Penn (7-5, 3-2) rallied off its sensational win against Princeton this past weekend, keeping the head of steam up to dispatch Brown (3-6, 0-4), 8-1. However, Yale (7-5, 4-1) proved to be too much, as Penn only picked up two wins in that contest, falling 7-2. The top performers on the squad have consistently been junior Hayes Murphy, who improved his record to a team-leading 10-2, and sophomore Jonathan Zeitels, who picked up the other point at Yale moving himself to 6-0.
Coach Gilly Lane emphasized the importance of these last couple of matches, noting the team fell a bit short to conclude this weekend.
“It’s always good to get another win, especially in the Ivy League. We were playing without our number two, Karim, because of injury for the second straight match yesterday so, to get an 8-1 win was huge,” Lane said. “Today was a tough day. Yale played the bigger points better, just being a bit tougher for stretches. We didn’t win the points that we needed to win.”
Murphy echoed his coach’s sentiments, adding that the team didn’t execute to its fullest potential.
“I think we came into the weekend with a lot of confidence, and that definitely showed against Brown. With these last Ivy matches, the margin is really small, and one of the things we can improve on is our mentality going into these matches in the future,” he said. “[Yale] won a national championship last year, and they played like the good team that they are. Unfortunately we didn’t reciprocate the way that we’re capable of.”
Lane pointed to next weekend, when the regular season concludes, for his team to rebound and capture the necessary wins.
“We have to learn from today and we have another opportunity in the two matches next weekend. Columbia is a very skilled team, rapidly improving over the past couple of years. We’re looking forward to going up to them, and then wrapping up against Cornell at home,” Lane said.
With the season coming to an end, both squads will need to find a way to dig deep and scratch out these last couple of wins to take them into the CSA Team Championships.