Imagine a sport where every single team in the conference was nationally ranked and half of them were within striking distance of winning a collegiate national title every season. No, this isn’t SEC Football, it’s Ivy League squash.
For the remainder of the 2016-17 season, the lowest ranked foe Penn men’s and women’s squash will face is the No. 19 Brown men and the No. 10 Brown women. With the conference so tightly clustered at the top of the College Squash Association’s Dunlop Rankings, a loss to an Ivy League team can spell a major shake up in the national standings and impact the Quakers’ seed for the conference championship tournament at the end of the month.
“There’s definitely more pressure put on us,” said sophomore Reeham Salah, who currently boasts an 8-0 record at the top of the ladder for the No. 2 ranked Penn women. “But at the end of the day if we just come in with a very relaxed attitude and that same mindset will be on court and we play better.”
Director of Squash and head women’s coach Jack Wyant agreed that worrying about where his teams will fall in the national rankings at the end of February does little when it comes to winning games.
“At this stage we really aren’t focused on seedings. We are just focused on playing as well as we can in every match.”
The Red and Blue squash teams are now sitting at the midpoint of their Ancient Eight slate for the 2016-17 season with four Ivy matches remaining. So far, the results have been to be expected.
The men started their conference schedule with a loss to No. 4 Harvard, and rallied to a 2-1 record with wins over Dartmouth and Princeton to secure the sixth spot in the national rankings. It is a similar story for the women, as they defeated Dartmouth and Princeton but fell to Harvard, the top-ranked defending Howe Cup champions.
“We lost a heartbreaker to Harvard 7-2, but then we ran off with a series of matches,” recalled coach Wyant about the month of January for the women. Indeed, both of the Penn teams are on three-game winning streaks or better since their January 14 bouts with the Crimson.
Within that streak the most recent win came on Wednesday against Princeton. The women started the night with an 8-1 trouncing of the Tigers.
“I think today was the most connected our team has been,” Salah said. “We weren’t as uptight as we were before our Harvard match, and I think that is what made much of the difference. We were all there for each other for every match.”
According to Wyant, the dominant result from the women was a testament to the progress his team has made under his seven-year tenure in University City.
“I think we lost 9-0 to Princeton my first year. To have a night like tonight is a great feeling,” he said. “That’s what happens when you’re surrounded by talented athletes that work really hard.”
On the men’s side, the Quakers won for the first at Princeton in 1973. After six games played at Penn’s rivals left the score at 4-2, junior Hayes Murphy sealed the deal for the Red and Blue in a five-game decision.
There will be no rest for the weary, as the Quakers are back in action over the weekend with road matches against Brown on Saturday and Yale on Sunday. For both teams the toughest test will come on Sunday against the Bulldogs, who are ranked fifth for the women and eighth for the men.
“We’re going to practice tomorrow and get on a bus early on Friday and head all the way up to Rhode Island and try to get a good night sleep and prepare as well as possible,” said Wyant of his teams’ game plans for the weekend double.
“We’ve got two really talented squads, so I think if they play at or near their potential they can beat just about anybody out there.”
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