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No. 2 Penn women's squash has a tall task to beat No. 5 Stanford, and the Quakers will need to it without injured star senior Melissa Alves, who is healing a broken foot and hopes to return later in the year.

Credit: Mark Shtrakhman

With Penn squash, the story lies behind the numbers.

The Penn men’s (2-0) and women’s (2-0) squash programs are going into a road trip in Virginia, fresh off convincing titles at the Inaugural Pennsylvania State Classic from both teams. 

While the No. 5 men’s squad’s second opponent on the weekend will be against No. 14 Navy, and the No. 2 women will face off against No. 5 Stanford, both teams will open their road tie against the University of Virginia on Saturday. UVA recently announced the addition of men’s and women’s squash to their varsity sports program this past June.

Coach Jack Wyant, who serves as both Director of Penn Squash and head coach of the women’s team, recognized the importance of expanding the geographic reach of collegiate squash through these competitions.

“It’s important because UVA and Stanford are two ‘BCS schools’ that have added squash within the last twelve years,” Wyant noted. “That’s really exciting for our sport; historically we’ve been northeast corridor, NESCAC and Ivy League, so for us to branch out is great for us, and is great for our game.”

While the scores showed how in-tune these teams are early in an already lengthy season, the story behind the numbers provides more impressive context for the two teams, and most importantly, things to improve upon.

For the women, this weekend’s competition will represent another weekend where the team will be without senior captain Melissa Alves, for whom the first part of the season has been disrupted by a foot injury.

“It’s the second time I’ve broken my foot; I broke it two years ago my sophomore year, and I missed the entire season,” the captain reflected. “I was excited for this year, and over the summer, I was training back home, and I broke it again.”

For Alves, the lengthy season plays to her benefit, as she is using the time to rehab properly before conference play starts up next semester. She notes that it is important for her not to get too down about being sidelined. Instead she has used this period to help out the freshmen who are using this period to adjust to collegiate play.

“They’re younger, [so] they ask more questions,” the French-Guiana native commented. “I’m not saying they’re like children, but, you now, they need to know everything: they need to know what time, they’re waking up, what time they eat, when do they warm up, what do they need to warm up.”

Questions and all, Alves and Wyant have been pleased by how well the younger players in the lineup have played so far. With a contingent of four freshmen going 6-2 this past weekend, and winning all their matches against Franklin and Marshall, age has proven to be just a number for the Quakers. 

Moving forward, Wyant stressed the importance of his players taking the ball early, and recovering with good percentage shots from out of position in order to continue racking up decisive wins.

For the men, their story also hinges on players stepping up despite absences of key veteran players in the lineup. 

“To be able to get out there and win [last weekend] without two starters in the lineup, shows a lot about the guys and what they’ve done to get ready for the season,” men’s head coach Gilly Lane said. “We’re really happy with the way things are, and I think the guys they loved getting the result on Sunday, but now they are focused on this weekend.”

Getting a positive result this weekend will hinge on big performances by Penn's young players as well. The freshmen trio of No. 1 Andrew Douglas, No. 6 Yash Bhargava, and No. 10 Ryan Murray going 6-0 in their first non-scrimmage matches last weekend. The men will rely on similarly clutch performances to compliment the improvements from veterans like sophomore David Yaccobucci, who has moved up to playing at No. 3 in the lineup this year.

For this weekend, the story of Penn squash is a team continuing to step up to perform despite the absence of key starting players.

As for the numbers? This weekend will decide whether they will align with the story.