While many of the traditions at Penn are decades old, the squash program is looking to start one anew.
Enter the Pennsylvania State Classic, a two-day men’s and women’s tournament that features the top squash squads from across the Keystone State. In the tournament's inaugural year, Penn's Ringe Courts will be playing host to Drexel, Franklin & Marshall, and Dickinson this Saturday and Sunday.
In discussing his motivation, men’s coach Gilly Lane, the brains behind the tournament, emphasized the importance of getting testing matches in before the season gets underway.
“Dickinson is an up and coming program, Drexel has proven to be one of the best in the country, and F&M is perennially strong,” Lane said. “One day I said to [women's coach] Jack [Wyant], ‘We need to do a tournament. What a great way to kick off the year with a Pennsylvania State Championships.’”
From there, the other coaches quickly came on board and the wheels were in motion. Crediting Lane with the idea, Wyant proceeded logistically to turn this notion into reality.
“Once Dickinson became varsity, we actually petitioned the league for an additional week in the season, and we got really lucky with the support of Dr. Calhoun and President Gutman,” Wyant said. “We moved the competitive start date up a week, which allowed us to do this tournament. Now we have four teams all in the top twenty in the rankings, it makes for a great weekend.”
This all manifests in Penn men’s and women’s teams playing against F&M on Saturday, with the Quakers aiming to make it through to Sunday’s finals, likely against crosstown rival Drexel. Hallmarked by great competition and a communal dinner Saturday night, Lane shared his vision for the Classic in the years to come.
“Our hope for the tournament going forward is that as more colleges locally get squash programs, we include them in the tournament. Maybe have a full weekend with an eight team draw. We’re really looking forward to it,” he said.
For the men’s team, this weekend represents a unique opportunity to test its ladder against strong visiting opposition. Over the off-season, the Quakers added serious firepower to an already impressive squad through a freshman class led by Andrew Douglas, who is likely to jump right into the number one spot.
Echoing his coach’s sentiments about the dual-threat of veteran and young talent, senior Hayes Murphy noted that winning is simply the expectation thanks to soaring morale.
“We’re confident we can do anything this season. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and putting in the work, although that’s easier said than done,” Murphy said. “This is the strongest team I’ve seen in my four years, so the sky is the limit.”
On the women’s side, the stakes are a bit different. With a few players falling victim to the injury bug, including senior and captain Melissa Alves, Wyant is looking to move his squad in the right direction at the Classic.
“Our main goal is to continue to stay healthy and work hard. We’ve had a few injuries this preseason that prevented some of our student athletes from being on court as much a we would have liked,” Wyant said.
Although Alves — who is currently nursing a broken foot — admitted she would rather be on the court with the team, she has seen sparks of greatness through the glass that may be indicators of a successes around the corner.
“It’s very exciting because we have three freshmen, three starters potentially for the season. They are playing really well and they are fighters,” Alves said. “It’s a different team than last year for sure. They are ready to go, and it’s going to be great to watch them play this year."
With two-full days of action ahead, the Quakers will be looking to collect some silverware on homecourt and springboard into a what should be a rousing 2017-2018 season.