In 1985, Ronald Reagan was president, the original Super Mario Brothers was released, Michael Phelps was born.
And Penn men’s squash got off to a start that wouldn’t be matched — that is, until now.
That team in the mid-80s got its season off to a prolific 10-0 start, and eventually finished the season with a 10-2 record. The men of 2018 currently stand at an 8-2 record, are ranked No. 5 in the nation, and are showing plenty of signs that their season can eclipse that of the 1985 team.
It has been a long road to get to this place for the Quakers. In the 2012-13 season, the team hit its nadir: five wins, 12 losses, and a seventh-place finish in the Ivy League, which was the lowest in program history. In the following seasons, the Red and Blue returned to the middle of the conference, consistently logging fourth and fifth-place finishes in the Ivy League. Last year, coach Gilly Lane took control of the team and led it to another fourth-place finish.
This season, the list of accomplishments is already quite lengthy: the Quakers notched their first victory over Yale at home in over 20 years, defeated perennial heavyweight Rochester in a thrilling comeback, and performed clean sweeps of Franklin & Marshall, Virginia, Williams and Brown.
So, what has made the difference this year?
Lane sees the early successes of the team as a product of a team dynamic that is uniquely experienced and skilled for the Penn men’s squash program.
“I think this year, we have finally the combination of veteran presence and combine that with … guys who have played at an international level,” Lane, a 2006 Penn graduate, said. “We’re combining that skill and talent with veteran leadership … and when you add all that together I think that’s a big reason for this success.”
One of those veteran leaders, senior Marwan Mahmoud, holds a similar belief as to the origin of the team’s success, but additionally, he finds that the order that the matches have been scheduled in has played a role, as the team has been able to get early momentum with a schedule that is less heavily front-loaded than in years past.
“The biggest difference this year is that we had a different start this year. We usually play Harvard and Dartmouth in the first matches—we were not lucky in the past three years,” he stated. “But, this year we started with Yale and Brown, and we had two great wins.”
This past weekend, the Quakers squared off against the undisputed best team in the nation, Trinity. Penn was dealt its second loss of the season; however, Lane knows that this team has what it takes to overcome defeat not just in terms of skill, but also in terms of grit.
“The team’s hungry. They’re fighters. We really take that blue-collar mentality to heart,” he said. “This year, more than any year… [the team] has shown that they can pick each other up when someone else is down, and they can play in big situations.”
Even with that loss, the team is set up well for the coming weeks. And with the heart of Ivy play coming up, you can bet that the Quakers will be hungry to keep the ball rolling.
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