To be the best, you need to beat the best. For Penn squash, this means going back to the drawing board after both squads fell at Trinity on Saturday.
On the men’s side, the Quakers (8-2, 2-0 Ivy) left Connecticut without an individual win, falling 9-0 to the undefeated No. 1 Bantams (7-0, 2-0 NESCAC). This landslide may be partially a result of significant ladder changes, as coach Gilly Lane had to look to his bench to replace four key starters in light of injuries and illnesses.
“We played from behind before we even started the match. But credit those who haven’t gotten much match time. We stuck Jonathan Zeitels in at nine, Anders Larson played his second varsity match of the year at seven, and Ryan Murray, who was sick earlier this week, played in the number eight,” Lane said. “I’m proud that the guys fought and didn’t back down, but Trinity is a talented team and you need to be at the top of your game with a healthy lineup."
Without the likes of seniors Hayes Murphy, Marwan Mahmoud, and Derek Hsue, as well as junior Max Reed, No. 5 Penn struggled to find an answer to its hosts' impeccable play. By day’s end, seven Quakers had fallen in straight games.
Despite the scoreboard, Lane commended his squad’s effort against the Trinity juggernaut, and was particularly excited about what he saw from the guys playing up a spot.
“David Yacobucci did a great job of stepping up and playing number two. The guy he played against is 27 [years old] and the number one player in South Africa right now,” Lane said. “David took him to 3-1, and had an opportunity to win the fourth, which is super positive for him.”
Fortunately for the Red and Blue, the schedule generously presents 10 days for rest and recovery before a battle with No. 7 Princeton.
“We’re excited about the break, and we’re gonna rest and get healthy first. Then, we’re going to prepare like we always do, and take each day as it comes," Lane said.
For the women’s squad, the results were not much more glamorous, as the final tally came in 7-2 for No. 2 Trinity. Penn’s wins came at the number one and three spots, respectively through junior maestro Reeham Sedky, who remains undefeated on the season, and senior Marie Stephan, who battled back to close out in four games.
As with Lane, coach Jack Wyant has been forced to readjust the ladder with his No. 4 player, sophomore Jessica Davis, out of commission. Crediting the team as a whole, he appreciated the effort displayed on the courts by the No. 5 Red and Blue (5-3, 1-1) in the face of the fierce opposition from the Bantams (8-1, 3-0).
“I thought the top of the lineup played pretty well. I thought Marie played very well. She was happy about how she kept her composure and got the win,” he said. “For those in the four through nine spots, it was good experience. The score line was decisive in their favor, but if we had the opportunity to play them again, I would relish that chance.”
Regarding Stephan, the matchup was one particularly close to home. Following a late lineup shift by Trinity, she found herself squaring up against fellow Frenchwoman Julia LeCoq, which admittedly unsettled her initially.
“I was not expecting to play her, because I thought she would play number two. I did play her once freshman year, but she’s a little older so we’re never in the same age group,” said Stephan. “So, I was a little thrown off by that, but then it’s just another opponent so it didn’t really matter to me.”
A storyline worth keeping an eye on is the return to court of senior Melissa Alves, who went undefeated in 2016-2017 and is now coming back to competition after being sidelined with a foot injury. After two triumphant wins, Alves lost in a heartbreaking 13-11 fifth set on Saturday, but the result offers a growth opportunity for her during the hiatus before Princeton, per Wyant.
“Melissa struggled a bit with her opponent in terms of her style and the pace with which she played the game. So, there’s an opportunity to learn from that,” he said. “Physically she’s great. Her movement is really good, and her foot feels fine. The two things are her fitness levels, which is to be expected, and the other thing that will improve dramatically over the next couple of weeks is her consistency."
Now with a week plus at their disposal, it is up to the Quakers to rebound from this outing and prepare for a clash with the No. 3 Tigers and the grueling second half of the Ivy League season.