She’s back, by popular demand.
As Penn women’s squash (5-3, 1-1 Ivy) enters its main stretch of conference play this season against Princeton (9-0, 2-0), the Red and Blue’s lineup will be bolstered by the recent return of senior No. 2 Melissa Alves. A native of French Guiana, Alves suffered a second injury to her foot over the summer, injuring the same foot that kept her from full-time play during her sophomore season.
“It’s huge. She’s a top-five, top-four player in college squash, maybe better than that,” coach Jack Wyant said. “To have her back in the lineup has meant a tremendous amount to the team.”
Alves is looking to reclaim her elite form from last season, when she was the country's only undefeated player to play all of her matches in one of the top three lineup slots. She earned a first-team All-Ivy selection after a perfect 13-0 campaign, including a 6-0 record against Ivy League opponents.
Alves has already completed three matches since her return to competitive play, winning her two matches against Ivy opponents from Yale and Brown. Her only loss was a tight five-game bout against No. 2 Trinity, where she held two match points.
She’s been no less then tremendous. That is, unless you ask Alves herself.
“It was a bad loss this weekend,” she said. “Bad for me because I didn’t play my best, but she played great still. I think I just need to get into the rhythm of playing matches like that.”
Alves started training on court again in December, and, her own lofty standards aside, she has overcome a lot just to get back on court. Dealing with a second injury to the same part of her body required a more rigorous surgery and recovery period. Alves recalls there being more metal screws and plates required for this surgery than the one in her sophomore season.
The senior captain has still found a way to bounce back even more than last time. In her sophomore season, Alves played just four games. Now, when she takes the court for the Quakers' match against Princeton, it will already be her fourth match in what is a budding comeback.
“This time I just learned patience. Literally, trust the process,” Alves remarked. “The first time I think I tried to get back on court to fast, that’s why I rebroke it. I learned that you can’t beat nature.”
While she exhibited patience in the healing process, her training since she has returned demonstrates her dedication. Wyant stressed that, now that Alves is back on court, her determination to return to playing has inspired her teammates.
“First and foremost, she is reminded how much she loves the game, and how desperate she was to get back on court,” Wyant said. “For the younger team members to see that, to see her passion and her drive to get back on court was a positive example of her leadership.”
Alves praised her teammates for helping her to continue to stay involved without having to pick up a racquet. The rehab period not only provided her a chance to heal her foot, but also a chance to do something she loved doing almost as much as playing: mentoring her teammates. Often, she found herself giving the same advice to them from the sidelines that she gave while on the court during practice.
While she counseled others, Alves would often learn things herself as well.
“You earn a lot from watching people play,” Alves said. “You learn the right way to play, you see their mistakes, and you try not to reproduce them. You’ve gotta try to find anything to make yourself better, even if you can’t be on court.”
Though her return is in its nascent stage, Alves’ play has been stellar. In all the matches the she has played, she has at the very least held a match point. This was against opponents who had had three more months of training and match play than she. Alves is already back to her No. 2 spot in the lineup, and she is looking ready for the Quakers' impending showdown against the undefeated Tigers.
Her goals for the rest of the season? No losses until nationals.