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Much of Penn women's squash's struggles this season came with senior star Melissa Alves sidelined with an ankle injury, so her return to top form is one reason for optimism moving forward.

Credit: Chase Sutton

14-3. 14-2. 13-2. 6-5. One of these is not like the others.

The outlier there, the 6-5, is Penn women’s squash's record this year — a stark departure from the years of dominance seen in those prior three records. After consistently leading the pack in the Ivy League, what accounts for the struggles that this team has faced?

There are several possible explanations.

First, and most obviously, the three seniors from last season who graduated have left some holes in the middle of the ladder. Grace Van Arkel, Michelle Wong, and Anaka Alankamony — all four-year players — provided incredible depth, as then-underclassmen Reeham Sedky and Marie Stephan would often lead at the top of the lineup. However, seniors graduating is just a fact of life in collegiate sports — the more prominent problems lie elsewhere.

The top of the ladder — Sedky, Stephan, and senior Melissa Alves — has been consistently excellent this season, but beyond them, the team has struggled for consistency. 

Perhaps no match this season epitomizes this problem better than the team’s 5-4 loss to Yale early last month.

Sedky, Stephan, and Alves all won their individual matches, all of them sweeping three games to one. However, the only other victory on the day for the Quakers would come from freshman Julia Buchholz at number six. Of the Quakers' five match losses, only two would even go to a fourth game.

Similar trends can be seen in matches against Stanford (a 6-3 loss) and Princeton (an 8-1 loss)  — and it is likely that this is due to the several key injuries that the team has sustained. 

Junior Rowaida Attia, who predominantly played at No. 4, and sophomore Jessica Davis, a strong No. 5, have both been out since early December, meaning that they have missed all of the Ivy League matches. Their presence would undoubtedly shore up the middle of the ladder and very likely would have pushed the Quakers over the edge in those three close losses.

Additionally, the Red and Blue have had their problems exacerbated on the road. Three of the team’s five losses have come on the road, including a 7-2 loss to Trinity and the aforementioned loss to Stanford. Compare that to last season, where the Quakers took down both of those teams away from the Ringe Squash Courts.

It has been a tough season for the Quakers so far — for the first time in many years the team is standing near the bottom of the Ivy League rankings, at 2-3 in conference play. However, not all is doom and gloom: the Red and Blue are still ranked seventh in the nation, and arguably the root of some of their greatest struggles stem from a pair of key injuries. 

The Ivy League title might be out of reach, but if the team can return to full strength soon, the Howe Cup still looms large.