The men had a relatively routine weekend with two lopsided matches, while the women dug deep to grind out three wins in three days.
The common denominators of crackling chemistry, talented youth, and dynamic leadership in both the men’s and women’s teams helped the Quakers continue their unbeaten upwards trajectory this season.
Women’s squash, No. 6 in the country, pushed through injuries and odds to land their biggest win of the season against No. 4 Stanford on Friday. The top half of the lineup delivered under pressure, as positions one through five won tough matches to give the Red and Blue a winning start at home.
“To be frank, I didn’t like our chances going in,” women’s coach Jack Wyant said. “There was a sort of formula we had to follow to be able to win, and for that to happen, we had to win in five or six matches; we took five out of those six, so all the credit goes to the team.”
Tied at 4-4 after with points on the board through senior captain Reeham Sedky, junior Jessica Davis, freshman Julia Buchholz and junior Lindsay Stanley, it all came down to freshman Jamila Tamer’s court. Playing at the No. 3 position, the Egyptian freshman played out a gutsy five game match, where she traded match points back and forth with her opponent. An interference violation at 16-15 helped draw close to a dramatic match, clinched a 5-4 victory for the Quakers, and also earned them retribution from two losses against the Cardinals last year.
“Stanford was a really big push for us; after that, out confidence was up there, and even though we were sore and tired towards the end of the week, we knew it (matches against George Washington and the University of Virginia) would be relatively easier,” Tamer said.
On Saturday, the Red and Blue did have a relatively easier day, as they went on to beat #14 George Washington 7-2, with all seven wins coming in straight sets.
The top five delivered yet again with straightforward wins. The additional two wins came from junior Clare Kearns at No. 6, and sophomore Nicole Windreich at No. 7. Windreich clinched the match for the Quakers, while Stanley and Sedky played out the 'dead rubbers' to give Penn a comfortable 7-2 victory over the Colonials.
“I’m definitely super proud of this team,” Sedky said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity, you know, with injuries and stuff, but we pulled through. Our dynamic has been super positive; the supportiveness and the positivity between each of us has helped us work harder and become better.”
For the final match of the weekend, the Quakers managed to pull out a tight 5-4 victory over No. 12 Virginia, as the match came down Stanley’s final game at the number five position.
Up two sets to none, the junior looked to be on a straightforward path to victory, but was drawn into a battle courtesy of a successful late rally by Virginia junior Tara Arya. The momentum furthered strayed from Stanley, as she went down 6-1 in the final set, before recovering to 10-10. She managed to hold her nerve, and confidently closed out the game, and consequently the match, 12-10 with a backhand winner.
“We didn’t look like the strongest team, but this weekend we came in wanting to try our hardest and just went point-by-point. The results just came after, so it was awesome,” Stanley said. “The last match of the weekend is always tough, but in the huddle at the end of our lineups we always emphasize leaving it all out there, so that’s what I tried to do.”
The last time Penn women’s squash started the season 4-0, they went on to win the Ivy League Championships. With this weekend behind them, Penn women’s squash closed out competition for the fall semester unbeaten with a record of 5-0. Coach Wyant reiterated the importance of team chemistry in explaining the team’s growth and successful start.
“This is my 15th season here, but I’m reminded how powerful chemistry can be, even in an individual sport like ours,” said Wyant. It is obvious for sports like football and basketball but it's true even in squash, where if you like working hard and practicing with the group you’re with, you can improve a lot and achieve some special things.”
In a stark contrast to the women’s side, Penn men’s squash beat both No. 9 George Washington and No. 13 Virginia with a comprehensive scoreline of 9-0.
In their home opener, the Quakers got off to a flying start with straight-set wins from junior Captain David Yacobucci, junior Wil Hagen and freshmen James Flynn and Michael Mehl. Senior captain Jonathan Zeitels clinched for the Red and Blue, winning 11-3, 11-6, 11-6 at the nine spot. The only hitch in an otherwise uncomplicated victory came at the three spot, where freshman Aly Abou Eleinen saved a match point enroute to winning a five-game battle.
Coach Gilly Lane echoed excitement over the bright prospect of interating three freshmen into the starting lineup.
“Three out of five are in the top six; on our team, there are no lines in terms of class. Everyone is the same, so if you’re in your spot, you’re expected to perform,” Lane said. "Regardless, I think these three have done an amazing job, and are a part of this new culture that we’ve had this year; I’m excited to watch them grow play some good squash for four years.”
The team carried forward it’s disciplined momentum to Sunday, with another categorical 9-0 victory over the Cavaliers. This time around, things got a bit tricky, as the first round of matches could’ve gone either way. Flynn, Hagen and Yacobucci remained gritty and pulled through early setbacks to to win their respective matches in four games.
“We won 9-0 against a team that is up and coming, so it feels pretty good,” Yacobucci said. “I beat a kid who I grew up playing with. It gets frustrating when you’re playing well and he’s picking up every ball, so to come away with that 3-1 [win] is a really good result.”
Against Virginia, Mehl took the baton from fellow freshman Eleinen, as he played out an exhilarating five set match. Up two games to none, he was drawn into a fifth game as his opponent clawed back by winning two consecutive games with the scoreline of 11-8. He won the decider 14-12 after trading match points, and finished his weekend undefeated.
“College squash is a lot more intense; you have a lot more to play for. Being on a team of 14-15 guys, when you’re out there, you’re not only playing for yourself and your family, you’re representing your teammates,” Mehl said. “We’ve been training really hard, grinding everyday, and today really showed that we could dig in when need be.”
The second round of matches featured unfazed performances from sophomore Andrew Douglas, senior Karim Hussein, and sophomore Yash Bhargava, with Zeitels earning his second clinch of the weekend with an 11-6, 11-6, 11-6 victory.
“We really focus on environment and culture,” said Lane. “I think the all the seniors and the junior captain have done an amazing job of cultivating a great culture, so I hope we keep preparing and putting ourselves in good positions to see the hard work pay off.