After Penn men’s squash jumped from No. 7 to No. 3 in the national rankings last season, expectations are high for them to deliver again this year.
Not only did the group snatch the No. 3 spot in the final 2018-19 season rankings, but it was also the second-best team in a stacked Ivy League, and two players — junior Andrew Douglas and sophomore Aly Abou Eleinen — made the national men’s individual top 10 list. But with all of the pressure that goes along with this kind of spotlight, the Quakers aren’t too anxious about the season ahead.
With the team getting back seven of the nine players in the starting ladder from last season, the Red and Blue are confident that their strong performance last year will spill over into this season. Many players are eager to prove that they can compete with the same energy.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do,” senior David Yacobucci said. “I think we’ve got an edge over a bunch of the teams just with some young, hungry guys and a good facility. I think we have the best facility in the country now, so [we're] looking forward to that.”
“We’ve had a strong start to the season,” said junior Andrew Douglas, who ranked third nationally last season. “I think it’s probably been our strongest preparation. And me and [Yacobucci] are running captains’ practices, and that has also been really productive, really positive.”
So what has changed that could help Penn get over the hump this year? In addition to the renovated Penn Squash Center, the athletes have a new training staff to help them develop this season. Even though the team has several returning starters, it's also true that two-thirds of the players are underclassmen, half of whom are freshmen. This could be the key to sustained growth within the team, and training seems to be going well in preparing the group for a successful season.
“From what I can tell, [the freshmen] are really hungry, so I don’t think they’re feeling too much pressure,” Yacobucci said. “I think they’re more excited than anything else.”
While the achievement of placing third in the country has not gone unappreciated by the Quakers, how these rankings affect the players’ mindsets is mixed.
“We try not to look at the rankings too much, because they don’t really matter,” Yacobucci said. “How we finished last year has no implication on how we do this year, and really how much training we’ve done this year will speak for itself once we get into the season.”
“I think that we’re grateful to be in the position of having a lot of success, but I think that we’re also hungry to keep pushing on and keep going further,” Douglas added. “I don’t think that we’d be disappointed with getting third again, but I also think that we’re certainly not satisfied with just meeting the status quo.”
Regardless, the Quakers are putting an emphasis on team-wide development, which will be crucial for maintaining success.
“A personal goal would be just full-team success, and that really comes from everyone’s efforts, including myself,” Yacobucci said. “As a senior, I’ve got to make sure I stay focused and … make sure we’re all in it together.”
The season kicks off at the Penn Squash Center with the Ivy Scrimmages this weekend, before the group's home matchup against Dickinson on Nov. 16. If recent history serves them well, the Quakers may be looking at another explosive start to the season.