For the first time in program history, the Penn men’s squash team will enter the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, returning multiple All-Americans and key contributors from its No. 2 seeded team in the 2019-20 season.
Penn women’s squash will enter the season ranked eighth, consistent with the team's finish from two years ago. The team will lose Jessica Davis, its previous number one option, but the senior-less team is backed by one of the strongest junior classes in the nation, and will only look to improve in the next two seasons.
The cancellation of last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made taking the court this year a little bit more impactful. Beyond dashing the national title aspirations of both teams, it allowed the athletes and coaches to cherish the time they could spend on the court.
“Ivy League Athletics is something that’s been around for so long, and it’s something that we’ve taken for granted," women's coach Jack Wyant said. "We didn’t think there would be anything that could get in the way of our season. Now we’ve got a great appreciation for having the opportunity to practice together every day, to compete against one another, and to compete against other teams."
Instrumental for the men’s success are All-Americans Andrew Douglas, Aly Abou Eleinen, and James Flynn, who anchored the top-three spots on the team last season. The trio had a combined record of 42-12.
Douglas will make the biggest splash, though. Already on the shortlist for best players in the nation two years ago, his decision to return to Penn for graduate school completes the team.
“[Douglas] decided he wanted to come back, give it one more go, and finish his college career on a high note," men's coach Gilly Lane said. "He’s achieved so much here at Penn, and he’s already gonna go down as one of the best players to ever play at this program, I feel. We just feel really fortunate to have him back.”
Along with Lane, this graduate student and senior trio have helped Penn squash reach near-unimaginable heights. It was just three years ago when the Quakers received their first-ever national No. 1 ranking. It was just last season when Penn men's squash made its first-ever Potter Cup Finals. Now the team enters the season at No. 1, and a championship isn’t just a goal, but an expectation.
This will require a team effort, of course, and juniors Dillon Huang, Saksham Choudhary, and Tushar Shahani will provide the Quakers with consistency in the middle of the lineup. In their freshman seasons, they had a combined record of 43-9. Since the team's sophomores this year hold as much collegiate experience as the freshman, the ability for the men’s team to return six significant contributors this season is meaningful.
But the team's schedule isn’t for the faint of heart. The Red and Blue play every single team that was ranked in the top-10 two years ago. This includes bouts with Harvard and Trinity on Jan. 15 and 22, the only two teams the Quakers lost to in the 2019-20 season.
On the preseason rankings, at least, Penn’s returning strength has superseded its 1-8 and 1-6 losses to Harvard last season. It’s not unlikely that when both of these teams meet, it will be for the top spot in the national rankings.
For the women, Jamila Abou El Enin will start the season at the number one slot, after spending the entire 2019-20 season behind Davis. Team captains Amina Abou El Enin — Jamila Abou El Enin's sister — and Ashley Manning will also play important roles for the top spots in Wyant’s lineup.
The slightly inexperienced roster is poised to improve this year, and the outlook for the team is more than promising. Barring injuries, the lineup can only get better from here until the end of the season.
“We anticipate we’ll have a good season this year and an even better season next year,” Wyant said.
But inexperience isn’t just a Penn problem. The adjustment process will be present for every single team, so a young roster would appear to be less important than other years.
“I've never gone through a year with more unknowns than this year. The good news is, though, that the team is working very hard and the chemistry is great," Wyant said. "Even though there are a lot of unknowns regarding how people will play … we’re still really excited about what the team is controlling."
Much like the men’s team, the women’s schedule will be rigorous. The women's team play every single team that was ranked ahead of them in the 2019-20 season, including powerhouses Harvard, Trinity, and Princeton. The team will look for a better postseason performance this year, along with another positive record in conference play.
Both teams start their season this Saturday, Nov. 13, with a home doubleheader against Chatham and Drexel.