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Penn men's squash coach Gilly Lane applauds during the player introductions prior to a match against St. Lawrence University at the Penn Squash Center on Dec. 8, 2019. Credit: Amelia Sharpe

Penn’s best sports team plays in a small building right next to Penn Park. And no, it's not the Palestra. 

The men’s squash team, currently the No.1 team in the country and boasting a 9-0 record, is looking to claim its first-ever national title. Let's take a look at the rules of the game, as well as the history of the game at Penn. 

The rules of the game are fairly straightforward. The first player to 11 points wins a game, and the first to win three games wins the match. If the game is tied 10-10 for instance, then the victor must "win by two," meaning the first to outscore their opponent's total by two is the victor. 

A point begins with a serve, in which a player must keep one foot inside the service box, serving so that the ball hits the wall in between the service line and the out line. The ball then must bounce back and land behind the short line on the opposite side of the court from where it was been served.

If a serve is good, then play proceeds with players alternating hitting at the wall. Players must hit it out of the air or on one bounce off the wall between the tin and service line. It can also bounce off the back or side walls, but players must hit it back before it hits the ground twice. 

Players win a point if their opponent fails to hit the ball back before it bounces twice on the floor, or if the opponent hits the ball above the out line, into the tin, or into the floor before the front wall.

In college, teams compete with nine individual players matched against one another, and the winning team must win the majority of the matchups.

In addition to the team matchups, at the end of every season, the Men’s College Squash Association Individual Championships feature two groups of players competing for a trophy. The top-16 players compete for the Pool Trophy, while players ranked 17th-64th compete for The Molloy Cup. The Molloy Cup is named after the legendary Penn squash coach, Albert Molloy, who coached the team from 1959-90, presiding over the squash team’s only sustained period of success, going 215-101 while winning three Ivy League titles.

The game was invented in the mid-19th century in London, at a famous private school called Harrow. Racket sports were popular in Europe in the preceding centuries and the boys at Harrow invented their own racket game and called it Squash, named after the sound the rubber ball made when it hit the wall.

Starting in the mid-1860s, the game spread beyond the school and throughout the rest of England, and then eventually, the rest of the world.

The first squash court in North America appeared at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire in 1884, with many other schools soon following suit. The first courts at Penn appeared in 1904, with the university hosting its first intra-school tournament in 1912.

The Penn team played its first full season in 1929-1930, going 4-3 under Coach Wallace Johnson, who coached the team until 1959, while playing against Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

After the successful opening season, the team failed to post a winning record until 1962-63, seven years after the formation of the Ivy League, going 6-5. Despite this, the Quakers managed only one win in five league matchups, finishing fifth place in the six-team the league. 

The team steadily improved, winning its first Ivy League title in 1965-66, going 7-2, 4-1 Ivy. The team was led by Howard Coonley, who won the Pool Trophy in the Individual Championship that year as the best individual college player in the country.

The Quakers enjoyed sustained success for the next 15 years, finishing lower than third in the league only once between 1965 and 1980, posting a 116-24 (51-20) record over that span and winning a total of three league titles.

Since 1980, however, the team has not seen much success. Between 1980 and 2015, the team underwent five different coaches and only managed to finish in the top three in a five-team league — while never finishing first.

Before the 2016 season, the Quakers hired Gilly Lane as a new coach. Lane is an alumnus and one of the best squash players in school history, as well as one of the best Americans to ever play the game. He was an All-American all four years at Penn, before going on to be a member of the United States national team, winning three Professional Squash Association (PSA) titles and attaining a world ranking as high as 48, the second highest ever by an American.

Under Lane, the team immediately began to improve, finishing the season ranked fifth in the country with a 9-8 record. In 2017, Lane's second season as coach, the Quakers won 11 games and finished third in the Ivy League for the first time since 2006 — Lane's senior season.

The past two seasons, Penn has established itself as one of the premier teams in the country, finishing second in the Ivy League both years, as well as third and second in the country overall.

In 2018-19, the Quakers won a program-record 14 games and rose all the way to No. 1 in the national rankings for the first time in school history. The Quakers managed to earn a berth as the No. 4 seed at the Potter Cup —  the final tournament consisting of the top-eight teams in the country. The Quakers faced off against Yale, ranked fifth, whom they had beaten earlier that year. 

The Red and Blue routed the Bulldogs, 8-1 — marking the team's first win in the Potter Cup. The Quakers then  faced off against No. 1 Harvard, losing 8-1. Despite this, Penn defeated No. 2 Rochester in the third-place game to finish the season ranked third, the team's best finish ever.

With hopes high the next season, the Quakers delivered: the Red and Blue opened the season on a six-game winning streak. The hot start was no fluke either, as the team finished the season with a 14-3, 6-1 record — ranked No. 3.

The Quakers faced off against Yale once again in the first round of the Potter Cup, and history repeated itself, as the team routed the Bulldogs, 8-1. Next was No. 1 Trinity, whom Penn beat, 6-3, to claim their first-ever appearance in the Potter Cup final. Awaiting the Quakers once more was Harvard, who had beaten Penn the previous year in the semi-finals and was also the only Ivy League team to beat Penn this season.

The Quakers lost the match, but ended the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, setting up a rivalry with Harvard, with the hope to challenge them for the title of best team in the country the next year. Unfortunately, the season was cancelled due to COVID-19, delaying the Quakers' hopes of revenge.

Returning to action this season, the Red and Blue have stormed out to nine-game winning streak, seizing the No. 1 ranking from Harvard, as Penn hopes to claim their first-ever national title. 

The Red and Blue face off against the Crimson on Jan. 15 in a key matchup, as the team will look to continue its dominance. For now, the team remains undefeated and holds the No. 1 ranking in the country.