In one of America’s finest squash facilities, a sense of anticipation and eagerness hangs heavy in the air.
After an underwhelming past season by the team's high standards, Penn men’s squash is set to hit the courts again, armed with determination, skill, a thirst for victory, and a first-place preseason rank. Last year, the Quakers (16-3, 5-1 Ivy) failed to win the Ivy League title and fell short at the Potter Cup, the premier event for men’s collegiate squash in which the top eight teams in the country compete for a national championship.
This year, the Quakers have their eyes on both prizes. Coach Gilly Lane, the guiding force behind Penn men’s squash, believes this season holds immense promise.
“We have a strong combination of upperclassmen with young talent, which is obviously a great mixture," he said. "This year in particular, when healthy and firing on all cylinders, we believe that our top five [players] have the ability to be one of the best top fives in the country.”
Those five players, senior Nick Spizzirri, junior Nathan Kueh, junior Roger Baddour, sophomore Omar Hafez, and freshman Salman Khalil – whom Lane described as “the best freshman in the country” — will be looked upon to set the tone for the group. For the Red and Blue, Lane’s expectations are simply “to win the Ivy League and National Championship.”
As mentioned, last year the group came up just short, placing second in the Ivy League behind Harvard and finishing fourth at the Potter Cup following narrow losses to Trinity and Yale. For Baddour, “as much as last year was a big challenge, it’s a massive motivator as well.” The shortcomings provided some major learning opportunities. For Lane, the biggest one was that the team “probably could have been a little bit stronger physically. If we feel stronger physically, that’s going to help our mental approach a lot.” Therefore, improving physical strength has been a big emphasis this offseason.
Of course, the biggest changes from the 2022-23 season to the 2023-24 campaign are the five members of the freshmen class: Varun Chitturi, Ben Mathias, Kyle Penman, Jat Tse, and Khalil.
“We recruit guys that we believe can come in and make a massive impact from day one," Lane said. "I’m looking forward to them competing at the Ivy [League] Scrimmages this upcoming weekend and getting their feet wet in college squash. The boys are all very, very close, and there is a lot of pride in playing for the program.”
Baddour is equally excited to see the freshmen in their first collegiate competition. He shared that a goal this offseason was definitely to set the precedent for the younger guys and get them prepared for the season.
“For the most part, these guys have played individually for their whole lives. So it was important for us to get them to buy into the team culture and understand what being a part of a team is,” Baddour said. “It's the support from your teammates in your corner that keeps you going.”
As the team fine-tunes its skills in this final days before the season officially commences, the anticipation for upcoming matches grows. In particular, the first half of the season consists of a series of tough non-conference schedule, headlined by a match against the University of Virginia on Nov. 18 — a team ranked seventh in preseason polls.
This upcoming season, Penn men’s squash is prepared to embrace the challenges, celebrate the victories, and make the entire Penn community proud. Led by Lane and powered by the talent and hard work of players like Baddour, the Quakers are bound to use last year as fuel for their fire.