When we last left off before the winter recess, the men’s and women’s squash teams were still in the midst of an early-season reconfiguration, with old and new faces assuming unfamiliar roles. Now that the playing ladder is settled for both squads, they have emerged from winter’s coldest months with their team identities fully intact. The campus’ returning population can now take notice of fully metamorphosed teams that are thoroughly prepared to throw themselves into the heat of NESCAC Championship play.
Throughout December and early January, the men’s side managed to collect eight wins on the way to solidifying its 11-5 overall record and rising to 16th in the College Squash Association (CSA) rankings. The women’s squad posted a 4-7 mark over winter break. However, its current 8-7 record is good enough to warrant it the 21st ranking in the CSA.
The Cardinal men punctuated their mid-season success with an enthralling away match on Saturday, Dec. 7 against Brown, then ranked 15th in the nation. Although the Cards entered the match ranked four spots below their Rhode Island counterparts, an airtight 5-4 victory corrected Wesleyan’s lower positioning.
Captain John Steele ’14 willed the Cards to victory with a valiantly fought tie-breaking set, upending his Brown counterpart in the number one spot in the match-deciding 13-11 final game. For his performance in assuring Wes’ first victory over Brown since the 1967-68 season, Steele was named the CSA Player of the Week.
Despite strong performances in the clutch against highly ranked squads such as Brown and Bowdoin, perhaps the victory that best characterizes the Cards’ great strides in improvement is the recent 9-0 shellacking of Colby on Sunday, Jan. 19 at the Pioneer Valley Invitational.
“I think the 9-0 victory over Colby stood out to me as one of our greatest achievements all year,” said Mike DeLalio ’15, who has been instrumental all season and holding down the number-three spot on the ladder. “We’ve beaten Bowdoin 5-4 and Brown 5-4, which were important, but Colby is a team that has been regularly pushing us the last few years. We’ve always been near them in the rankings, and to beat them so decisively really shows how much stronger we’ve gotten.”
DeLalio also points out how this in-tune squad knows exactly how to play its advantages in order to wear out any opponent, regardless of ranking.
“I think we’re at the point in the season where nerves are gone for the freshmen and we are seeing all the training pay off,” DeLalio said. “We’re a fit team, and we know it, which also gives us a big mental edge. Everyone on the team goes into the fifth game knowing their opponent is more tired than they are.”
In recent play, the Cardinals found success at this past weekend’s Little Three contest, notching the most decisive victory over Amherst in school history, leveling the Lord Jeffs 7-2. Sadly, the Birds were stopped short on their quest for the Little Three Crown when Williams defeated Wes to a similar tune of 7-2. On the weekend, Steele continued adding accolades to his resume with two wins, earning him the unofficial title of Little Three Individual Champion at the top spot.
On the women’s side, the Cards were dealt their first loss of the season in a frustratingly close 4-5 battle with 22nd-ranked Mount Holyoke College on Sunday, December 8th at Wes. However, the ever-resilient Cardinals used the upset at home as fuel for their second matchup of the season against Mount Holyoke at the Pioneer Valley Invitational which resulted in Wesleyan flattening its opponent 8-1. The Cardinals drew dominating victories at every position besides the top spot in the replay match. Annie Maxwell ’15, Nell Schwed ’14, Claire Miller ’15, and Hannah Plon ’14 all blanked their opponents with 3-0 victories.
Per captain Mary Foster ’14, the win against Mount Holyoke rejuvenated the Cardinals and the energy from that matchup reverberated throughout all of their following matches.
“We accomplished our goal of beating Mount Holyoke after losing to them in December,” Foster wrote in an email to The Argus. “After losing to Mount Holyoke 5-4 earlier in the season, we came out firing and won with a decisive score of 8-1. We used that momentum to compete closely with Franklin & Marshall, who was ranked 9 spots ahead of us going into the match. It was a close 6-3 loss with a few individual matches that could have gone to either team.”
In the Cardinals’ final matchup of the Pioneer Valley Invitational the Cardinals continued to grow in confidence with a decisive 6-3 win over the top-25 ranked Colby Mules. Maxwell and Miller once again anchored the win with shutout performances; Lauren Nelson ’15 and Miranda Linsky ’14 turned in smothering victories as the second and eighth seeds, respectively.
Although the Cardinals achieved little success in this past weekend’s Little Three outing, losing 7-2 to Amherst and 8-1 to Williams, individual performers still stood out. Most notably, Foster only lost one set all weekend playing at the top of the ladder, nabbing the unofficial Little Three Individual Champion title on the women’s side. However, to achieve success moving forward towards the NESCAC Championships, the Cardinals will need to see a more even distribution of victories throughout the playing ladder.
For Captain Foster, this weekend’s outing will be the opportunity to correct early season shortcomings.
“The NESCAC tournament is always an important part of our season,” Foster wrote. “Our goal is to beat opponents that are currently ranked just ahead of us, namely Bowdoin and Amherst. If everyone on our team is able to find a way to compete their hardest, then it will be a successful weekend.”
Now with the week to rest and get back into the swing of classes, both the Cardinal men and women will anxiously look forward to resuming play at NESCACs hosted this year by Hamilton College beginning on Friday, Jan. 31.