Every single NESCAC squash player was in the greater Hartford area last weekend for the NESCAC tournament, which was held at Trinity and Wesleyan. Seeded ninth, the women entered the weekend with a record of 4-9 and the intention of turning some heads. The men, at 7-4, were seeded sixth, which betrayed the fact that they had recently beaten fifth-seeded Colby. Both squads hoped to finish above their seeding, and, since they were each seeded low in their brackets, they had to play first-round games on Friday.
Both teams fought well throughout the weekend and finished strong, despite (at different points in the tournament) running into obstacles too tall to overcome.
The women faced Colby in their first round matchup, hoping to make improvements after a 7-2 loss three weeks ago at the Pioneer Valley Invitational. A win would have been absolutely massive for the Cardinals, who have been improving steadily throughout the season.
Unfortunately, Colby, seeded eighth in the conference and ranked 20th nationally (to Wesleyan’s 23rd), proved their mettle against the Cards and battled to an 8-1 victory. The score flattered the Mules. They snuck out three of those victories in tight four-game affairs and another one, the number-two matchup between Captain Liza Bayless ’16 and Colby’s July Wolpow, in an epic five-gamer. The four-game losses came at fifth through seventh, as Abigail Smith ’17, Ali Imperiale ’19, and Annie Ferreira ’17 all pushed their opponents. Play those four matches again and the result might have tilted in the Cards’ direction. Laila Samy ’18 claimed the sole victory for the Cards at the number-one position, extending her incredible undefeated season.
“Bridget [Doherty ’16] and I were very excited by the way NESCACs went for the women this weekend, and we are extremely proud of the group for the work that went in,” Bayless said. “We had a tough fight against Colby on Friday, with a lot of matches being much closer than they were last time we played them.”
On Saturday, the women squared up against Conn College and Tufts, whom they played to incredibly tight matches.
The squad bested the 27th-ranked Camels by a margin of 5-4, which was good for their fifth win of the season. Samy, Smith, Imperiale, and Ferreira each swept their opponents in straight games, and Ellen Paik ’16 triumphed in a five-game battle after dropping the first two games to ensure victory for the Cards. Bayless again proved her ability at the number-two spot with another five-game battle that unluckily ended in defeat.
“We came away with a hard-fought 5-4 win against Conn College, which was incredibly exciting,” Bayless said. “That was our result last time we played them, so defending that, especially with the moving around in both ladders that’s happened since fall, was a big win for us.”
Later in the day, the squad narrowly fell to the 25th-ranked Jumbos by a score of 5-4. Samy, Ferreira, and Paik capped off strong weekends in style with victories, and were joined by number-eight Ale Lampietti ’19, who defeated her opponent in four games. Bayless again came out just on the wrong side of a squeaker, this time in an insanely tight four-gamer.
“Tufts has become quite a good team since we saw them last year, and it was fun to have such a close matchup,” Bayless said. “We’re already preparing to see them again next weekend.”
Despite finishing one below their seeding after the loss to Tufts, who were tenth in the conference, Bayless and the team come away from the weekend with positives and specifics to work on ahead of next weekend’s matches and the fast-approaching national tournament.
“It was overall the best squash I’ve seen out of our players so far this season, and I think we’re really gearing up mentally and physically for our last few weeks,” she said. “There were some especially great performances by Ellen [Paik] and Annie [Ferreira] in both matches on Saturday. They both came away with two hard-fought wins, and also we had some amazing play by Tessa [Hill ’16]. Overall, I think everyone’s feeling a lot more confident and fired-up after this past weekend of such close play, and feeling good about Tufts and Vassar next weekend in preparation for nationals.”
Ferreira was similarly happy with the weekend performances.
“I think in general the women’s team was really pleased with the way we played this weekend,” she said. “Our match against Colby was much better than the last time we played them, with most matches going to four or five games. On Saturday, we had two tough matches, and it felt good to pull out the Conn [College] match. Tufts was a little tougher, but we’ll see them again this Saturday, and I think there are a few adjustments we can make to take them.”
The men received somewhat of a blow before the tournament had even started, as their seeding appeared to reflect their level of play before their full roster assembled. It cited a loss from the fall semester, when number-one and Co-Captain Guy Davidson ’16 and number-four Alex Kamisher ’17 were both out of the lineup, as a justification for seeding Colby above them, despite a recent loss to the Cards.
So they were forced to face Conn College in a play-in game on Friday, in which they systematically dispatched the Camels, without much fanfare, by a score of 9-0.
This put them in the quarterfinals against third-seeded Bates, who have arguably the country’s top two players in the one and two positions of their ladder.
“It’s pretty tough when you know going into the match that their top-two are automatic wins,” said Z Roach ’17.
Still, the Cards believed that the Bobcats should be on upset alert against them, as they fancied their chances against their third through ninth players. As Coach Shona Kerr has asserted, the challenge with team squash is getting everyone to perform their best on the same day, at the same time, against the same opponent. They needed this to happen on Saturday versus Bates, and, sadly, it did not. The squad fell by a score of 9-0, which certainly flattered the boys from Lewiston, but also suggested that their squad was deep beyond their top two.
While David Sneed ’17 lost in five (after gaining a 2-0 advantage), Roach and Kamisher (who played through a significant ankle injury throughout the weekend) were the only other two players to take a game off of their opponent.
“We knew that they’d be good at the top, but they also proved to be solid throughout the lineup,” Roach said. “The fact that they went on to beat Middlebury shows just how strong they were this weekend.”
Bates lost to Trinity in the NESCAC final by a score of 2-7, with their numbers one and two easily taking victory against the nation’s top-ranked team.
The Wes squad then entered the consolation bracket to contest for fifth place, which put them on a crash-course with Colby. But before facing the Mules, the Cards had to beat Bowdoin, whom they’d bested 5-4 a few weeks back. After a multiple-hour wait in Trinity’s courts, they froze the Polar Bears, 6-3.
The Cards earned straight-set wins from Davidson at the top of the ladder, Sneed at five, Roach at six, and Jason Brandner ’16 at nine. A five-game battle at the number-two position favored Co-Captain Raheem Logan ’16, and Grant Lounsbury ’17 won at the seventh position in a comfortable four games.
This victory gave Wesleyan the chance to contest for fifth versus Colby, which would mean finishing above their seeding and racking up another victory versus those pesky Mainers.
A few gutsy performances titled the scores 5-4 in Wesleyan’s direction, such as a nail-biter that Sneed clinched for the Cards after falling down 2-1. In the middle of the fifth game, Sneed’s opponent, the notorious Patrick McCarthy (whom Sneed’s close pal Chris Hart ’17 beat in one of the matches of the century last season) fell injured, causing an extended break in the action.
“My game was long and difficult, as both McCarthy and I had to take injury timeouts at different points in the match,” Sneed said. “It can be difficult playing someone who has had an injury during the match, but I knew the win was so important that I couldn’t let my sympathy affect my play, and I was able to rattle off five out of the last six points after the timeout to end the match and seal our victory.”
Earlier wins from Davidson, Logan, Roach, and Kamisher had put the Cards on the edge of victory, and Sneed closed it out for his boys.
“Yesterday was a big win for the team because these close matches with Colby have developed an intense rivalry between us,” Sneed said. “In the national picture, we came into the tournament ranked one spot below Colby so beating them should move us up in the rankings, and hopefully give us a better draw when the national tournament rolls around.”
Next weekend, the men and women will play host to Tufts and Vassar in matches that will give the seniors a chance to go out on top at home and afford the whole team the opportunity to tune up before Nationals.