Men’s and women’s squash both ended their team-based schedule on strong notes at the College Squash Association (CSA) National Team Championships, highlighted by the men’s 3-0 weekend and Conroy Cup victory. The men’s win in the Conroy Cup, which is awarded yearly to the winner of the event’s “D” division, was Wesleyan’s first since 1992 and the team’s first division title since their 2001 Summers Cup victory (“C” Division). The women, competing in the “C” division, were knocked out of the Walker Cup’s first round by eventual runner-up Franklin & Marshall College. The team recovered flawlessly, though, winning the consolation bracket with upset wins over Dickinson College and St. Lawrence University.
“I think we ended the season on a high note,” said captain Alex Kamisher ’17. “I know it was a great way for the seniors to all finish off our careers.”
Before the competition heated up later in the weekend, the Cardinals drew a soft first-round matchup against New York University, whom they breezed by to a tune of 8-1. The vast majority of the lineup managed comfortable 3-0 or 3-1 victories, highlighted by a dominant performance from Chris Hart ’17 at the No. 1 position.
The Cards drew Bowdoin in the next round, marking the season’s third rumble between the rivals. Wesleyan had dropped a tight 5-4 contest in January, but emphatically recovered to give the shorthanded Polar Bears a 9-0 drubbing at the NESCAC Championships.
At the top of the ladder, Hart and David Sneed ’17 continued their winning ways with fairly quick sweeps. Grant Lounsbury ’17 added a win at the No. 4 position, while Alex Dreyfus ’20 swept his opponent by huge margins to put the Cardinals a win away from victory, with captain Z Roach ’17 and Will Bienstock ’20 fighting deep into fifth sets on other courts. While Roach couldn’t quite complete his comeback attempt, Bienstock battled from a 2-1 deficit to secure a landmark victory that pushed the Cardinals into the tournament’s final round.
The weekend’s final day proved to be every bit as stressful and dramatic as the previous one. Facing Hobart College with the Conroy Cup on the line, Sneed and Josh Lane ’19 earned Wesleyan’s only sweeps of the day. Kamisher, after going up 2-0, lost all momentum in the third set of his match but regained footing in the fourth to secure a vital point. Roach and Dreyfus, each falling behind early in their high-stakes bouts, fought back to earn massive wins that dramatically swung the day’s tide.
“At 2-0 down, I realized the urgency of the situation, both for myself and for the team,” said Roach. “After the second game, Sneed told me that I needed to completely overhaul my game plan if I wanted to win. [Hobart’s] Terrance [Rose] is incredibly fast but has issues on his backhand, so we decided that I would pin him into the backhand corner relentlessly. We’ve been telling our younger guys all year to trust the process; for the last three games, I trusted the process and snuck out the win. I think the energy from my win, along with Dreyfus’ simultaneous come-from-behind win, really inspired the rest of the guys to bring it home in the second and third flights of matches.”
The 5-4 victory marked a happy ending to the careers of Wesleyan’s core five seniors: Hart, Sneed, Roach, Lounsbury, and Kamisher. When healthy this year, the group dominated at the top-five spots on the ladder and were the clear driving force behind the Red and Black’s success. It was nearly poetic that the group, given four years to gel as a unit, couldn’t quite put it all together until the last weekend of their careers when it mattered most. Kamisher identified this as a high point of the season, while also remarking on one of the season’s toughest moments.
“The worst part of the season for me was watching our team lose to Dickinson,” he said. “I was on the bench with my pinky injury. We were ranked like five spots above Dickinson at the time and it stung to watch them beat us at home. But the best part of the season was definitely Nationals. We redeemed ourselves against Bowdoin and took down the higher seed Hobart in the finals.”
Before the women’s team even set foot on Princeton University’s campus for the CSA Championships, they had arguably topped their results from last season. In 2016, the Cardinals ended their season with momentum, winning the “D” division’s Epps Cup. This year, improvements at the back-end of the lineup and continued dominance by NESCAC Player of the Year Laila Samy ’18 earned Wesleyan upwards mobility into the “C” division. Even if the team had left New Jersey with a losing record, their divisional ascent marks their season with a positive hue.
Franklin & Marshall, as advertised, turned out to be a first-round buzz-saw. Samy, per usual, cruised to a win, but no other Cardinal could manage more than a set. Morale stayed high, though, as the unit remained unfazed by their early exit.
“We haven’t played [Franklin & Marshall] in a few years, so we didn’t really know their style of play,” said Ale Lampietti ’19. “Although it was an 8-1 loss, we got a good number of games off them and really fought hard.”
The loss dropped them into the consolation bracket where they squared off against their familiar foe, Dickinson College. Wesleyan topped the Red Devils 6-3 in the finals of last season’s Epps Cup, but could muster only two wins (Nina Premutico ’20 and Samy) in a Dec. 4 matchup this season that never looked close.
The back-and-forth continued, as Wesleyan wrestled momentum back in a hotly contested 6-3 victory. Samy, Ali Imperiale ’19, and Sarah Clothier ’19 earned fairly comfortable sweeps, but exited their courts to find their teammates locked in high-stress encounters. Lampietti dropped the first set 9-11, but turned around for easy victories in sets two and three, setting up a dramatic 13-11 “overtime” win in the fourth set to earn her sole victory of the weekend. Josie Russ ’20 had a similarly dramatic four-set victory, which she capped with an 11-9 thriller in the final game. Captain Annie Ferreira ’17 notched the team’s sixth and perhaps most dramatic win, despite falling in the second and fourth sets.
St. Lawrence advanced from the other side of the draw, after thrashing a Bowdoin outfit that the Cards edged 5-4 over winter break. Wesleyan, though, was undeterred by the Saints’ momentum. Samy earned her customary sweep, and was joined by Ferreira and Sherly Francois ’20. The other victories went the distance, highlighted by a marathon between Russ and Alexandra Infante that mercifully ended at 16-14 in the fifth and final set. Imperiale and Clothier added five-set wins to bring the Cardinal win total to six.
While their Walker Cup hopes were quickly dashed, the Cardinals’ undeniable success against higher-ranked opponents is telling. This exceptional conclusion to the 2016-17 campaign, coupled with their huge returning class, sets the women’s team up to be a dark horse force come next winter. Losing Ferreira and co-captain Abigail Smith ’17 will hurt, but is much more manageable than the losses that other NESCAC competitors will sustain.
“I’m actually really confident we can stay in Division C,” Lampietti said. “We were seeded last in the division and came out fifth, which was not only huge for us, but huge for any team to have two upsets like that.”
Along with the team success, Wesleyan’s season was highlighted by a few extraordinary individual performances. Along with being named Second Team All-NESCAC, Hart’s win against Bowdoin moved him into first place on the men’s all-time win list with 58. Meanwhile, Sneed’s 17-3 record at the No. 2 spot this year was the best such mark for a No. 2 in Wesleyan history. On the women’s side, Samy earned her third consecutive First Team All-NESCAC honors along with her NESCAC Player of the Year Award. While the team seasons are over, Hart, Sneed, and Samy will advance to the CSA National Individual Championships, where Samy has a legitimate chance to claim her first national title. She fell in the semifinals of last year’s tournament and ended her season as the country’s No. 4 player.
While the women’s future seems secure for at least the remainder of Samy’s collegiate career, the men are facing more uncertainty, with their top five players set to graduate. Roach, for one, seemed hopeful that he is leaving the program in competent and worthy hands.
“I think the younger guys have a lot to take away from the weekend at Nationals as they prepare for next year,” he said. “The five of us have come a really long way since our freshman year, playing 7, 9, 10, 12, and 13. The success of our season should inspire them to believe in themselves. If they put in the work, I am confident that they have many great seasons ahead of them.”
Kamisher was slightly less optimistic, but noted that if he and his fellow seniors had a similar effect on the underclassmen as the seniors of old had on him, then the program would be able to survive just fine.
“I think the next couple of years will be a rebuilding period for the program,” he said. “With the loss of the five seniors at the top of the lineup, it is imperative that the sophomores, freshmen, and incoming recruits elevate their games if they want to compete at the same level we have for the past four years. I think that this is more than possible and hope to see some big wins as an alumnus next year. The five of us had upperclassmen our freshman and sophomore years who taught us how to work hard and focused training can lead to great results. Moreover, John Steele [’14] and Guy Davidson [’16] taught us how to win with grace and class. I hope we have done as good of a job as our upperclassmen did of showing the ‘young’ns’ what it takes to win at the collegiate level.”