The women’s and men’s squash teams left the regular season hoping for improvements in the playoffs. The women’s team was led by Laila Samy ’18, who was crowned NESCAC Player of the Year and recently received the Betty Richey Award, the most prestigious women’s squash accolade. The men were led by standout freshman Sean Choi, who maintained an impressive 15-5 regular season record and was named NESCAC Rookie of the Year. The Cardinals clearly had potential going into the postseason, but whether or not they could actually execute their goals was yet to be decided. In addition, the postseason also marked the final stretch of college squash for senior Samy, who maintained a perfect 21-0 regular season record, and senior Tatum Leclair, who posted a hard-fought 8-12 regular season record that included a gritty, come-from-behind, five-set victory over Hamilton and a dominating three-set triumph over Bowdoin.
“Both seniors on the women’s squash team performed above and beyond expectations on and off the court,” said Johnny Hayes ’20. “Laila is a force to be reckoned with, sure, but has never once hesitated to be a supportive and loving person…Tatum was an absolute joy to be around. She fought incredibly hard on court. I’ve never seen anyone so scrappy. She always had a smile on her face for everyone in her life, and her happiness was contagious.”
After placing seventh at the NESCAC Championships over Hamilton 5-4, the 20th-ranked women’s squash team headed to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. to compete in the Walker Cup, the C Division of the College Squash Association (CSA) Team Championships on Feb. 16-18.
Their first matchup was against 21st-ranked Franklin and Marshall College, who they managed to conquer in a tight contest, 5-4. Samy vanquished her opponent, Sherilyn Yang, 11-5, 11-2, 11-5 at the number one spot. At number two, Aditi Prasad ’21 came back from being down two sets to one to defeat Lauren B. Johnston 11-8, 4-11, 5-11, 11-8, 11-5. The other crucial Wesleyan victories came at the number seven spot, where Leclair thwarted Clare Tompkins 11-4, 7-11, 11-7, 11-7; at the number eight spot, where Sarah Clothier ’19 subdued Liana Zranchev 4-11, 11-7, 11-4, 8-11, 11-9; and at the number nine spot, where Ale Lampietti ’19 got the better of Katherine Anderson 12-14, 11-3, 11-3, 11-4.
Having completed their close victory over Franklin and Marshall, the Red Birds went on to face an even more formidable opponent, 17th-ranked Dickinson College. After losing a close 6-3 to Dickinson during the regular season, the Cardinals were in search of redemption, but Dickinson was too powerful to overcome. Samy once again dominated her opponent, defeating Hedvika Suchankova 11-2, 11-4, 11-5. But good fortune for the Cardinals ran short, with the only other victory coming from Josie Russ ’20 at the number four spot, who triumphed over her opponent, Nicole DeLuca, 11-2, 11-9, 11-1.
The final match for the women’s team came against 19th-ranked Tufts in the 3rd-place match, where the Cardinals looked to end the season on a high note. Yet, it was not meant to be, as the Jumbos were simply too strong, overpowering the Red Birds 7-2. Samy once again claimed victory at the number one position, routing Julie Yeung 11-2, 11-1, 11-7. The other Cardinal victory came at the 3rd position, where Ananya Vir ’21 defeated Zarena Jafry 11-3, 11-7, 11-9.
“The most frustrating part of team championships was the amount of time between matches which caused slowing of momentum for the team,” said Lampietti. “We only played one match per day for all three days, and although we were well-rested, I found that I lost the momentum and mindset of being on the court in a close match from day to day, especially since we were playing teams that we were very close to in ranking.”
At the Ramsay Cup of the CSA Individual Championships at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. March 2-4, Samy came looking for a final shot at success but was ultimately denied final glory. In the round of 16, Samy encountered Melissa Alves of the University of Pennsylvania, to whom she fell 11-6, 12-10, 11-5 in her first loss of the season. In the consolation bracket, Samy competed against Min Teh of Trinity, but was once more unsuccessful, losing 4-11, 11-6, 11-9, 14-12.
The men’s squash team was looking to end their year on a high note after a tough regular season in which they went 4-13, were ranked 31st, and lost all three matches in the NESCAC Championships. Competing Feb. 23-25 at home in the Conroy Cup, the D Division of the CSA Team Championships, the Cardinals first came up against 25th-ranked Bowdoin, ultimately falling 5-4 to the Polar Bears. The Cards picked up wins at the number one spot with Choi, who defeated Satya Butler 11-8, 11-9, 11-8; at the number three spot with Will Bienstock ’20, who conquered Tyler Shonrock 11-5, 11-8, 11-6; at the number seven spot with Jackson Rubinoff ’20, who triumphed 11-7, 12-10, 11-8; and with Prem Bunsermvicha ’20, who took down Travis Rase 11-3, 10-12, 11-5, 11-1.
After this disappointing loss, the Red Birds appeared ripe for a victory over 29th-ranked Hamilton, but once again fell 5-4. Choi was steadfast at number one, taking down Colin O’Dowd 12-10, 7-11, 11-7, 11-9, followed by Josh Lane ’19, who defeated Nicholas Conzelman 4-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-5. At number four, Rubinoff conquered number seven Jonathan Ruth 11-8, 11-5, 12-10, and William Coburn ’21 overcame Ward Urban 11-9, 5-11, 9-11, 12-10, 11-9. Both of these results were disappointing for the Dirty Birds, but the team was finally redeemed when they trounced Stanford University, 7-2. Cardinal victories came from Choi at one, Bienstock at three, Kevin Le ’19 at five, Alex Dreyfus ’20 at six, Rubinoff at seven, Coburn at eight, and Bunsermvicha at nine.
“My team worked tremendously hard this year and the improvement showed!” said Hayes. “What people don’t realize about squash is a loss, as it was during nationals, can be as close as a three point difference…that’s not to mention Sean Choi and Jackson Rubinoff going undefeated that weekend. I’m incredibly proud of the team striving for excellence.”
Choi, like Samy, also competed at the CSA Individual Championships at George Washington March 2-4. In the Molloy Cup, South Division, Choi faced off against John Fitzgerald of Williams, but ultimately fell 11-2, 8-11, 11-6, 11-3. Unfortunately, Choi wasn’t able to succeed in the consolation bracket either, suffering defeat to James Watson of the University of Pennsylvania.
For both the women’s and men’s squash teams, the 2017-2018 season left a bit to be desired. After a middling regular season, the women’s team hoped to find success in the postseason, but nevertheless placed seventh at the NESCAC Championships and fourth at the Walker Cup of the CSA Team Championships. The men’s team had a very difficult regular season, with a postseason that wasn’t much better, losing all three matches at NESCACS and going 1-2 at the Conroy Cup of the Team Championships. Both teams can hope for better seasons next year, but for now, they will be saying goodbye to seniors Samy and Leclair.
“Having an incredible player like Laila on the team has impacted my drive and willingness to improve both on and off the court,” Lampietti said. “Her impeccable level of sportsmanship and gameplay has allowed her to be a natural leader and friend these past three years.”
“Both women stand as testament to the gold standard we set for ourselves,” Hayes said. “To say they will be missed is an understatement.”
Cormac Chester can be reached at email@example.com.