Women’s Squash | Tufts trending up for team championships

Since falling 9-0 to Amherst in the first round of the NESCAC tournament, followed by losses to Colby and Conn. College in the consolation round, the women’s squash team has come roaring back. The Jumbos, who are ranked 23rd nationally, closed out their regular season as winners of three games in a row. They will look to ride that wave of momentum this weekend at the Howe Cup Team Championships at Harvard.

After their disappointing showing at NESCACs, the Jumbos rolled to an 8-0 victory over Northeastern and followed it up with an 8-1 win against Vassar College three days later. Then, most recently, the Tufts defeated archrival Wellesley College 7-2 on Senior Night this past Friday. As they prepare for the national tournament that will begin tomorrow and conclude Sunday, there is no question that the Jumbos are riding high.

“The win against Wellesley was crucial,” senior co-captain Mercedes Barba said.

“It helped us going into this next weekend, mentally,” senior co-captain Alyse Vinoski said.

Barba led the charge on Friday night against Wellesley’s Sara Del Balzo in the No. 1 spot with an impressive three-game win (11-8, 11-3, 11-7). Four other Jumbos took their matches in three games as well — juniors Ushashi Basu and Desen Ozkan and freshmen Charlotte Griffiths and Paige Dahlman. In match No. 4, Dahlman allowed only 13 total points against her opponent.

After falling behind 2-0 in the No. 5 match against Marguerite Sulmont, Vinoski proceeded to take over, earning decisive victories in the final three games, 11-3, 11-3 and 11-6.

The third consecutive win brought the team’s regular season to a close with a 10-12 record.

“[The regular season] has been good,” Vinoski said. “I think we’ve fought really hard. It didn’t always pan out in our favor, but we fought.”

At the national team championships — which are divided into five divisions based on national ranking — the Jumbos will be competing for the Walker Cup in Division C, which contains teams ranked 17th through 24th. Tufts will square off against some familiar regular-season opponents — Bowdoin, Amherst, George Washington University, Wesleyan, Colby, Conn. College and Wellesley.

“We’re looking to play our best game yet,” Barba said. “Of course, [coach Belkys Velez] hopes we win C division.”

Based on the latest rankings, Tufts would be looking at a first-round match against 18th-ranked Amherst, which has already handed Tufts two 9-0 losses during the regular season, including the defeat in the first round of the NESCAC tournament. If they were to pull off an upset, the Jumbos would then face the winner of the match between George Washington and Conn. College in the semifinals.

“We know that we’ll be playing teams right around [our rank], that we can beat them,” Vinoski said. “We just have to play tough and play consistent.

“A tough mental game [will be key],” she added. “It’s something we’ve battled with, something we’re constantly working to overcome, but we’re improving.”

Last season, Tufts started off ranked 26th nationally but was able to rise to 24th by the end of the regular season. Matched up against then-No. 17 Franklin and Marshall College in the first round of the 2011 Howe Cup, Tufts fell 9-0. But the Jumbos were able to beat Colby 5-4 in the consolation-round semis, followed by a 6-3 victory over Vassar in the consolation finals. For their efforts, the Jumbos jumped up three spots following the tournament to rank 21st nationally.

The Jumbos earned the No. 21 ranking in the nation before this season began and have since dropped down two spots.

This weekend at Harvard will be the last opportunity for Tufts to improve its team ranking. The squash season concludes with the Individual Championships at Amherst March 2-4.