Despite having been snowed out of several practices leading up to the Collegiate Squash Association’s (CSA) Team Championships, the women’s squash team defied the odds and concluded its season with a stellar spate of performances at Harvard this past weekend.
Sitting at 6-13 overall heading into the event, the Jumbos nevertheless went into the tournament with a decidedly positive attitude. They kicked off play in the D division of the Epps Cup on Friday with a 7-2 win over Haverford. The following day, Tufts toppled Conn. College 8-1, which marked the Jumbos’ third win over the Camels this month. In the finals, Tufts defeated first-ranked William Smith, to whom it lost in just its second match of the season, 7-2 on Sunday night. With junior tri-captain Paget Stanco back from her studies abroad, the team won handily, with the one through seven spots all securing victory in fewer than the maximum five sets.
Although final results were impressive, the Jumbos had a few close calls, but they were able to pull through, bolstered by spirited encouragement from both teammates and fans.
“For me, the highlight was watching [senior tri-captain] Ann [Bellinger]’s match knowing that we had already won but yet still cheering for her so loudly so she could finish her last college match with a win,” first-year Claudia Udolf said. “It was the feeling of unity that I loved so much about this weekend.”
Stanco concurred, likewise attributing their success to the enthusiasm displayed by their supporters.
The captaincy has historically played a crucial role in the successes of the women’s squash team, and this go-round proved no different.
“Everyone on the team wanted to win for our two dedicated senior captains: Paige [Dahlman] and Ann [Bellinger],” sophomore Anna Bezahler said. “They have put so much time and heart into the team. Leaving with a win and moving up in the rankings would show our appreciation and love for those two.”
That upsurge of support indeed spurred the Jumbos to success, but it was their mental toughness which was crucial.
“Throughout the season we have worked so hard on and off the court, but I think our greatest asset was our mental game,” Udolf said. “These matches could have gone either way, but it was our ability to stay focused that really gave us the victory.”
Bellinger echoed this sentiment.
“Every team strives to peak at nationals, which isn’t easy to do with such a long season split up with winter break,” she added. “But we went into every match extremely focused and ready to handle the pressure.”
Ultimately, it was Stanco who clinched the finals match, dispatching her opponent in a swift three games.
“When I walked off the court after winning my match, clinching the title, there was just an overwhelming happiness across the team,” Stanco commented. “We were all very excited as we continued to cheer for our team members who were still on court.”
One of the players still on court after the match had already been decided was Bellinger. She had a very successful national tournament, going 3-0 to finish her collegiate squash career.
“My matches this weekend showed me how far I’ve come since [my first] year, and I attribute that to our head coach, Joe McManus, our assistant coach, Eric Lamsa, and the unconditional support from my teammates,” Bellinger said, reflecting on her four years.
Because Tufts had already won, in Bellinger’s match against William Smith, she had to try extra hard to remain focused. Luckily, she was able to do so and ended up winning her match.
“It was the absolute best way to end my time as a teammate with Tufts squash,” she said.
Overall, the Jumbos leveraged their physicality, unwavering focus and team camaraderie to finish their season on a high note.
“All the girls on the team were very focused in practice as well as team-oriented and, honestly, fun to be around,” Bezahler said. “All of these things seemed to come together perfectly at nationals this weekend and drove us to win.”