The women’s squash team saw significant improvement this year as it ended its season ranked No. 25 nationally and more significantly, took home the Epps Cup at the College Squash Association (CSA) Championships. The players worked hard on and off the court as the season progressed, and their on-court results reflected that work.
“There were a few matches last year that slipped by us when they shouldn’t have,” senior tri-captain Paige Dahlman said. “Yet this year, we were not only able to keep our cool against some tough opponents, but we were also able to win our division which was a feat that we did not accomplish in the past.”
Without their No. 1 player, junior tri-captain Paget Stanco, who left to go abroad in the fall, the Jumbos were off to a rough start at the beginning of their season. They lost their first three matches in their opening tournament at Wesleyan. However, Tufts was able to top Smith College with a decisive 8-1 win in the last round of the Wesleyan tournament.
“While we lost some of our initial matches because of lack of court time, we had the physical fitness base that we needed to continue through the season relatively injury-free,” senior tri-captain Ann Bellinger said.
After the Wesleyan Round Robin tournament, Tufts faced a four-match losing streak, falling to Wellesley, Conn. College, Hamilton and Middlebury. Though its match against Conn. College was very close, Conn. College pulled out the win 5-4.
Tufts found its stride on Dec. 5 with a 6-3 win against Vassar. In their last match before they departed for winter break, the Jumbos fell to the Colby Mules, a fellow NESCAC rival, in a close 5-4 match.
When the Jumbos returned for play in January, however, they were bolstered by the return of Stanco, which not only gave the Jumbos a player at the top of the ladder, but also allowed the rest of the team to play a slot down in the ladder. The benefits from the return of Stanco were immediately evident; Tufts was able to top Haverford and Boston College with decisive wins of 9-0 and 8-1, respectively.
Due to the snow blizzards in January, however, their practices became even more limited, and the women had to make sure to continue to work hard in the gym and the weight room.
“This year we focused more on lifting and fitness in the off season rather than focusing on playing squash,” Bellinger said.
The Jumbos even avenged some of their early season losses, defeating the Conn. College Camels 6-3 on Feb. 1. This match gave Tufts momentum heading into the NESCAC Championship and CSA Championships, which were just around the corner.
In the NESCAC Championship tournament at Williams College from Feb. 6-7, Tufts faced some of the toughest competition in the NESCAC. In the first round it came up against top-ranked Bowdoin and was unable to come up with the win, losing 9-0. But in the second round the Jumbos took the rubber match against the Camels, 6-3.
“ We were seeded 10th in the 11-team draw at NESCACs,” Dahlman said. “So, while we were not able to sweep away many higher ranked teams, we solidly beat Conn. College in our second match of the tournament.”
In the last round of the consolation draw, Tufts fell to Wesleyan in a decisive 8-1 match.
The Jumbos worked hard in preparation for the CSA Championships, which were held one week later at Harvard University. Their hard work paid off as they topped three very strong teams: Haverford, Conn. College and William Smith.
“Compared to last season, this season we were better able to capitalize on key matches,” Dahlman said.
Tufts had previously lost to William Smith in the fall, so Tufts’ success in the finals was extremely rewarding.
As they look toward next season, Stanco is confident in the improving team.
“At the moment, we are really focused on our off-court fitness and getting everyone physically and mentally prepared for next year,” Stanco said.
The Jumbos are extremely excited about the addition of a regulation size squash court to the Gantcher Center in the fall, as it will allow players to have the necessary court time during preseason.
Tufts will also benefit from the fact that its strong class of first-years will have a full season of collegiate experience under their belts.
“I anticipate [first-years] Claudia Udolf and Lauren Banner to be key players throughout their four years at Tufts,” Bellinger said.
In addition to the strong underclassmen, there are already five recruits that Tufts will bring on the team next season. With only two seniors and two juniors, the team will be very young, but Stanco has been working closely with coach Joe McManus as well as the strength and conditioning staff to put together an off-season training schedule focused on getting the younger players ready for the season ahead.
Based on their current talent and strong recruiting, the Jumbos have an opportunity to take their success to the next level.