At the College Squash Association (CSA) Team Nationals over the weekend, No. 24 Tufts stumbled early and could not overcome strong opposition from Amherst and Hamilton on Friday and Saturday. It did, however, take down No. 23 Wellesley College on Sunday to end the weekend, ending the season on a positive note.
The Jumbos had an impressive stretch of performances leading up to the CSA Team Championships, winning five matches in a row to move up in the rankings. This allowed Tufts to play in the the C Division in the Team Championships for the Walker Cup, which features the No. 17 through No. 24 teams. This was a step-up from the D Division Epps Cup that the Jumbos won last year.
Unfortunately for the team, with its No. 24 ranking, Tufts opened the tournament with the lowest seed in their Division. On Friday, Tufts was beaten 8-1 by top-seeded No. 17 Amherst at Yale University in the opening round, with senior captain Paget Stanco the only player to record a victory for the team. This came after she clawed back from two games down against Amherst first-year Rachael Ang to win the next three and took the first position for the Jumbos. Ang had taken the first two-games 11-7, 14-12, before Stanco rallied to take the next three 11-6, 11-4, 11-3 to secure the comeback.
The rest of the afternoon did not go as smoothly for the Jumbos, though. First-year Hannah Burns lost in five against Amherst first-year Haley McAtee in the third position. She had led 2-1 with 11-9 and 11-8 wins in the second and third games respectively, but McAtee took the final two games 11-5 and 11-7 to claim victory. In the second position, first-year Zarena Jafry lost to Amherst sophomore Kim Krayacich 11-7, 11-6, 11-8. This was reflective of the day in general, as Amherst won in three games in six of the matchups.
On Saturday, the Hamilton Continentals were able to beat the Jumbos 7-2 in the consolation round. Hamilton, seeded fourth in the Walker Cup bracket and ranked No. 20 overall, was edged by Colby 5-4 earlier on Friday.
Stanco led the way again for the Jumbos on Saturday, recovering after the first three games went against her 11-4, 5-11, 9-11 to defeat Hamilton senior Rachel Newman in the final two games 11-9, 11-5. She was accompanied this time in victory by sophomore Lauren Banner in the fifth position who also took five games to see off the challenge of Hamilton sophomore Grace Munschauer, 3-11, 12-10, 11-8, 6-11, 11-4. Burns was also pushed to five games but was unable to overcome Hamilton sophomore Rafiatou Ouro-Aguy, losing 4-11, 11-7, 11-8, 12-14, 11-9. In the sixth position, sophomore Claudia Udolf took a game off Hamilton first-year Megan Grip, but eventually lost 11-7, 6-11, 11-7, 11-6.
“Amherst and Hamilton were ranked higher than us and were stronger teams overall,” Jafry said. “However these losses were still good fights, not blow-outs. We played intensely and competitively and showed that we weren’t going to go down easy.”
Commenting on the game, Banner was satisfied with the team’s performance.
“Overall we were quite happy with our performance against both Amherst and Hamilton; they are both excellent teams, but we were able to challenge them, with our captain and No. 1 [Stanco] winning both against Amherst and Hamilton, and that was very satisfying for the team,” Banner said. “It was a great experience to play higher-ranked teams and feel that we were so close in ability to them.”
Sunday was a better day for Tufts as it got its consolation victory and beat Wellesley 6-3. Earlier in the season, the Jumbos had fallen 8-1 to the Blue, with first-year Sahana Karthik the only player to win when the two teams met at MIT in the previous matchup. She faced a different opponent this time around in the form of Wellesley senior Gabriella Wynne, who beat Karthik 11-9, 11-7, 11-6. Stanco was also pushed all the way against Wellesley sophomore Sarah Zhang but was unable to overcome her younger opponent and lost 11-6, 9-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-5.
But the rest of the team rallied to make up for those losses. Jafry beat Wellesley junior Meera Nayar 11-6, 11-9, 11-7, while Burns was rewarded for her solid effort over the previous two days with a victory over Wellesley junior Rhea Advani 11-7, 11-7, 11-5. This was followed up with Udolf’s thrilling and protracted five-game victory over Wellesley junior Navisha Gupta 12-14, 11-7, 17-15, 9-11, 11-5. First-year Sinclair Meggitt then beat senior Wellesley Kate Loftus in four games in the seventh position 7-11, 12-10, 11-5, 11-6, before first-year Chista Irani and sophomore Gabi Salomon won in straight games against Wellesley junior Ruby Feng and sophomore Meredith Curry, respectively. For Jafry, this victory is clear evidence of progress.
“Of course it shows progress,” she said. “We are all very happy about that, as we played at such a more competitive level this time around with Wellesley – everyone wanted the win so badly.”
This concludes the season for the team as a whole, with the CSA Individual Nationals — the only event left for the Jumbos this season — to be held on March 4-6 in Stamford, Conn. The team ends the season with a 13-9 record, a four-win improvement over the previous season. With only five returning players on this season’s roster from last year, this season has undoubtedly been a success.
“I think our team has made tremendous progress this year, mentally and physically, with the victory against Wellesley definitely [being] an indicator of the strides we’ve taken as a program this season,” Banner said. “We came into the season not knowing what to expect as we didn’t know if the [first-years] could step up their games to play at a college level, or have any idea what the team dynamic would be like.”
Banner attributes part of the reason for success to improving team dynamics that fostered a more competitive spirit.
“Despite losing one of our starters to an injury mid-season, everything about the team exceeded our expectations: our games improved drastically throughout the season, we became deeper as a team and were able to push each other at practice,” she said. “Along with our squash games, our team dynamic just kept getting stronger. Some of the motivation to work hard came from wanting to give our all for the team. The fact that our ranking jumped is a tremendous source of pride for us. We are all really happy with the season and our accomplishments this year.”
Jafry reflected similar sentiments, while paying tribute to Stanco, the team’s captain and lone senior who has now finished her final season.
“This is a great time to be a [first-year] in the program and we’re only going up from here,” Jafry said. “This season we made so much progress as a team and as individuals. I’m proud of my teammates, and I can’t wait to play with them again next season. And, of course, Paget [Stanco] will be sorely missed. She was an amazing captain.”