Men’s squash prepares for early-season NESCAC competition

Junior Brett Raskopf kneels to hit the ball in a match against Dickonson at Harvard's Murr Center on Friday, Jan. 20, 2016. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Led by new coach Joe Raho and stacked with impressive first-year recruits, men’s squash is more than ready to begin its winter season on Friday, when the Jumbos will travel across the state to a dual match against Amherst.

Tufts finished last season with several notable victories, including a 7–2 win over Conn. College in a consolation round of the NESCAC tournament. With their season-opening match against the Mammoths quickly approaching, the Jumbos see their NESCAC opponents as their primary competition this year.

“We’re really eyeing the NESCAC teams we were close to last year,” junior co-captain Brett Raskopf said. “For 10 straight years, excluding last year, we’ve finished last in the NESCAC Championships … but last year we really started competing with teams like Amherst, Colby, Hamilton, Connecticut College and Wesleyan.”

For Raskopf, competing against tough league opponents will be nothing new. Last season, he contributed to the squad’s win over Conn. College by defeating his opponent in three straight games, 11–6, 11–2, 11–8. Now, Raskopf will lead alongside junior co-captain Aidan Porges.

“In terms of leadership, I’m just trying to foster an environment where everyone is on board with signing up to the whole team ethos,” Raskopf said. “I think we are going to get wins over the NESCAC teams this year, which is definitely not something we’ve done much in the past.”

Last year, the squad struggled against NESCAC opponents but came close to beating Bowdoin, eventually suffering a 6–3 loss, and falling to Wesleyan by the same margin. 

In order to improve on those results this winter, the team took advantage of off-season lift practices to improve both physically and to bond, Raskopf said.

“I think lift was really good, obviously in terms of strength conditioning but also really good to get together as a team,” he said. “All the guys are ready.”

Raho agreed with Raskopf’s sentiment.

“I think we did a good job in the off-season,” he said. “I think pushing [the team] physically is going to be part of our success even if we haven’t played a match yet.”

Almost the entire team participated in lift practices this fall, according to senior Josh Lee.

“I think the amount of turnout we had at lifts, almost 90 percent of the team most of the time, is definitely preparing us for the season,” he said. “It’s the work we put in together that’s giving us the chance to beat NESCAC opponents and the new players we have.”

Men’s squash starts its season with seven first-years on the team, a huge number that is an exciting part of this year’s team, according to  Raho.

“We have seven freshmen on this team, one of [whom], Salik Awan, is doing really quite well,” Raho said. “So I definitely think [the first-years] will be a big part of the season.”

Raskopf agreed with his coach’s sentiment.

“I think we recruited really well, and the team is bigger than it has ever been so we are going to make cuts pretty soon,” he said. “That just shows how serious and legitimate we really are this season. It’s competitive at all ranges throughout the ladder, from number one to number eight.”

This competitive nature within the squad will certainly be beneficial when the Jumbos play against other teams, but it also helps simulate a match environment within their own practices.

“Since there isn’t necessarily anybody who’s head and shoulders above everyone else, I do think there’s a lot of parity and a lot of really close challenge matches,” Raho said. “Our number one and number two had a really brutal five game challenge match, and a lot of the matches have been close and tight… That’s good preparation for a big match because you know what it means to feel nervous and excited.”

Aside from challenge matches to set up the team’s ladder, the team has been using pressure drills in almost every practice since Nov. 1, according to Raskopf. In pressure drills, one player stands in the corner of the court and hits to the player training hard for two or three minutes straight.

“That guy is just being run around as much as possible so it combines fitness and also really thinking about technical aspects to the game, like length, distance and keeping the ball really tight to the wall,” Raskopf said. “We’re trying to think about every shot that we hit and not just letting random shots slip out.”

According to Raho, the pressure drills also do a good job of simulating a match environment.

“The game itself is very physical and very tough, so I’m definitely trying to instill that in everybody,” he said. “When one guy is just standing in the corner it means that ball is constantly coming back and that’s just preparing them for a long season where most guys will have long, challenging matches.”

The Jumbos are looking to start the winter off strong by employing the physical and mental endurance they have been acquiring during these practices. With key upperclassman leadership partnered with the new blood of its talented first-years, the Jumbos are hungry for a win in their first match against the Mammoths. Tufts hosts Hamilton the very next day on Nov. 18.