A reinvigorated Tufts women’s squash team will be looking to dominate the courts this winter after it had one of its most successful seasons ever last year. Armed with a new coach, Joe Raho, and excited young players, the Jumbos are poised to build on the success of their 2016–17 season, in which they jumped out to a 12–0 record and finished 17–7, without any losses at home.
The team earned the sixth seed in the NESCAC tournament, but dropped three of its four matches, including to ninth-seeded Colby in the consolation round. No. 21 Tufts then competed in the College Squash Association (CSA) Team Championships, winning two of its three matches to end the season 19th in the nation.
Although the Jumbos lost some of their early-season momentum in postseason play, they graduated no seniors, meaning they won’t have to spend any time this year rebuilding. The team was awarded a preseason rank of No. 19, and will look to improve its position in the NESCAC throughout the season.
Sophomores Claire Davidson and Catherine Shanahan — both of whom received All-NESCAC honors last season — will help lead the way for the Jumbos. Davidson, who will likely play in the No. 1 spot as she did last year, seeks to continue her successful collegiate athletic career after being named Harrow Sports College Squash Player of the Week last December.
“I’ve had a year of experience, so I know the girls at the top of the ladder on the other teams in the NESCAC,” Davidson said. “I am definitely going into this season a little bit more knowledgeable and a little bit more mature than I was last season.”
As for the junior class, the Jumbos welcome back regulars Sahana Karthik, Sinclair Meggitt and captain Chista Irani. Irani played the No. 7 position for most of last season and will be leading her fellow teammates this season. The Mumbai, India native believes that a healthy and positive team atmosphere is integral to the team’s success this season.
“Much of our success last season can be attributed to our team’s dynamic and atmosphere,” she said. “Our team has always been very close on and off the court, so I think it is important to maintain that same energy and intensity throughout the season.”
Coach Raho takes the reins as the new head coach for both the Tufts women’s and men’s squash teams. While attending the University of Pennsylvania, he captained the men’s squash team during his senior season. After working as a paralegal and dabbling in culinary work after college, Raho found a new passion: coaching. His first coaching position came as an assistant coach of the girls squash team at Greenwich Academy. Raho then became an assistant coach at Brown University in 2014. Davidson noted that the team carries a special energy coming into this season, in part due to its new coach.
“I think there is an overall enthusiasm,” she said. “We are all just excited to start playing matches and excited to have a new coach. There is a noticeable energy within the team, and I think that is partially due to Joe [Raho].”
Irani also praised Raho, explaining how helpful he has been since the start of the season.
“Our new coach is amazing,” she said. “He is very knowledgeable about the sport and really has helped the team improve fitness and technique wise ever since the season started.”
Last year, first-years were integral to the success of the team, and this year should be no different. The four first-years on Tufts’ roster are poised to make an instant impact this winter. Just as she played an integral role on the team in her first collegiate season, Davidson foresees big contributions from the young Jumbos.
“We have four really awesome [first-years] who are all projected to be playing in the top nine,” she said. “They are definitely going to make a big impact on our team.”
As for their goals this season, the Jumbos will look to improve on their end-of-season (and preseason) No. 19 ranking. Having graduated no seniors and strengthened the team with four quality first-years, Irani is eyeing a top-16 finish.
“One of our goals this season is to remain and end our season in the top 20 and push our way in to the top 16,” she said.
The Jumbos face perhaps their biggest test of the pre-winter break schedule tonight with a visit to No. 17 Amherst.
Delaney Tantillo contributed reporting to this article.