Men’s squash: Jumbos bounce back from early losses by winning two straight

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

After suffering tough losses in its first two matches of the season, the Tufts men’s squash team gained momentum by defeating both Boston College and Bard College by decisive 9–0 margins. The Jumbos go into their matchup against the Wesleyan Cardinals on Saturday with a 2–2 record.

In its season opener, the squad fell to an impressive Amherst team, 9–0. The 24th-ranked Mammoths proved to be too much for the Jumbos to overcome, winning seven matches in straight sets and two matches 3–1.

“Amherst was a big class above us,” coach Joe Raho said. “We were just not really there yet, at that level … they were just a step above us.”

Junior co-captain Brett Raskopf agreed.

“We knew it was going to be tough, and it was our first match of the year, and it was also an away match,” Raskopf said. “But we were all very competitive in our matches, even if only two of us won games.”

Sophomore Raghav Kumar, playing No. 1 for the Jumbos, took the third set, 11–6, before ultimately losing 3–1, and junior co-captain Aidan Porges won the second game of his set, 1–3, at the No. 6 spot before also falling to his opponent by a score of 3–1.

Though certainly disappointing, Raskopf believes there were still be plenty of lessons for the team to take away from its loss to Amherst.

“It was really good to sort of come out of the gates and play a tough team right away,” he said. “That made us be serious about our opponents right from the start.”

The very next day, the squad faced off against another NESCAC rival, Hamilton, this time at home. In a heartbreaking 5–4 loss, the Jumbos struggled in the lower-seeded matches. In the second spot, junior Alan Litman was defeated 3–2 after winning the first set 11–9. Sophomore Connor Wind lost at No. 4 in four games, and senior Josh Lee fell at the No. 8 spot in three games, 11–7, 12–10, 11–5.

Though disappointed in the final result, Raho believes the Hamilton match taught the squad some valuable lessons.

“You learn a lot more from losses than wins, so I think both are good for the guys,” he said. “They want to avoid having a Hamilton loss happen again, so I think they’re going to give everything they have in the next match.”

With Tufts losing critical matches in the final few games against Hamilton, Raskopf attributed the defeat to a lack of physical fitness.

“I think the main reason we lost to Hamilton was fitness. Our guys just looked a little gassed by the end,” Raskopf said. “But I think it’s an attainable goal [to improve fitness], and we can take concrete steps to get there.”

Raho agreed, but maintained that he doesn’t feel the Jumbos should be too worried about their physical shape.

“It’s not just a fitness issue,” he said. “At the start of the season, you aren’t at your optimal level of fitness. We definitely need to keep pushing, but the guys seem pretty fine for the beginning of a season.”

To round out its packed weekend, Tufts played two more home matches on Sunday, dominating both Boston College and Bard College by scores of 9–0. Though the teams were not the most talented the Jumbos will face this season, Raskopf still felt that getting two wins after two tough losses was vital for helping team morale.

“I was really impressed with those two matches because we showed up and were super focused,” Raskopf said. “We treated those matches just like NESCAC matches, so I’m glad to see the team takes all competitors seriously. We were not lazy or tired after taking those first two tough losses.”

Fresh off the Thanksgiving break, the team will be practicing hard to prepare for another vital NESCAC face-off against Wesleyan on Saturday.

“Wesleyan is just as important to us as Hamilton,” Raskopf said. “I think a lot of this match is going to come down to what the teams did during Thanksgiving break, and I know we were all in the gym or on court as much as possible to prepare for the match.”

Looking back on his team’s first four matches, Raho believes limiting errors and quickening the pace of play will help against Wesleyan.

“We were giving away too many points where the person didn’t force us to lose the point — we just gave it to him with an unforced error,” he said. “[We are working on] giving ourselves a larger margin of error and on being a little more smart [recognizing] … good positions for attacking and what are good times to be more defensive on court.”

In addition, Raho believes the Jumbos can force their opponents to make more mistakes by volleying the ball more often and increasing the rate of play. Overall, however, Raho believes that the team is in a good place after a 2–2 start to the season.

“The losses taught us a little something about ourselves, and now we’re just going to keep pushing forward into January and February when we have a ton of matches,” he said. “If we can get ourselves in a decent position right now, we can have a high ranking going into the end of the season.”