Men’s squash builds momentum with successful January play

A player swings at the ball in a match against Dickinson at Harvard's Murr Center on Friday, Jan 20, 2017. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily Archives)

Like many other fortunate Jumbos, the No. 28 Tufts men’s squash team escaped the frigid temperatures of Massachusetts during winter break, traveling to Palo Alto, Calif. for a training trip at Stanford University.  By going 33 in January play so far, the squad has jumped to 65 overall, positioning itself nicely for a late-season push to be ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation.

On Jan. 10, in its very first match on the West Coast, Tufts faced an impressive Hobart team stacked with talent at the front of its lineup. As a result, the Jumbos fell in the first five positions, but defeated their opponents in the last four matches of the ladder for a narrow 54 loss.

“Hobart was a big match for the men’s team because they were ranked three spots ahead of us, at [twenty-fifth] in the nation,” coach Joe Raho said. “They were really tough at the top of their lineup but … I think we are capable of beating that team later in the season. Our top guys are going to have to step up to get one win, even though it’s tough.”

Junior co-captain Brett Raskopf agreed.

“Hobart definitely has really solid players at the top, but we can beat them down the ladder,” he said. “They are one of those teams we are eyeing to be ahead of [in rankings] later in the season, so there has to be a turnaround at the middle or top of the ladder for sure.”

Despite the team’s hard-fought loss, reminiscent of its heartbreaking 54 defeat to Hamilton earlier in the season, Tufts came back the next day ready to set things right.

In November, the men countered the Hamilton loss with back-to-back resounding 9–0 victories against Bard and Boston College. This time around, the Jumbos responded to their disappointing loss with an 81 victory over the Stanford Cardinal.

Fired up by co-captains Raskopf and junior Aidan Porges, sophomore Raghav Kumar — playing in the first position — lost the first set of his match before bouncing back to win in five.

At the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on the ladder, juniors Alan Litman and Raskopf defeated their opponents in four sets. The rest of the squad won in three straight, with the exception of junior Cameron Ewan, who was ultimately outlasted in five close sets: 711, 118, 119, 711, 811.

“I think this team is super resilient, and I think they really love the game so … they don’t harp on the losses too much,” Raho said. “They always want to come back the next day to play better and prove that they can get a win over a good team, instead of letting these close losses beat them.”

After finishing a unifying and successful training trip and returning to the cold New England temperatures, the men faced off against No. 17 Dickinson on Jan. 15. The Jumbos eventually fell, 72, to the host Red Devils, but not without putting up a fight in several spots on the ladder.

“Dickinson has gotten much better in the last few years, but … our No. 2 [Litman] played probably one of his best matches all season, and [first-year No. 8] Danny Hutt played awesome to win in five,” Raho said.

Litman took care of business against junior Hal Holappa of Dickinson without letting a tough second set throw him off, eventually winning 114, 211, 119, 117. Hutt then defeated junior Vincent Warzecha 511, 1210, 119, 711, 119.

In what has become their style, the Jumbos refused to allow one loss become two in a row, defeating both No. 31 Haverford and No. 29 Conn. College by wide, 72 margins on Jan. 16. 

“With Stanford, Haverford and Conn. [College], it was great to know we can handle teams that are ranked behind us,” Raskopf said. “You only get to play each team once before nationals, so we can’t afford to lose to Haverford or Conn. [College] because then you get seeded badly. We realize the significance of every match, and we refused to come out and be flat.”

Raho agreed.

“Those are two teams directly behind us in rankings and … the matches were hotly contested but the team really stepped up and supported each other well,” he said. “I thought those were two of the best performances of our guys coming to play, taking it seriously and showing them that we are a little step ahead of them.”

On Saturday, Tufts faced No. 12 Western Ontario, one of the most talented teams on its schedule. Though the Jumbos fell 90, the most competitive matches were at the second, eighth and ninth spots, according to Raho.

With just three matches remaining before the NESCAC Championships, Tufts is set to face off against NESCAC rivals Bates, Bowdoin and Colby.

“With about a month left, we’re making a push for nationals,” Raho said. “I think we are hoping to finish at No. 25 in the country. That would be a very good ranking to end on.”

The squad begins its series of NESCAC competition on Friday at Bates.