Tufts stumbles in NESCAC tournament

Junior co-captain Brett Raskopf kneels to hit the ball in a match against Dickinson at Harvard's Murr Center on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily)

Facing tough league opponents in the fast-paced, high-pressure environment of the NESCAC tournament, the Tufts men’s squash team fell to a 7–10 record, with two losses and one win over the course of two days.

After a heartbreaking loss to Conn. College on Saturday morning, Tufts responded by dominating their afternoon opponent, Wesleyan, with a score of 8–1. Five of the Jumbos’ eight victories came in straight sets, while first-year Daniel Hutt won a marathon five-set match against Wesleyan junior Kevin Le, 14–12, 11–7, 6–11, 3–11, 16–14.

“[The losses to] Bowdoin and Conn. [College] were definitely upsetting, but the team bounced back and took care of Wesleyan,” coach Joe Raho said. “That’s a slight silver lining, and I thought the team played well, fought hard and took care of business.”

Junior co-captain Brett Raskopf agreed.

“Conn. [College] was definitely a bad match for us, and we didn’t expect to lose to them, but to go and beat Wesleyan literally the next hour, when everyone was totally exhausted, showed me how resilient we can be,” he said. “That was a huge win, and I was really proud of that.”

In a consolation match earlier that morning, the No. 28 Jumbos faced off against the Camels, who are ranked just behind them at 30th in the nation. Tufts defeated Conn. College 7–2 earlier in the season.

However, perhaps due to exhaustion from their match the night before, the Jumbos struggled to win in a number of drawn-out matches, eventually losing to the Camels 5–4 in heartbreaking fashion.

“It’s a tough thing … to finish an emotional rollercoaster of a match late, and then the next morning we leave early and have a tough loss,” Raho said. “It really hurt. The guys and I were super bummed because I think we were better than them, but they came to play.”

Despite the disappointing loss, several matches stood out for the Jumbos. In the second position, junior Alan Litman recovered well from a defeat the previous night, beating his opponent in straight sets: 11–6, 11–7, 11–5. Junior co-captain Aidan Porges won at the fifth spot in four sets (11–8, 9–11, 11–3, 11–9), and in the ninth slot, senior Josh Lee won his first game in a drawn-out battle, 19–17, before rattling off two more wins, 11–2 and 11–3, to close the match.

“The thing about any season is that you want to have these 5–4 matches,” Raho said. “You want to play teams at your level and see who is just a little more talented, or trained a little harder or wanted it a little more. It’s a test of character and a test of squash, so I think this stuff is good for the team and makes them tougher.”

On Friday, Tufts faced off against eighth-seeded Bowdoin in a first-round match. Since the ninth-seeded Jumbos were ranked outside of the top five in the NESCAC, they had to win to enter the main draw of the tournament.

The last time the two teams competed, on Jan. 27, Bowdoin defeated Tufts in a hotly contested 6–3 match. On Friday, though the score remained the exact same, the Jumbos put up a much better fight.

“We absolutely played well — better in that game than when we played them during the season,” Raho said. “There were lots of matches that ended in five games, and … we performed well and gave it everything.”

Raskopf agreed.

“Bowdoin had beaten us almost exactly a week before that match, so obviously we wanted to beat them this time around,” he said. “But I think we played them closer this time than five days ago. I was proud of the guys for that.”

The top three Jumbos all fell to their Polar Bear opponents, with the top two — sophomore Raghav Kumar and Litman — losing in five games. Kumar fought hard before losing 9–11, 11–8, 15–13, 7–11, 11–5, while Litman fell to junior Satya Butler by a score of 6–11, 11–7, 11–6, 8–11, 12–10. Bowdoin’s other three victories came in the sixth, seventh and eighth spots.

After their performance at the NESCAC Tournament, the Jumbos are likely to be placed in the “D” bracket of the College Squash Association (CSA) national tournament, leaving them with an opportunity to finish the season ranked anywhere from No. 25–30 in the nation.

“The next two weeks are really important,” Raskopf said. “The emphasis will be on fitness, and I think if we work hard on it, that should be the difference if we see Bowdoin and Connecticut College again.”

Along with fitness, Raho believes the team needs to show more courage in closing out the more competitive matches.

“The more and more [the players] are in the tight matches, the more they realize every match is high-intensity and pressure-filled,” Raho said. “They can’t hide from it, and they need to embrace it … [and] not shy away from the big moments.”

Before Tufts can redeem itself against its NESCAC rivals at the CSA Nationals on Feb. 23, the squad will take on MIT on Thursday and Boston University on Saturday.