Jumbos finish third in Conroy Cup, close season ranked 27th in nation

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

This weekend, the Tufts men’s squash team finished third in the Conroy Cup, the fourth-highest division of the Collegiate Squash Association (CSA) College Men’s Team Nationals. After defeating then-No. 29 Conn. College on Friday, the Jumbos fell to top-seeded Hobart (then ranked 25th in the country) in the semifinals the next day. The team wrapped up its season with a consolation win over then-No. 30 Haverford on Sunday.

The Jumbos worked on their fitness levels in the weeks prior to Nationals, knowing a change was necessary after a disappointing performance at NESCAC Championships in early February. Sophomore Raghav Kumar, who typically plays in the top position on the ladder for Tufts and was recently named to the All-NESCAC second team, commented on the team’s change in regimen.

“At NESCACs, we realized that we were not really at the fitness level of the other NESCAC teams,” Kumar said. “So the last few weeks, we were doing a lot of running and sprinting to get ready for Nationals. It definitely paid off in the end.”

Tufts played all three of its matches this weekend at Wesleyan in Middletown, Conn. The atmosphere at both venues reflected the excitement that postseason matches bring. According to Kumar, there were fans at every match, and the Jumbos were shouting words of encouragement to their teammates, contributing to the boisterous atmosphere.

“It’s unlike any match you play during the season. Everyone’s yelling for each other, you have parents and fans coming out,” Kumar said. “My parents flew out from San Francisco to watch me play. It’s a special environment because it’s the last weekend of the season and everyone’s competing their absolute hardest.”

Tufts junior Alan Litman, also a second team All-NESCAC recipient, echoed Kumar’s sentiments.

“It was pretty packed,” Litman said. “I’ve played at Wesleyan a few times, but I’ve never seen it as crowded as it was then. It was a great atmosphere.”

Tufts’ 6–3 win over Haverford in the third-place match proved to be the easiest of the weekend. The Jumbos had won the same matchup, 7–2, on Jan. 16, so the Fords entered Sunday’s match looking for revenge. Haverford also had momentum after an upset win over then-No. 27 Hamilton in the first round of the tournament. With Tufts having lost the day before, coach Joe Raho was nervous that his team wouldn’t be up to the task. But the Jumbos proved otherwise.

“No one had their head down after the loss to Hobart. We regrouped and made a monster effort on Sunday,” Raho said. “It’s hard to come back after a tough loss, get your energy up and get your focus back into a match. Haverford really wanted to prove that they could beat us.”

The Jumbos’ second match of the weekend was a different story, however. In another rematch — Hobart defeated Tufts 5–4 in Palo Alto, Calif. on Jan. 10 — the Conroy Cup’s top seed again displayed its superiority, winning 6–3. Raho was ultimately disappointed with his team’s performance.

“I don’t think we did amazingly well against Hobart,” Raho said. “I think we played okay. We showed a ton of courage and heart, but in terms of actual quality, I think we were probably capable of playing slightly better than we did.”

Litman was upset about the loss to the Statesmen because until he sustained an injury midway through the match, the Jumbos appeared to be in a good position to pull off the upset.

“I fell on my ankle weirdly,” Litman said. “I couldn’t put any weight on it, so I had to forfeit the match. My team was counting on me to get a win, so it was rough. In the end it wasn’t close, but you never know what could’ve been.”

Junior co-captain Aidan Porges also had a tough match against Hobart. The Philadelphia native took on Hobart senior Jack Shannon in the fifth position in what proved to be a very even battle. After Porges and Shannon split the first two games, the pivotal third game lasted 34 points, as Shannon ultimately won 18–16 before wrapping up the win with a victory in the fourth game.

“The guy that I was playing was my size, so it was a very physical match — something you don’t see that often in squash,” Porges said. “It was tough. I was doing my best to return every ball and I fought for every point. He was just a bit stronger that day.”

Tufts’ first match of the weekend, against Conn. College, was critical. While the Jumbos nabbed a higher seed at Nationals, the teams split their regular season meetings, with the men from Medford victorious on Jan. 16 and the Camels on top at the NESCAC Championships. The match was especially big for Kumar, who had split matches against his first-position opponent, Conn. College first-year Alex Snape, in the regular season, as well. Kumar claimed a gritty victory in the rubber match, winning in five games: 7–11, 11–9, 7–11, 11–9, 11–8. Junior co-captain Brett Raskopf commented on the importance of his teammate’s match.

“For Raghav to beat him at Nationals, when it mattered most, was huge,” Raskopf said. “It was cool for him to win in five [games], too. There were a ton of people watching, and I know he really wanted to beat the kid.”

Raho was pleased with his team’s performance against Conn. College, dubbing it a “B+” effort.

“We played well against Conn. College,” Raho said. “We came back from two games down in some matches or winning some in five. We showed a lot of heart and determination to pull out these really close matches.”

The weekend wraps up Raho’s first season at the helm for the Jumbos, and he was pleased with his team’s overall performance in his inaugural campaign. Raho faced a sharp learning curve, but Tufts’ progression in the final national rankings — from No. 28 last year to No. 27 this year — illustrates his positive contributions.

“In college squash, moving up these ranking spots is really hard,” Raho said. “This year, we moved up one spot. It was difficult, but it was earned, and it was only earned through hard work and dedication as a team. I’d love to keep pushing up and hopefully move up into the No. 10–20 [range], which would be really impressive.”

Raskopf evaluates the season similarly and thinks that Raho deserves a lot of the credit.

“It’s a testament to our coach,” Raskopf said. “He’s a first-year coach and he implemented a completely different practice schedule. It was more intense and rigorous, more fitness off of the court. The ranking speaks for itself. We moved up one spot this year, and if we move up a few next year, we’ll be contending with some of the best in college squash.”

Although the competition marked the end of team play for the Jumbos, Litman and Kumar will compete at CSA Individual Championships this weekend at George Washington University.