Squash teams enter 2018–19 season with high hopes

Left: Junior Raghav Kumar winds up for a shot in Tufts' 7–2 loss to Dickinson on Jan. 20, 2017. Right: Senior Hannah Burns prepares to return a shot in Tufts' 7–2 win against Wesleyan in the College Squash Association Team Nationals on Feb. 18. Ray Bernoff and Allison Culbert / The Tufts Daily Archives

A long offseason of training and preparation is about to end for Tufts’ men’s and women’s squash teams. Jumbos on both squads will pick up their rackets in the coming days for the start of their 2018–19 campaigns. The teams kick off their schedules against Wesleyan on Saturday and Colby on Sunday, with all matches hosted by Harvard, looking to start the season on a positive note heading into Thanksgiving break.

Men’s squash

The Jumbos finished the 2017–18 season with a 10–12 record and will be led this season by their senior co-captains, Aiden Porges and Brett Raskopf. Coach Joe Raho, now in his second year helming the men’s and women’s teams, had high praise for his two captains on the men’s side.

“[Raskopf and Porges] do a really nice job in terms of getting the guys really fired up and excited,” Raho said. “They really care about the game, they … show that they’re super into it. I think the other guys follow their lead.”

The Jumbos’ veteran leadership will be vital in matches against talented NESCAC opponents, but they hope to benefit from the addition of a strong first-year class. First-years Will Dewire, Konrad LaDow, Dillon O’Shea, Marco Rodriguez and Vaughn Siker aim to make their mark on the season.

Four of [the first-years] are currently playing in the starting lineup, and the other one is hopefully going to get in there at some point,” Raho said. “It’s a strong [first-year] class that’s really going to contribute tremendously. I think they’re going to play high [on the ladder] for the next four years. They’re going to have great careers.”

The team has worked assiduously during practice in the offseason, with advanced drills honing the players’ skills.

Last year, Tufts finished the year ranked 27th in the nation. At the NESCAC Championships, the team fell 6–3 to Bowdoin in the opening match, lost 5–4 to Conn. College and soundly defeated Wesleyan, 8–1. At the College Squash Association (CSA) Team Championships, Tufts played in the Conroy Cup, defeating Conn. College, 7–2, before falling 6–3 to Hobart. The Jumbos recovered, however, to beat the Haverford Fords 6–3 for a third-place finish.

Women’s squash

Meanwhile, the women’s team — led by a strong senior class — is primed for a successful season. The 201718 campaign saw the Jumbos finish with a 15–7 record and subsequently graduated just one player in the starting lineup.

Seniors Hannah Burns, Zarena Jafry, Sahana Karthik and Olivia Ladd-Luthringshauser bring veteran leadership and experience to this year’s team, supplementing that of co-captains senior Chista Irani and junior Claire Davidson. Davidson plays in the No. 1 spot for the Jumbos, according to Raho, and the Newport, R.I. native is a first-time captain, while this will be Irani’s second year in that role.

Raho hopes that the team’s strong veteran contingent will help it build off of its performance last year.

“[Irani has] been an incredible, incredible captain,” Raho said. “The other girls on the team really like her and respect her. She’s super hard-working and disciplined. [She’s] a great leader.”

Such leadership can help Tufts’ three first-years ease into the college squash landscape. Karthik, who often played in the eighth spot last year, discussed the Jumbos’ preparations for the season, including mentoring the first-year players.

“One of the factors that I think plays a big role is watching how much effort the team has been putting in, both in practice and during the preseason,” Karthik said. “I think that’s motivating to see as a [first-year]. Also, I’ve found that my teammates give great advice in between matches, and I think the [first-years] will benefit from that, as well.”

Last year, Tufts finished 19th in the nation and entered the NESCAC Championships as the fifth seed. Tufts eventually finished sixth after falling 6–3 to Bates in the consolation bracket, as Trinity captured its 12th consecutive NESCAC title. The team also finished third in the C Division at CSA Team Nationals, defeating NESCAC rival Wesleyan, 7–2, in the third-place match.

One of the team’s goals this season is to qualify for the B Division at CSA Nationals by placing among the top 16 schools in the country. The Jumbos are also preparing for a slate of talented NESCAC teams, whom they will face in the regular season and at the conference tournament in early February. Raho and his team know that it is a long journey to get to those postseason matches.

“You’re always driving towards [CSA Nationals],” Raho said. “Every dual match kind of gets us a little closer to that, and we want to try and have the best record we can going in so that we get a good seeding.”

In the meantime, the team has been preparing diligently for the season. The Jumbos hope that a positive start against the No. 20 Cardinals and No. 23 Mules will provide a springboard for future success.

“Since Nov. 1, we’ve worked a lot on the accuracy of our shots and [on] making conscious and thoughtful decisions about the shots we play,” Karthik said. “In the preseason, we worked very hard on our fitness, and I think these are some things that will be in our favour for Wesleyan, Colby and other future games.”