Important win for Jumbos following opening of new squash courts

First-year Kunal Valia prepares to return the ball during a match against Conn. College at the Tufts Squash Center on Feb. 1. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily

After losing to No. 20 Amherst 6–3 on Jan. 31, the No. 24 men’s squash team returned home for the opening weekend of the new Tufts Squash Center, defeating No. 27 Conn. College 9–0 on Saturday and losing to No. 21 Middlebury 6–3 on Sunday. The team was back in action on the new courts again on Wednesday, defeating No. 36 Boston College (BC) 9–0.

Tufts swept every match against BC, defeating the players by large margins in each game.

“The match against Boston College was a chance to work on some shots, as we are ranked much higher than them,” first-year Sanjeev Jeyabalan, who played in the third position, said. “It was good to get a slightly easier match in.”

In contrast, Sunday’s matchup against Middlebury was much closer. Jeyabalan won 3–2 in the third position, while first-year Vivaan Jaikishan won 3–1 in the seventh position and sophomore Will Dewire won 3–2 in the ninth position. But that was all the Jumbos could muster, as the Panthers bested them 6–3 overall.

Although the match against the Panthers didn’t go in favor of the Jumbos, they maintained a high level of skill and attitude.

“I don’t think I played my best squash, but all credit to my opponent,” senior co-captain Raghav Kumar, who lost 3–0 in the second position, said. “He is a fantastic player and he deserves the win 100%. Everyone else gave their hearts out. Deserving win for Middlebury, but we were right on the doorstep.”

Junior co-captain Salik Awan, who lost 3–0 in the eighth position, shared Kumar’s perspective on the loss.

“Middlebury was a tough match,” Awan said. “It was a really good match and we expected every single opponent to be tough. The score was 6–3, but all the matches were super close. It could have gone either way.”

Tufts showed its dominance against Conn. College on the opening weekend of the new facilities, winning 9–0 and only losing one game on the day.

The Jumbos were struck by the overwhelming turnout for their first home match against Conn. College.

“Seeing so many people out there felt incredible,” Awan said. “Obviously, it was a long time coming. We had a few people who were kind enough to come down to Harvard for our matches, but the atmosphere this time was spectacular. We expected around 100 people to come and almost 200 showed up.”

Kumar felt that the crowd added a boost to the team morale, instead of making the players more nervous.

“Having more people watching us definitely feels supportive and helps us play our best,” Kumar said.

The exciting win at home came after another tough 6–3 loss to Amherst the night before. Just as in the matches against Middlebury, Jeyabalan, Jaikishan and Dewire were the sole victors in the matchup.

As Kumar plays his last sets of matches before he graduates, Awan spoke about the impact his co-captain has left on the team over the years.

“Raghav has definitely left a very strong mark on the team,” Awan said. “He sets a very good example on the field, always pushing himself to the limit. He’s very passionate about the game and it’s just so much fun being on court with him because he enjoys and respects the game so much.”

In his final weeks competing as a Jumbo, Kumar commented on how the team has improved its performances over the years.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” Kumar said. “When I came in as a freshman, our preseason ranking was somewhere in the 30s. Now we’re close to finishing [in] the top 20. We’re right there with all the top teams. I have nothing but praise for the people running this program. It’s been an amazing team to be a part of.”

Jeyabalan was also honored with the title of NESCAC Player of the Week for his stellar performances in the last three weeks, notching five consecutive victories over Boston College, Middlebury, Conn. College, Amherst, Williams and Bates.

“I was extremely happy when I found out. I had a good run of games since the start of the new year, so I am happy [the] NESCAC recognized that,” Jeyabalan said. “I think all in all I’m playing smarter and more patiently… that’s what has led to my run of wins recently”

With difficult matches lined up against No. 15 Brown and No. 1 Harvard before the NESCAC Championships on Feb. 14 to 16, Kumar feels his team is prepared to pull off some major upsets.

“Since the match against Middlebury we’ve just got[ten] our head[s] down and got [ten] to work and been doing a lot of fitness,” Kumar said. “We all want this win and we’re just gonna work hard till the NESCACs and see where we can get.” 

The Jumbos play their final regular season matches next week against Brown on  Wednesday and Harvard on Thursday. Both will be at home on the new courts.