Women’s squash repeats as Howe Cup champions

Three was a lucky number for the women’s squash team this weekend — three matches in three days to secure its third championship title of the 2004-2005 season.

With their three victories on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Elis added the Howe Cup championship to their Ivy League and national titles and won the triple crown of collegiate women’s squash. The Bulldogs dominated Williams 9-0 in the first round, vanquished Princeton 8-1 in the semifinals and defeated Harvard 7-2 in the finals, and in doing so defended all three of the titles they won last year. After losing to Harvard 6-3 on Saturday, Trinity finished third by defeating the Tigers 6-3.

“We are extremely elated,” captain Frances Ho ’05 said. “We are undefeated for two seasons now, and that’s not easy. We all worked really hard this year, and you can tell today that we are just a better team. We are all so happy that we did this with our amazing coaches, and it was such a team effort.”

Last weekend, after edging the Cantabs 5-4 to win the national championship, the Elis came into the tournament in Princeton ready to prove what kind of a team they were.

“When we beat [the Crimson] 5-4, we knew we could do better,” Ho said. “We just wanted to get out there and show that we are national champions and beat them with a more decisive score — and that’s what we did.”

The first set of matches during the final saw three Bulldogs win and only one lose to her Cantab opponent. Two-seed Amy Gross ’06 beat Harvard’s Lindsey Wilkins, four-seed Catherine McLeod ’07 won over Audrey Duboc and eight-seed Lauren McCrery ’07 defeated Hilary Thorndike. Lauren Doline ’05 fought hard against Cantab Lydia Williams, but eventually lost.

Heading into the odd-numbered matches, the Bulldogs needed only two wins to secure the Howe Cup. The first win they got in the second half came from nine-seed Kate Rapisarda ’07, who knocked out her opponent, Stephanie Hendricks. At that point, it came down to top-seeded Michelle Quibell ’06, three-seed Miranda Ranieri ’08, five-seed Ho and seven-seed Rachita Vora ’06. Ho fell to Harvard’s Supriya Balsekar in only the third match the Elis lost during the weekend.

After winning the first game against Allison Fast, Vora dropped the second. Vora said she knew the team’s victory could be determined by three matches, her match being one of them.

“I just heard everyone cheering upstairs,” she said. “It was my last match, and I gave everything I had, and it worked out.”

Vora’s efforts paid off, and she won the last two games. Vora said she had extra motivation to win because she had lost to Fast 9-7, 9-7, 9-5 in Cambridge last weekend.

“When we played Harvard at Harvard, she beat me three-love, so I went into this match wanting to take my revenge,” Vora said. “She beat me decisively last time, but I had a good match [Saturday against the Tigers] so I had some good confidence. I went into [Sunday] knowing we are a better team, but [Fast] was a good player.”

Vora’s win helped spur Ranieri and Quibell on to victories of their own. Ranieri beat Jennifer Blumberg and Quibell exacted revenge on Kyla Griggs.

Quibell said she was happy her game plan worked against Griggs.

“There is a big difference between 6-3 and 7-2, and it was good to be a part of the [7-2 win over the Cantabs],” Quibell said. “Last time [versus Griggs], it was hard playing at their court and I never got settled. This time it was on neutral ground, and I was a little more patient and definitely played a lot safer.”

Quibell said both head coach Dave Talbott and assistant coach Gareth Webber played an important role this weekend in the three wins.

“They said, ‘Just stay relaxed and know that we can stay on the court longer than any other team can, because we are fit, focused, and tough; if it’s not going well, just put it to the back of court and stay in it until your opponent buckles,'” Quibell said. “Dave pulled us together as a team, Gareth worked with individuals, and together it’s a great combination.”

Talbott, who called his team the “dream team,” said it meant a lot to him that Athletic Director Tom Beckett came to New Jersey to see the win Sunday. Talbott also said the Elis played their best during the games this weekend.

“Harvard was a good team, but even in the losses, [we] played really well,” Talbott said. “It’s great, they are the only undefeated team at Yale, and I am really proud of these gals. They had the vision to do it again. Last year we beat Trinity and Harvard and won the Howe at home, but this year those were all on the road. This is a dynasty — they won the triple crown again.”

The way the Bulldogs played in the first and second rounds set them up for their convincing win over the Cantabs. After not dropping a single game of the 27-game match versus the Ephs, the Bulldogs headed into Saturday’s match versus the host Tigers. Ho said the Tigers were looking to upset the Elis with some help from home-court advantage.

“[The Tigers] thought they could bring it closer, but we wanted to do everything we could do,” Ho said. “Beating them 8-1 on their own courts gave us a lot more confidence.”

Having won the triple crown for two years running, it is unquestionable that the seemingly invincible Bulldogs are confident at this point. Because of that, Quibell said some of them have thoughts about repeating this year’s success again next year for a three-peat.

“We will definitely miss the seniors so much and they will be hard to replace, but we’ve still got a lot of talent in our underclassmen,” she said. “They are the most solid players this year. It’s a good indicator of how well we can do next year.”

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