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The women’s squash team welcomed the new year in the same way they concluded the last — by completely dominating all of their competition.

In their first matches of 2006 this past weekend, the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) crushed Dartmouth (3-2, 0-2) and Williams (3-6) at the Brady Squash Center. They dropped only five games in 18 matches to pull out consecutive 9-0 victories over the Big Green and the Ephs.

On Saturday, Dartmouth No. 1 player Julia Drury challenged reigning individual national champion Michelle Quibell ’06 early in the match and came within one point of winning the first game. But once Quibell got fully warmed up she was solid and the match ended up being hardly a close call. Quibell won the second game, 9-4, and blanked Drury, 9-0, in the third.

The closest games came near the bottom of the lineup. Eight-seed Jessica Balderston ’09 and nine-seed Elisabeth Hill ’08 gave up two games each, but pulled through to defeat their opponents and ensure a shutout for the Bulldogs.

“We had a couple close ones against Dartmouth,” Quibell said. “It was good for [Balderston and Hill] to deal with the pressure and have those close matches.”

The Elis cruised again the following day, dropping only one game against Williams. Captain and No. 4 Amy Gross ’06 sat out the match due to an ankle injury. Catherine McLeod ’07 and Sarah Barenbaum ’08, who play at No. 3 and No. 7 respectively, also sat out their matches.

Lauren McCrery ’07, who played at No. 3 against Williams, said moving higher in the order made little difference for the Bulldogs.

“It gave everyone the chance to play because Williams had a really small squad,” she said. “Their team isn’t strong enough to give us a very strong match.”

In a sport with about 10 top recruits per year, Quibell said the big four of Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Trinity often get the best players. Coaches also scout abroad because there are a limited number of good recruits. Four on the Bulldog roster are from foreign countries, including New Zealand and South Africa, and Penn’s top four players are all from Canada.

“Squash is kind of odd in that there’s definitely a big gap between the top teams and lower teams,” Quibell said. “I think that makes it uneventful sometimes.”

This weekend the Bulldogs will host the Yale Round Robin and take on Cornell and Bowdoin, just two of several schools that are traveling to New Haven from as far away as California. Players said the matches against the Big Red and the Polar Bears will serve as tune-ups for tougher competition such as former No. 1 Trinity, whom the Elis dethroned two years ago to take the national title. Yale will meet the Bantams at home one week from Wednesday.

Gross said she is confident that the team will be ready for these matches if they are able to maintain their focus.

“We still have to work on specific techniques, but as long as we continue to put forth the same effort, we hope that everything will fall into place,” Gross said.

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