W. SQUASH | Elis off to solid start

After an outstanding victory and two close losses at the traditional season-opening Ivy Scrimmage this weekend, the women’s squash team is solidly optimistic as their regular season approaches.

The Bulldogs crushed Brown 9-0 in their first matchup of the day on Saturday before taking a tough 5-4 loss to Penn later that afternoon. The scrimmage concluded the following day with a second narrow 5-4 defeat, this time at the hands of Princeton.

But even those losses were not as discouraging as they might first appear, Alia Aziz ’10 said.

“We came up with four wins in two 5-4 losses, which is no fun — but those teams were beating us 6-3 last year,” she explained. “We have worked really hard this fall, and losing tight matches this weekend means that we are going to work that much harder for the next month or so before our season actually starts.”

Pairings in the scrimmage were determined based on last year’s results. After finishing behind Howe Cup champion Princeton and Penn last year, the Elis were seeded third, but their loss to the Tigers in Sunday’s playoff saw the Bulldogs finish one slot below their seed.

“In the Penn match, we were up 4-0 — we won the first four matches right off,” head coach Dave Talbott said. “Against Princeton, we came off 3-0 in the first round. At one point, we were up 4-1. Ultimately, we lost a couple of matches we could have won.”

He pointed out, however, that there were a large number of close matches during the scrimmage, proving that despite the pair of losses, the Bulldogs are with the rest of the pack.

“Harvard beat Princeton 5-4,” he said. “Everyone’s 5-4 all over, and that shows how close we are. We weren’t that close last year.”

Another shift since last year is the makeup of the roster. This season’s team has a surprising number of underclassmen — the four members of the sophomore class are joined by five new freshmen, three of whom are in the starting lineup. This interesting composition has caused a shift in team dynamics, team captain Tara Wadhwa ’09 said.

“We have nine underclassmen who have brought great energy and enthusiasm to the program this year and four upperclassmen who have stepped up to lead the team,” she explained. “I think the preseason gave us a great opportunity to become a cohesive group, and I’m really excited by the dynamic.”

The large number of underclassmen does not mean the team is any weaker; quite the contrary, Talbott said.

“Personally, I was definitely impressed with our women,” he said. “We have a strong returning team and we’ve got three freshmen in the starting lineup — that’s pretty significant. Between the strong kids coming back and the strong freshman class, I think we’re deeper overall.”

The Bulldogs have almost a month to refine their play and come out even stronger against the Quakers, whom they will face at home in their league opener on Dec. 6. Penn is the defending Ivy League champion, but their continued reign is by no means assured, Aziz said.

“We have all been working really hard to get where we are right now,” she said. “My hope is that we keep our momentum up throughout the season and that we fight our way through every match. The league is wide open this year — Penn, Princeton or Harvard could take it, but we also could take it. It all depends on who shows up on match day.”

In the meantime, the Bulldogs will continue to train in the hopes of playing to their full potential this year. And that potential, according to Talbott, is strong.

“We’re a good team,” he said simply. “We’re strong up top and strong in the middle. You’ve got to have really strong players at the top and quality players through nine spots, and we’ve got that. We’re definitely psyched.”

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