The No. 1 women’s squash team officially began its quest for a third national title last weekend, traveling to Pennsylvania, where they triumphed over Penn and Franklin & Marshall.

In their first two matches of the season, the Elis (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) notched a decisive victory over No. 6 Penn (3-1, 2-1), 7-2, and trounced No. 20 Franklin & Marshall (2-3), 9-0, on Dec. 3. Last year the team took the triple crown of women’s collegiate squash, winning the Howe Cup and the Ivy title in addition to the national championship.

The top of the Yale lineup dominated the Quakers, as two-time defending individual champion Michelle Quibell ’06, Miranda Ranieri ’08 and Catherine McLeod ’07 all won their matches 3-0. Although the Bulldogs were missing seventh seed Nicky Shiels ’07, and both Amy Gross ’06 and Jessica Balderston ’09 dropped their matches, the team had little trouble coming away with the win.

“Our team was really prepared,” Raineri said. “We knew who our competition was and what we were up against. They changed up their lineup a bit after losing to us at the Ivy Scrimmages, but it didn’t discourage us. It just made us rise to the challenge.”

At the Ivy Scrimmages two weeks ago, the Elis also won, 7-2, but last year they did not drop a game in any of their nine matches against Penn. This year, they held the Quakers to four points or less in every game but one.

Quibell said that although the Quaker roster is growing in depth, the two contests were similar in their outcomes.

“7-2 and 9-0 are both pretty comparable,” she said. “It’s pretty difficult sometimes when we’ve already won against a team. Everyone’s really stressed right now, and putting those two factors together, it’s hard to up your energy for a match.”

Although Yale’s top four players are returning this year, the team lost three from the middle of its order. Lauren McCrery ’07 and Kate Rapisarda ’07 will play at higher positions than last season, and Sarah Barenbaum ’08 has entered the top nine.

Gross said she was disappointed with her individual results, but was impressed with her teammates’ ability to adjust to their new positions.

“The whole point of having nine players is to make sure other people can step it up when they need to,” she said. “Everyone gave it 110%. That’s all you can ever ask for.”

As soon as the Bulldogs had finished with the Quakers, they boarded a bus to Lancaster, Pa., home of Franklin & Marshall. That evening they cruised by the Diplomats, who got no more than five points off a Yale player in any of the matches.

“This was our first time playing them,” Ranieri said. “This match was mainly for their benefit to strengthen their program and get tougher teams on their schedule.”

The Elis will have plenty of tough competition to face after winter vacation, when they will take on rivals for the national title such as Harvard, Princeton and Trinity. They return to action January 14 at the Brady Squash Center against Dartmouth and Williams.

But the team will not take a break from conditioning, and is scheduled to travel on their training trip to England, where they will play a club tour.

“We’ve been practicing every day since school started,” Balderston said. “If you take a three- or four-week break, all of that work goes down the drain.”