Blending experience and youth, match play and training, excitement and anxiousness, the Yale women’s squash team was full of optimism at the start of their campaign to claim the national title for a fourth-consecutive year this weekend.

The Elis kicked off the 2006-’07 season on Saturday against Penn at the Brady Squash Center. Even though the Bulldogs put forth a strong performance, their effort was not enough to overcome the Quakers, who defeated them 5-4 in only their second Ivy loss since the end of the 2002-’03 season.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”14738″ ]

“[Penn] was a really formidable opponent — they have a really good squad this year,” Sarah Barenbaum ’08 said. “Everyone played their hearts out, and it could have gone either way, and [Penn] won.”

No. 1 Catherine McLeod ’07 and No. 2 Miranda Ranieri ’08 won their matches at the top of the Yale lineup, each overcoming her foe with scores of 3-1. Playing in the No. 4 position occupied by Amy Gross ’06 last year, freshman Alia Aziz ’10 won her first match in Bulldog blue, beating Penn’s Tara Chawla.

Aziz is one of the three freshmen in this year’s roster, and the lone member of the Class of 2010 who is in the starting lineup. Penn made headlines with an exceptional recruiting class for this fall, and two of the four rookies on the squad have already claimed the top two spots on the Quaker lineup.

Barenbaum, playing in the No. 7 spot, ultimately lost a closely contested match against Penn’s Alisha Turner, 3-1. The overall score was tied at four going into the Barenbaum-Turner showdown, and Turner’s victory clinched the tight match for the Quakers. Several players lauded Barenbaum’s play and said she performed very well in the extremely close match.

“I’m not disappointed with my loss,” Barenbaum said. “I think the tied score really worked to my advantage and pumped me up. I think this was the best I have ever played, but [Turner] used to be [Penn]’s No. 1 player and played really well.”

Players said the team performed the best they could have, with four of the five top seeds winning their matches.

“Obviously, we really wanted to win, but we were not upset with the loss.” Lauren McCrery ’07 said. “Everyone was really pleased since the team played well, it’s just that we didn’t end up winning. When all the players are giving it their all, we couldn’t ask for any more.”

Tara Wadhwa ’09, who made the jump from No. 11 position last year to No. 6 this year, said she felt like she was competing at a whole new level of play. Even though Wadhwa fell 3-0 to Penn’s Radhika Ahluwalia, she said she was still getting comfortable with the position.

“I think that we performed really well,” she said. “It was a really tough loss since it was so close. [Penn] had a really strong recruiting year last year and have a lot of fresh talent. Despite the fact that we lost our No. 1 and No. 4 we were up there with them, and at the end of the day this was really positive.”

Several players said they felt the Bulldogs had improved since the last time they played the Quakers, where they fell 5-4 in an Ivy scrimmage against Penn at Yale.

“Something that marked that match was that everyone showed so much heart,” Wadhwa said. “There wasn’t a single match that wasn’t tight. It really said a lot about the team and showed how hard everyone tried.”

The Elis’ next encounter is against Bates, Colby and Bowdoin on Jan. 6 in Brunswick, Maine.

“We’re going to re-evaluate the weekend and keep training really hard.” Barenbaum said. “Just because we lost our first match does not mean we can’t have a good season. [The team] has been training hard, so we’re going to keep doing what we have been doing. I’m really proud of our team. It was disappointing to lose, but as long as we stay committed, great things will still happen.”