Facing off against an eclectic mix of teams and testing their talents against a variety of skilled competitors, the Yale women’s squash team started off reading week with a refreshing change from its regular matches.

Fielding two squads at the United States Squash and Racquet Association’s U.S. Team Championships, the Bulldogs competed at the Brady Squash Center this weekend against 27 teams ranging from other college programs, professional squads and city clubs from Hartford, Philadelphia, Greenwich and New York. The championships are not part of the regular season for the team and will not factor into the final standings.

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“Since it was different than a regular school match, there was no pressure on us,” Tara Wadhwa ’09 said. “It was just a chance to play, and performance was unimportant. At the end of the day it was seeing how well we can play and what we came up with in different matches.”

Despite an impressive performance, the Elis finished play on Sunday by losing a closely contested battle to Harvard, 3-2. Individual wins from Nicola Shiels ’07 and Lauren McCrery ’07 did not prove to be enough to overcome the Crimson, who won the tight matchup. Shiels defeated Charlene Neo, 3-1, while McCrery overcame Lydia Williams, 3-2, in a tough match. Bulldogs’ captain Kate Rapisarda ’07, Catherine McLeod ’07 and freshman Alia Aziz ’10, all of whom dropped their respective matches, comprised the rest of the senior-dominated squad.

“It’s not about all the pressure,” Wadhwa said. “It’s about going out on court and seeing what you can do. A lot of girls did very well with no pressure on them, and this was also surprising considering this was reading week. It just shows that we’re students just like everyone else. I think it was a good showing for us as a team. It shows that we’re not only committed to the team but also to the sport in entirety.”

Several players echoed the sentiment that the matches were another form of practice and good exposure to different styles of play.

“It was really informal,” McCrery said. “There were only a couple of women’s teams, and the rest were all men’s. It was a way to get people psyched for more match play. Our coach looked at it as practice to keep us sharp. We went into it with the mind-set that it was a fun event.”

On Saturday, the Bulldogs’ “A” team, made up of McLeod, McCrery, Aziz, Rapisarda and Wadhwa, finished off the day with a 3-2 victory over Trinity. The same team lost their match against the all-male Lake Forest squad 4-1 on Friday.

“It was really important that we got to play different people.” Wadhwa said. “Otherwise we just end up playing our teammates and the boy’s team. This was a really good opportunity for us to play people who we haven’t played before.”

The Yale women’s “B” squad, which consisted of Sarah Barenbaum ’08, Elisabeth Hill ’08, Kaitlin Vinci ’10, Katharine Ettinger ’10 and Katie Mandel ’07, also lost their match against the all-male squad from New York 5-0 on Friday and lost to the Harvard women’s squad 5-0 on Saturday.

“I think we played well,” Sarah Barenbaum ’08 said. “It was a fun weekend, and it didn’t count toward the season. It was good practice but also great match play. It was a nice change from the regular teams we usually play. We played a team of older men from New York, and it wasn’t our typical collegiate matches. We did eventually match up against some of the other schools but it was a good experience.”

The team has the next week off from practice but comes back to campus on Jan. 2.

“The big thing is that everyone stays sharp over break,” McCrery said. “We should all keep working out and keep up on fitness. As soon as we come back, we’re going to have matches all the time, so we should be prepared.”

The Bulldogs next face Bates, Bowdoin and Colby on Jan. 6, 2007, in their first away event of the season in Brunswick, Maine.