After a season full of ups and downs, the women’s squash team wrapped things up Sunday with a solid fifth-place finish in the women’s squash National Championship.

The No. 5 Bulldogs (11-5) took a tough loss in the first round of the Howe Cup, falling to No. 3 Trinity (12-3) in a 7-2 defeat that was a painful echo of their loss to the Bantams earlier in the season. But the Elis were not about to let the first round define their weekend, and they rebounded in the first consolation match to take down No. 8 Williams (12-10) in an 8-1 blowout. And they did not stop there: Yale forged onward, and in their final Howe Cup match, the Bulldogs routed No. 6 Cornell (10-6) in another 8-1 victory to take fifth place overall.

After Wednesday’s loss to No. 4 Harvard (10-2), the Bulldogs were forced to regroup quickly as they headed to Cambridge, once again, to take on the Bantams, who eked out a narrow 5-4 win when the teams met in January.

Yale’s two wins came from No. 3 Alia Aziz ’10 and No. 6 Alexandra Van Arkel ’12. Aziz had a nerve-wracking start, taking a 9-3 loss in the first game. But she kept a cool head and showcased her resilience in the games that followed, taking down her Trinity foe with 9-4, 9-3, 9-7 victories in the next three. Van Arkel got off to a solid start with a 9-4 win in the first, but her opponent, Trinity sophomore Emery Holton, took the next two, 10-9, 9-6. Van Arkel did not give in, though, and she took the final two games, 9-6, 9-6, to win the match.

But not every close match ended in triumph. No. 1 Logan Greer ’11 dropped her first game but gave her opponent, Bantam powerhouse Nour Bahgat, reason to worry when she picked up the next two, 9-5, 9-5, taking the lead. Bahgat won in three straight games the last time the two met and has not lost a match this season. And true to form, after Greer’s early surge, Bahgat fought back and knotted the score with a 9-0 win in the fourth before finishing the match with a 9-5 victory in the fifth.

No. 5 Caroline Reigeluth ’11 also took an early lead, winning her first two matches 9-5, 9-3, before Bantam freshman Pamela Jimenez retaliated by taking the next three and the match.

“It was a tough loss to Trinity, especially given how close we were during the regular season,” captain Tara Wadhwa ’09 said. “We fought tough battles throughout the lineup and were close at every position.”

But, added Aly Kerr ’12, “Four competitive matches in five days is always tough, and I think everyone did a great job recovering from the Trinity match and finishing the weekend out strong.”

That strength came through in Saturday’s match against Williams, in which the squad won eight of their nine matches, at Nos. 2 through 9, in just three games. Wadhwa, playing at No. 7, came within a single point of shutting her Eph opponent out completely, taking her down 9-0, 9-0, 9-1. At No. 8, Kerr was also barely denied a shutout, rolling over her Williams foe 9-2, 9-0, 9-0.

The Bulldogs took that momentum and rolled with it, straight through their final Howe Cup match for fifth place. The Big Red struggled but, despite some close games, could not overpower the Elis. Led by Greer, who took her No. 1 match with solid scores of 9-6, 9-4, 9-0, the Bulldogs took six of nine matches in three games, including wins by No. 2 Sarah Toomey ’11 and No. 9 Katharine Ettinger ’10. At No. 4, Rhetta Nadas ’12 lost her first game, 9-7, before sweeping the next three, 9-2, 9-1, 9-6.

The Elis, then, wrapped things up with a fifth-place finish in the nation and a fourth place in the Ivy League. Looking back on the journey to this point, Wadhwa said that this season’s end is bittersweet.

“It was a tough season for us, as I believe we sincerely dedicated ourselves to improving in all aspects of our games,” she said. “I believe we achieved this improvement, but it just wasn’t enough to tip the scales in our favor, as there were so many talented teams in the league this year.”

“This was one of the closest women’s squash seasons ever,” assistant coach Pam Saunders added. “And wins aren’t exactly showing how much we’ve improved. If you look at the kind of games we were playing during the Ivy Scrimmage, if the players could play themselves now, they would beat themselves. It’s incredible, the gains we’ve made.”

Wadhwa also offered praise to the whole team on its willingness to take on a lot of responsibility — particularly those freshman who were placed in the top nine in their first season.

“I am proud of the way our team played this season,” she said. “All 13 members showed extraordinary heart and consideration for each other and always put their best effort out on the court. Though I will miss them greatly, I’m very excited about their 2010 season — which looks promising.”