Wa Liu

After a pair of finishes last year that marked decreases in performance from the previous season, members of the Yale men’s and women’s squash teams have set their sights higher for 2015–16, seeking to rally back to the top tier of the national rankings.

Last year, the Eli men finished No. 6 at the Collegiate Squash Association National Championship and third in the Ivy League, while the women claimed a No. 5 finish after placing fourth in the conference. Looking to improve from those results, the Bulldogs unofficially begin their season this weekend by hosting the Ivy Scrimmages, an eight-team tournament that will allow Yale to compete against Ancient Eight foes before their regular season begins in December.

“We really believe that this is our year for both the Ivy League and Nationals,” Thomas Dembinski ’17 said. “If we can leave this weekend with a strong result then we are sending a message to every other school letting them know just how serious we are about this year.”

Last year, the Yale men’s team was set off course early in the season when Kah Wah Cheong ’17 and Zachary Leman ’16 — both projected to start at the top third of the ladder — suffered season-ending injuries. Their return to the lineup this year, as well as the fact that 11 of the team’s top 12 players from last year will return for this season, will be crucial to the team’s success.

Though the Eli men were ranked No. 6 by the CSA heading into the season, both players and associate head coach Pamela Saunders expressed higher national ambitions for the year.

“The Bulldogs are coming out strong with the intention of winning the Ivy League and National Championship titles,” Saunders said.

To do so, it will likely be important for the Elis to improve at the top of the ladder, where last year the top three players won just 47 percent of their matches combined. The returns of Cheong and Leman, in particular, will aid in that goal.

In addition to those experienced veterans, the men’s team welcomes newcomers Jay Losty ’19, Jonathan Kovac ’19 and Yohan Pandole ’19, all of whom will likely see time on the varsity courts. A CSA preview projected that Kovac and Pandole may play in the middle three, while Losty may see time at the bottom third of the ladder.

“Obviously I have learned a lot [in the preseason], and the team we have this year is deep and competitive, which makes us all better on court,” Kovac said.

The CSA gave the women’s team a No. 5 national ranking going into the season, as the Bulldogs hope to recover from the graduation of No. 2 Shihui Mao ’15, No. 3 Issey Norman-Ross ’15 and No. 6 Anna Harrison ’15.

Jenny Scherl ’17, who was named All-Ivy last year for her performance at the No. 1 ladder spot, returns to play a major role in 2015–16, while captain Annie Ballaine ’16 will provide senior leadership alongside two other members of the class of 2016, Georgia Blatchford ’16 and Amanda Roberts ’16.

The team will seek to maintain its winning percentage from last year in the middle and bottom thirds of the ladder — 75 and 81 percent, respectively — but the top third, which won 62 percent of its matches in 2014–15, may see a tougher challenge.

“While we are rebuilding our team, we are using this time to gain the experience necessary to win an Ivy League and national title in the next two years,” Saunders said. “We are confident that we can finish in the top three nationally and in the Ivy League. Given the leadership and work ethic our team currently have, we are confident that we will rise beyond the expectations that others might have of us.”

Three freshmen, Caroline East ’19, Emily Sherwood ’19 and Celine Yeap ’19, as well as sophomore transfer Ashley Suan ’18, join the squad to fill the holes left by last year’s seniors. All four have international competition experience.

To kick off their seasons, the men will play No. 6 Dartmouth at 10 a.m. on Saturday, while the women face off against No. 11 Cornell at 12:30 p.m. All Ivy Scrimmages will take place at the Brady Squash Center.