Irene Jiang

Building on the momentum gained from a pair of top-three finishes at this year’s Ivy Scrimmages — including the Eli men’s narrow win over Harvard — the Yale men’s and women’s squash teams are set to officially start their 2015–16 regular seasons this Saturday with matches at Franklin & Marshall.

The No. 5 women (0–0) finished third at the Scrimmages, while the No. 6 men (0–0) finished first after a 5–4 come-from-behind victory over the Crimson in the tournament’s final round. Both Eli teams are favored to win over the Diplomats, whose women (2–2) and men (3–2) are ranked No. 16 and No. 10 in the nation, respectively.

“We are really excited to build off the success of Ivy Scrimmages,” men’s player T.J. Dembinski ’17 said. “Franklin & Marshall is traditionally a strong program, so this match is very important for us in order to get the year started on the right note.”

This is the second consecutive season the Bulldogs will open by playing Franklin & Marshall. Last year, the Bulldogs made easy work of the Diplomats with an 8–1 win for the men and a clean 9–0 sweep for the women. Moreover, earlier this season the Franklin & Marshall men fell 7–2 to Columbia, a team Yale beat 5–4 at the Ivy Scrimmage.

With the Eli women having beaten Franklin & Marshall 9–0 in all three seasons Yale’s seniors have been a part of, women’s player Georgia Blatchford ’16 expressed confidence heading into her team’s first regular season match.

“Getting to start our season against Franklin & Marshall is a good way to get going in official competition without Ivy League implications,” Blatchford said. “Playing on the road always presents some challenges, but we have historically been successful against the Diplomats and are excited to return to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this weekend.”

The matches against the Diplomats begin an arduous three-month journey that includes 15 matches and ends with a national championship and an invitational individual tournament.

Last year the women finished No. 5 in the nation after posting records of 11–5 overall and 4–3 in the Ivy League, while the men placed No. 6 and went 11–6, 5–2 Ivy.

The men’s season was particularly impressive because the team lost key contributors Kah Wah Cheong ’17 and Zac Leman ’16 to season-ending injuries before their first match. Their return to the lineup, as well as the fact that 11 of the team’s top 12 players from last season will be returning, bodes well for the Bulldogs.

“This year, the team is going into the season healthy and fit to compete,” Cheong said. “Having the morale boost from winning the Ivy Scrimmages in November also put us in a very good spot to compete … The key to winning against F&M is to trust in our preseason training and execute our game plan on court.”

Head coach Dave Talbott said that Cheong and Leman will be key contributors this year, as their return brings back a quality of play that was missing from the top of the ladder last season.

The men’s team also welcomes newcomers Jay Losty ’19, Jonathan Kovac ’19 and Yohan Pandole ’19, who give the team depth that it did not see last year, Talbott said.

“The Yale men want to come out and make a statement after winning the preseason Ivy League Tournament,” Talbott said. “Yale wants to test its depth and see how the middle and bottom perform.”

On the women’s side, Talbott said he thought his team has improved more this fall than any other team in recent memory. Blatchford noted that her team’s third-place showing at the Ivy Scrimmages, which may have been unexpected after the team graduated three starters last year, was an indication of this improvement.

The returning players’ increased competitiveness, as well as the addition of Caroline East ’19, Emily Sherwood ’19, Celine Yeap ’19 and Wesleyan transfer Ashley Suan ’18, will be crucial as the team attempts to compensate for the graduations of Shihui Mao ’15, Issey Norman-Ross ’15 and Anna Harrison ’15.

“We will surprise some teams this season,” Talbott said.

The men and women begin play at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Franklin & Marshall.