Wa Liu

Having just completed a regular season that saw one team claim an Ivy League championship for the first time in five years, the Yale men’s and women’s squash teams now prepare for the year’s ultimate challenge: the national tournament.

Building on momentum gained from beating arch nemesis Harvard 6–3 two weeks ago, and in doing so claiming sole possession of the Ivy title, the No. 2 Yale men (12–2, 7–0 Ivy) play the first round of the College Squash Association Team Championships this Friday against No. 7 Dartmouth (9–4, 4–3). That same day, the No. 5 Eli women (11–4, 4–3) will face off with No. 4 Trinity (11–4). This year, both the men’s and women’s single-elimination tournaments will be played at Yale’s Brady Squash Center for the first time since 2010.

“The Ivy title gave our men the confidence and momentum to push through the last two weeks with the goal of claiming the national championship for the first time in 26 years,” associate head coach Pam Saunders said. “We have a great draw and seeding, and are hoping to capitalize on it and make the finals. This year there are eight true contenders and it is anyone’s weekend.”

Just two weeks ago Yale topped the Big Green 8–1, and the team hopes to replicate such results this coming weekend. Should the Bulldogs win — as they are expected to — they will play the winner of No. 3 St. Lawrence and No. 6 Harvard on Saturday. Earlier this season Yale beat St. Lawrence 6–3, the same score of the Elis’ victory over Harvard this year.

If the Bulldogs manage to win both of the matches in which they are favored, they would likely become the underdogs for the tournament’s final round, which is expected to see No. 1 Trinity enter on the other side of the bracket. The Bantams are the defending national champions and defeated Yale 8–1 in New Haven on Jan. 20, though they did recently fall 5–4 to St. Lawrence on Feb. 13.

“The toughest part about nationals is that you play three hard matches in three days, which doesn’t happen during the regular season,” said Zac Leman ’16, who will likely play at the No. 1 spot. “This places a larger importance on fitness, especially come Sunday, but we’re ready for this challenge. We’ve put in a ton of work on and off court all season to make sure we’re ready for this and that we’re all in the best shape possible.”

Both Leman and Saunders emphasized that the team’s goal this weekend is to win the national championship, a feat that seems more in the Elis’ grasp now than it has been in recent years. The last time the Yale men’s team headed into the national championships as the No. 2 seed was in 2011, and last year the Bulldogs, ranked No. 5, entered the tournament as the underdogs as early as their first-round matchup, which they lost 5–4 to No. 4 Columbia.

This year, the Yale women face a tougher test early on than their male counterparts, as they open play against No. 4 Trinity in the first round. The Bantams beat the Bulldogs 8-–1 earlier this season, but despite the results of that previous match, Saunders remained optimistic.

“The women are ready to take on Trinity and are hoping to revenge our loss from earlier in the season,” she said. “We would love to make the semifinals on Saturday — having two Yale teams in a semifinal at home would be spectacular. We are a different team than when we played Trinity earlier this season and I think our women are ready for the challenge.”

If Yale pulls off the upset against Trinity, an even more impressive upset would likely be required to win in the semifinal round. No. 1 Harvard, which swept Yale 9–0 earlier this month and has not lost a match as a team in over a year, is expected to await the winner of Yale-Trinity on Saturday.

In the finals, No. 2 Penn is then the favored challenger from the other side of the bracket.

“Harvard, Princeton and Penn are also really strong, but we are taking one match at a time and hope to get through the first round,” Shiyuan Mao ’17 said. “Nationals is definitely more exciting and the Brady will be packed with supporters of all schools. It is the real deal for us to play well and win some crucial matches. I think that everyone is pumped up and ready for this big weekend.”

On Friday, the women open against Trinity at 12 p.m., and the men begin play against Dartmouth at 2:30 p.m.