The defending national champion Yale men’s squash team hopes to bounce back this weekend after an uncharacteristic series of losses to top-tier opponents.

Since returning back to campus for practice in early January, the No. 4 Elis (3–4, 2–1 Ivy) — who entered the season ranked second in the country — have beaten No. 10 Cornell (5–5, 1-1 Ivy), but fallen 9–0 to No. 1 Trinity (11–1, 0–0 NESCAC), 7–2 to No. 2 Columbia (6–1, 2–0 Ivy), 8–1 to No. 3 Rochester (7–1, 0–0 Liberty) and 9–0 to No. 8 St. Lawrence (7–1, 0–0 Liberty). Although this losing stretch included the now top-three ranked teams in the nation, the 3–4 losing record is disappointing for the team, though it still is early in the season.

“We’re looking to hit our best squash going forward,” captain TJ Dembinski ’17 said. “The past two weeks have been the toughest stretch I’ve had in my four years here in terms of the teams that we’ve played … It has obviously been tough to have some of the losses that we’ve had, but it also has given us a lot of great experience to build off of going forward.”

Dembinski and his teammates noted the increased level of competition in college squash this year due to a strong national freshman class. For example, while Yale benefitted from the addition of freshman No. 1 Spencer Lovejoy ’20 and No. 9 Calvin McCafferty ’20, Trinity welcomed two top-four players in Kush Kumar and Thoboki Mohohlo, both of whom are ex-professionals. Mohohlo is also 26 years old.

Head coach Dave Talbott described Trinity, Rochester, Columbia and St. Lawrence as “a level better than last season” while Yale’s team is the same level as the roster seen in 2015–16 — a team that was strong enough to win the national championship. He also added that archival Harvard has assembled the best roster the school has seen in years.

Talbott even said that Trinity’s team this year is the best he has seen in his more than two decades of coaching at Yale — unbelievable praise, considering the squash juggernaut fielded teams that went undefeated every season from 1998–2012. Giving further weight to the team’s claims of a higher level of play this season, No. 3 Rochester beat Trinity 5–4 this past weekend.

Not all the final scores, like the end result of Yale’s match against Columbia, paint a complete picture, however. Against their feline foes, the outcome very nearly could have been reversed, as the canines saw four matches go to four games and two matches go to maximum five games. No. 5 Max Martin ’18 lost by tallies of 9-11, 12-14, 11-4, 11-3 and 11-9, while No. 8 Pierson Broadwater ’18 battled a hard-fought competition that saw 9-11, 13-11, 11-8 and 11-8 scores.

During their past four losses the Bulldogs have collectively been outscored 34–11. By contrast, last season the Bulldogs suffered only two losses, which came at an aggregate 13–5 margin.

“We were national champions last year, but that’s over now,” Lovejoy said. “We’ve forgotten how tough we have to be each match and that is what we are going to be working on in the coming weeks. We have a long road still to the end of the season and that road continues this weekend with three skilled but beatable teams.”

This weekend the squad will travel south to compete in three matches in just two day. Friday the team takes on challenger No. 6 Drexel (8–4) and Saturday the team takes on weaker No. 12 George Washington (4–5) and No. 15 Navy (15–3). Still, playing two matches in one day is no simple feat.

The following week the team plays back-to-back matches against Ivy foes No. 11 Princeton and No. 7 Penn. With the Bulldogs still in the hunt for the Ivy title, a trio of wins this weekend would put the team back on track.