No. 9 women’s squash prepares for nationals next weekend

by Kaitlyn Lees | 2/18/19 2:15am

The women’s squash team started the season with the goal of breaking into the top eight in the country and came very close, finishing in a tie at No. 9 with a 5-7 record. That ranking places the Big Green in the second flight of the national championship next weekend, the Kurtz Cup, where the team looks to improve upon last season’s runner-up finish. 

The season started with a tough 5-4 loss in November to Drexel University, which bested Dartmouth last year as well in the final of the Kurtz Cup. Anne Blasberg ’20 said that although upsetting, the loss motivated the team to work harder going forward for the rest of the season, and head coach Hansi Wiens viewed the team’s training trip to Las Vegas over winter break as an important factor in the team’s improvement. Practices two times a day allowed them to both improve their squash skills and become closer as a team. 

Both Blasberg and Emma Roberts ’19 agreed that this year’s team has a particularly close bond that has enabled them to perform well as a team. 

After changes in the ladder, the team bounced back with strong wins against Brown University and Cornell University. Dartmouth’s depth at the bottom of the ladder as well as a close team dynamic helped the Big Green defeat Cornell 5-4 for its first Ivy League win of the season. 

In squash, each match, whether the No.1 seed or the No. 9 seed, carries the same weight, and Blasberg said that the team has found success due to consistency across the board. 

“We have a really deep bottom of our ladder,” Blasberg said. “In a lot of our matches, that’s kind of where it comes down to giving us that edge.” 

The team also pulled off a close 5-4 victory against an improved Brown program, in addition to close losses to Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. 

“We had a lot of close matches with teams that in past years haven’t been as close,” Blasberg said. “So that was exciting to see, and it was a good sign for the next few years because we have a pretty young team right now.”

Roberts has consistently played at the No. 9 position this season and has had a distinct contribution to the team’s success. 

“She is truly a testament that winning at number 1 and number 9 carries the exact same weight, and she’s someone who every match we can rely on to get a point for our team,” Blasberg said. 

Roberts said that while some upperclassmen might find it awkward to play lower on the ladder, the support and respect of her team motivates her more to go out and win the key point available from her position. Julie Potter ’20, also an upperclassman, has likewise been a strong and consistent factor playing at No. 7 and No. 8 with an 8-4 record. 

“Squash is an individual sport while it’s [also] a team sport,” Roberts said. “And that can make team dynamics a little challenging, in that sometimes at practice you’re competing against your own teammates for very clear, distinct ranking positions.” 

Meanwhile, sophomores Brynn Bank ’21, Ellie Gozigian ’21 and Sandra Reiss ’21 have had strong transitions to playing slightly higher on the ladder between the third through fifth spots. 

As for the five first-years on the team this year, Roberts said, “They found their stride really quickly in the best way possible. They’ve made a huge impact not only in terms of our ladder rankings, but also the dynamic of the team.”

In preparation for nationals, the Big Green did not compete this weekend to focus on recovery after several long weekends of travel. In order to make a strong showing, it’s important that the team stays healthy and on top of school work leading up this weekend. Keeping energy up at practices is also a priority, according to Roberts, as the women normally practice with the men’s team, who travelled to New Haven for men’s nationals this weekend.

Going into the tournament, Dartmouth is tied at the No. 9 ranking with the University of Virginia. Virginia is a relatively new varsity program in the college squash world. If the two face off in the finals, it may be a challenge for the Big Green, as these two teams did not play each other in the regular season. 

Brown and Cornell will also be playing in the Kurtz Cup, setting up potential rematches for the Big Green. Wiens said that the competition is usually close enough that it’s hard to know in advance how things will turn out.

“It’s all on the weekend, on the day, how you play,” Wiens said. “It’ll be very interesting and exciting to see.” 

Dartmouth has a history of strong showings at nationals, with three Kurtz Cup victories in the last six years, and looks to return to the winner’s circle after a loss to Drexel in the finals last year.