Dartmouth men’s and women’s squash wrap up road trek

by Evan Morgan and Matt Yuen | 2/11/16 6:01pm

After a three-week break, the No. 5 men’s squash team stormed back onto the courts this past weekend to secure a thrilling victory against No. 12 Cornell University 5-4 before losing to No. 8 Columbia University 5-4 the next day. The women’s team also travelled to New York but dropped both games to Cornell and Columbia 8-1. Then on Tuesday, both the men and women’s squash teams picked up wins, traveling to Williams College and sweeping the Ephs. The men’s team (8-3, 3-2) continued their remarkable season with a 6-3 victory, while the No. 11 women (4-8, 0-5) ended its two-game skid with a 5-4 nail-biter.

At the beginning of the Cornell match, the Big Green men lost three consecutive matches.

“We haven’t played [in] three weeks, so we knew that we were going to be a bit rusty, and that was exactly what happened,” Samuel Epley ’19 said. “Many of us did not play very well during the beginning, and results really weren’t going our way.”

Determined to make a comeback, however, the Big Green won the next three matches, tying the score at 3-3 and forcing the result to be determined by the final three matches. Dartmouth and Cornell split the first two and the game came down to the No. 1 player on each team, Alvin Heumann ’18 and Harry Freeman.

“I was obviously very nervous watching the game ­— I had a front row seat and I was going crazy for Alvin,” Epley said. “But midway through this game, I just trusted in Alvin. I trusted in his fitness and abilities, and that he was not going to lose that match. I don’t know why but I just kind of felt Alvin would pull it out for us and he did.”

The two split the first four games, with the fifth deciding the victor. Heumann won that last game 11-8, securing the 5-4 victory for the Big Green.

Although the result of the game ended up in Dartmouth’s favor, the conditions were initially stacked against the Big Green.

“We were missing our No. 6 player Kyle Martino [’16], who has been pretty successful this year,” Brian Giegerich ’18 said. “He has won almost all of his matches, so we were at a bit of a disadvantage to start, and it was a bit of a tougher match than our rankings would indicate.”

Martino missed the game due to injuries, and his absence also meant that all the players below him had to move up a rank.

“For the ninth player Andrew Field [’17], this was his first game in a top nine match, so it was definitely a call for him to step up,” Brian Giegerich said.

In addition, the Big Red had a large crowd cheering for their squash players, which definitely did disrupt the rhythm of some of the Big Green players.

“It was a bit rattling to begin with,” Brian Giegerich said. “I think that it was one of the first few games I sort of lost of my rhythm.”

Brian Giegerich added that though the Cornell crowd was loud, yelling and shaking the court, he settled down as the game went on because he realized overcoming crowds was part of being a sports team.

To add more pressure, the men’s squash team also had to defend its high rank, a situation new to the team.

“In this matchup against Cornell, we were ranked [No. 5] in the country and they were [No. 12],” Epley said. “It’s hard to step on court and know that we’re expected to win it, especially since this is a new feeling for us.”

Epley said Dartmouth traditionally is not one of the top five teams and that the Big Green is usually hunting for one of those spots, and that being one of the top five teams led the team to take more of a defensive role.

Dartmouth has historically capitalized on its depth to secure wins in the lower rank matches. Cornell, however, was an equally deep team.

“Cornell is pretty similar to us in that they’re pretty strong throughout the [lineup],” Matthew Giegerich ’19 said. “Going against such a deep team, I think that is why the game was pretty close. There weren’t really any places where we had easy wins, and there were no places where they had easy wins.”

The next day, Dartmouth fell 5-4 to Columbia on the road. The Lions were led by its top player Osama Khalifa, an international player from Egypt and the 2015 College Squash Individual Champion. Dartmouth attempted to capitalize on its depth, but the team had difficulty executing its game plan due to fatigue from the night before.

“I was pretty tired during the Columbia game, and my body kind of gave out during the last few games,” Brian Giegerich said. “It’s tough playing back-to-back game and travelling on the buses in between. However, being tired is definitely not an excuse for losing. It’s a part of competitive gameplay, and we’re just excited to get a shot to redeem ourselves at the national championship at the end of the season.”

Furthermore, Dartmouth’s chances of winning were weakened by Epley’s in-game ankle injury, which forced him to forfeit after the first game of his match. Epley said doctors speculate that the injury may be a stress fracture. The team, however, is optimistic that he can be back by the end of the season for the College Squash Association Championships.

Although the Big Green ended up losing the match, the team still felt it played well given the circumstances.

“We obviously wanted to win, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if we lost, which we kind of felt like it would be if we lost to Cornell,” Epley said. “We were really just excited for the opportunity to play against such a team, and I was really happy with how everyone played. Even though all the circumstances were against us, we put together a really good result and pushed back one of the best teams in the country.”

The women’s squash team fell on the weekend to 3-8 with losses to Cornell and Columbia 8-1 in both games.

In the first round of matches against Cornell, Rebecca Brownell ’18 and Madeline Fraser ’17 lost 3-0, while Emma Roberts ’19 gave up a close 3-1 match. In the second round of matches, Carly Rizzuto ’19 and Zainab Molani ’18 both were defeated 3-1, while Tori Dewey ’16 fell to her opponent 3-0. Janel Gaube ’18 secured the only victory for Dartmouth against Cornell as she defeated her opponent 3-1. Lydie McKenzie ’16 lost in four close games, while Jacqueline Barnes ’17 lost 3-0.

In the game against Columbia, Brownell and Fraser both lost close 3-2 games, while Roberts lost 3-0. Rizzuto and Dewey both stormed onto their courts quickly winning their first games but lost momentum, both falling to their opponents 3-1. Molani lost her match 3-0. In the third round of matches, Gaube once again secured the only win with a decisive 3-0 victory. Barnes and McKenzie, however, both lost 3-0 to their opponents.

The Big Green was on its guard on the road against Williams’ squads and their distinct home-court advantage.

“Williams plays very strong at home — much stronger at home than when they play away — so we knew they were going to fight and play much harder than they usually do,” men’s and women’s coach Hansi Wiens said.

The Dartmouth men had impressive wins in all three rounds. In the first, Matthew Giegerich and Glen Brickman ’17 both downed their opponents 3-0. This was followed in the second round by 3-0 wins from Brian Giegerich and Carson Spahr ’19. Nick Harrington ’17 won 3-0 in the third round to seal the victory for Dartmouth, and James Fisch ’16 added a hard-fought five-game triumph. Although the No. 5 men were expected to beat No. 18 Williams, recent injury struggles made the matchup more of a challenge.

“It was tough because we were down two players — Sam Epley hurt his foot and Kyle Martino was injured [but played], so we weren’t at full strength,” men’s captain Fisch said. “What we really wanted to focus on was just having everyone give it their all, because we’ve had a really good season so far and any loss at this point to a team that is ranked below us could jeopardize the entire season’s progress.”

Fisch commended Field’s performance, who played at the number nine spot to make up for Epley’s absence. Field was taken down 3-1.

“He did his best but couldn’t really pull through,” Fisch said. “Even though he lost that match, he still really stepped up and was there for the team, and all the other guys took notice of it.”

Because Epley was out for the match, much of the Dartmouth ladder was forced to shift up again, this time in order to cover Epley’s number three spot.

Wiens said injuries will force the Big Green men to work harder.

“We’re a little worried here because we’re down two players, and if we miss those, the team won’t be as strong obviously,” Wiens said. “Hopefully we can get them back in two weeks’ time when we have the nationals. But the team knows [injuries happen], and it happens everywhere. That’s when the team becomes a team. That’s when they know they have to push hard and play even better to win.”

The women’s trip to Williamstown, Massachusetts proved exciting. In the first round, Fraser took her opponent to five games, ultimately winning in extra points. The Big Green lost the other two matches of the first round, but victories from Rizzuto and Molani in the second round led to a 3-3 tie.

Dartmouth and Williams split the next two matches to set up an exciting showdown between the Ephs’ Ananya Mahalingam-Dhingra and the Big Green’s McKenzie. McKenzie won the first two games to jump ahead but stumbled in the third. The fourth game went to extra points, where McKenzie brought home the victory for the Big Green.

“Lydie’s match was incredible,” Brownell said. “It was 4-4 and it ended up coming down to her, and she was able to close out a very tough match. We had the whole building watching. Very dramatic and fun to watch, and we needed that as a team.”

Wiens and the No. 11 women expected the matchup against No. 12 Williams to be close.

“We knew it was going to be a tight match and they are very close in rank to us, so we knew they were going to be very pumped up and motivated to beat us,” Wiens said. “It was a match that we didn’t play as well as we could, but our team pushed hard at the end to beat them.”

The win will bolster the women’s confidence as the CSA Championship approaches.

“We have a very strong team, and we are much stronger when we actually help each other,” Wiens said. “The fitness level is there, we just have to believe in our fitness and believe in the work we have done, and that’s where the confidence comes from.”

The Big Green squash teams will close out their seasons Friday against Yale University at home and Sunday away at Brown University. They will then compete at the CSA National Team Championship at the end of the month.