Over the past two weeks, the squash team has played nearly all of its opponents close, yet has lost three frustrating matches to higher-ranked opponents that could have just as easily gone the Yellowjackets’ way. After losing 5-4 two weekends ago to No. 21 Stanford, the Yellowjackets were narrowly defeated by No. 18 Massachusetts Institute of Technology and No. 20 Tufts at MIT last weekend.
Freshman Steve Gelb said that the last two weeks have been disheartening. “The 5-4 losses have been rough. Each time a couple of them could have turned our way, and it would have been 5-4 in our favor,” he said.
Despite the Yellowjackets’ inferior ranking, sophomore Dave Sokoloff said he was confident going into the weekend that the squad would have more to show for its play. “There was no reason why we shouldn’t have beaten Tufts and MIT,” he said. “Last year we lost close to both teams, in almost the same way. I don’t know if it’s irony or not, but it’s hard to swallow.”
Head coach Chris O’Brien said that his team will have to “lick its wounds,” adding that the players can find some consolation in the fact that they will soon have the opportunity to avenge these losses. The weekend of February 21 at Team Nationals, it is likely the Yellowjackets will meet MIT, Tufts, and Stanford again on a larger stage.
The 23rd-ranked Yellowjackets also took the court against No. 11 Amherst last weekend. Senior Allen Fitzsimmons was the only UR player to win a match over the dominating Jeffs, defeating Amherst’s top player Michael Strong. Strong is ranked among the top 50 players in the nation. Fitzsimmons and Sokoloff paced the team over the weekend, each taking two of the three matches they played.
Sokoloff partly attributed the Yellowjackets’ slow start to a combination of fatigue and insufficient pre-game preparation. “We had a long bus ride and got there a little late so we didn’t have enough time to warm up,” he said. Sokoloff noted that some confusion involving the team bags and equipment hindered the players’ concentration, as well.
Junior Drew Chapman handily defeated MIT’s Wesley Jin 9-4, 9-2, 9-0, but could not overcome Tuft’s Jordan Kolanski later in the day. “[Kolanski] hit a lot of front court drop shots that were difficult to retrieve. In the end, he got the big points,” Chapman said.
Chapman’s disappointing loss to Tufts was indicative of the team’s play of late — tightly contested matches that have seen most critical points fall the opponent’s way.
“We’ve played a lot of close matches,” junior Dave Easwaren said, speaking of the past two weeks. “We just haven’t been getting the bounces.”
As they head into the homestretch of the regular season, the Yellowjackets are hoping that their luck will improve. This weekend they host Northwestern University, Colgate University and Hamilton College at the Goergen Athletic Center. It will be only the second time this season that the team has not had to go on the road for competition. “It will be nice not to travel and also to have a bigger fan base,” Gelb said.
O’Brien thinks that the team, whose overall record fell to 6-8 over the weekend, should win four of its next five matches, and finish better than .500 for the season. Of the teams that remain on UR’s schedule, only No. 13 Hobart is higher ranked than the Yellowjackets.
The Yellowjackets know that in order to be successful the remainder of the season, and eventually in Team Championships in February, they will need a full team effort, and will not simply be able to rely on the top players. “It’s not just four people that need to win, it’s the whole team. We need to keep that in mind each match we play because if we’re not winning as a team, we’re not going to do well in Nationals,” Sokoloff said.
Also on this weekend on UR’s squash courts, the women’s squash team will play its first intercollegiate contest against Hamilton. O’Brien started the club team this year, and he is excited about what will be the first women’s intercollegiate squash matches in UR history.
Meanwhile, with just two weeks until the postseason, the men’s squash team is looking ahead to the double-elimination tournament hosted by Princeton. For Nationals the team will be bolstered by the return of one of its top players from injury, Gen Izumida, who has been sidelined since the middle of January with back problems.
“If we pick our game up a little I think we’ll do well,” Easwaren said. If things fall the right way for UR in the tournament bracket, there is a chance they could face all three teams that handed them heartbreaking losses the past two weeks. With a clean slate and revenge on its mind, UR should have more than enough motivation to play the type pf squash its capable of when it heads to Nationals.
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