By Kirsten Carlson
On any given day, anything can happen. On November 16th, the brothers Talbott will have a dual on their hands, as Mark’s Stanford Cardinal—led by 2006 individual champ Lily Lorentzen—will face Dave’s rebuilt Yale team. Two days later, at Simon Squash Center on Williams’ College campus, the Harvard men and women will play the team that came closest to breaking into the squash royalty last year—as both the Williams’ men and women finished the season ranked sixth. On January 30th the Princeton men will return to Trinity and have a very real chance to get the win that barely eluded them at the George A. Kellner Squash Center almost exactly two years prior. Oh, and two once top-ranked pros will face each other as well: On February 3rd, former World No. 4 Martin Heath, and his Rochester Yellowjackets, will host Franklin & Marshall with their new coach, former World No. 1 John White.
Yes, college squash is becoming a little unpredictable.
“I think there is some parity,” said Naval Academy head coach Craig Dawson. “I think the top four or five are still the top four or five, but last year things evened out some.”
The Naval Academy finished 10th last year, and Dawson hopes his team—which includes three Rhodes Scholar candidates—can maintain that ranking. Eight of the top-10 players are back this year, including No. 1 Tucker George. George will have the advantage of playing in the CSA Individual Championships on his home turf when the Naval Academy hosts the event the first weekend in March. The 12-court-facility features three new three-glass-wall courts, and an ASB all-glass court will be set up in the field house that weekend.
Sure to be making an impact at the individual championships will be Stanford’s Lorentzen and the University of Rochester’s Jim Bristow, though coaches are more interested in the impact of the two players’ respective teams.
“I think it will be the same five teams in the top, but what’s really exciting in women’s squash is that there are a lot of teams that will be threatening the top teams. Stanford will be strong. Mount Holyoke will be strong,” said Wendy Bartlett, Trinity women’s head coach. “Mark (Talbott) has made a huge effort, and his team is playing all the top teams.”
Stanford finished 12th last year in their first campaign as an official varsity team. For the second year, the team will be led by Lorentzen and Katy Brewster in the top spots.
“I think we’ve got a real chance to get into the top eight,” said Mark Talbott. “That’s our goal, to break into the A-Division. We’ll have close matches with any teams ranked six through 10. I don’t know if we’ll have close matches with the top five.”
After two strong recruiting years, the University of Rochester is aiming for the top eight as well, with the main focus of getting into at least the top 10. Englishman Bristow finished his freshman season ranked 11th in the nation. This year, he will face stiff competition for the top spot on his own team, from two other international recruits. Hameed Ahmed played for the Finnish Team at the 2005 World Men’s Team Championships and will be in contention for the number one position, along with Will Newnham, also from England.
“We got very lucky to get him,” Heath said of Newnham. “We haven’t started practice this year, but I have heard all three are very close. I expect all three of them to be in the top 10 in the country.”
Other teams expected to be in the mix for top-eight performances this season include the men and women of Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell and Williams, and Western Ontario’s men’s team.
One team that has experience transitioning from an increasingly competitive team to a top contender, is the Penn men’s team. Last year, led by Gilly Lane, the team finished fifth and defeated an Ivy powerhouse—Yale—something they had not done in years. During Lane’s freshman year, the team finished seventh.
“We’re hoping for the same sort of results we’ve had the last couple of years,” said head coach Craig Thorpe-Clark. “I have been very happy with the way players have stepped up, and by the enthusiasm of the freshmen.”
Penn added five freshmen to its roster this year, including Porter Drake, who will play somewhere in the top of the lineup.
“Clearly Trinity is always the team people are chasing down,” Thorpe-Clark said. “I think this year Princeton and Yale are going to be very good. They retained a lot of their players. I see those three as being a little stronger than the rest. Other teams have come up that will make for a very competitive five through 10.”
Penn will be led by co-captains Lee Rosen and Ryan Rayfield. The two went to high school together and played squash together before then. Rayfield has his sights firmly set on a particular team.
“Our goal is to hold, if not exceed, our ranking from last year,” Rayfield said. “Our big one: We’re going to take down Harvard. Based on how recruiting went, and who they lost. They lost a good amount of experience.”
Amongst those no longer at Harvard is 2007 CSA Individual Champion, Siddharth Suchde.
“We lost most of the top of our lineup; six players, including Sid, our captain Ilan Oren and Jason Delierre,” said Satinder Bajwa, Harvard’s men’s and women’s head coach. “We brought in Richard Hill and Shawn Lowe from Singapore, who both did well on their national team and we hope will bring a lot of character to our team.”
Harvard’s other new players include freshmen Reed Endresen—a top US junior player —Eliot Buchanan from Canada and Alistair Smith, a transfer from the Naval Academy. Their most notable new face is assistant coach Chris Smith, previously the head coach at Northeastern.
“I like to think that this year I went after six recruits—five players and a coach,” said Bajwa.
The Harvard men finished third overall last year, immediately ahead of Yale. With the loss of only one top player—Nick Chirls—and the addition of four players, including US Junior Men’s Team member CJ Plimpton, Coach Dave Talbott has high expectations for this season.
“The men’s goal is to win the Ivy Championship and to take a shot at Trinity,” Talbott said. “We had a tough year last year. We are clearly a better team than we were last year. The men are in a good role right now. We don’t have a top star. Princeton will be tough, but we will match up with them from three down and probably be tough to beat from five down.”
Both Princeton and Trinity retained most of their top players. Princeton’s junior class will lead them, with Mauricio Sanchez at the top of the order. Trinity lost Shaun Johnstone and other strong leaders but has seven returning starters. Both schools added to their depth, with Princeton acquiring four freshmen, including Canadian David Letourneau, who has had a very successful junior career. Trinity added seven players to their roster, three of whom will be in the mix for starting positions.
“I would say that Princeton is almost favored,” said Trinity head coach Paul Assaiante. “Mauricio, Hisham (El Halaby), Kimlee Wong and their new freshman. They are all over the place.”
Last year, the Princeton men and women both won the Ivy title. The women also won the dual match championship and the Howe Cup. However, they lost four players to graduation, including their number one, Claire Rein-Weston.
“We’re a different team this year,” said head coach Gail Ramsay. “I think we still have some good strength at the top and some depth, and our seniors are coming off of a championship season and have some good experience. I don’t know if I feel any tremendous pressure to repeat. I try to look at every year as a new year.”
Harvard also lost their No. 1 player—individual champion Kyla Grigg. Four freshmen join the squad this year, including June Tiong, a highly ranked Malaysian junior who will likely play in the top three with seniors Jennifer Blumberg and Supriya Balsekar.
“You can’t replace a player like Kyla,” Bajwa said. “Players like that are very rare. You can make up for a player like Kyla by adding depth, and we have done that.”
Looking to improve upon their fourth place Ivy League finish last year—and also make up for players lost to graduation—Yale brought in four freshmen, including US Junior Women’s Team members, Logan Greer and Sarah Toomey. They will play in the top five with fellow freshman Caroline Reigeluth, sophomore Alia Aziz and senior Miranda Ranieri, who is considered to be a contender for the individual title.
In the hunt with the other teams will be the Trinity women, who are looking to bounce back after a tough season.
“We absolutely want to move higher up in the rankings,” Coach Bartlett said. “At the end of last year the team was devastated. “
Bartlett said the team has a strong top four—including captains Lauren Polonich and Hadley Schroll—but she is still looking to get in another player by January to strengthen their top five.
Unlike the other four schools in the top five, the Penn women retained their number one player, Kristen Lange, who will again be in contention for an individual title. Seniors Lauralynn Drury and Elizabeth Kern were elected to lead this year’s squad. Penn returns strong junior and sophomore classes, and also added freshman Annie Madeira, a member of the US Junior Women’s Team.
“I think the team feels greater confidence this year,” said head coach Jack Wyant. “We were tested a number of times last year and came through more often than not. We are still a young team. Our top five should be mostly sophomores and juniors.”
“Every team, to me, took some hits,” said Dave Talbott.” It’s going to be very interesting and going to be close in the top five.”
As it appears it will be throughout the league.
Bear Stearns Signs Sponsorship Deal with CSA
One thing that can be said definitively about a season that not even the coaches are able to make predictions about, is that college squash is now in a greater position for growth. This is due to the new corporate sponsorship of Bear Stearns.
“Bear Stearns has become an incredible partner for us,” said Dave Talbott, who along with Paul Assaiante and Jack Wyant, negotiated this sponsorship deal with the College Squash Association. “Bear is excited about the profile of the sport and how it fits into their corporate structure. Bear sees an opportunity to align themselves with the CSA and the benefits that it brings to the company. They want to help the CSA grow the game in more colleges and universities that are not part of the traditional squash landscape.”
The partnership includes the Bear Emerging Cup, a new Howe Cup event in which five newer teams will compete against each other and have their costs for the tournament covered by Bear Stearns. The company will also provide Bear Grants, which is funding for start-up programs, club teams and recreation programs that are working to become viable varsity programs. Bear is also focused on the recruiting opportunities of the CSA student athletes who participate in the CSA. A special resumé book and identification of potential employees for the company will augment their campus recruiting efforts. The CSA views this partnership as an absolute breakthrough opportunity for the organization and its players.