No. 5 Stanford women’s squash (6-1) looks to take the momentum from a successful trip in November into its matches this weekend against No. 3 Pennsylvania and No. 8 Columbia.
The team opened its season two months ago when it played in seven matches in Cambridge, Massachusetts from Nov. 20 through 22, beginning with an immediate challenge in defending national champions Harvard.
“We knew that was going to be a difficult match, on their courts, and it was,” said head coach Mark Talbott.
Thought Stanford lost to the Crimson 8-1, the Cardinal turned things around, easily beating Wellesley, Bates, Hamilton, Brown and Virginia in their next five matches.
The next match was against second-ranked Trinity. It was their seventh match of the weekend, twice as many competitions as the Cardinal typically play over a weekend.
“The team was tired, but also warmed up focused, in the groove,” Talbott said of the team at the tail end of the long trip.
The team upset Trinity 5-4, with freshman Anna Marie Manning providing the team the winning point. The win marked the first time the Cardinal had beaten a top-three opponent.
Finishing the trip 6-1 was “better than I initially suspected,” said Talbott, “but I’m not surprised.”
Since then, the team has stayed in shape by playing matches in practice almost every day, lifting weights twice a week in the morning and performing regular conditioning drills after practice. Fifth-year senior captain Maddy Gill said that was the best way to prepare for a match.
“You play a long point, and then you have three seconds left, then you have another long point, so you have to be really ready to stop and start and always have that endurance,” she noted.
Gill thought confidence will be one of the key things it will take for the team to beat Penn on Saturday.
“They’re one of the top-ranked teams, so of course they’re seeded to win, but that means we just have nothing to lose, and so we can play with confidence; we can play aggressively,” she said.
Both Gill and Talbott said that they anticipate the Columbia match on Sunday being a close contest.
“In the past few years, we’ve had very close matches with them,” Gill said. “Last year we lost to them, but this year, I think our team is a level above where we were last year.”
But one of the biggest challenges will take place before any of the Cardinal step onto a squash court in Philadelphia or New York: the team’s difficult cross-country travel.
“It’s really tough for us,” Gill said. “I think it’s a huge disadvantage because most teams will take a two- or three-hour bus ride, but we have a five- or six-hour plane flight. We’re jetlagged, there’s a time difference, the odds are stacked against us, but that’s the way it is. You just accept it and try to play your best.”
“There’s no way to prepare for it. You better just be so fit and strong that you’re stronger than your opponent, because it’s tiring,” added Talbott.
Stanford will travel to Penn to take on the Quakers on Saturday, Jan. 16 at 1 p.m. before heading north to the Big Apple to face off against Columbia on Sunday, Jan. 17 at noon.
Contact Elliott Lapin at elapin ‘at’ stanford.edu.