The No. 5 ranked Stanford women’s squash team (3-2) competed yesterday afternoon against the No. 14 George Washington University. Each of the nine matches were won by Stanford in a truly impressive showcase of athleticism.
At the third position, sophomore Caroline Neave had an impressive match earning the Cardinal their first point. Back-to-back points ended with a corner shot by Neave that could not be answered by the opposing Emma Troyon of George Washington. In the second game, Neave continued her aggressive performance with multiple kill shots and stellar ball placement. In a particularly graceful penultimate hit, Naeve lunged to hit the ball in a seemingly aggressive manner but faked and lightly hit the ball. The third set was executed with a quick, clean and impressive performance by Neave. Her overall match results were 11-4, 11-7 and 11-2.
Stanford’s Casey Wong stepped onto the court in the second position, matching up against George Washington’s Engy Elmandouh. Wong was in control of the first set, striking hard at the ball when she wanted, lunging for the ball when necessary and crossing the ball to the other side of the court to the surprise of her opponent. Elmandouh was quick to answer many of the kill shots attempted by Wong. The first set was characterized by a flurry of short-length quick shots with a final score of 11-6 for Wong.
In the second game, Wong continued her practice of hard shots and fast footwork. In back-to-back plays Wong provided swift kill shots that GW’s Elmandouh scrambled to return to no avail. Even so, this set was fairly cut and dry, and Wong’s mastery over ball placement and strong hits gave her the game win. In a particularly exhilarating play, Wong charged to hit the ball cross court, and as the opposing Elmandouh attempted to return the action, she was left sliding into a full American Split that was truly jaw dropping. The game ended with a score of 11-6.
Breathing hard and perspiring in the third game, Wong served the ball, and with a forceful shot by Elmandouh, Wong ran quickly to the top of the court but was unable to keep the ball in play. But still gripping her racquet with confidence Wong was undeterred as play continued, and the third set was nicely wrapped up by a score of 14 -12.
In the first position, Stanford’s Elena Wagenmans faced off against George Washington’s Zoe Yuk Han. Wagenmans’ long arms aided her well in reaching particularly long distances to hit the ball. Stellar placement of the ball and shots incorporating geometric angles off of the four-walled squash court put Wagenmans in an early and outright lead from the first game, a lead that Wagenmans would not let up to her opponent. In a play showing her absolute command of the game, Wagemans hit a long shot strong and fast, unanswerable by GW’s Yuk Han. This entire play just had an air of ease for Stanford’s Elena Wagenmans. The entire affair of the first set was over in a matter of minutes with a score of 11-6.
When the second set began, Wagenmans rushed to the right and hit the ball straight into the corner. The ball was ably returned by Yuk Han, but with a sudden flurry of her racquet, Wagenmans hit the ball off the volley straight into the back left corner of the court, obliterating any chance Yuk Han had to continue play. Even with a lost point towards the end of the game, Wagenmans was unfazed. With her grip on the racquet tight, Wagenmans continued to play and did not let her opponent gain any further points. And surely enough, the second game was soon complete with a score of 11-3.
This show of mental strength on the part of Wagenmans is something that head coach Mark Talbott stresses as a very important feature of squash. As Coach Talbott puts it, “All these players are very experienced and can compete and play really well. The trick in squash is getting them to relax and the mental side of it.”
In squash, both mental and physical acuity are extremely important to strong gameplay. Coach Talbott says that “in squash you hit the ball really close to the walls, and if you get nervous you lose racquet control,” and this can cost you points. And in games that only go to 11 points, every point matters. From the player’s perspective, Elena Wagenmans says that “in matches there’s definitely a mental aspect but also a physical aspect that comes from practice.”
As the third game began, still agile and light on her feet, Wagenmans instinctively readjusted her goggles and served the ball. Early in the third game Yuk Han’s smart ball placement made it nearly impossible for Wagenmans to answer, bringing the score to 3-3. But soon after, with a quick shot by Yuk Han landing close to the front wall, Wagenmans sprinted furiously in time to reach the ball and softly hit it, removing any chance of retrieval by Yuk Han. This same scene repeated nearly a minute later, revealing the true scope of Wagenmans agility, speed and overall Squash prowess.
In response to her continually remarkable gameplay, freshman superstar Elena Wagenmans put it simply by saying her game method “is pretty instinctive; I don’t think about it.” In essence, Wagenmans strives to let go of everything once she steps onto the court and just play.
The next and final home match of the season for women’s squash is on Saturday January 19 against the No. 6 Yale Bulldogs.
Contact Nandini Naidu at nnaidu ‘at’ stanford.edu