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Senior Samantha Chai in the match against Virginia.

By Beverly Schaefer

No. 2 Women’s squash (13–1, 6–1 Ivy League) completed its regular season schedule last weekend in Ithaca, defeating No. 11 Cornell 8–1.

In an impressive showing, first-year Andrea Toth dropped only 11 points total at the number six position. First-year Elle Ruggiero, senior Sam Chai, sophomore Emme Leonard, and senior Izzy Hirshberg each joined Toth in contributing a 3–0 win.

For seniors Chai and Hirshberg, the match marked the regular-season end to their impressive careers as four-year starters for Princeton. First-year Bubble Lui was the only player to drop her match. She has been playing in the number-one position since her debut, in November.

It has been a stellar season overall for the squad. Princeton began its 2018-19 campaign with a dominating 9–0 win at Virginia. After that victory, Hirshberg, a co-captain, praised the team’s momentum.

Princeton carried that momentum right through the winter, claiming an upset victory over then second-ranked Trinity College, in January. That win gave the Tigers the number two slot. They have not relinquished it.

In New Haven, Princeton topped No. 4 Yale, 5–4. The victory set them up for a battle of the un-beatens with No. 1 Harvard.

The Tigers would fall 0–9 to the “unbelievably strong” Crimson. “It definitely was tough for us to suffer our first loss of the season,” said Hirshberg.

But the team has been using its one blemish as nothing if not fuel in the lead-up to the Howe Cup.

The Howe Cup, collegiate squash’s team national-championship event, will be hosted at Trinity from Feb. 22-24, in Hartford, CT.

In preparation, head coach Gail Ramsay says the team’s focus has shifted to maintaining fitness, resetting mindsets, and making “small but important adjustments to our games.” Hirshberg reports that the players are prioritizing staying injury free, as they “hopefully will have the opportunity to play [Harvard] again.”

Ramsay also expects sophomore Gracie Doyle to be back in the line-up for the Howe Cup. Doyle was a huge contributor in the fourth and fifth slots all season long – but did not play against Cornell.

Princeton’s lineup has been incredibly deep and well-balanced this season. Most matches featured three first-years, three sophomores, one junior, and two seniors. Both Ramsay and Hirshberg have been especially impressed by the first-year class, headlined by three players — Lui, Ruggiero, and Toth — who each held the No. 1 junior ranking in their country prior to becoming Tigers.

But from the coaching perspective, Ramsay knows her underclassmen have benefited from the “senior leadership” of Hirshberg and her co-captain, senior Kate Feeley. Ramsay applauded the senior class for the “important statement” they have made to the younger players – and its potential to “positively impact the future of Princeton Squash.”

Ramsay sees the team’s success as a product of her players’ total investment. Hirshberg recognizes it, too, saying, “Each member has raised the bar of their teammates by pushing one another on court.” Both know it’s hard to get to 13-1 without each player giving her best effort. 

That total buy-in has been easy to achieve this year, says Hirshberg, because of the team dynamic Ramsay fosters. “We are as close as ever, and each member has contributed to the success of the whole.”

But Princeton isn’t resting on its laurels quite yet. The players and coaches are eyeing a potential rematch with Harvard at the Howe Cup.

A national championship is by no means out of reach for the Tigers, said Ramsay. “We will need some best- ever performances from as many people as possible.”

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