Men’s Squash Values Upcoming Opportunity Vs. UVA

By WILL CASE

Last weekend, the No. 19 Middlebury men’s squash team had an opportunity. Facing No. 16 Franklin and Marshall on Saturday and then No. 15 Cornell on Sunday at their home courts, the Panthers had a shot to boost their resume and chances of cracking the College Squash Association’s top-16 teams by the time nationals roll around next month. Unfortunately, the Panthers came up short, losing 5–4 to Franklin and Marshall and 6–3 to Cornell.

At the beginning of the season the Panthers made it their goal to earn a spot in the top 16, which would qualify them to compete in the second bracket for the Hoehn Cup at nationals next month. With losses to two teams occupying the very spots the Panthers had set their sights on, Middlebury will face an uphill battle to achieving their goal.

“Our goal of finishing in the top-16 is now difficult, but not impossible,” said team captain Ryan Swope ’18 after this weekend’s matches.

Another seasoned veteran, Will Kurth ’18 echoed the sentiments of Swope that the top 16 could still be within reach.

“Our goal is still the top-16,” said Kurth when asked if the Panthers had to redirect their aspirations. “We can compete at the level of those teams [in the top-16] and are more than eager for the opportunity to do so. We have been battling injuries and adjusting our line up accordingly.”

Injuries continue to be a problem for the Panthers. Jacob Ellen ’20 is still not at 100 percent and Nick Bermingham ’20 missed his seventh and eighth straight matches last weekend due to a nagging injury.

“In terms of injuries, Jacob [Ellen] has been playing through his soreness in his knee and is doing well,” said Swope. “Alex Merrill ’21 just returned from a long ankle injury, and Nick Bermingham will hopefully return this week having successfully rehabbed his injury for weeks now.”

Heading into play on Saturday, the top of the Panthers’ ladder had played as strong as it has for any Middlebury squad in recent memory. Typically the middle and bottom third of the ladder are strong suits for the Panthers, but this season their quintet of sophomores, Will Cembalest ’20, Ellen, Jack Kagan ’20 and Bermingham, along with Henry Pearson ’18, have played well and allowed the Panthers to compete at the top.

However, against tough competition last weekend, the Panthers only won one match in the top five slots of the ladder, which came on Sunday when Kagan jumped out to a 2–0 sets lead in the No. 3 slot against Cornell senior Jordan Brail, whose comeback attempt Kagan managed to stave off for a five sets victory.

Despite the results, the Panthers made things difficult for the Diplomats and Big Red.

“I thought everyone was pushed to play their best,” said Kurth. “The result was disappointing, but we really made these higher ranked teams ‘beat us’ rather than ‘roll over’ for the them. I thought we showed our true colors. We fought hard this weekend.”

These were some of the positives that the Panthers can take with them as they head into this weekend’s pivotal matches in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which features a date with 14th-ranked Virginia on Saturday.

A win over the Cavaliers would go a long way to helping the Panthers boost their resume.

“With a good opportunity against a beatable No. 14 UVA,” said Swope, “the top-16 finish is still attainable.”

In addition to the opportunity on Saturday against Virginia, the Panthers will also get a crack at No. 9 Drexel, No. 11 George Washington and No. 13 Navy next month before Nescacs.

Kurth believes that the Panthers can use the Nescacs as an opportunity to overcome bumps in the road they faced earlier in the season.

“I hope our results at Nescacs nullify our early results against, for example, Williams,” he said, referencing a match the Panthers dropped in Williamstown 6–3 on Jan. 6. “We are looking forward to University of Virginia, the Naval Academy, Drexel, George Washington University. We will continue to train hard and prepare for these great opportunities.”

Despite the losses, the Panthers’ best is likely in front of them because the team may have shooed away the injury bug just as it enters the season’s homestretch that features matchups against quality competition to get back on track.

“We have had a really tough go with injuries this season with as many as three players out of our lineup at times,” said Swope. But Swope asserted that things are looking up because the team believes Bermingham may have a chance to return this weekend.

“If Nick does return [for this weekend’s slate], this will be our first week with a truly full, healthy lineup,” said Swope. “We could not be more excited about that as we head to Boston to take on MIT and UVA.

“Morale is still high,” Swope said. In all, the team believes that things are trending upward.

“This [past] weekend was disappointing, if we’re speaking purely in terms of results,” said the captain. “But we are playing well and with, hopefully, a full lineup moving forward after this week, most of the guys have faith we will perform quite well.”

With their season on the line, the Panthers will be in action at MIT tomorrow afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they will take on a 22nd-ranked Engineers squad. Saturday will be the big showdown for the Panthers, as they make the short trip from MIT to Harvard where they will take on 14th-ranked Virginia.

CSA’s Men’s Squash Rankings

Nos. 10–25 (Panthers’ result when played)

10. Dartmouth (L, 0–9)

11. George Washington

12. Western Ontario

13. Navy (Feb. 9, Annapolis, MD)

14. Virginia (Sat., Cambridge, MA)

15. Cornell (L, 3–6)

16. Franklin and Marshall (L, 4–5)

“B” Bracket

“C” Bracket

17. Dickinson

18. Bates (W, 5–4)

19. MIDDLEBURY

20. Brown

21. Williams (L, 3–6)

22. MIT (tomorrow, Cambridge, MA)

23. Colby (W, 7–2)

24. Amherst (W, 9–0)

25. Hobart

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Men’s Squash Values Upcoming Opportunity Vs. UVA