No. 4 Stanford women’s squash (9-5) placed third in the Howe Cup from Friday to Sunday at the College Squash Association (CSA) National Championships, winning its opener against No. 5 Yale (10-5) 5-4, falling to No. 1 Harvard (12-0) 9-0 and securing its best finish in program history with a 5-4 win over No. 2 Princeton (15-4) in the consolation game.
Stanford’s tournament run began Friday as the team squared up against Yale, looking to advance past the opening round of the Howe Cup — the CSA division for the top eight ranked teams — for the first time in program history.
As was the case in the team’s last meeting, what separated Stanford and Yale on the final scoresheet was lower lineup depth. Although Stanford dropped matches in the top three spots, the Cardinal secured victories in the last four spots, from sixth through ninth, to take a 4-3 lead with two matches ongoing.
Yale soon knotted the match up at four apiece when the Bulldogs’ Lucy Beecroft bested freshman phenom Elena Wagenmans 12-10, 12-10, 11-7 in the top spot. Only the showdown between sophomore Caroline Neave and Yale’s Aishwarya Battacharya remained to decide who would become the darling underdog and end Harvard’s stranglehold on the CSA title and who would fade into obscurity, only ever heard about as a supplementary player in reminiscences on the annals of squash lore.
Unsurprisingly, this bout became the focus of player and coach attention. A precisioned shot from Battacharya’s .45-caliber duelling pistol of a racket grazed the brim of Neave’s metaphorical Stetson when the Bulldog took the third set and pushed the game to a fourth. Neave would immediately fire back with a lead musket ball through the shoulder of Yale’s title hopes, winning the match in the fourth set, 11-8, 11-3, 7-11, 13-11.
Freshman Amita Gondi also collected her team-high seventh win from the seven spot, and Stanford advanced to the semifinals against four-time defending champion Harvard.
Upon the Cardinal’s first advance to the CSA Howe Cup semifinals in school history, the Crimson nipped Stanford’s burgeoning dreams of a national title in the bud, sweeping Stanford off the courts on Saturday. Despite what the final score seemed to indicate, Stanford has little to be ashamed of, as Harvard had swept all of its previous 11 matches this season and carried a 63-match winning streak into the contest.
In this semifinal, Harvard continued to cement itself as a bona fide dynasty, the likes of which the world has not seen outside of UConn women’s basketball and the Galactic Empire. The only Stanford player to take a set off of a Crimson opponent was Neave who managed to push her match to four against Kayley Leonard. This small triumph for Stanford proved only a piece of gum for Harvard to scrape off its trampling boots, still taking all nine matches.
Relegated to the third-place game against Princeton on Sunday, the Cardinal approached the consolation contest with a renewed vigor, determined to finish strong in what was already the school’s best ever finish at nationals. Reversing the formula from its win over Yale, Stanford proved that its top players could also win games. The top four in the Cardinal lineup all prevailed, including a five-set win from Wagenmans, to lead Stanford to a podium finish at nationals and a nice result on which to build heading into next season.
Stanford concluded the season with an overall record of 9-5 and ranked fourth nationally. The tournament marked the last games for seniors Caroline Kimmel, Anna Marie Manning, Grayson Melby, Lucy Rowe and Tara Shannon. Stanford will return six of its nine lineup regulars in 2020. The Cardinal look to be on the rise and will hope to make a deeper finals run next year.
Contact Andrew Tan at tandrew ‘at’ stanford.edu.