After weathering COVID-19 cancellations and a depleted roster, the No. 15-ranked Stanford squash team (0-5) will kick its season into high gear this weekend.
The Cardinal will travel east to take on a challenging slate of Ivy League teams, beginning with No. 12 Dartmouth (4-8) on Friday before back-to-back showdowns with No. 10 Brown (5-3) and top-ranked juggernaut Harvard (11-0) on Saturday.
Grueling road trips through the snow on the East Coast are nothing new for Stanford, the only women’s squash program on the West Coast. But the challenges brought by COVID-19 this year and the reversed cancellation of the program last year have been far from normal.
Stanford will take the court this weekend following an unusually long break in competition after a weekend of matches against Columbia, Yale and Trinity College was canceled in January due to health and safety protocols within the Cardinal program. Stanford was originally scheduled to play Williams College instead of Brown this weekend but scheduled a match against the Bears instead after the Ephs canceled their competitions for the week.
Like it did in its season-opening trip in November, Stanford will only travel with a roster of seven players as opposed to the standard nine.
Absent for the Cardinal are sophomores Cassie Ong and Samantha Moadel, who are out due to illness and last played at positions No. 1 and No. 6, respectively, in the Stanford lineup. Former All-American senior Elena Wagenmans will return to the top of the lineup as a result. Stanford’s depth will be bolstered by walk-ons sophomore Chloe Pae and freshman Riya Saran, who will make their collegiate debuts over the weekend.
Pae, Saran and fellow walk-on freshman Cathy Zhao have been crucial additions this year to a razor-thin Stanford roster that missed out on a recruiting class when the University discontinued, then reinstated, the squash program and 10 other varsity sports between 2020 and 2021.
“They’re really dedicated,” Ong said of the walk-on trio. “They’ve been improving a lot.”
Still, Stanford will only be able to field seven players as it takes on its toughest assignment in No. 1 Harvard, the defending national champions who are undefeated on the season and won the Ivy League title last weekend over No. 4 Yale.
Every match matters now for Stanford’s postseason positioning in the Women’s National Championships, scheduled for Feb. 25 in Boston. The Cardinal are yet to record a win against a schedule of top-15 teams.
As has been the theme throughout the season, though, just getting on court will be a victory, especially for Stanford’s newer players.
“After missing our first tournament [in January] I’m so excited to finally travel with the team,” sophomore Lucia Bicknell said.
Stanford opens play against Dartmouth at 2 p.m. PT on Friday in Hanover before taking on Brown and Harvard in Cambridge on Saturday.