PHILADELPHIA - With nearly every component of the line-up returning, including last year’s No. 1 and No. 2 players, the Penn women’s squash team has all the tools available to improve upon its No. 6 national team ranking last season.
“We’re fortunate that we have seven of nine returning to the starting line-up,” said Head Coach Jack Wyant. Losing just two letterwinners, combined with one of the deepest recruiting classes in the country, should allow Wyant to craft a winning team in his second season at the helm.
“My first season was everything I could have asked for,” he said. “The group I inherited is a tremendous group of women.”
A major advantage for the Quakers is the return of junior captains Paula Pearson and Radhika Ahluwalia. No. 1 player Pearson finished 2004-05 ranked 14th in the nation, earning her a second-straight second-team All-America spot. Pearson is also a two-time first-team All-Ivy League selection. Ahluwalia, who joined Pearson as a second-team All-American in 2003-04, returns as the team’s No. 2 player after finishing ranked 23th in the country and placing 13th at the Constable.
“They are two of the hardest working student-athletes on the team,” Wyant said. “As captains, they’ve reached out not only to returning players, but also the freshmen. Having them back as upperclassmen, we can expect more improvement from them this year.”
A solid group of players will bolster the line-up behind Ahluwalia and Pearson. Junior Caitlin Russell finished the season ranked 34th in the nation with a 3-6 overall record. Sophomore Lauralynn Drury went 5-4 overall and was ranked 39th in the country following her debut season. In addition, senior Colleen Gurda, junior Annie Barrett, and sophomores Elizabeth Kern and Chloe Wynne all return after starting for the Red and Blue in 2004-05. “We are going to have tremendous depth,” Wyant said.
An extremely talented recruiting class will join the Quakers for 2005-06, including two of Canada’s top junior players. Tara Chawla was a very successful junior player in Canada, taking fourth place at the Canadian Junior Championships in both the U-17 division in 2003 and U-19 division in 2005. Alisha Turner also competed in the 2005 U-19 competition, where she ironically faced off against Chawla in the quarterfinals. Meggie Kempner, who was a highly successful interscholastic squash player at Deerfield Academy, and Emily Goodwin, who was the Hotchkiss School’s No. 1 player, will round out the Class of 2009.
The Quakers' strongplay at the Ivy League scrimmage was a promising sign of things to come. The Quakers put on an excellent showing against Dartmouth in a rematch of last year's Howe Cup, and then turned in a gutsy performanceagainst defending national champion Yale.
The schedule will once again be a challenging one, as Penn will compete with the nation’s elite teams. Nine of the top 11 teams in last year’s rankings, including all of the top-five teams, are on the slate. The Quakers will open at Cornell on Nov. 19 before making their home debut against Ivy League foe and top-ranked Yale on Dec. 3.
“I’m very optimistic about this season and the improvement of the team,” Wyant said. “We try to focus on getting better every day, and if we do that, we can achieve great things.”
“Last year we experienced an outpouring of support from the Penn family,” he continued. “We hope that support will continue. We feel the program is on the way up.”
Written by Tim Flynn, athletic communications assistant.