Vassar men’s squash faced their biggest test of the season on Sunday, Dec. 4 as they went up against Bard College and Tufts University, two undefeated teams thus far in the season.
After an unblemished 4-0 start to the season, the Brewers dropped their first matches of the season, losing 1-8 to both Haverford College and Connecticut College on Nov. 19. This moved their record to 4-2 leading into the matches against Tufts and Bard, both higher-ranked opponents.
Interim Head Coach David Ames reflected, “Our losses have been to far superior teams, so they were not upsetting. Players know that they only improve by pushing themselves against superior opponents. Winning today would have been huge as both teams are higher ranked and more experienced.”
Despite falling 8-1 against Tufts and 7-2 against Bard, Coach Ames commends his players for their effort and hard work. He remarked, “The effort across the board was tremendous, I continue to see improvement in all my players. Hitting out of the back corners, better court awareness and better shot selection are all things we will be continuing to work on.”
Senior Vincent Mencotti and freshman Viraj Nadkarni both had good outings on Sunday as Mencotti went perfect for the day winning both of his matches at the No. 1 spot while Nadkarni topped his opponent from Bard at the No. 2 spot.
Mencotti defeated Rhys Nordstrom from Bard in four sets, dropping the first 9-11 but then going perfect for the rest of the match with scores of 11-6, 11-8 and 11-4.
Nadkarni took Aya Maeda to five sets with scores of 11-5, 11-5, 6-11, 8-11 and 11-8 before finally securing the victory.
The majority of the rest of the matches against Bard were decided by definitive 0-3 losses for Vassar with a few exceptions. Junior Alex Riccio took Satwik Sriknishnan to five sets at the No.7 spot before dropping the fifth set by a score of 11-5. It also took five sets for Theo Webb of Bard to defeat No. 9 Lucas Fifer as they battled back and forth with Webb taking the first two sets and Fifer making a comeback winning the next two before dropping the final set with a score of 11-8.
Mencotti credited the whole team for their effort against difficult opponents stating, “The team played great, especially No. 2 Viraj Nadkarni and No. 7 Alex Riccio. The opposing teams just outplayed us. Nothing we can do about that.”
Mere hours after the loss, the Brewers suited up again to play Tufts, a decidedly even more difficult opponent. Despite mental and physical fatigue, the team came together and focused on playing to the best of their ability.
Mencotti was particularly impressive as he swept Tufts’s No. 1 Alan Litman with scores of 12-10, 11-4 and 11-3. He racked up an impressive 6-2 winning record midway through the season, as he led the team both as the No. 1 spot and as a senior co-captain alongside fellow seniors Samuel Hammer and Richard Bryenton, who play at the No. 4 and 5 spots respectively.
As for the rest of the team, Nadkarni was the only Brewer able to take his opponent past three sets. He played No. 2 Brett Raskopf and fell in four sets with scores of 11-2, 11-13, 11-5 and 11-9.
Along with Mencotti, fellow teammates Bryenton, Fifer, Nadkarni, Riccio, and sophomore Caden Gruber all posted individual records of winning 50 percent of their 8 matches or more following this weekend.
While No. 6 Gruber dropped both of his matches on the day, he acknowledged his weaknesses and is looking forward to working the remainder of the season to improve upon them. Gruber stated, “My individual play was characterized by mental weakness in my opinion. Squash is a game that requires mental acuity in addition to physical agility. Even if one is lacking, overall performance can falter dramatically. From this, I am planning on refocusing on the fundamentals, which should allow me to re-edify my gameplay from the bottom-up.”
In terms of training, Coach Ames explained, “Preparation is about looking at what has worked in the past and what needs work along with squash specific fitness and movement drills. We really do not train differently for each up coming match.”
Reiterating the team’s work ethic, Gruber emphasized, “As a team, we have all been practicing rigorously, competitively and critically so that we can maximize our potential for the match. The means by which we refocused (for these matches) was by critically analyzing our weaknesses and ramping up the conditioning.”
Following the difficult matches that the team has faced in the past two competition days, they will look to recover both mentally and physically during their five week long hiatus from competition.
Despite being away from Vassar for such a long break, Coach Ames ensures that all team members will continue to train over the break. He stated, “Some of the players will have access to courts at home and will continue to play. The rest will focus on squash specific fitness.”
Following the break from practice, matches and schoolwork, the team will return to campus one week prior to the rest of the student body. Throughout that week, the team goes through intensive squash training in order to prepare for the second half of the season, which includes the Hudson Valley Team Tournament, the Liberty League Championships as well as the CSA championships.
Coach Ames described, “Players arrive back on campus on Jan. 14, we will do two-a-day practices with fitness in the morning and technique in the afternoons for that week, culminating in matches on Jan. 21.”
After such intense practices and well-deserved rest, Vassar will resume competition in January 2017. To start off the calendar year, VC will rematch Haverford College and Swarthmore College on Saturday, Jan. 21 in Haverford, PA. The Brewers will look to redeem themselves from a previous 1-8 loss against Haverford as well as improve upon their 6-3 win over Swarthmore.