MEDFORD – For the second year in a row, the Tufts University women's squash team received the fifth seed and an opening-round bye in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship coming up this weekend (Feb. 8-10) at Trinity College.
The Jumbos (8-5) will play fourth-seed Amherst College (7-6) in the quarterfinal round of the tournament on Saturday at 10 .m. The winner of that match will advance to the semifinals later on Saturday at 2:30 pm against an opponent to be determined.
Tufts will be attempting to win a quarterfinal match for the first time in NESCAC Tournament history (2007-18). They faced Amherst last season in the quarters and lost 7-2. When the teams met this season on January 10 the Mammoths won the battle between the pachyderms 6-3. However, Amherst had a 5-4 loss on January 27 of this year to a Bates College team that the Jumbos defeated 6-3 on January 25.
Head coach Joe Raho's Jumbos had a 5-3 record against conference teams this season with wins over Wesleyan, Colby, Bowdoin, Connecticut College and Bates, and losses to Middlebury, Williams and Amherst. Tufts is currently ranked 16th in the College Squash Association national poll, up from the #19 spot where they finished last season.
"A large part of the team's success this season is because of the hard work and intensity every player brings to practice," said senior co-captain Chista Irani. "Our practice sessions have been physically and mentally tough this season, and all this hard work has just prepared us better to fight during competitive matches."
Tufts' typical starting line-up has had junior co-captain Claire Davidson at #1, sophomore Julie Yeung at #2, freshman Megan Chen at #3, senior Zarena Jafry at #4, junior Catherine Shanahan at #5, sophomore Rachel Windreich at #6, freshman Diya Sanghi at #7, sophomore Chloe Kantor at #8 and Irani at #9.
The future looks bright for the Jumbos with only two seniors in their starting line-up, but the team would like to make a mark in the conference this year. Seeded 10th or 11th in the tournament from 2010-16, the Jumbos jumped to sixth in 2017 and then fifth last year. The next step for the program is to win a quarterfinal match at NESCAC's, and that opportunity presents itself on Saturday morning.
"NESCAC's is a very big and exciting weekend for the team, and the goal is to continue pushing hard and end the season stronger than we started," Irani said.
The host Bantams have won all 12 previous NESCAC Championships. Trinity is ranked third nationally this year. The Tufts-Amherst winner will likely have to face the Bantams in the semi-finals. Second-seed Williams College (#13 nationally) is a 10-time conference tournament runner-up. Middlebury College (#14), a 2011 finalist, is the #3 seed. Opening round matches for seeds six through 11 begin on Friday. The tournament will also include consolation matches.