Very little has gone right for No. 18 Stanford squash (0-8). After a season beset by injuries, illness and roster issues, the team will have a final chance to flip the script this weekend at the National Championships in Boston.
It’s a chance to pick up the first wins of the season for the Cardinal, who are winless after a tough regular season schedule against top-ranked teams. It’s also a chance for an embattled roster to end a challenging year on a high note.
“The group we’ve got is so special,” said head coach Mark Talbott. “There’s a small number of us, but it’s a tight-knit group.”
The Cardinal, ranked at No. 18, enter the postseason at their lowest ranking in years. College squash’s tiered National Championship divides teams into divisions of eight, based on ranking, to play for postseason trophies. As a result, Stanford will play as the second seed in the Walker Cup, the third division of the Women’s National Championship.
It’s a far cry from the Howe Cup, the top division of the National Championships, where Stanford has been a mainstay in seasons past and finished as high as No. 3 in the country two seasons ago.
Instead, the Cardinal will face an unfamiliar slate of lower-ranked competition, beginning with a Friday morning quarterfinal match against No. 23 Hamilton College. If Stanford wins, it will meet either No. 19 Middlebury or No. 22 William Smith College in the semifinals on Saturday, with a potential matchup in the Sunday final against No. 17 Franklin and Marshall College looming.
Few players in the Walker Cup should be able to challenge the top four players in the Cardinal lineup. Senior Elena Wagenmans, a former All-American, and sophomores Cassie Ong, Si Yi Ma and Lucia Bicknell all played well in their matchups against top-10 opponents earlier in the year.
Stanford’s challenge will be supporting them at the bottom of its ladder. Walk-ons sophomore Chloe Pae and freshmen Cathy Zhou and Riya Saran improved immensely over the season, and they could be the difference against teams that won’t be nearly as deep as the Ivy League juggernauts Stanford battled in the regular season.
This year of all years, though, winning isn’t the only thing on the Cardinal’s minds as a tumultuous season comes to a close.
“How resilient the players are,” Ong said about what she’d remember most this season. “We’ve always been short on players. But … we all bonded going through a tougher time.”
“We know we’ve been improving,” she added, “and we’re excited for next year.”
Talbott agreed. “It’s been difficult with our numbers this year,” he said, “but we couldn’t be more excited about the future.”
Before then, Stanford gets to write the ending to this year’s uniquely challenging campaign.
The Cardinal will play at 7 a.m. PT on Friday and Saturday and at 6 a.m. PT on Sunday at Harvard’s Murr Center. Matches will be livestreamed on the College Squash Association’s YouTube channel.