By Roger Wistar
With a talented young core and experienced players at both ends of the ladder, the girls squash team hopes to continue their recent run of success.
Co-captain Emily Rose '18, a four-year varsity player who will anchor the top of the ladder again, said that the Bearcats are aiming to capture their third consecutive Founders League title this season.
"This team is at the strongest level I've seen in my four years on the team, and with great talent comes great expectations," she said.
Rose, who also led the team last year, will be joined this season by co-captain Claire Jennings '18, who is projected to play in the #8 position as she did last year. Between the two veteran players are a strong crop of fresh young players, including #2 Eleanor Burke '20, #3 Julia Chai '20, #4 Mitra Kardestuncer '20, and #5 Nina Flinn '21. Out of this group, only Chai was on the team last season.
Rounding out the top eight are veterans Christine Deng '18 at #6 and Elissa Ito '19 at #7, who were also on the team last season.
Head coach Tyler Gardner said he was excited to see so many new faces on the team, but acknowledged a learning curve. "The benefit is that they will use this year to gain a ton of experience at high ladder spots," he said. "The challenge is that they will mostly be playing girls who are more experienced than they are."
Experience will perhaps be most important at the two major tournaments, the U.S. High School Team Championships and the New England championships in February. "Teams who are successful in those tournaments are the teams that somehow can keep their composure the best," said Gardner.
Another key for the team's ultimate success, said Gardner, will be staying healthy, both physically and mentally. "We can work hard and have a good time. We don't have to train for three hours a day to be successful," he said.
This year both the girls and boys programs have an exciting new opportunity to work with Phil Barker, a renowned professional squash instructor who will work with the players twice a week to refine their technical skills. On those days, the players from both teams will train together, which Gardner said helps to build a culture of Hotchkiss squash that can transcend individual teams.
Jennings and Rose will be critical to bringing the new girls into the fold and also keeping spirits high through the long winter season. "A good team dynamic is essential," said Rose. "Because our team is so small, it's important that everyone feels positive energy coming from the team dynamic."
Rose added that this year the team's focus is even higher this year than last season. "The team tends to see the most success when we are truly focused in our practices, and we are really encouraging a high level of focus this year," she said.
Thus far both captains have done a superb job of creating that positive environment, said Gardner. "It's amazing what they are already doing. It's a positive a year as I've ever seen so far," he said.