For Stanford squash, just getting back on court was a victory.
The Cardinal hadn’t competed in over a year after the 2020-2021 college squash season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was set to be squash’s final season as a varsity program after Stanford Athletics abruptly announced the cancellation of eleven varsity sports in June 2020.
A year of uncertainty followed, during which the team’s home courts were used as a COVID testing site for other athletes. One year and two seasons later, after Stanford’s surprise reinstatement of all eleven cancelled sports in May, squash finally returned to competition on Nov. 19.
Over a grueling, four-day road swing, the 10th-ranked Cardinal (0-5) fell to No. 8 Cornell, No. 9 Penn, No. 13 Amherst College, No. 7 Drexel and No. 3 Princeton in Philadelphia.
“Playing after two years, no-one knew what to expect going in,” senior captain Amita Gondi said. “But every game was a step closer to coming back to competitive squash.”
Stanford could only field a team of eight players in Philly — college squash matches are usually contested in matchups of nine, with missing players counting as forfeits — due to preseason injuries. The team ultimately played with just seven athletes in two matches after sustaining further injuries during the trip. Gondi travelled with the team, but she and sophomore Chloe Pai were unavailable for the weekend.
Still, the Cardinal showed the strength of their top players in tight outings against No. 9 Penn and No. 13 Amherst College on Saturday, losing by scores of 3-6 and 4-5, respectively. In the team’s closest loss, a 4-5 nailbiter against Amherst in front of a raucous crowd, Stanford’s top four swept the Mammoths but the Cardinal lost at the No. 5 spot to seal the loss when senior Sumi Mudgil dropped a five-game heartbreaker.
Stanford suffered tougher losses to No. 8 Cornell, No. 7 Drexel and No. 3 Princeton, losing 2-7, 1-8 and 0-9, respectively. The Cardinal played with seven players on Friday against Cornell and on Monday against Princeton, losing junior Samantha Moadel to illness and senior Elena Wagenmans to injury. Against Drexel, Gondi highlighted junior Cassie Ong, who turned in a standout performance to push the Dragons’ top player Karina Tyma, a first team All-American, to two tiebreakers in a 58-minute marathon before retiring with a rolled ankle.
Ong played at the No. 1 position on Stanford’s roster for the first time in her career, headlining a strong top flight of Cardinal players rounded out by senior and former All-American Wagenmans at No. 2 and sophomores Si Yi Ma and Lucia Bicknell, who made their collegiate debuts at positions No. 3 and 4. Ma was impressive throughout the weekend, finishing 4-1 in her individual matches with Stanford’s only win against Drexel and a tight five-game loss while filling in for an injured Wagenmans at position No. 2 against Princeton.
Freshman walk-on Cathy Zhou also made her collegiate debut for …….