A better finish could not have been scripted for the men’s squash team’s match Saturday night against No. 9 Penn. Every child athlete dreams of being the player to score the clinching point in a nailbiting match, and for freshman James Reiss, that dream became reality.
The stage was set for Reiss as the No. 16 Colonials (4-1), who dropped a close match to the No. 15 Bates College Bobcats earlier in the day, squared off against an even bigger Goliath in the nightcap of a double-header.
With the match series tied 4-4, a sizeable crowd of GW and Penn supporters alike swarmed the final court in action, which showcased the No. 4 matchup between Penn junior John Dudzik and Reiss. For any freshman athlete, the task of winning the deciding game that would complete one of the biggest victories in a program’s recent history might seem daunting. But Reiss used it to motivate his play.
“I love playing under pressure,” Reiss said. “The more people watching the match, the better I play. When the stakes are high, I try to kick it up.”
The match began with Reiss taking a commanding 2-0 lead for the Colonials, followed by an impressive rally by Dudzik who fought back to tie the match at two games apiece, seizing the momentum heading into the fifth and final game.
Dudzik led the final game 8-6. Without much room for error, a visibly exhausted Reiss turned to his teammates who cheered profusely for their new freshman teammate through the glass wall – an uplifting sight for Reiss, and a turning point in the match.
“I was kind of out of energy, and I knew I had to pick it up,” Reiss said. “I think what it came down to was my team standing right in front of the glass, and cheering me on every time I won a point. I would just look over at them, and they’d pump me up more, and that gave me the energy I needed.”
With his team behind him, Reiss rallied to win five out of the next six points to win the game 11-9. The win clinched a 5-4 match series upset victory for the Colonials, igniting a celebration for the team on its home courts.
Reiss wasn’t the only GW player to contribute to the victory over Penn. The top of the men’s ladder continued its strong play, as senior Islam El-Fiky, freshman Ahmed Abdel-Latif, and senior Omar Sobhy all defeated their opponents in straight-sets.
Results aside, with the recent strong play of Reiss and Abdel-Latif, head coach Wendy Lawrence said she is excited about the promising future for her team.
“There’s so much more depth now than we’ve ever had before,” Lawrence said. “From our number one down to our number 11, we are just so much stronger. It adds a lot of stability to a team that had some pockets of strength in the top last year, but not nearly the kind of depth that we have now.”
The women’s squash team, too, was in action Saturday night after an upset over No.12 Bates (0-2) in the first game of the doubleheader. The women faced an even bigger task than the men faced: a woman’s team from Penn that ranks fifth-best in the country.
The women’s team did not fare as well as the men’s team. The Colonials (2-1) were swept 9-0 by a women’s squad from Penn that returned its entire starting lineup from the 2011-12 season.
“I think playing such a top team, we all just wanted to go out and do the best that we could, and fight for every single shot,” junior co-captain Jackie Shea said. “It’s always hard playing a team that’s so much higher than you in the rankings, especially Penn, is ranked [which] fifth, but we fought for every shot, and tried to do as best as we could.”
A lone bright spot for the women during the match came from Anna Gabriela Porras, a freshman from Bogota, Colombia who was heavily recruited to play for the Colonials. Despite losing her match in straight sets (11-5, 11-9, 11-7), Porras’s performance against Penn senior, and three-time CSA All-American Nabilla Ariffin, was a solid one.
It’s performances like Porras’ Saturday night effort that made Lawrence’s decision to make the freshman GW’s No. 1 player an easy one.
“She is a dominant number one,” Lawrence said “She will be a dominant number one in all of college squash. I predict she will be a top ten individual college player this year.”