Men’s squash struggles on court, focuses on improving fitness

Media Credit: File Photo by Dean Whitelaw | Hatchet Photographer

Sophomore Salim Khan swings at a ball during a men's squash game against Georgetown last month.

With four consecutive losses to top-15 teams, men’s squash (2–3) is riding its longest losing streak since 2014.

The drought pushed GW’s ranking down five spots to No. 14, its lowest since the 2014-15 season. Last season, the men’s team secured a program-best No. 9 finish in the nation and won the College Squash Association Hoehn Cup (B-Division).

Head coach Wendy Lawrence said she has confidence in her squad’s knowledge of the game and skills, but the Colonials have been spending the last week focusing on improving their endurance and focus on the court.

“Fitness is something that I think has hurt us so far all season and that’s, I think, the main difference between us and the teams we’ve lost to this year,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence also said the team has struggled to fill the shoes of former top-rung players like 2018-graduate Oisin Logan, who earned a team-high 20 victories last year and holds the program record in career singles victories.

“We need to make that up,” Lawrence said. “We were just a little young and a little less experienced than we were the year before.”

Three of the team’s four losses have come at the hands of higher-ranked opponents – No. 6 Pennsylvania, No. 13 Princeton and No. 7 Dartmouth. Still, Lawrence said her team “got off to a slow start” against tougher competition.

Then-No. 12 Western Ontario upset the Colonials 5–4 Nov. 11, handing them their first loss of the year. Lawrence said the team was overconfident – “plain and simple” – coming into the match after sweeping the Mustangs 9–0 on the road to the Hoehn Cup last season.

“We were on a high from last year,” sophomore Salim Khan said. “We won our division last year, so we were feeling good. I think we underestimated their abilities.”

Three Colonials led 2–0 or 2–1 in their games against Western Ontario, but let their competitors come back and beat them in five games.

“Fitness might have played a role in some of those games,” Khan said. “It’s tough to let out in a fifth game when you’re tired.”

No. 6 Pennsylvania shut out the team 9–0 Nov. 17, blanking men’s squash for the first time this season. Sophomore Mohammad Alterki was the only Colonial to win a game against the Quakers. Alterki sent his match to five games, but ultimately lost 3–2 to Pennsylvania freshman Aly Abou El Einen.

No. 13 Princeton beat GW 3–6 Nov. 18. Senior Moudy Abdel-Maksoud recorded his second win of the losing streak, beating Princeton senior Clark Doyle 3–1. Alterki and junior Jamie Oakley also recorded wins at No. 3 and No. 4 on the ladder, respectively.

“We knew it would be a tough, really tough match, and I think guys played well, but they, we were just outmatched,” Lawrence said.

The Colonials dropped 7–2 to No. 7 Dartmouth, with Abdel-Maksoud and sophomore Inaki De Larrauri recording the only wins of the match.

“Everybody will have to be firing on all cylinders,” Lawrence said. “Dartmouth is a strong team. They are strong from top to bottom.”

The last time the men’s team dropped four-straight matches was during the 2014-15 season. During that streak, the Colonials won just seven games through the stretch. But this season, the men’s squad has dropped each game by an average of 4.6 points, and won two more games than it did in the 2014-15 season despite being shut out by Pennsylvania.

Alterki said individual focus, mental preparedness and visualization are keys to finding success in future matches.

“Just before the match, even just try to visualize how you want to play during the match,” Alterki said. “If you’re in a tiebreak, how would you play, how would you react.”

To get back in the win column, Lawrence said the Colonials have focused on improving their endurance and simulating game situations they tend to be weak on in practice like cutting the ball off earlier, being aggressive and controlling the middle of the court.

In addition to greater fitness training, Khan said coaches and players are focusing on mending individual problems during practice.

“I might be working on one part of my game and our coaches will have other people working on different parts of their games,” Khan said.

With months left until the end of the season, Lawrence said working on the team’s fitness and physical capabilities is an easier adjustment to make than if the team needed to work on its understanding of different game scenarios.

“Right now, we are spending more time on the stuff that is easier to fix,” Lawrence said. “That, I think, will make the biggest difference.”

The Colonials are back in action Friday as they take on No. 15 Brown in Hartford. Play begins at 6 p.m.

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