In the hallway between Courts 1 and 2, Gail Ramsay was a bit speechless.
The head coach of the top-ranked Princeton women's squash team had just watched her team pull out a hard-fought, gutsy victory over a Penn squad that had its sights set on getting itself back in the Ivy race. It was a night filled with hard squash, tough competition and long matches.
That wasn't what left her speechless, though. The Tigers always seem to play those kinds of matches. They just don't usually sweep them.
The undefeated Princeton Tigers moved to 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the Ivy League, with an impressive 9-0 win over third-ranked Penn. The Tigers have now beaten the second- and third-ranked teams in the CSA national poll, a feat that began Jan. 13 with a 5-4 comeback win over Harvard.
Princeton still has three matches in Ivy League play, including a huge showdown at No. 5 Yale Saturday at noon. Though the Bulldogs' ranking may be lower, they are one of the toughest teams in the nation, especially on their home court. Yale has won two straight in the series, though neither match was against a Princeton team playing as well as this one.
Amazingly, the first 15 minutes of the match belonged to Penn, which swept the first game in all three of the opening-shift matches. Sophomore Nicole Bunyan quickly turned her match around at No. 3 to get Princeton's first win, and classmate Hallie Dewey followed suit at No. 9.
The match that changed the entire energy inside the Jadwin Squash Courts came at No. 6, where junior Lexi Saunders battled out of a 2-0 hole, and then a 7-3 deficit in the fifth game, to earn an 11-8 victory and a 3-0 Princeton lead.
"I just wasn't going to lose," Saunders said afterwards. "I just stuck to my game plan and fought hard. Princeton squash has always been good about pulling out the win in the last few points, especially this team. Everybody really wants to win."
From there, nothing would derail the Tiger Express. Junior Libby Eyre controlled play on the main court to build a 4-0 Princeton lead, and freshman Tara Harrington tried to clinch the match through a dramatic fifth game at the No. 8 spot. Both players held match balls before Harrington finally finished off Camille Lanier with a tight drop to the side wall for the 14-12 clincher.
There would be some late drama as well, as both freshman Rachel Leizman and junior Alex Sawin earned 3-2 victories. Sophomore Alex Lunt overcame an early 1-0 deficit at No. 5, and senior co-captain Julie Cerullo looked as strong as ever in a 3-0 win over Penn's Nabilla Ariffin.
Cerullo was the lone senior for Princeton in the top nine, and she is taking full advantage of her last shot at an Ivy League title. The journey continues this weekend with matches at Yale and Brown, and she is hopeful that the toughness of this squad will continue to lead the way.
#1 Princeton 9, #3 Penn 0
1 - Julie Cerullo (Pr) d. Nabilla Ariffin 8,4,5
2 - Libby Eyre (Pr) d. Yan Xin 8,7,3
3 - Nicole Bunyan (Pr) d. Rachel Goh (9),8,5,4
4 - Rachel Leizman (Pr) Haidi Lala 3,(7),9,(8),8
5 - Alex Lunt (Pr) d. Pia Trikha 9,(8),12,8
6 - Lexi Saunders (Pr) d. Yarden Odinak (6,9),6,9,8
7 - Alex Sawin (Pr) Courtney Jones (12),7,4,(9),7
8 - Tara Harrington (Pr) d. Camille Lanier (6),7,7,(9),12
9 - Hallie Dewey (Pr) d. Chloe Blacker (9),7,10,8