Veteran Women's Squash Team Opens 2012-13 Season With Optimism, Leadership
All of this weekend's home squash matches will be streamed live on GoPrincetonTigers.TV. Because we are utilizing new technology, with hopes that it will make all matches available, this weekend's matches only will not require a subscription.
When the Princeton women's squash team opens its season Saturday against Franklin & Marshall, it will be able to draw on several shared experiences as it begins its quest for an 18th Howe Cup national championship.
There are the experiences from previous seasons, both thrilling wins and heartbreakingly close losses. A significant part of those rosters are still with the program, including a deep set of upperclassmen who feel ready to put it all together this year.
And then there are ones from South Africa, where the team traveled together to during the Fall Break. While there was squash played, the greatest development during the week were the bonds developed within the team, especially with a freshman class that will need to have its own impact this season.
One benefit this particular freshman class will receive is a surplus of leadership, and that starts with senior co-captains Julie Cerullo and Casey Cortes. Cerullo has been a standard on both the All-America and All-Ivy teams since she stepped on the Princeton campus, and she has led the Tigers at the No. 1 position for all of the last two seasons.
Cerullo is a two-time Ramsay Cup semifinalist, and she has double-digit victories in each of her last three seasons. She typically faces the best players in the nation at the No. 1 position, and she has posted some impressive wins along the way. She is a true competitor, and that spirit should inspire her younger teammates.
While Cortes has typically played lower in the lineup, her competitive spirit has been demonstrated in several marathon victories throughout her career. She enters the season with a team-best 39 career wins, and she went 12-2 last season (including 2-1 at the Howe Cup). She has had at least one memorable 3-2 victory over a top-ranked squad each season, including one over Trinity during her junior season.
Speaking of juniors, Princeton has a loaded Class of 2014, and that group now enters the season as upperclassman leaders. All four have significant varsity experience, including 2012 All-America honoree Libby Eyre, who will likely return to the No. 2 position behind Cerullo this season. The seventh-ranked player at the end of last season, Eyre is a threat to any opponent. If she can stay healthy this season, Princeton should have one of the best 1-2 punches at the top of the lineup.
Lexi Saunders played between the 4-5 spots last season and won 11 matches, including four in Ivy League play. Classmate Alex Sawin also won 11, playing closer to the sixth position. Both are two-year fixtures in the lineup, and both should be even stronger this season.
The fourth member of the class is Caroline Feeley, and she posted the highest win total of the group. Feeley went 14-2 last season while playing in the bottom third of the lineup, and she could team with Cortes for a very experienced duo in that area of the varsity ladder.
If you doubt the importance of strength at the bottom, go back and look at Princeton's championship teams from 2007-09; while the top players were strong, head coach Gail Ramsay put together a roster that was powerful in every spot. In all three years, her teams had players between 6-9 who often posted perfect or one-loss seasons.
Nicole Bunyan was Princeton's top freshman player last season; she posted a 14-2 record and earned second-team All-America honors. Ranked 21st at the end of the season, she moved from the eighth spot to the third spot during the season, and she should be even stronger with the added experience, especially after an impressive 2-1 weekend at the Howe Cup.
Classmates Hallie Dewey and Alex Lunt both also gained solid varsity experience last season. Dewey won nine matches playing between 4-7, while Lunt won 12 matches in the bottom third of the lineup. Just how big a jump those three take could be a big factor in how far Princeton can go this season.
Princeton only lost one senior last year in Katie Giovinazzo, but it has brought in four new freshmen to bolster the lineup. At least two could start immediately, including Rachel Leizman, who has been consistently ranked in the Top 10 at her age level, including end-of-year rankings of sixth at both the U-17 and U-19 levels. Leizman is projected to start around the middle of the lineup, while classmate Tara Harrington could start in the bottom third.
Harrington, the younger sister of men's co-captain Steve, was ranked No. 1 in U.S. at the U-17 level and maintained a top-3 ranking throughout the 2011-12 season. Both Isabella Bersani, who was ranked in the top eight in Hong Kong at the U-14 level, and Libbie Maine, who was ranked in the Top 30 at the U-17 level, will also compete for spots in the lineup.
Princeton will play six home matches this season, including a Jan. 13 showdown with reigning national champion Harvard and a Jan. 30 showdown with Ivy scrimmage champion Penn.