Last season, there were expectations. This time, there are opportunities.
When the Princeton women’s squash team entered the 2013 Howe Cup championships, it did so as the top seed coming off an undefeated regular season and an outright Ivy League championship. The Tigers won one close match after another, and they weren’t alone in believing that this national title was theirs for the taking.
But the Howe Cup rarely follows the same storyline as the regular season, and Princeton learned that the hard way. The Tigers fell 6-3 to fourth-seeded Trinity in the semifinal and never got that opportunity to match an Ivy title with a national crown.
Fast forward one year, and Princeton enters this weekend’s Howe Cup (Feb. 21-23, Jadwin Squash Courts) in a totally different situation. A season filled with close losses have left them as an overlooked fifth seed entering the eight-team national championships.
Princeton is fine with being overlooked. The Tigers know that they have the opportunity — and the talent — to pull off a magical finish to the season.
Princeton will open the Howe Cup National Championships Friday at 2:30 pm against fourth-seeded Yale on Courts 4-5-6. The match will be played over three shifts, and the top six matches will be streamed live on the Ivy League Digital Network.
If Princeton wins, it will likely face top-seeded Harvard Saturday at 2 pm on Courts 1-2-3 in one of two semifinals. All three of those courts will be streamed live on the Ivy League Digital Network, as will the 1 pm championship match Sunday (note: the semifinals and finals will be streamed regardless of whether Princeton is involved).
Opening against Yale presents a strong challenge to the Tigers, who fell 5-4 to the Bulldogs at the beginning of February. The last two Princeton-Yale matchups have been decided by 5-4 scores, with both teams winning on the road. The Tigers would love to use its home-court advantage to break that trend.
Recent Howe Cups have shown just how important home court can be to Princeton. Jadwin served as the host site in both 2008 and 2011; the Tigers went 5-1 combined over those two years, and they outperformed their seed in both years. Princeton won its second of three straight national championships as the second seed in 2008, and it went from the fifth seed to the third-place finisher in 2011.
Princeton has seven starters who competed in the Howe Cup last year, including senior co-captains Libby Eyre (No. 2) and Alex Sawin (No. 7). The Tigers have multiple starters from every class, including a pair of freshmen making their Howe Cup debuts in Maria Elena Ubina (No. 1) and Alexandra Toth (No. 8).
Depth has been a strength of Princeton throughout the season, and head coach Gail Ramsay believes that depth could be a key piece for the weekend. There isn't a spot in the lineup where Ramsay isn't optimistic for a big weekend. She knows that this team was a match here, a match there, away from a big regular season.
Those matches didn't go Princeton's way the first time.
But this is a new time, and Princeton knows it.