In a month, the 2010-2011 Ancient Eight squash season will kick off with the Ivy Scrimmages. This year, though, there will actually be eight varsity squads in attendance, as Columbia has finally added varsity men’s and women’s squash teams.
The squash teams’ progression from the club level to the varsity level began in October 2007, when Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy announced that a donation from Geoff Grant, SEAS ’82, and his wife, Annette, BC ’83, had been given to the athletic department to set up an endowment for a varsity squash program. At the time of that announcement, the plan was to add these two teams in 2011, but Columbia will join the rest of the Ivy League a year earlier and begin play on the varsity level this season.
“We sort of got to the point over the summer where all of our resources were in place, and it didn’t make sense for us to stall for another year,” men’s squash head coach Jacques Swanepoel said. “If we went a year earlier, we could bring in recruits a year earlier, so it just really made sense for us to take the step a year early.”
Though the squads have officially gone varsity, they will not be playing a full Ivy schedule. This decision was largely based on the caliber of the other Ancient Eight teams, all of which are nationally ranked.
“The teams we hope to compete with in the future are very strong, obviously, so we are not playing all of them this year because it’s just a brutal schedule,” women’s squash head coach Kelsey Engman said. “We’re building up and we’re much stronger than we were last year, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Last season, all seven Ivy women’s squads finished in the top 10 of the College Squash Association’s end-of-season rankings, with Harvard, Penn, Yale, and Princeton occupying four of the top five spots. On the men’s side, every Ancient Eight team finished in the top 10 as well, with the exception of Brown, which finished 15th.
The Light Blue women will play Princeton, which finished last year at No. 5, for Columbia’s first match following the scrimmages.
“They will play some teams that are really strong that we hope to compete with in the future, and they will also play some teams that they played last year who they’ll beat more easily this year,” Engman said of the schedule. “We tried to make it a good mix so they just have some really good competition.”
The men’s team will not play any other Ivies in dual matches this season.
“For us, with just one recruiting class, we don’t have the depth to compete with other [Ivy] schools right now,” Swanepoel said. “We’re looking at a couple more recruiting years before we can compete with those guys.”
Though both teams only have one recruiting class, they aren’t starting from scratch—the women’s club team finished 25th in the rankings last year and the men finished 35th. Both Swanepoel and Engman expect their freshman classes to have a large impact, though.
“I think we’ll probably end up No. 15-17 in the country—last year we ended at 25, so that’s a pretty big jump,” Engman said. “I think we’ll make a big improvement.”
Swanepoel also believes his squad will improve significantly this season. “We expect to jump about 15 spots in the rankings,” he said.
Though it will take some time to build the programs up to the point where they can compete against their conference rivals, Engman and Swanepoel both feel as if they can get their squads there. They also believe that, even though Columbia’s varsity program is brand-new, they have an advantage over the rest of the league: New York City.
“I think the program is going to be really successful because there are so many things going for it,” Engman said. “Just being an Ivy League school in New York City—New York is a great area for squash.”
“I think it’s a very unique sort of attraction, especially being in New York City,” Swanepoel said of Columbia. “A big part of what we do is, we’re going to recruit a mix of U.S. and international kids. It [Columbia] and the city is better known to the rest of the world than Cornell or UPenn.”
The Lions will get a chance to see how they currently stack up against the rest of the conference at the Ivy Scrimmages Nov. 6-7 in New Haven, Conn.