Coming into last season ranked 11th in the country, the Jeffs struggled early against difficult opponents. Both Dartmouth University and the University of Pennsylvania, the eighth- and seventh-ranked teams in the nation, respectively, at the time, blanked Amherst 9-0. The team also fell to ninth-ranked Brown University. Amherst rebounded impressively though, winning seven consecutive matches before falling to Williams College at the Little Three Championships where the Jeffs finished second.
Amherst earned a spot in the Hoehn Division, for teams ranked ninth through 16th in the country, at the College Squash Association (CSA) Championships but had disappointing results, losing to Hobart and Bates Colleges. The Jeffs had defeated both teams earlier in the year.
Amherst beat lower-ranked teams fairly consistently, maintaining its 11th rank in the polls for most of the year but had difficulty competing with teams ranked in the top 10, going 0-7 in those matches.
The men managed to remain in the top 20, finishing the year ranked 13th in the nation with a 10-9 record. While this finish is nothing to scoff at, the Jeffs fell far short of their preseason goals of breaking into the top 10 and winning Little Threes. The outlook for this season, however, is positive.
The Jeffs come into the season having lost only two players to graduation. Most notable will be the absence of co-captain Asad Haque ’04, who played in the number-six spot for most of last season and made significant contributions, winning matches against Wesleyan University in the Little Three Championships and Franklin & Marshall College at the CSA Championships.
The Jeffs return eight of their top nine players, including Michael Strong ’05 and co-captain Gifford Sommerkamp ’05, Nick Haslett ’06 and last year’s sensational rookie Auloke Mathur ’07.
Strong, Mathur and Sommerkamp in the one, two and three spots, respectively, provided a formidable top trio for the team last year and should perform even better this season.
Once he has recovered from knee surgery to repair an injury that occurred during an ultimate frisbee game this fall, Haslett, who played the four spot for the team last year, should be a standout on the team this season.
Senior co-captain Brian Lawrence, junior Tyler Mixter and sophomores Stuart Landesberg and Peter Hatfield also bring valuable court experience to this year’s team. All consistently played in the top nine last year.
In addition to a strong group of returning players, three rookies will compete for court time this winter. First-years Andrew Slutsky and David Fortunato join Mark Rapisarda, who finished the 2003-04 season as the 22nd-ranked under-19 junior player in the nation, as the newest members of the team.
This year the Jeffs once again hope to break the top 10 in national rankings. Haslett notes that one of the biggest obstacles in the way of this goal is archrival Williams, a team that has foiled Amherst in recent seasons,
“We focus a lot of the season around the Williams match,” Haslett said. “It’s always a close one as our teams match up well all the way through the ladder.” Amherst will do its best to pull together as a team and generate strong showings at this year’s matches.
“Having guys at the top of the order like Strong and Mathur is great, but the middle of our lineup is so competitive with each other that our practices are like matches in themselves,” Haslett said.
The Jeffs hope to be able to use this competitive energy to their advantage this season as they strive to join the ranks of the nation’s premier teams.
Amherst has its first matches this weekend, competing against NESCAC rivals Colby, Bowdoin and Bates Colleges at host Bates on Saturday. All three teams finished last year ranked in the top 20.