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Vol. LXII, No. 10
 
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
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REPEAT OFFENDERS: Princeton University women’s squash tri-captains, from left, Margaret Kent, Casey Riley, and Carly Grabowksi celebrate after the second-seeded Tigers won the Howe Cup national title with a 6-3 win over No. 1 Penn. It was the second straight national title for Princeton, which finished the season with an 11-2 record.

With Grabowski Setting Example of Toughness, PU Women’s Squash Wins National Title Again

Bill Alden

Carly Grabowski harbored plenty of doubts as she headed into her senior season with the Princeton University women’s squash team.

After her left knee swelled up like a grapefruit this past November, Grabowski, a Princeton resident and Lawrenceville School alum, was sidelined.

In addition to her individual issues, Grabowski wasn’t sure how the team would fare in the wake of the graduation of four players from the 2006-07 team which went undefeated and won the national title.

“I had to do a lot of physical therapy in December and January to get back into action,” said Grabowski, who has dealt with injuries throughout her Princeton career.

“I knew we would have a more difficult time this year with the competition. We knew that Penn, Yale, and Trinity were all good. Casey Riley blew out her ACL in September and we didn’t know how much she could contribute.”

Tri-captain Grabowski made an impact after returning as Princeton got off to a 3-0 start. The Tigers though, did hit some bumps in the road as they fell 5-4 to both Penn and Trinity in regular season play.

But gathering steam when it counted most, second-seeded Princeton came home to Jadwin Gym and won a second straight Howe Cup national title, topping No. 1 Penn 6-3 in the championship match on February 24.

For Grabowski, the repeat title was especially sweet considering the hurdles she and Princeton overcame along the way.

“It was pure joy, almost a feeling of shock,” said Grabowski, who moved up to No. 7 on the Princeton ladder from No. 8 after the loss to Penn in January.

“We had been working for this since September and the start of preseason. It was awesome. Last year we had such a strong team and all the matches were 6-3 or better. This year we had to come from behind. We had to work harder; it was special.”

In Grabowski’s view, the regular season losses helped give Princeton a special resolve as it headed into the Howe Cup competition.

“We won our first four matches against Penn but we couldn’t close it out,” recalled Grabowski.

“It helped us train harder. We didn’t like losing and that match showed us why. Against Trinity, we had really high hopes. We were feeling confident but we didn’t show up with our best squash. In that respect, it was pretty scary.”

It was comforting for Princeton to be at Jadwin Gym for the Howe Cup. “It was great to be at home, we hadn’t been home for that since my freshman year,” said Grabowski.

“We weren’t so good that year but this year we had a lot of fans. Their cheering helped to pump up the adrenaline. We were also comfortable with the venue, which helps.”

That support helped Grabowski pull out a 9-2, 9-2, 9-10, 3-9, 9-7 thriller over Penn’s Annie Madiera in the championship match.

“I had championship point in the third set and I couldn’t close it out,” recalled Grabowski, who lost just twice in dual match play in her Princeton career.

“I heard in the fourth set that Emery [Maine] won and we had the title so that distracted me. In the fifth, I was down 7-5 and I wasn’t coming off that court without a win. I won the next four points. I didn’t want to lose in front of my family and friends so I pulled something down deep.”

Princeton head coach Gail Ramsay wasn’t surprised that Grabowski found an extra gear when it counted most.

“No one wants it more than Carly, no one is more dedicated,” asserted Ramsay, who has now guided the Tigers to four national titles in her 14-year Princeton tenure.

“Earlier in the season, she had to get her knee drained and she had to get physical therapy. I think Carly has established herself as a tough competitor.”

The team’s collective toughness made the title special for Ramsay. “I was so thankful,” recalled Ramsay, whose team finished the season with an 11-2 record.

“They worked so hard and wanted it so much. It was one of those things; it hasn’t always happened for teams that worked hard. Last year was an incredible feat but this was great in a different way. For me as a coach, it was more of a challenge. I spent a lot of time on the court with them; they were really committed.”

The renewed commitment to squash from sophomore Emery Maine, who joined the team after focusing on lacrosse as a freshman, gave Princeton a lift. Maine, a former No. 1 for the U.S. Junior team, won the championship point in the Howe Cup title match as she bested Penn’s Tara Chawla at No. 5.

“She was a key player for us, she gave us extra depth,” said Ramsay.

“She took 18 months off from squash and she may not have had the competitive edge in some of the big matches. She lost two tough matches to Penn and Trinity. She put her heart into and had the strength and courage to come through in the end. I was happy to see her take the championship point; she really played well in the last two sets.”

The team’s two top players sophomores Amanda Siebert and Neha Kumar, played well all season long for the Tigers.

“They are different type of people but they are both very competitive,” said Ramsay.

“They are both capable of pulling off wins over the best players. I think Neha was saving it for the Howe weekend, she really played well on Saturday and Sunday. Amanda had one of the best records in the country. She is a tremendously hard worker who loves to compete.”

Ramsay also credited senior tri-captains Grabowski, Riley, and Margaret Kent with helping the team reach its potential as competitors.

“They had different roles,” said Ramsay. “As a group, they worked well together.”

Grabowski, for her part, looks at that togetherness and willingness to push each other as the hallmarks of her Princeton squash experience.

“I think of all the friendships with my teammates,” said Grabowski, who will be working for JPMorganChase after graduation.

“We started out with 23 players my freshman year and we had 15 on the team this year. We are all so close; they are my best friends on campus. I think of the work ethic and discipline; coming in and working hard three hours everyday.”

That support system helped Grabowski overcome her early season doubts and produce a senior season to remember.

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