Gail Ramsay could sense that there was something special about her Princeton University women’s squash team before the season even began.
Taking a trip to South Africa last October, the Tigers came together on and off the court.
“Any change of scenery with squash is great because you get to see different styles; we won three close matches there,” said longtime Princeton head coach Ramsay.
“It was great for team bonding. Any time you can get them to have a deeper commitment to each other that is a help. I felt that there was a good dynamic on this team.”
Princeton displayed its commitment to excellence when it upset top-ranked Harvard 5-4 in mid-January to improve to 5-0 and take the top spot in the national rankings.
“Looking at it on paper, they had a lot of experience,” said Ramsay, noting that the Crimson boasted players with national team credentials.
“We have some top players but they had the upper hand in experience. We were at home, felt comfortable on the court. There were a lot of close matches, we hung in there and made it happen. It was a perfect storm. It was quite an energy boost for us.”
The victory helped catapult Princeton to a perfect 11-0 regular season and the program’s first Ivy League title since 2009.
“The seniors had just missed out earlier in their careers,” said Ramsay. “I was excited that they had a chance to take a championship with them in addition to having a tremendous experience.
Last weekend, Princeton hoped to add another championship as it headed to Yale to compete in the Howe Cup national collegiate team tournament.
“We went in at No. 1,” said Ramsay. “We wanted to win and we thought we could.”
But after cruising past Brown 9-0 in a quarterfinal contest, the Tigers fell 6-3 to Trinity in the semis to see their title hopes dashed.
“Trinity was a big challenge,” said Ramsay, whose team went on to fall to Penn 7-2 in the third-place match.
“We played well enough; we could have pulled that out. We didn’t play the big points well, we didn’t capitalize when we had chances.
While Princeton didn’t come up big last weekend, Ramsay is proud of how her squad overcame challenges throughout the season.
“We were so excited to be Ivy champs; it is one of the toughest years in years to do it,” said Ramsay.
“That is always our first goal. We were the only team to beat Harvard this year; they went on to beat Trinity in the Howe finals. We have been working at it with this group for a few years, looking for that extra 5 or 10 percent improvement. I thought they accomplished a lot; we just didn’t get the icing this weekend.”
Senior star Julie Cerullo certainly accomplished a lot for Princeton in her stellar career.
“Julie was No. 1 for four years, a 3-time All American, and will probably get a fourth,” said Ramsay.
“It was great to have a leader like that at the top of the lineup. She came back every year improved and pulled her teammates along with her. She was disciplined and organized. Seniors at Princeton have a lot going on and she was very accountable. She was a good example for me and the team.”
Cerullo’s fellow senior, Casey Cortes, also set a good example for her teammates.
“Casey contributed a lot; she had some huge wins for us over the years,” said Ramsay, noting that Cortes played at No. 9 and No. 10 for most of the year.
“When she was determined to win, she usually did. She was an incredibly strong person emotionally, playing the 8-9-10-11 is tough, going against your best friend to make or not make it. She ended up 10th for us at the Howe Cup but that didn’t sway her leadership.”
The future looks bright as Princeton returns eight of her nine top players including junior Libby Eyre, sophomore Nicole Bunyan, freshman Rachel Leizman, sophomore Alex Lunt, junior Lexi Saunders, junior Alex Sawin, freshman Tara Harrington, and sophomore Hallie Dewey.
“I think we will be better,” said Ramsay, noting that she has some promising freshmen on the way who could crack the top nine.
“It is hard for me to see what the other teams will be like. But within our space, if everyone continues to improve at the rate we are improving, we will be better. They are all pretty bright, they need to take the conceptual and turn it into reality. The need to get over the match and past it but then break it down and figure out how to do A or do B better.”