January 31, 2018

Featuring an Influx of Precocious Young Standouts, Princeton Men’s Squash Writing Turnaround Story

YOUNG GUN: Princeton University men’s squash player Youssef Ibrahim displays his form in a recent match. Freshman Ibrahim is undefeated at No. 1 as Princeton has posted a 7-1 record and risen to No. 6 in the national rankings. The Tigers will look to keep on the winning track as they play at Penn on January 31, at Harvard on February 3, and at Dartmouth on February 4. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Youth is being served this winter as the Princeton University men’s squash team is enjoying a breakthrough campaign.

After going 6-13 last season and 4-10 the year before, Princeton has started 7-1 this winter and is ranked sixth nationally, going with a lineup featuring four freshmen (Youssef Ibrahim at No. 1, Cole Becker at No. 3, Duncan Joyce at No. 6, and Alex Engstrom at No. 9) and two sophomores (Adhitya Raghavan at No. 2 and Gabriel Morgan at No. 7).

Coming into the season, Princeton head coach Sean Wilkinson sensed that his squad was on the verge of turning the corner.

“We knew we were good but we weren’t really sure where we would end up at the end of the first semester,” said Wilkinson, who is in his fifth season at the helm of the program. “It was just train hard. Let’s not set any unrealistic expectations and let’s just see how good we actually are.”

Ironically, Princeton showed how good it could be in its only setback of the season, a 5-4 loss to No. 3 St. Lawrence on December 2.

“We haven’t come close to St. Lawrence in the last few years,” said Wilkinson.

“They are a good team, they are experienced. They are really loaded with seniors and we are the complete opposite. We are so young so we knew that would be tough. We played well, 5-4 is a really good result for us even though we don’t like to lose. That 5-4 score sends a message to everyone and people took notice of that.”

The Tigers sent another message in the opening weekend of Ivy League action, topping Brown 9-0 on January 13 and beating Yale 8-1 a day later, the latter result being the first win over the Bulldogs since 2013.

“There were a couple of things in that match as a coaching staff we weren’t terribly keen about,” said Wilkinson, reflecting on the Brown win.

“It is hard to argue the 9-0 win but I knew I needed to say listen, these are things we need something to improve on. There were some preparation issues that I wasn’t happy with. I brought it up, the guys acknowledged it, and they nailed it. They were so ready to go and that is just a credit to the guys.”

The play of Ibrahim in the top spot has made Wilkinson very happy. “He is fantastic, he is 8-0 right now,” said Wilkinson, noting that junior Clark Doyle, senior co-captain Abhimanyu Shah, and Engstrom are also undefeated.

“Coming in we knew that this boy was going to be one of the best players in college squash and probably in the history of Princeton squash. He is up there with Yasser El Halaby (a four-time national individual campion for Princeton from 2003-06); that is not to put pressure on him. He is used to the big stage, he has dealt with that kind of pressure. This is a kid that has been touted at all levels of squash around the world.”

The Tigers boast a potent one-two punch at the top of their lineup with Raghavan thriving at No. 2, after earning All-American and All-Ivy honors playing at No. 1 last year.

“I think there is a difference between playing 1 and 2,” said Wilkinson of Raghavan, who has posted a 7-1 record so far this season.

“Adhitya just works incredibly hard to get better. He is a much better player this year than he was last year and i think that is showing. He has turned the corner for sure; he is vastly improved player.”

Doyle has also shown a lit of improvement, starring in the No. 4 spot.

“Doyle has done fantastically well, unfortunately he has been plagued with injury since he showed up on campus and now he is 8-0,” said Wilkinson.

“It is wonderful to have him fully fit and healthy. He is happy, the team is happy. It is really great to have him back in the lineup and healthy; it has made a difference throughout the program.”

Senior leaders Shah and Komron Shavegan have been making a difference.

“We have two really motivated captains; Komron and Abhi  have done a fantastic job,” said Wilkinson. “Abhi was a captain last year as well, he has gone through it before.”

With the College Squash Association national team championships slated for late February, Princeton is poised to go far in that competition.

“We are physically better than we ever have been, we are mentally better than we ever have been, and we have more talent than we have in a long while,” said Wilkinson.

“The reality is that the current squad is one of the best that Princeton has ever had.”

In the meantime, the Tigers will deal with the reality of a tough road swing as it plays at Penn on January 31, at Harvard on February 3, and at Dartmouth on February 4.

“We play Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday; it is a big ask for these kids but they are ready to do it,” said Wilkinson.

“All we can do is go by the process and take every match at a time and keep sending the right message. We will see how it pans out. Right now we are in a good position; the boys have done well.”