LANCASTER, Pa. – Franklin & Marshall's men's squash team will look to take the next step forward this season after finishing eighth in the nation the past two years. With eight out of nine starters back in the fold, second-year head coach Gavin Jones expects big things for the Diplomats in 2012-13.
A season ago F&M posted an 11-9 record, the program's fourth straight winning season and its fourth year in a row with double-digit victories. With two-straight trips to the A Division of the College Squash Association (CSA) Championships under their belts, the Diplomats will look to make some noise in the top draw this year.
"We're aiming for another top-eight finish to qualify us for the A Division at CSA's," said Jones. "After another year competing in the top draw, we're looking not only to qualify this season– but to make a push for the top spot."
Jones thinks this year's A Division will be the most competitive in recent memory, and his expectations are high for the Diplomats, who enter the year ranked No. 7 by the CSA.
"The A Division will be as closely-contested this season as it has been in a long time," said Jones. "Every team in the top-eight has the ability to beat any of the other squads. Our goal is to be in that mix and continue to climb up the rankings this year."
Despite the loss of Gabriel de Melo, a two-time All-American and a fixture at F&M's No. 1 position for three years, the Diplomats are loaded with returning talent.
First Team All-American senior Guilherme de Melo is back and will take over the No. 1 spot formerly occupied by his brother. De Melo put together a stellar campaign last winter, predominantly from the No. 2 position. He posted a 20-4 mark and advanced to the round of 16 at the CSA Individual Championships to conclude the year ranked ninth in the country. His 20-win campaign led the team and ranks 17th on the all-time single-season wins list.
Junior Mauricio Sedano and freshman Pedro Veiga de Almeida will join de Melo in the top-three spots in the lineup. Sedano posted a solid 8-7 mark last year at No. 3 and qualified for the CSA Individual Championships, while Veiga de Almeida looks to make his presence felt near the top of the lineup in his rookie campaign.
Other returning starters who will once again hold down spots in the top nine include sophomore Alex Arjoon and juniors Ryan Mullaney, Jack Cutler and Sujat Barua. Arjoon tallied nine wins last season mostly from the No. 4 position, while Mullaney notched 12 victories primarily at No. 5. Cutler is back after shuffling between several different spots in the middle of the lineup a season ago, while Barua managed six wins in 2011-12 at positions 5-8.
Additional players who saw some starting time last winter and will push for playing time include senior Pat Cunningham, juniors Freddy Hernandez and Aadit Zaveri, and sophomore Brian Henry. Zaveri posted nine wins last season, Hernandez and Henry each earned eight victories, and Cunningham totaled six.
Other returners vying for time on the court are seniors I.H. "Wick" Clothier, Andrew Rivera and Schuylar Routt, juniors Adnan Abdulhusein, Ben Ng and James Rucinski, and sophomores Matt Gagnier, Danish Jawaid, Peter Koekkoek, and Erik Morque. Sophomore transfer Chris Bown will also add depth to the squad this season.
"We have a very deep team with a lot of talent from top to bottom," added Jones. "I expect the lineup to change multiple times throughout the year with the number of quality players we have competing for playing time."
F&M will test itself with an arduous schedule that features matchups against all but two teams in the top 10. The Diplomats will open their season at home on Friday against Drexel, with a huge showdown with defending national champion and top-ranked Princeton looming on Saturday, before returning home on Sunday to take on Connecticut College.
Other key early-season matchups include a difficult three-day road trip beginning in late November with tilts against No. 6 Yale (Nov. 30), No. 11 St. Lawrence (Dec. 1), and No. 8 Dartmouth (Dec. 2). Additional top-10 opponents on F&M's schedule include No. 5 Rochester (Dec. 7), No. 9 Penn (Jan. 16), and No. 4 Cornell (Feb. 9).