LANCASTER, Pa. – Franklin & Marshall's women's squash team has shown gradual improvement over the last several years, and second-year head coach Gavin Jones and the Diplomats have aspirations to continue that trend in 2012-13. With all but two starters returning and a gifted group of newcomers on the roster, the Diplomats are primed for a banner year.
The Diplomats, who posted an 11-10 record for the second straight season in 2011-12, will look to build off of last year's appearance in the Kurtz Cup (B Division) at the College Squash Association (CSA) Championships and continue their steady rise towards the upper-echelon of squash programs.
F&M enters the year ranked No. 14 by the College Squash Association (CSA) after concluding last season at the No. 15 spot.
Last year's 11-win campaign marked the third straight season in which the Diplomats posted double-digit victories, and Jones expects another successful campaign on the courts this winter.
"Our goal is to once again qualify for the B Division at CSA's," said Jones. "Everyone worked extremely hard in the offseason, and I'm excited to see that hard work pay off."
F&M must make up for the loss of a few vital contributors from a season ago, including perennial No. 1 player Morgan Smith. Gabby Robinson, who played anywhere from No. 7-9 a season ago, and Tanya Arora, a captain and one of the team leaders, have also departed due to graduation.
Despite the key departures, Jones is ecstatic about the potential of this squad.
"I'm excited about the depth of this year's team from top to bottom," said Jones. "Nobody's spot is safe because of the number of high-caliber players we have. I anticipate us being stronger up and down the lineup, and there will be battles for starting positions all season long."
Junior Roxanna Mead and sophomore Halley Cruice will likely occupy the top two positions in the lineup. F&M will be without Mead for the early portion of the season as she studies abroad for the fall semester. She held down the No. 2 spot for the Diplomats last season, posting a team-high 13 wins. Cruice totaled nine victories while playing mostly at No. 3.
Senior Chelsea Ross, junior Elizabeth Gatling, and sophomores Erin Golueke, Katherine Perry and Krista Lancione also return to the F&M starting lineup this winter. Ross tallied nine wins at No. 4, while Golueke secured eight victories playing anywhere from No. 2-5. Perry and Gatling are back in the middle of the lineup after each posting double-digit win totals last year, while Lancione delivered seven wins at positions 5-7.
Several freshmen in a talented group of seven newcomers will step right into significant roles. Emily Caldwell is expected to earn a spot in the top three, while Cris Margaret Frias, Jazmin Matos, and Dana Rapisarda will also aim to lock down a starting spot in the top nine.
Another difficult schedule is in store for the Diplomats in 2012-13, with most of their matchups opposite foes also ranked in the top 20. Thirteen of F&M's 20 regular season matches are against top-20 opponents, including five against the top-10. Jones put together a tough schedule for a reason, wanting to increase the number of high-level opponents the Diplomats are exposed to in the regular season to better prepare his squad for postseason competition.
"We decided to schedule some more difficult opponents this year," said Jones. "We want to improve our ranking, and the only way to do that is challenge ourselves with top-level competition."
F&M opens its season at home tomorrow against Drexel, before traveling to No. 4 Princeton on Saturday. The Diplomats will wrap up the opening weekend at home against Connecticut College on Sunday. A crucial stretch awaits the Diplomats in January with showdowns against No. 13 Columbia (Jan. 18), No. 12 Bates (Jan. 19), No. 11 Middlebury (Jan. 19), No. 10 Williams (Jan. 20), No. 15 Hamilton (Jan. 15), and No. 17 Mount Holyoke (Jan. 27).