Girls Squash Performs Well at the NEISA Championships in the Face of Tough Opponents and Circumstances

Mafi Pinot ’22 is the third seed player for Andover Girls Squash.

Kennedy Ndiaye ’22 is the fourth seed player for Andover Girls Squash.

Down by two in a race to win three matches, Christina Yen ’24 “dug in” to take the next two games composedly before falling short in a closed final. Overall, Andover Girls Squash placed fifth out of eight teams this past weekend in the NEISA Girls Championships. 

According to Head Coach Jennifer Elliott ’94, this tournament-style bracket posed challenges for the team. It forced players to compete in more matches in a shorter period of time than usual: something that not all players are used to. 

“Our team is used to playing singular matches on Wednesdays or Saturdays. This tournament called for our players to compete in three matches in two days, something certainly different for most of our players who have not been playing as many tournaments recently. Endurance and stamina are important factors in the game, and players get tired when playing more than they are used to. It was evident which players had been playing in tournaments recently and which ones were experiencing this as a new format,” said Coach Elliott.

This style of tournament, too, scored the teams in a more individual performance-based point system. This put the team under more pressure than in their typical matches, as each player had to perform their best, according to Yen.

Yen said, “We are unused to playing in this style of bracket. Because the tournament was one-on-one, there is more mental pressure to do well. The number of points that each individual got was fully dependent on their performance in their slot. Normally when we play team matches, we calculate how we do based on whether we won a majority of our matches or lost the majority. There is far more mental pressure compared to this style, where every match for each seating/ranking counts. We aren’t just calculating how many of us won overall versus the other team’s, we are calculating how we individually placed within our groups.”

Nerves did not only stem from the strain put on each member of the team’s performance but also the competition. Andover faced the top teams in New England this past weekend and according to Liz Zhao ’24, the team felt the pressure during close matches. 

“Relatively speaking, matches this weekend were a lot closer than they have been in the past. We performed really well, especially considering some of these teams were really strong. We haven’t had the opportunity to play teams at such a high level much this season. I remember distinctly watching my teammates fighting for a lot of tiring five-game matches. I was really impressed at how they never give up, even through until the last minute of the last game. Some of these teams have girls, too, [who are] top-level players at the national and even international level. There were a lot of big names at this tournament, and I know it made me and some of my teammates feel a little nervous,” said Zhao. 

Similarly, the top seated schools all had an edge over Andover headed into the weekend. Sacred Heart, Greenwich, and Winsor (seated 1, 2, 3 respectively) are all day schools, meaning their players can access these tournaments more frequently. They approached the championship with familiarity in the format. 

Coach Elliott said, “We have several players on our team who do play tournaments, but it is much harder at boarding school. They have to worry about Covid-19 restrictions, missing classes, spending time traveling—all while having to be back by curfew. Our players are competing against other squash athletes who play tournaments much more often. That puts them at a disadvantage.”

This bracket style was not entirely bad, though. Liz Zhao ’24 explained how the individualistic aspect of matches created time for more team support.

“The way the tournament was organized allowed us to watch and support our teammates. This can be a good or bad thing depending on each player’s like or dislike of spectators. The bracket also meant that more of us were available to help coach each other in between games,” said Zhao.

After a satisfactory effort this weekend, Andover looks forward to High School Nationals this weekend in Philadelphia.