By Bob York
Two familiar words separated this winter’s rendition of Deerfield Academy girls squash from a National championship, a New England crown and an undefeated season: Greenwich Academy.
No surprise there for anyone who knows enough about squash to know we’re not talking about the kind you eat. The Gators of Greenwich seem to have first dibs on any and all championships their age bracket will allow them to play in and even then, they’re often urged to go pick on someone their own size. The trouble is, nobody’s too big for these gals.
Greenwich has seven National Championship and 14 New England Championship pennants dangling from the rafters of its gymnasium. It would have had 15 New England titles to show off, but the Big Green ended that streak at an unlucky 13 last year when Deerfield knocked the Gators off their pedestal.
To their credit, however, they climbed right back up there this winter and forced their nemesis to the North to settle for a second-place finish at this year’s Nationals, as well as at the New England tourney. And, oh yes, the Big Green went 16-2 during the regular season – including the National tourney – and Greenwich was responsible for both blemishes.
“Considering we lost our top two players and three of our top six from last year, I think we had an outstanding season for ourselves,” said Karinne Heise, the Big Green squash coach. “It’s a real testament to the girls and how they stepped up. I knew Greenwich would be tough to beat this year … they had just about everyone returning. But I felt if we played the way we’re capable of playing, we’d be among the better teams and it didn’t surprise me a bit that we finished second at both the Nationals and at the New England tournament.”
With the exception of Greenwich, the regular season was rather lop-sided in the Big Green’s favor, as seven wins came via 7-0 scores, while four others were earned by 6-1 scores In fact, the closest anyone would come to Deerfield, with the exception of Greenwich, was Taft, which dropped a 5-2 decision to the Big Green on opening day.
When Heise mentioned that a key to the season would be her players’ ability to step up, she wasn’t kidding. Losing her top two players from last year – the Dewey twins – left a gaping hole in the lineup. Hallie, who went 28-1 on the season, was not only the Big Green’s top seed, but was also one of the top players in her age bracket in the entire country. Charlotte, meanwhile, won 25 of 29 matches at No.2.
That’s a lot of wins and an awful lot of talent to replace,” acknowledged Heise, “but we did it.
With the help of a stepladder, Emily Jones (13) made the jump from No.3 to the No.1 spot, while Tori Dewey (12), a cousin of the twins, moved up three slots from fifth to second, “and at this level of the game, moving up three seeds is a huge jump,” said Heise.
Samantha Chai (15) made quite a debut on the prep school level, as the freshman came into camp and earned herself the third slot, while Carey Danforth (14) grabbed the fourth spot during her rookie campaign. Addie Fulton (14) was No. 5, as Hunter Sechrest (13) and Lindsey Dewey (14) were No.6 and No.7 respectively. The remainder of the roster included Caroline Kjorlien (13), Abby Ingrassia (13) and Katie Swindell (14).
“In addition to their hard work, I think another real key to our success this season was our depth,” said Heise. “Other teams had strong players through their top three or four seeds, but we were able to hold our own one through seven. Considering we had three new faces in the lineup this season, they were young faces as well … they didn’t belong to postgraduates … and we did very well for ourselves.”
This year’s batting order saw all seven regulars ring up double figures under the win column, as Jones led off with a 12-6 showing while finishing fifth in her No.1 bracket at the New England tourney.
“Emily’s a very strong player … she’s not quite at Hallie’s (Dewey) level yet, but she really worked hard over the summer to move her game up to the No.1 seed level and she’s done an outstanding job.”
“I think the experience I got from playing as the top seed this past season will really help me next year,” said Jones. “It was difficult at times, but I learned a lot from it and I’m hoping it all pays off next season.”
One thing Jones can look forward to is the fact that many of her No.1 opponents will be graduating this spring, including her counterpart at Greenwich.
“They’re graduating four of their players this year,” said Jones, “so we’re hoping we can take advantage of that fact and move up to that No.1 slot again.
The three-step jump Tori Dewey made from fifth to second “is just about unheard of at this level,” said Heise, “but with a lot of hard work over the summer, Tori took her game to a whole new level. Dewey (16-5), the team’s lone senior who will be playing at Dartmouth next year, went up against the best of the best in her bracket at the New Englands, and just missed out on a medal with a fourth-place finish.
“And Tori’s play wasn’t the only part of her game that gave us a boost this season,” said Heise of her captain, who would later be voted the team’s MVP. “She turned out to be an outstanding team leader and was truly dedicated to her teammates.
“I’m really happy about this season … we did much better than many people thought we would,” said Dewey. “This team has really bonded together this season and that closeness we developed made the season a lot of fun … I’m going to miss the camaraderie we’ve been able to create here.”
Chai “was a very pleasant surprise,” according to Heise, as she began the season as No.6 and finished at No. 3, where she captured her New England bracket and topped off a 17-2 season. Danforth went 17-3, before earning a silver medal in the fourth bracket at the New England tournament, while Fulton proved to be another silver-medal winner at the New England meet at No.5, after producing a 14-5 showing.
Sechrest, who logged the best showing of anyone on the team during the regular season with a 17-1 record, finished second at the New Englands and was the lone Big Green player to log in a victory over Greenwich at the National tournament. Lindsey Dewey, meanwhile, won the No.7 bracket at the New England tourney and wound up her season at 17-2. The remainder of the roster saw Kjorlein finish 8-1, Ingrassia go 5-0 and Swindell close out at 4-0.